Hello again old friends. It’s that time of the week again to look back at the week gone by and ahead at the weeks to come. It’s been another great week here in southern Florida, which has taken me from Key West all the way to Sanibel. I’ve been couch surfing with a lot of old friends this week which has been really great. I have caught up with so many people in fact that I only slept in my van once this week. It’s always great to run into people and catch up on all the gossip from different phases of my life. It’s been a little chilly and windy down here, but looking at the weather forecast for the rest of the country, I’m certainly not complaining. I’m enjoying Florida, especially this time of year.
After last we met, I did in fact go to Earnest Hemingway’s house for a visit. This is a place I’ve been trying to get to for many years, but never seem to make it there. I’m glad I finally did. This is a very high volume tourist spot, and yet they do an incredible job of managing the crowd. Although you can wander through on your own, I chose to do the guided tour, and I’m sure glad I did. My tour guide was fantastic. I’m always in awe of someone who can give the same tour day after day, year in and year out and still manage to do it with vigor. Our guide absolutely crushed it. The highlight for me was seeing Papa Hemingway’s office which has remained relatively untouched since he lived there. There are also 55 cats running loose around the property, many of them of the 6-toe variety, something Hemingway felt brought him good luck.
After my visit to Hemingway’s house, I went and met up with my friend Kim who used to work for my old tour company for a few years. She now runs her own company called Up The Keys Tours which takes people on adventures to some of the hidden gems in the islands. It was nice to sit and chat with her for a while over a cup of coffee and compare notes on some things. She had to run off to do a tour that evening, so I headed on to one of my favorite restaurants in Key West for a nice meal. The Schooner Wharf Bar is a great, sprawling place by the water with really fresh and delicious seafood. I had some conch chowder, a beautiful piece of red snapper and a slice of key lime pie for dessert. This place is reasonably priced and always good. From there, I headed to another of my favorite Key West haunts, the Rum Bar at the Speakeasy Inn. This place has a serious rum selection, and I love ordering a nice rum to sip on while sitting on the porch and watching the world go by.
Thursday morning the weather cleared for a bit so I went out to Fort Zachary Taylor for a while. The best beach in Key West and a great place to watch the sunset, this park is a real treat. I enjoyed sitting by the water and working on my podcast for a while. There were a bunch of Portuguese Man-o’-War on the beach, which kept me out of the water, but they are fascinating creatures to look at.
As the morning wore on, it was sadly time for me to leave Key West and start heading north. I did stop for lunch at Mangrove Mama’s, one of the best little restaurants in the Keys. I had a phenomenal blackened mahi-mahi sandwich which really was perfect in every way. Belly full, I started making my way slowly north.
I stopped for the night in Marathon, hoping to be able and kayak in Curry Hammock State Park in the morning. The seas were too high in the morning though so I had to keep on driving. Even though I did’t get to dive or kayak in the Keys this time through, it was still a wonderful few days in one of my favorite parts of the country.
Making my way out of the Keys, I headed on into Miami. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Miami in the past, and wasn’t really planning on a visit on this trip, but I had two friends I wanted to catch up with there. I stopped in to see my friend Christopher at the hotel he works at - the Faena Miami Beach. The Faena is a real upscale resort right on the beach, and I was glad to see him working for such a high end place. He showed me around the property, pointing out some of the incredible art work to be seen. My favorite (and his) was the gold plated mammoth skeleton. This was no replica, but a full sized, actual mammoth skeleton plated in gold. The property was lovely and it looks like a wonderful place to stay. I left him to finish his work and then went to meet my friend Adam who went to Penn State and graduated a few years after I did. We went to a neat little spot called Shuckers Waterfront Grill for a few beers and to catch up. When we were done, I headed back and caught up with Christopher and crashed at his place.
