After spending the night in Key Largo, I walked across the street to the Cuban Café in the early gray drizzle and downed some great coffee and breakfast.
Shortly after, I headed south on Florida Highway 1, across the Keys.
I realized again how absolutely flat Florida is. I swear, the highest point is an overpass.
I drove the length of the Keys, over all forty-two bridges connecting all forty-three islands. However, there are another nearly seventeen hundred not connected by the road.
Most of the Keys have the word “Key” in their names. Of those, all but two have the name of the island first: Plantation Key, Conch Key, Cudjoe Key. The two that have the word “Key” first are Key Largo, at the far northeast, and Key West at the far southwest.
In and out of rain, on and off of bridges. Some bridges were only a quarter mile long or even less but one was seven miles long. Some of the Keys are so narrow I could easily see water on each side of me. They were maybe fifty to sixty feet wide. No room for houses, stores or anything but the highway running down the center.
Others were much larger (relatively), a mile or two wide and several miles long.
Concrete power poles marched through the Gulf waters all the way south, occasionally hopping the road to the Atlantic side.
Gas prices marched with me too, going up almost fifty cents in less than one hundred mile – about half a cent per mile of roadway.
Key Largo today is just a strip of stores, restaurants, and motels. Traffic is heavy all day long. However, once a few miles south of Key Largo, the pace slows and it’s not all commercial. That held true to just north of Key West.
I passed a sea turtle hospital, a dolphin rescue center, a manatee rescue center. The more humans in the Keys, the more wildlife that needs rescuing.
On Deer Key, I decided to stop in at the local library. I turned at the sign but couldn’t spot it. I asked several people where it was but no one knew. All tourists? I surely hope so. It would be horrid to think the locals had no idea where their library was. I stumbled around until I found it myself.
There’s an odd thing about the Lower Keys: roosters. Roosters roam the side roads and the sidewalks and strut about on people’s front porches. I asked many about the roosters but no one could tell me their story, just that people aren’t supposed to feed them – but everyone I spoke to did feed them. Just a little, they all said.
It’s odd to wander about and hear roosters crowing and to run into them repeatedly. And they all look pretty much the same.
Some of the 1700+ islands in the Keys – with no roosters.
I did some research and found the roosters were brought by Cubanos for cock fighting. After it was outlawed, the birds just went wild. There is now a major battle going on between the pro and anti rooster groups. Some want them rounded up and either contained or killed. Others say hey, that’s just the way it is down here. Part of the culture.
I arrived in Key West in the early afternoon. The sign said this:
Welcome to Key West
Highway 1 split at the entrance to Key West – Highway 1 to the right and A1A to the left. Highway 1 went into town, A1A to the beaches. Guess where I headed first?
At the southernmost point on Key West, I stood in the water and faced Cuba, just ninety miles away. I couldn’t spot it, but on a clear day from a second or third floor, can people see the island? It was particularly interesting to gaze toward Cuba knowing that in just a few weeks it will be legal to travel there.
Havana Daydreaming (thanks, Jimmy Buffett!)
I tore myself away from the almost-warm water and headed back to Highway 1 and into the historical district. Parking is at a premium, so I paid to leave my car in a town parking garage and roamed.
Many tourists checking into inns and motels had to do the same, so I saw many dragging their suitcases along the sidewalks.
Beautiful old homes.
Some were still decorated with holiday wreaths or lights, and the remains of Christmas trees lay in the trash in a few spots. How out of place it all looked in the warm (80 degrees) balmy weather!
People rode bikes and scooters. Others sat on their front porches. Roosters roamed.
I ran into one traffic jam comprised of cars, bikes, scooters, pedestrians, a tiny two-seater electric vehicle, and a man on a bike attached to a small vending cart. And a dog.
One more odd thing: The main road into the historical area is Roosevelt Avenue which closer to downtown becomes Truman Avenue. Most main cross streets also had two names, one going each way off Roosevelt. The most interesting one to me was the one that had Eisenhower Drive going one direction, and in the other direction, the road was named for Cuban revolutionary leader José Martí!
I returned to Key Largo just in time for a fabulous sunset.
And oh, yeah. I got the bumper sticker.