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.
I’ve always wanted to go, and now I want to go even more. Thanks for the travelogue!
Deonne, I have to go back! I want a week (at least) in the Everglades. Need to stay in one spot and see who comes to me. May have to hook up the Aliner!
Gorgeous photos, wonderful words. Many thanks, Emilie!
Thanks, Ann. Glad you could come along for the ride.
I know you are more pressed for time than I am, but if you get to the others, there are lots of photos. Mostly birds, landscape and some alligators. And one (psychologically) near death experience.
What a trip!!
Thank you for all of the lovely photos and evocative descriptions, Emilie. Very cool. xo
So glad you enjoyed it. I absolutely fell in love with Florida!
Glad you came along for the ride, Chloe!
A “Panther Crossing” sign! Nothing like not knowing how brave you’re being. Here’s to you.
Some day I will return and go out searching for a panther. They are such beautiful, rare creatures!
your posts are always entertaining, and the images play a great role.. i loved seeing that classic rooster and the story of the cock fighting. that ‘sport’ still entertains the locals in certain areas – i see the roosters hobbled along a curb or in round cages in dirt yards. i don’t think i would enjoy watching a fight…
the images of the old homes made me pause and examine the beauty of a vanishing urban landscape. we’ve lost the art of creating beautiful hand-built homes, where love was a big ingredient. yesterday i admired the handwork of the basilica in quito – wow, wow and wow.. i wondered what it would have been like to show up for work day after day for years, and the entire time be part of a crew that created a work of architectural art.
your final sunset photo was a stunning one. ahhhhhh. it makes one pause, soak in the view and reflect on the day.
as for allergies i will know more after having the tests on monday! i had a 12-year absence from a chronic cough, and it seems to be returning. they think it took that long to develop new allergies to a new area…
will keep you posted.
Thanks for the feedback, glad you enjoyed my photos. Do keep me posted on allergies!
SOunds like a great trip! 🙂 I
Sounds like a great trip! 🙂 I’m going to South Florida next we and hope to visit Key West myself.
Key West was beautiful, but also full of too many people who wanted to be seen as beautiful. The beaches are lovely as is the historical area, but it is so, so busy. Do enjoy the drive, and pull over whenever you can to just soak in the teeny tiny islands surrounded by blue. Hope you love the trip.
Amazing, I had no idea there was as much as 42 bridges and 43 islands getting down to Key West. I hope I get to drive this stretch some time. From you pictures the scenery is beautiful. We recently visited Maui and they also had roosters walking along the roads. I
It is a lovely drive but I’m sure it’s way busier on weekends. I suggest avoiding it then! Mostly I suggest taking the drive. Well worth it.
Glad you’re following my blog. May I ask how in the world you found me???
Probably a good idea to avoid weekends for sure! You had left a comment one on of the blogs I follow so I thought I would check out you blog since that indicated we might have similar interests:)
I’ve never been to Florida, though I’ve read a lot of Carl Hiaasen and John D. McDonald novels! I’m not fond of crowded localities. I did enjoy your account and accompanying photos, though! Maybe the Keys would be a palatable intro to the state for me some day.
Larry, Key West is pretty busy! Suggest right before or after the busy season. The Everglades are amazing (other blog posts talk a bit about the Everglades). Lots of back roads and it’s easy to be alone.
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