Eclectic Paradise – Key West, FL

For a brief moment, we were the southernmost family in the US

For a brief moment, we were the southernmost family in the US

We left Key West to head to the east coast of Florida about two weeks ago, but it seems like we were there in another lifetime. Key West is one of the most unique, enjoyable, quirky, expensive places I have yet had the pleasure of visiting. We were there for ten days, and had amazing adventures every day we were there. That’s part of the perks of this moblie lifestyle… Key West will remain a place of wonder and wackiness in my heart. The buildings were all tin-roofed (a city mandate, and the inspiration for the title of Tennessee Williams’ play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”) and painted all manor of bright colors. The street performers were entertaining, charming and a bit devilish, the water was every shade of turquoise and crystal clear. The locals were a bit strange and the tourists even stranger. Everyone had a tan (or a burn). Everyone was smiling (because most were on vacation). Everyone seemed to have a bit of a lighter load to bear on this tropical island. It’s a total tourist trap, everything is overpriced and there are a million and one activities and excursions and sights to see. I picked out a bathing suit top at a store on the main drag, Duvall Street, which I didn’t purchase there. I found the same top a week later up north for 1/2 the price. The food was varied but mostly Cuban, the Key Lime Pie plentiful and in many forms (ice cream, pie, frozen on a stick dipped in chocolate, gluten-free). I completely understand the draw of this place for everyone from tourists to famous people like Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, Tennessee Williams and of course my old pal Jimmy Buffett.

Full Moon at Bluewater

Full Moon at Bluewater

We stayed at Bluewater Key RV Resort. As RV parks go, this one is at the top as far as location (about four miles from Key West), quality of campsites (all privately owned and must have a dock and a palapa), and of course you pay for it. We kinda looked at our time in the Keys as a real vacation, not just a piece of our adventure on this journey. Chris worked while we were there, but we tried to do unusual things that you just don’t find everywhere while we were there. I’d say the most exciting of these was our biplane ride over the island of Key West and the surrounding coral reef. If you’ve been following along on our adventure you’ll know that Chris’s dad is a pilot and love of airplanes is in Chris’s blood. When he found out we could (all three of us!) go in an open cockpit 1942 Waco (pronounced Wah-Ko, not Way-Ko) he totally peer pressured me into getting excited about it too.

Our view of the coral reef from the biplane

Our view of the coral reef from the biplane

I was a little hesitant to take Zeph with us… for safety reasons, and I wasn’t sure how he’d handle it. But I continually underestimate him. He loved it as much as his dad (and I loved it, too). As soon as we got off he said “Plane – again!!!” Our flight was a half hour, and we flew over the city of Key West as well as the small islands and coral reef surrounding it. There were some really amazing sights. I tried to take pictures with my phone without losing it to the wind. We saw a Disney Cruise Ship depart from the dock, all sorts of sailboats anchored off Key West (they say that’s the cheapest way to live in the Keys), a very shallow and beautiful coral reef, and no sharks (I was looking for the silhouette of one in that clear ocean water, but to no avail).  What a fun time we had on that plane! Zeph sucked his pacifier a little fast at times (which is what he tends to do when he’s a wee bit freaked out) but never made a peep and often tried peering over my lap into the great blue ocean below.

Pre flight

Pre flight

Other fun stuff we experienced: watching the jets fly over from Boca Chica Naval Base, in between Key West and our RV Park. These guys started early… about 7am every day we were there, you could hear their engines overhead like thunder, and the thunder didn’t stop until sunset. We talked to a local who told us of a road we could drive down to get a better look at them, so we followed his directions and ended up on a little piece of coast that seemed untouched by the wild civilization of Key West, only a mile or two south. There was a rough trail through smelly dried seagrass from a dead end road, and a huge driftwood fort at the end of the path. Beyond the easy walking was apparently a nude beach but we skipped that sight. And we saw jets. High in the sky, low in the sky, some so fast we only heard them, some so slow we could almost see the pilot. It was a wonderful display, I didn’t even mind their wake-up call every morning.

Looking for jets

Looking for jets

Key West is known for its sunsets at Mallory Square, at the end of Duvall Street. The sunsets were beautiful of course (when is a sunset NOT beautiful?), but we enjoyed watching the street performers do their thing. Zeph gravitated to a man juggling on his unicycle. This guy (whose name was Mark, he told us during his performance) was probably in his 40s, super funny and witty, and put on an entertaining show at sunset. He juggled bowling pin type things, harassed passers-by, and rode his unicycle while juggling fire. Zeph sat transfixed and only moved to clap and yell with the audience. I filmed about six minutes of the performance on my phone, and Zeph has watched that video countless times since. He talks about “Mark” and juggling all the time. We went back to watch Mark another night, and Zeph saw him from across the square and started shouting “Mark! Juggling!” So much for watching other street performers! If Zeph ends up being a circus performer, we’ll have Mark to thank.

