Thursday, March 8, 2012


The coffee seemed to be getting cold very quickly. As we sat – for one last time – on the plastic lawn furniture set up on the little porch of unit No. 12, a European couple strolled nearby, the mother trying to round up her young boys who were playing near the pool while the husband loaded suitcases into the trunk of their car. Overhead, an osprey appeared. It was flying just a few feet over Pines and Palms, permitting us a good, long look at its striking white under-plumage and menacing fish-catching claws. Seconds later, another osprey appeared. Then another. Followed by a fourth. Soon, there were five of the birds circling the resort. Eventually, the lead bird – presumably the matriarch of the clan – dove towards the water and temporarily disappeared behind the cottages in front of us. Seconds later, it reappeared, clutching a doomed needlefish. The bird called to the four smaller birds following it as to say, “That’s how it’s done, children.”

We just soaked it all in. We had reached the final day of our stay in Islamorada, and we were torn between hitting the road for new adventures and wanting to stay forever on the Purple Island. I munched on a black-and-white cookie and downed the last swallow of lukewarm coffee from my mug.

After checking out of Pines and Palms, we visited a few galleries and tried to make some connections for possibly placing my art. We were somewhat successful, and I hope to eventually have a few pieces of work for display and sale in Islamorada.

Then, we headed west. Our loose plan was to visit the famous Bahia Honda State Park and check out Sandspur Beach, one of the more famous beaches in the Keys. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. The solitude and obscurity of Curry Hammock SP was a distant memory as we slowly drove through the parking lot, waiting for another car to leave so we could take the empty spot. It was very Wal-Mart-y and the park was simply littered with people.

There were also no empty spots on the beach, so we opted to sight-see instead, taking in some wonderful views of the keys and the bridges spanning the Bahia-Honda channel. Again, like everything else down here, it just made me want to fish very badly.

The old Bahia-Honda bridge.

With no way to avoid the crowd, we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the dashboard of our car. We had no plans for the rest of the day, so I suggested we continue heading west, just for the hell of it.

So we did. Big Pine Key, Cudjoe, Big Coppitt, Stock Island … they slowly went by our car windows as we tried to keep pace with the sun. The only detour was the Key Deer National Refuge on Big Pine, where we lucked out and spotted several of the reclusive little cousins of the white-tailed deer that frequent our backyard in Tennessee.

The rare and elusive Key deer.

We didn’t plan on going to Key West, but it sucked us in like a tractor beam. Before we knew it, we were amongst a throng of traffic on Duval Street, Key West’s famous avenue, which was bracketed by sidewalks filled with boat-drink-toting visitors who darted in and out of the multitude of restaurants, shops and curiosities that have turned this historical town into a full-fledged tourist trap.

It took a while, but eventually found a parking spot, grabbed our camera and joined the crowd, which we figured had at least a six-beer head-start on us. We then set several personal southernmost records (however, I refused the opportunity to wait in line to get a picture next to the gaudy landmark), before making a long walk past Hemingway's house and on to Mallory Square for the daily sunset celebration.

Mallory Square. Cruise ships and sword swallowers.

This was a spectacle. Hundreds of people filled the square, and interspersed among them were street entertainers and vendors hawking acrobatic antics and Caribbean cocktails, while pigeons, seagulls and pelicans provided aerial accompaniment. We found a good spot by a pier railing to enjoy the setting sun, which was shared by a colorfully-dressed pirate who screamed in vain at passersby to watch his sword-swallowing routine. We kind of felt bad for him. He was working so harrrrrrd.

As the sun finally set, we took a gazillion photos before raising our glasses to salute the end of another day at the southernmost city in the U.S. As was tradition on this trip, we spent the next couple of hours trying to find a place to stay, but unlike the previous six stops, we encountered some major trouble in locating a hotel. Everything was booked solid, as a weekend crowd had descended upon us. Through major effort and some considerable help from Key West's friendly residents, we eventually landed a pretty cool spot in the "new town," and called it a night.

Betsy meets Spongesquatch.

I took the first shower, then sat on our hotel bed while Betsy took her turn. Staring at my reflection in the black screen of our in-room TV, I looked tired. Maybe a little fat, too. Yet, happy. I let out a little laugh and shook my head before grabbing the remote and clicking on Sports Center. It took us eight days to do it, but we had finally made it to Key West.

It was all uphill from here.

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