Wednesday, November 23, 2016

As south as we can get.

Eventually we caught up, made promises for next year, emptied the cooler, had one last meal together at a nice steak house and departed on our next adventure.

Destination? The Keys.

We have been in the Keys before in the past (The accepted slang for the Florida Keys, a chain of islands leading to Key West the Southern most point of the USA).
Barbara outside Disney World 40 years ago

Me looking cool on Daytona Beach back then
The DISTANT past! Last time we were here was almost 40 years ago in November 1977. I had been working in Brazil for 6 months on a bachelor status contract and Barbara had been patiently setting up the house we bought before I promptly vanished from the scene.

There aren't many things in my life that I'd change, but that 6 months away from Barbara would be one of them.

But enough of regrets. Barbara and I met up in Miami and rented a camper van for a couple of weeks. We toured Florida and enjoyed our first visit to the USA and our first time in a motorized RV.

The Pontiac Trans Van we rented.
After filling the thing with mosquitoes in the Everglades we came down to the Keys and explored. It was a little less developed than it is now! Still we enjoyed the Mel Fischer Treasure Museum when it was still funding Mel's search for the Atocha treasure ( and we rode the Conch Train around Key West with stops at the Hemingway House and various bars and restaurants.
You have to ride the Conch Train in Key West.
It's funny but we can't remember how we went about finding places to camp back then. I suppose we just saw a sign for a campground and pulled in. It was November so it wasn't quite the peak of “Snowbird” season which starts December in Florida.
Another compulsory stop
The Pontiac TransVan we had didn't have any hookups so we didn't need much. I don't even think it had a power hookup as the house battery kept dying after a day or so. Good job we didn't know any better or we might not have been so happy! As it was it became our second honeymoon and after this moment we were more determined than ever not to be separated for so long again.

This of course was all BC – BEFORE CHILDREN! We'd been married for 6 years by this point and Sally didn't arrive for another 5 years, Fred for 8.

And now we're back, we're staying at the Elks Lodge in Tavernier at the top end of the Keys for 5 days, followed by another 5 in Key West. That should give us lots of time to explore the whole chain.

Being an Elks Lodge we were instantly welcomed and made to feel at home. Dinner would be provided Thursday and Friday, there was a Rummage Sale Saturday and they had a waterfront Tiki Hut under the palm trees and a fishing pier.

A local guy, (also a Brian) took me under his wing down at the fishing pier and introduced me to the intricacies of saltwater fishing there. Soon we had enough Mangrove Snappers for supper and I caught a Needle Fish and Puffer Fish too for a little variety (but put them back). There are Barracuda here too which bite clean thru regular fishing line.
A Mangrove Snapper

Sunset from the Elks Lodge beach.
Barbara seemed to be either :-

A. In a very good mood or
B. Sick of the sight of me!

Anyway she suggested I just hang out at the pier all day and fish while she did some baking and cleaning. I knew I married her for some good reason! We both enjoyed ourselves and when I got back to the rig it smelled so good from all the baking she'd done.
We finished the day with the Lodge's Meatloaf Dinner and their monthly special drink, Parrot Bay Coconut punch.

Well camouflaged Iguana on Marathon Key
Over the next couple of days we explored the Upper Keys and I fished. We ended up with quite a lot of Snappers, so Barbara decided a fish pie was in order. I wish I'd taken pictures of it but it was too delicious and a picture of an empty plate wouldn't do it justice!
Day on the beach at Sombrero Beach Marathon Key
We said farewell to our new friends at the Lodge and moved on the Key West at the southern tip of Florida. “Closer to Havana than it is to Miami” is the local claim. Unfortunately in the 40 years since we were last here, this pleasant little town has turned into a nightmare of people, traffic and pay to park areas.

Famous now for Duval Street where anything apparently goes, we found the atmosphere overwhelming and the sense of being tourists ready to be ripped off by high prices and poor quality not to our taste at all.

The campground we picked based on being the lowest price in Key West turned out to be small, dirty, noisy and EXPENSIVE! At $75 a night plus tax it is the highest price we've ever paid for camping. At the same time it IS the cheapest in Key West with the rest of them being over $125 a night, about the same as the cheapest motels in the area.
That's us jammed up against the Laundry/Bathrooms in Leo's

The picturesque view from Leo's front door.
So a lesson learned for us, things change over the years and not always for the better. But still we came and experienced the area.

Key West Harbor
A sunset dinner cruise was offered and we sailed out on a catamaran with a dinner and free open bar. The sunset was spectacular with sailboats passing by and a Caribbean singer adding to the atmosphere. We met a couple from Finland Ria and ?? who were really enjoying the trip. Several well spent hours then a cab home.
Ria (r) and ?(l) from Finland.

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