Mark juggling fire in Mallory Square

Mark juggling fire in Mallory Square

The state parks in the southern part of the Keys are really worth a visit. We discovered Bahia Honda State Park from reading a fellow traveling family’s blog, and spent the better part of a day there. The best part of the day was that Chris forgot his swim trunks and had to wear a rented wetsuit around, which we were pretty sure was a women’s wetsuit. I’ll spare you (and him) the pics, but there were some pretty classic scenes of him on the beach in a spring suit that only covered half his thighs. The beauty of Bahia Honda is the best of the state parks in the Keys I think. The old railroad bridge that runs over the bay adds such interest to the view of the beautiful plants and water and sky. It’s quite a sight. Next time we are in the Keys (God willing) we are for sure camping here. Of course reservations are impossible to get unless you book a spot like eleven months in advance. No lucky cancellation sites here like we got at Pennekamp in Key Largo. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in Key West was also totally beautiful. It’s not an RV/Camping park (that I know of) but more of a day use place with a lovely beach great for kids and snorkeling. They had little private umbrellas and chairs you could rent for a reasonable daily rate and we hung out there for a day. Zeph even willingly went to sleep on the chair for naptime so we could stay longer. The water was no more than five and a half feet deep with a sandy floor all the way to the rock jetty in the middle of the little bay. Chris took Z out there and they climbed on the rocks looking for fish. This was a great beach for us, with shade, lovely water and snorkeling fun. I saw a three foot barracuda in about three feet of water. I’m still getting adapted to being in water with other creatures that I can actually see with my own underwater masked eyes. I’d rather pretend they are not there.

The amazing surroundings of Bahia Honda State Park. Note Chris's wetsuit.

The amazing surroundings of Bahia Honda State Park. Note Chris’s wetsuit.

I am a big fan of Ernest Hemingway, have been ever since I read  A Moveable Feast and then visited Paris and felt like I was walking in Hemingway’s world through the subway tunnels with the sad sound of a violin being played by an old man, while the rain poured down outside. Hemingway may not be the most uplifting writer (if any of you have seen “Silver Linings Playbook” in the theater lately, you will recall Bradley Cooper’s 4am freak out about how depressing Hemingway’s writings are), but he has a way of explaining a scene that gets into your brain and makes you feel like you are part of the story. He lived in Key West for about ten years when he was in his thirties, and the house he lived in is now a museum. He’s not only a great storyteller, he himself led quite an interesting life… fodder for his books, no doubt. Our tour guide at the Hemingway Home museum, an old salty fisherman named Loren, told us tales of Hemingway’s drinking and love affairs while he lived in Key West. Told us the reason Hemingway bought the house across from the Key West lighthouse was so he could find his way home at night. Hemingway had a thing for cats, and when his sons brought home a six-toed cat he not only let them keep the cat, he let the cat breed at will and there are many six-toed felines that now have the run of the property at the Hemingway Home.

Hemingway in his Key West days

Hemingway in his Key West days

We visited the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. This is basically an indoor garden full of butterflies and small birds. And when I say full of butterflies, I mean it. You couldn’t walk down the path through the garden without getting accosted by these creatures. Zeph and Chris loved it. I walked quickly through, and waited for the boys in the gift shop. For some reason it really freaked me out to have these creatures all over, flying in front of my face and landing on me. They kinda seemed like insects. Which is what they are. But the bad kind of insects you want to squish with your shoe, not that you want to have touching your eyelashes as they flutter by.

A butterfly nursery

A butterfly nursery

We had to do the tourist thing and visit the southernmost point monument on the island. I know, I know, it’s not technically the southernmost point in the US since there’s a military base south of this, and apparently Hawaii is actually more southern than this point, but all that said, this is the southernmost civilian point in the continental US – if you want to get technical about it. We walked here from the butterfly museum, it was HOT outside and very humid, so everyone waiting in the line to take their picture with the landmark was sweaty and gross. I’m glad we did it though, so we have the pictures. We also rode past the “Mile 0” mile marker, another famous Key West picture opportunity, but we were just riding so fast on our bikes we couldn’t be bothered to slow down. Ha! We were really glad we brought our bikes into Key West, it was fun to ride down all the streets and it made parking less stressful since we could ride to wherever we wanted to go.

