Lucky key

Today has been a long one and so much has happened. For most people, today could be considered three whole separate days, so we’ve split it into parts.

Part 1 – Lottery

Our day began at 5:30am. We woke up in the sleepy marina from last night, determined and on a mission to try to get a campsite at a State Park today. Based on my calls yesterday there are at least five “walk up” (first come-first served) sites we could try for this morning. The man I spoke to, told me not to hold my breath, getting one of these sites is like winning the lottery.  So we wolfed down some breakfast and hit the road.

We had an hour plus drive ahead, and the sun was rising.

We only had one shot at this, so we went for the best and furthest State Park on the Keys – Bahia Honda. We arrived there 40 minutes before they opened and the Rangers saw us waiting just off the road as the sign indicated so we wouldn’t block traffic. Ten minutes later, two guys rolled up, parked in front of the gate and walked up and they were let in. I decided to walk up too but was sent back.

When the gate opened at 8am we went in to ask if they had any spaces available. She said it looked possible today but we would have wait until checkout time (11am) to find out for sure. Oh, and there was someone in front of us in line. I was confused, and she felt bad because she knew we there early. She explained that those who are camping have the advantage of being able to arrive at the rangers hut BEFORE the gates open. Also, for your spot in line to count, you had to physically sit there until a site becomes available. You can’t just show up, sign up and leave as I had hoped.

So we sat, and waited. An hour passed and the other lady ahead of us was starting to get anxious. She had planned to go to John Pennekamp today but preferred to stay at Bahia Honda and this was a last effort before they continued. Us on the other hand, we had nothing but time. After another 15 minutes she relinquished her spot in line, which I was more than pleased about because 15 minutes after that we hit the jackpot. Two campers had come in to notify the Rangers that they had gotten a call regarding a family emergency and had to leave early. They had two days left on their site which was now all ours. By 10am we were getting ready to pay and would have 2 guaranteed days in paradise – how lucky were we?!

Once we were in the park we set out to explore.

We found a manatee in the bay which caused quite a commotion with people nearby. Someone even turned on the tap on so it could have a bit of a drink while they snapped photos.

Ultimately, someone from the marina started to yell to turn the water off!
We strolled over to the beautiful beach.

Though the water was deceivingly cold – maybe even colder than Ft. Lauderdale.

So we opted to skip the swim and just enjoy the hot sun instead.

Because the Key is fairly narrow you have a choice of beaches on the Gulf (of Mexico) side or the Atlantic (ocean) side. The Atlantic side was even colder, but just as pretty.

Best of all – your campsite, no matter where you are, is amazing.

There are great beachfront sites,

with the water just steps away…

Or just across the drive the sites were full with greenery, like ours.

The sites are close together but you get loads of privacy from the wall of trees and shrubs.

We were really impressed with our site and really glad we the circumstances played out in our favour – we really did feel like we won a lottery.

 

Part 2 – The End & Beginning

Even though we had our site and it was awesome, we were really excited to get to go explore the Keys a little. At least we know where we’re sleeping tonight and wont need to drive 100 miles back. So we set off south again.

All the way to Key West.. (note – the van came with these two stickers, we’re just fulfilling our duty)

Within 10 minutes of getting to Key West, I met an interesting local named Carl. Now Carl, beer in hand, had a good 15 minute conversation with me while Andrew was in the van making some lunch. We discussed all sorts, from why there was sparkly blue nail polish in his pocket, to how he’s not a good driver (with no licence) as he crashed a car recently! Topics flitted about from sugar as a banned substance for children, and how a 16 year old mexican girl asked him to marry her. Carl also told me I should go to Cuba because I could and wrapped up the conversation by telling me that he would not marry me for my “Canadian Greencard”. Halfway through all of this Andrew did try come out to rescue me but there was no stopping Carl, he barely noticed Andrew. He was on a mission to get my number (and to paint my toenails) – to which I graciously declined on both accounts. He subsequently asked why I didn’t want to give him my number, and I replied straightforwardly that I’m not particularly interested, plus the fact that I do live all the way out in Canada. He proceeded to ask me if his national minutes would cover calls to Canada etc. It went on. It was one of those experiences you just roll with and giggle about for the rest of the day. Plus, this is Key West – there is no shortage of these types of characters, may as well get the full experience..

Just before meeting Carl. we hit a fundamental point in our trip: we made it to Mile Marker 0 on Highway 1. This is the furthest south you can drive on a highway in the eastern United States. It is also, one of the places we wanted to go to from our list.

We parked the van, fed the meter and spent a good 4 hour stretch in Key West doing what we do well – a whirlwind walking tour.

Key West is known for a several things, wild chickens and six toed cats are two of those things.  We saw many chickens but weren’t counting cats toes so we can’t say for certain if we saw them.

The Hemingway home is another Key West staple.

Not to mention some great old vehicles.

And you can’t forget the marker for the most southern tip of the USA – only found in Key West.

(This is as far south we could get as civilian tourists, if we were in the Navy, we would have access to the true southernmost point)
Or the Smallest Bar in Key West.

The nightly Sunset Festival in Mallory Square is always a crowd favourite with tons of people, street performers and local artists selling souvenirs.Or B.O.’s Fish Wagon, well known for their fish sandwiches.

And who can forget the Moped Hospital? (alright we made the last one up, I don’t think Key West is really known for this but its a cool place to rent a moped – At the very least I would recommend you rent a bicycle as a good way to get around town for the day)

While we were out at dinner the cell phone died. This was unfortunate because not only was it our only time source to ensure we weren’t running out of time on the meter but we also “dropped a pin” in the spot on the map where the van was parked so we could easily return to it. So without that valuable info we barely fumbled together a street intersection. Once we got there we went the direction we thought it was, but started to worry we were heading in the wrong direction when we couldn’t see the van. We found and info booth and a map and confirmed our suspicions that we were not only late, but we were headed the wrong way. We double-timed it back finally spotting the van and passing a meter maid issuing tickets four cars away from ours. Luckily, she was headed in the same direction as us because we were still ticket free. We were giddy; we escaped! just barely.

We hopped in the van and made the last ceremonial pass of Mile Marker 0 before we started our Northern adventure.

We had made it to the end of the line and survived – our time in Key West was short but the city wasn’t really as lively as promised. It was however, really touristy (as promised). Nevertheless, for us, I think the afternoon we spent here was more than enough to get a flavour for the place.

 

Part 3 – Seriously?

We arrived back to our site around 11:30pm to find it inhabited! It was a crazy feeling – we spent a heck of a morning making sure we would get the site and they put another person on it? surely not. I was more than ready to toss them out the second I saw people there but just like us, they would really have no other place to go.  After talking to them they fully admitted to sneaking in past the gate to found an empty site with plans on paying in the morning. Our site looked empty, the only evidence we were there was our yellow extension cord. We agreed to share the site for the night if they planned on leaving early – they even offered to pay. So our first night was free, and hopefully we wont be in trouble in the morning for harbouring extra campers.

A crazy day no doubt – but it was great and everything worked out. We’ve been very lucky and had a really good second day in the Keys – I’d say island life looks good on us.

Key Largo, FL to Key West, FL and back to Bahia Honda Key, FL

Today’s track: 242 kms | 150 miles
Tomorrow’s plan: break out the wet suits!