Delights of Key West

by Glen

Thursday 6 Jan, cruising days 40: Walk around Key West, a delightful town.

Today we venture ashore for the first time in what seems like ages. Other than low-on-energy, my Covid symptoms have now all gone. I should no longer be infectious, and we have completed our full 10 days in isolation. Looks like Oana has managed to escape getting infected by me. Incredible really, did I not kiss her enough? Must try harder next time!

We are in the dinghy by 11:00 taking a long and rather bumpy ride passed Wisteria Island and into Key West Bight Marina, where we pay our daily fee of $8 for the dinghy dock. The surrounding area of the marina is very lively with restaurants and charter boats. But we don’t hang around there. Our mission is to get to the CBP. We are rather nervous about this, because our last official port was West Palm Beach and we have arrived to Key West a full 2 weeks later, for a passage that should only be 36hours. Of course, we have all our “we had Covid” stories lined up, but we didn’t need them. No questions were asked by the friendly CBP guys, and to our great relief we are on our way with all the paper work done in just a few minutes. With our incarceration fears over, we can now enjoy the town.

The courthouse building which also houses the CBP office is a bit out of place here in the old town, where the streets of Key West are mostly lined with old colonial-like houses, similar to what you might find in Charleston, only each on a smaller scale of grandeur. The railway first connected this southernmost outpost in the USA in 1912, turning it from a sleepy fishing island into a place to visit in the winter to enjoy its glorious weather. And we would have to say that it has kept its charm since then. Clearly all other the other Keys (islands), like Key Largo and Marathon were much later developed and with much less thought to town planning and certainly no consideration of charm.
As we walk the streets, we admire each building. Most beautifully renovated with verandas rim both on the ground and first floor and large over hanging roof-eaves to keep the rain water out – for this part of the world records the highest intensity of thunder storms anywhere outside of Asia. Though right now is not the season for such rains. And along with this climate comes beautiful tropical-like gardens, under shady swaying palm trees. Oh, if only all Caribbean island towns could all be kept this, then they would truly be paradise. The only one island that comes close to this, in our minds, is Bequia.

We soon find the main highstreet, Duval Street, lined with its shops, restaurants and bars. Very busy at the end near the cruise liner terminal and quietening down the further we walk south along it. In our search for a place to sit for coffee we find a French café where we buy quiche, crepe and 2 coffees – for an eye watering $51! Can’t complain though, we have not spent a dime while we have been in isolation.
The end of Duval Street arrives to the ocean front where there are a bunch of “southernmost”. Southern most mansion, … most café, …most beach. Yes, this is as far south as you can get in the USA. We are at land’s end looking out into the dangerous unknown! And just around the corner we spot a queue of people, which we find are all in a line to have their photo taken next to a red object that declares itself formally to be the southern most point. Needless to say, we don’t queue up. But we do take a video of the queuers!
A little futher along we find the house where the famous US writer Ernest Hemmingway used to live. Now open to the public for guided tours. That will be one we would like to tick off in the coming days and hopefully we can complete the duo by also visiting his house in Cuba too. But pssss, don’t tell CBP we are going there!

We then walk all the way back to the port, where we find to our surprise, it’s actually very nicely done considering it’s a cruise liner stop. Normally they are tacky, filled with jewelry and duty free shops and low end bars (just in case the cruise ship hasn’t fed them within the last hour). Here it’s just a nice area with a few tourist shops and the place where all the site seeing trolley and bus tours start from.
When in other cities (New York, Boston, etc) we often take a tour bus to hear the commentary and learn the history. We decide for such a small place as Key West, $25 each would be our threshold. Turns out the price tag is more than $100 for 2 of us, for a 1 hour tour! So we take the brochure and decide to do the tour ourselves, by bike, tomorrow. Pffff, what cheap-skates we are!

Late afternoon and we are looking for somewhere to eat. Most bars seem to have happy hour 4-6pm, including appetizers. We settle down into a very nice looking place, slightly off the beaten track, called Ram’s Head. We settle into the bar and as usual in USA people quickly start talking to us. We really love this aspect of the USA. So very friendly, yet never over intrusive. When it’s just the 2 of us, this easy socializing really makes it a pleasure to sit and have a drink. In Europe, we would just end up talking to each other, just like we do anyway, 24/7. And heaven forbid you should try to engage fellow drinkers in Europe – you would be thought of as most odd.
Anyway, it turns out that we are in a bar that is a favorite with many locals who actually live here. All have a similar story to Hemmingway: “came here for a visit X-years ago, fell in love with the place and never left.” And it seems because of this recent popularity, real-estate values have sky rocketed. We noticed the old houses are selling for $millions, even for a small one.
By 8pm we have worked our way through the ½ price appetizers and drinks menu and it’s time to head back while I’m still able to responsibly steer the dinghy!
It was a great day and evening. We really like this place. We will be back for more tomorrow, thank you 😊

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