Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Return to the Florida Keys

  Unimpressed by their first encounter with Key West, Spanish explorers named the place Cayo Hueso or Bone Island because the beach was strewn with the human bones bleached by the tropical sun. Later, people who migrated to the island, mostly from Cuba, discovered that Key West had a solid base of calcified lime stone formed from dead coral reefs. On this strong footing they built a town.

 After the failure of the Cuban Patriots to over throw Spanish rule in 1868,  more Cubans made the ninety mile trip, on anything that would float, to relocate to Key West. The community continued to grow and today the island is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

 Hwy. 1 begins at "mile marker zero" in Key West, the southernmost point in the US, and connects a one hundred mile stretch of forty three islands to Florida's mainland. The first time I visited the Keys, most of my time was spent driving up and down the chain of beautiful islands, exploring some awesome places, and fishing the amazingly clear waters. Please see Still Fishing in the Florida Keys.

  Fortunately, last week I got to spend time getting to know my way around Key West. I think anyone who has been to this 2 mile by 4 mile island will agree it feels like a step back in time; an anachronism. It takes a while for a new-comer to realize he isn’t having déjà vu.

View from the deck of the house where we stayed at Cudjoe Key
 Don't think oddities, like the Gypsy Chickens that roam the streets are  illusions. They are as much a part of everyday life as they were a hundred years ago in most rural villages. Before cock fighting was outlawed in 1970, many of the Cubans who lived here had dozens of game chickens in their back yards. Haitian immigrants were simple people whho raised gardens and kept a variety of chickens for eggs, meat and Voodoo.  By the mid seventies, many of the islands natives began to be displaced by businesses that catered to tourists. The game roosters bred with the laying hens and the poultry population exploded. Like so many other things from the past, the chickens weren’t disturbed. They were there before the tourists so they have squatter’s rights and strutting rights.
Hurricane Kate: Voodoo meteorologist.

 Progress has been slow out on the southern most point in the US. For example, those of us who have been spoiled by air conditioning will notice the shops, bars and restaurants have nothing more than ceiling fans to stir the sultry air. The constant sea breeze makes standing outside in the shade more comfortable than being indoors. Everyone dresses accordingly, so shorts and sandals are fine. Shirts are optional. Lots of cyclists just wear bathing suits.

 Earnest Hemingway’s home is a great place to start your visit. The tour guides do a great job of linking the features of the property to the history and culture of the island. When in Key West, Hemingway wrote from 6:00 AM until noon, went fishing after lunch, then spent the evenings drinking at Sloppy Joe’s, or some other bar, until closing time. This tradition is still alive and well and must be followed by anyone that spends the night on the island.
Waterspout provided by Hurricane Kate.

 Around the turn of the twentieth century there were over 200 cigar factories here. Cuban workers produced over one hundred million handmade cigars each year. Machines now make most cigars in the US, but a few customer cigar shops can still be found. Maybe Ric Ocasek and his wife Paulina Porizkova were in town shopping for cigars when I saw them at a sidewalk cafe on Duval Street. On second thought; Ric looks a bit frail and old to be tempting fate by messing with tobacco.

Don't know these people. Just thought the marker was cool.
The Straits of Florida is a ninety mile wide seaway between Key West and Cuba. Due to the prevailing winds and ocean currents, the Straights became the preferred route for captains of sailing ships that carried folks and stuff back and forth from Spain. That was back when Spanish imperialists were enslaving and robbing American Indians of their gold, silver and anything else they wanted. Several times the Straits collected a heavy toll when jagged reefs and rocks along the channel ripped open the hulls of treasure laden vessels. The best known discovery and salvage of sunken treasure was made by Mel Fisher in 1985. Fisher harvested an estimated $450 million bounty from the wreck of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha which went down in a hurricane in 1622.
Don't step on the iguanas.
In the early 1900s Henry Flagler constructed a railroad to connect mainland Florida the Keys. This made Key West closer to the Panama Canal than any other US port. The line was dubbed The Overseas Railroad. In 1935 a hurricane ruined the railway and it was abandoned. When automobile travel became popular the bridges and other structures left from the railroad were used for the foundation of High 1 which is also known as The Overseas Highway.

The best part of my trip wasn’t the sea food, Key West museums or sightseeing. I must admit, the best  was spending time with my friends; Bill and Kathleen Key, and the renowned artist and
Drawing of Overseas Railway in old Russian magazine.
photographer, Antonio Rodriquez.

Please take a few moments and look at the pictures . If you have any questions contact Hurricane Kate. She usually shows up at the Green Parrot Saloon around 3:00 AM with her snake and bag of tricks.



Señor Rodriquez resumes filming after consuming four pounds of shrimp and eight beers.

Bill and Kathleen Key
When I was watching a man cleaning fish and feeding the nearby scavengers, I decided to make a short video. When I finished, a boy, about 10 years old walked up. I asked if he had ever seen such big tarpon. He said, "Yeah, I caught a six and a half foot one today". Then, his dad and their guide walked up and confirmed the story. They estimated the weight at 150 pounds.

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