Zeph gets southernmost

Zeph gets southernmost

The food options in Key West were pretty much endless. A few of our favorites were Blue Heaven, La Creperie, and Kaya Island Eats. Blue Heaven is a Key West essential and we were told “you haven’t been to Key West until you’ve eaten at Blue Heaven.” We didn’t have any choice but to try it! The food was excellent. The Keys are known for their yellowtail snapper, and Chris ordered that. I ordered jerk chicken, and got like four full chicken breasts along with beans and rice. The restaurant is eclectically decorated, all the seating is in a courtyard with roaming wild chickens and roosters, free to come and go as they please. The short version of the story behind these birds all over the island is basically that at some point the city outlawed people being able to keep these birds as pets so everyone (apparently a lot of people had chickens as pets) set them free and they have been thriving on the island ever since. The roosters were beautiful with their bluegreen tail feathers, and Zeph learned how to say “cockadoodledoo” pretty quickly (actually, he says “cockadoo” but I think he gets the gist).  The key lime pie from Blue Heaven had a meringue top and was worth every penny and fall from my gluten-free venture.

Blue Heaven courtyard

Blue Heaven courtyard

La Creperie was a nostalgic stop for us. We have our favorite little crepe place back home by the pier and this Key West one (spotted while we dined at Blue Heaven) was reminiscent of home. We went the next morning for breakfast. It was a Saturday (our bad) so it was super crowded, but the food was excellent. When the waitress asked us what we wanted to order for Zeph, he yelled out “ice cream!” and she offered to bring him a bowl. As it was only about 10am, I declined the offer on his behalf  (to both of our chagrin).  The crepes were really yummy, I wish we could go back and do the dessert crepe thing, as I feel this is what crepes are really made for.

La Creperie

La Creperie

Kaya Island Eats ended up being our local go-to while we were at Bluewater. It was only a couple of right turns from the gate of Bluewater, so it was super convenient and close, and the food was really really REALLY good. That yellowtail snapper was a special one night, almond crusted, with fresh veggies and saffron rice. I don’t even remember what Chris had and I don’t care, that fish was the best food I’ve ever had in my LIFE. And I don’t even like fish usually! The owner was super friendly, and always had a little something special for Zephyr… grilled pineapple and coconut, sliced strawberries, mashed potatoes. If you are ever in the Keys, please eat here. The service and food are exceptional.

KAYA Island Eats

KAYA Island Eats

One of our last chores while at Bluewater was to get my hair cut. I hadn’t had a haircut since August of 2012 or before, and it was just time. I’d been looking for an easy solution to the haircut issue since Sarasota, but no salons ever jumped out at me and said “walk in here without an appointment and get an amazing, cheap haircut from someone you’ve never met before.” I even Yelped a few places in a few cities, but none had stellar reviews so I kept stalling. Finally one day I got so frustrated I just asked Chris to cut my hair. Now before you go thinking this is a terrible idea, you should know something. Chris is a beauty school dropout. No joke. When we were first dating he was attending hair school. He didn’t finish, due to being distracted by his lucrative side business of hard drives, but he did learn enough to know how to use cutting shears. And we figured you’re not really a redneck if y0u live in an RV until you start cutting your hair outside your front door. Please see the before and after pics below. I think he did a fine job, and I felt much lighter when it was done.

Before

Before

After

After

Sadly, our time in the Keys came to an end and we started working our way up the east coast of Florida… more on that soon!

 

Here is a video of the Bluewater Key campground we stayed in for 9 nights.

This is Chris driving by himself while Zephyr and I followed in the CRV. He shot this video for his good friend Jon DeGracia. Celine is his favorite artist of all!

Family Biplane ride out of Key West Airport. THIS ONE IS SUPERRRRR LONG. Fast forward through until you see the reef.

  • Papa

    awesome, love love loved it!

  • Kathy Adams

    I loved this blog. you had beautiful shots and lots of history of the area. amazing. I am hoping you are putting all this in a book – I wonder if you could get a travel magazine to pay you for your story….I think you should try!

    • zephyrsunrise

      Morning Mama, Erin did a great job on this entry. I told her this was my favorite so far.

  • Papa

    I am so Happy for you guys and all the wonderful things you have done.
    Erin ,awesome writting. The picture with Zeph and the butterfly got.

  • Sarah

    Thanks for sending me the link! I am even more excited about our trip to the Keys this Christmas!
    What fun memories you are creating…you should definitely have your blog made in to a book one day…easy to do and not super expensive. Hope to see you come through the Rockies and beautiful Colorado at some point.

    • zephyrsunrise

      Hi Sarah! We for sure wanna come to CO, but might have to wait til next summer… Our route plans and timeline don’t head in that direction this time. 🙁

  • Kate Stellman

    I’m OBSESSED with your amazing adventure sweet family!!!! ERIN Jane!!! How ARE you? I miss your mugshot tremendously… Maybe we can meet up with y’all before you return-that’d be FUN!? What would be a fun place to shoot for if it could work!? How you doing?! I’ll try and call you these next couple days to say hello in person ( or close to it;). LOVE XO

    • zephyrsunrise

      Baby Katy!!! Hi! Miss you too. We would love for you guys to meet up with us. Anywhere is great. Call me so I can tell you our route and you guys can decide if anything sounds good to you!