We hung out for a while in the morning until he had to go to work, and then I headed down to check out the lighthouse on Key Biscayne. Leaving there, I went to run a few errands around Miami. I stopped into the Versailles Cafe in Little Havana for a Cuban sandwich and then headed out of town. I had a lot of work to catch up on, so I stopped into Starbucks for a few hours and then drove on to the Miccosukee Resort for the night. I went into the casino for a look around, won $50 playing Keno and then called it a night.
Sunday I drove on to the Miccosukee Indian Village Museum a little ways further down the road. I thought the $15 entrance fee was a little steep, but since I had won at their casino the night before, I was really just giving them some of their money back. I enjoyed a guided tour of the village which talked about some of the arts and crafts of the tribe, and then went into the museum to learn some of the history. It was fascinating to learn about these people who are so closely tied to the Everglades. The best part of my visit though, was the alligator wrestling. The Everglades natives have been wrestling alligators for tourists for over a hundred years, and it was great to see this tradition living on. This was especially true because Riff, the wrestler, clearly cared about and for these amazing and powerful animals and in no way hurt them during the show. It was interesting and educational and also pretty cool. I got to hold a baby crocodile too which seemed infinitely less dangerous.
From there I headed out across the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades. I stopped to take some photos of the beautiful birds and gators I spotted along the way. I also made my way out to Everglades City and talked to the rangers at the Visitor Center there. It was great to see them back at work, at least for now. I had really wanted to go out overnight into the Everglades and camp, but the weather was crummy and it wasn’t improving. I did get the information I needed for next time though. I also stopped in to see the smallest post office in the country in tiny Ochopee.
Leaving the Everglades, I drove on into Naples and met up with my friend Beau. I had hung out with Beau in Kentucky just a few months ago, but he recently bought a house in Naples, so it was great to stop in and see him again. We spent the evening and the next day hanging out and catching up.
We spent a good chunk of Monday at Koreshan State Park in Estero. This was a really neat place and the center of the Koreshan commune. The Koreshan people were dedicated to communal living in their version of Utopia. They bought this large tract of land in Florida a hundred years ago and cleared it for farming and living. When their numbers had dwindled to just a few people, they donated their land to the state of Florida which turned it into a state park. Their story was an interesting one, and it was a neat place to visit. That evening Beau and I went out for some amazing shrimp at Pinchers near the docks, and then on for a beer at the really cool Parrot Bar and Grill.
Tuesday I was off and running in the morning. I took the scenic way north through Fort Myers Beach and then across the causeway to lovely Sanibel Island. I came to visit my friends Dan and Michelle and their two children. Dan and Michelle are friends I met during my time on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They are really sweet people, and it was great to meet their kids. We put a puzzle together and played with the firetruck (which was really awesome), and then had a wonderful home-cooked meal and some nice conversation.
Today I was up and off early to try and get some morning photos at the Sanibel Lighthouse. It was a bit cloudy, but still a pretty morning. I got some good photos and then went for a drive around the island. Samibel is a quaint old-Florida place with charming little hotels and one of the world’s premier shelling beaches. I took a bit of a walk on the beach, and then headed out to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. I enjoyed a nice four mile walk along the mangrove lined Indigo Trail and even spotted a couple of Roseate Spoonbills. They are bright pink, so they would have been hard to miss.
The day started to cloud over, so I thought I would sit down and finish this week’s review post. It’s been a nice week out here, and I’m looking forward to the week ahead. I have some more friends to catch up with as I make my way up the Gulf Coast, and I’m looking forward to seeing what adventures we can get into. My podcast is in the editing phase now, and will be done in the next week. Once I leave the greater Tampa area, I’m looking forward to swimming with manatees in Crystal River, and visiting some of the springs north of Ocala. From there it will be off across the panhandle and on my way to Louisiana. But I’m getting ahead of myself. When we meet again next week, I’ll still be in west central Florida.
The weather looks cold in the north, so stay warm up there. Cabin fever is a good reason to start a new hobby or pick up an old one that you haven’t pursued in a while. Until next week then, have fun out there and don’t work too hard.