2023: The Florida Keys

Key West

March 22


Now that the great scuba adventure had come to an ignominous end, we had time to make a day trip to Key West. Hard to believe, but even though we were already 20 miles into the Keys in Islamorada, it would be a two-hour drive to Key West -- another 85 miles at 45 mph. Life in the Keys, y'all.

Where's the land?!? THERE'S a sliver! Stopped in its tracks.

The drive to Key West was interesting, especially the parts where the road itself was the only land in sight. The nearby remains of the 100-year-old railway are visible in several places. Elsewhere, the old supports have been repurposed to sections of pedestrian walkway where you can retrace the train tracks.

I'd researched places we could eat after arriving but a drive-by of my first choice revealed scads of people waiting outside. Time for a new plan. We drove to our first tourist target, parked, and struck out. Half a block later we stumbled across the Moondog Cafe, which I'd also read about, where we had a satisfying breakfast. I was amused by an interior wall where they'd mounted a bicycle for the letters "o" in "Moon".

Our primary focus in Key West was seeing the Hemingway House, formerly occupied by guess who. The house is large and nice enough, but not particularly remarkable except for its famous former occupant. It was originally built in 1851 by a wealthy shipwreck salvager. After his death in 1889, the house sat vacant until Hemingway purchased it in 1931.

There are some lovely grounds with winding paths amid riotous tropical foliage.

The grounds are also where you'll find many of the resident 57 cats, some descendants of an original polydactyl Hemingway pet and famous in their own right for their six-toed feet.

Groundskeeper. Cathouse. Cathouse too. Active resident.

 Tour guide/comedian.

We poked about a bit on our own, and then drifted back to the front door for a 15-minute tour. Our guide would be a young man whose secret ambition (I surmise) is stand-up comedian. His comedy was hit-and-miss, but he did a decent job as a tour guide. Lots of little anecdotes about Hemingway, his wives, his adventures. Some of them even true, probably.

The house was filled with memorabilia, including Hemingway's Bronze Star for service as a war correspondent; a replica of his fishing boat, Pilar; and several description placards (with accompanying posters)about movies made from his novels.

We saw several different tour groups along the way, all with a different guide, and I could hear them telling different stories. If I'd had the time (and energy), I would have taken a tour with each one of them to get all the different versions.

Cats were everywhere, including inside the ironwork that keeps people out of Hemingway's writing studio. Clearly some of them had learned how to fleece the tourists using their own purr-fect methods.

Studio cat. Toe jam. Island life. Cat curtains.

Upstairs there was a lovely porch that ran the length of the house and gave a different perspective of the property. It also looked down on the world's biggest litterbox.

Outside was the 60-foot long, 80,000 gallon swimming pool, an engineering marvel when it was built in 1938. It was the only swimming pool within 100 miles at the time.

Also notable is the cat fountain made from a large Spanish olive jar. The water collector at the bottom was once a urinal at his friend Joe's bar. Hemingway's wife decorated it with tile to disguise its sketchy origins.

The other attraction I wanted to see was the Key West Butterfly Conservatory. I love these lush butterfly habitats and visit every one I happen across. But we were running out of time on our street parking meter, so Mike went back to the car and I went in alone.

As soon as I cleared the "airlock" -- this one had double doors and significant negative air pressure to foil escapees -- I had a smile on my face. Butterflies fluttered every which way among the tropical plants, and water features trickled. The welcome tranquility was interrupted by the raucous squawks of the two comical resident flamingos, engaging in mating behavior.

I could live with that.

Time for a break. There was a bar on nearly every corner, so we had no trouble finding a place to sit and refresh. Afterward, we took a two-block stroll down to the nearby beach and very long pier.

Final stop was the "Southernmost Point" marker at the tip of Key West. There was a long line of people waiting to get their picture taken by the marker; I decided to pass on that and just take a picture of someone ELSE at the marker. Afterward, I gave a photographic hand to another couple of tourists.

We were tired and had a long drive home. On our way out of town, we pulled over to admire a partial skeleton of Flagler's wonder-of-the-world railway.