Sunday, January 29, 2012

Key West

Having returned from Europe we took it easy and relaxed to overcome jetlag which is definitely easier to get over when it is just a 5 hour difference. Then we headed down to Key West the southernmost point in the US. On the drive down we were amazed at the feat of engineering and building that makes this possible; all started by Flagler who decided to invest in a railway line to the port of Key West this required linking an island chain together, hoping to capture the market supplying coal to ships heading for the “soon to be opened” Panama Canal. Unfortunately, there were substantial delays in building the Panama Canal so that by the time it opened ships were using oil rather than coal as fuel. Flagler invested over $50 million in the very early 20th century and after operating for only about 10 years the train company went bankrupt.

Key West is 150 miles south of Miami and the road is mostly a two lane road built on causeways and over bridges one of them 7 miles long. The drive is tedious on a road with limited opportunity for an RV to pull off, unless one stops in one of the villages/towns. So Adele decides to have her lunch on the move and eat a pear - which is in the bottom drawer of the fridge; you sensed it – she opened the fridge and out tumbles a pitcher (jug) of milk on to the carpet, then cheese jiggles out. Adele tries to shove the cheese back in, then the top door shelf falls off spilling its contents marmalade, mayonnaise, relish, etc., in frustration everything is left on the floor. Too annoyed to eat Adele had no lunch. When we got to our RV Park we restyled the carpet so now there is no carpet in front of the fridge and Adele has vowed not to open the fridge again when we are moving.
Without doubt, Key West is a short-stay vacation destination. The port welcomes a cruise ship every day when “cruisers” flock along Duval Street which is the main drag running from the Florida Straits (Atlantic) to the Gulf for about a mile. Our RV Park was about 15 miles north of Key West so we drove in each day, parking on the outskirts and walking about a mile and a half into town from where we once more took the “Hop on Hop off” tour to orient ourselves with the area; afterwards we felt this was not necessary as everything is so close by. We visited Truman’s “Little White House” where he spent many vacations, now a museum. Several other Presidents also stayed there - President Kennedy used it during the Cuban missile Crisis. President Carter and President Clinton had short vacations there.

Hemingway is synonymous with Key West and we visited the house where he lived during his second marriage. The house had no electricity or running water until the fifties. Hemingway wanted to build a swimming pool but decided that it was too expensive, then while he was cavorting in Cuba with the soon to be 3rd wife Mrs. Hemingway had a pool installed for an outrageous price! Of course Ernest hit the roof when he saw the pool and its cost so he repaired to Sloppy Joes just at the time that it was being relocated, complete with furniture, fittings and fixtures, including the urinals one of which Ernest acquires and positions not far from the swimming pool. Now Mrs. Hemingway hits the roof and orders Ernest to remove it forthwith – “you remove your pool and I’ll remove mine was his response” both pools are still there! All the older buildings, pretty Victorian Homes, have preservation orders on them to maintain Key Wests quaint character. The cemetery is interesting as the dead are buried above ground because the rock is too hard to dig a grave. 

There are no natural beaches on the Island - all the sand is imported from the Bahamas at a cost of millions and then a hurricane comes along and blows it right back. There a roosters all over the town and the Keys, cock-a-doodling all day long, the few hens we saw had their little chicks with them in town and they know how to avoid busy roads and are not fearful of humans. Originally brought as fighting cocks, when cock-fighting was outlawed the then Mayor decreed that they be let loose in Key West; as Key West is a bird sanctuary they cannot be harmed – will this hold if the locals run out of food after a hurricane.  Another  piece of folklore surrounds a grotto to Our Lady built by a nun 90 years ago on the convent grounds to protect the island from hurricanes - the locals pray there in hurricane season and the island has not had a direct hit since the grotto was built - lots of candles obviously lit!

One morning while Adele was in the pool doing water aerobics she heard a thud and thought it must be a cocoanut and turned to see that a large iguana had fallen from a tall tree, its partner is still up there. This fellow was about 2 feet long, basically green with an orange comb and 3 wide black strips on his tail - after getting over the shock and heating up a bit he ran off under the chairs and into the shrubbery.

Mallory Square is touted as the “must-be” place to be at sunset. Here very talented street entertainers’ fire jugglers, sword swallowers, mono cyclists and many singers keep one amused as the sun slowly sets. There are crowds of people milling about jostling for position for photo shots and…we wondered about this as we have seen many, many sunsets in Ireland, Hawaii, the Maldives and of course, Santa Cruz, CA. We thought maybe these people are East Coasters who see the sun rise but never see it set over the sea, so to them it’s a big deal. Before leaving we did the tourist thing and had our photos taken at the southernmost point of the US.

How many of you know it will not be until 2055 that the American flag will have flown over Florida for as long as the Spanish flag flew (almost a tongue twister). 

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