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February 18th 2016
Published: June 10th 2017
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Geo: 24.5541, -81.801

At Sue and Elrose's beautiful house we slept very well Sunday night, after our more than two days traveling from central Maine to Key Largo. Looking out the window in our bedroom we could see the ocean, such a gorgeous, calming sight. We even slept with the window open--such extravagance for us in February! Monday dawned a bit cloudy, and not so warm as could be expected, but we put on shorts anyway; temps in the low 70s are something Mainers can't expect to see until April at best, and even then we'd feel lucky. Elrose and Sue fed us sumptuously; every day we dined on fresh, ripe fruits, all totally delicious. The mangos reminded me of Thailand, where I ate exquisite juice-dripping-down-your-arms goodness every day; here there are enormous Florida avocados, another food fit for the gods. Every mango and avocado was bigger than my hand! It seems that in the Keys you can eat the same amazingly fresh ripe fruits as in tropical Thailand. Anyplace with food like this is heaven to me.

Walking around their community, Buttonwood, we searched in the canals for manatees; the weather was considered "chilly," so the warmer canals become more welcoming to these large gentle creatures. In the morning we took a walking tour, and then in the afternoon, Bill and I headed out to get a feel for Key Largo, walking miles on side roads, marvelling at boats parked in back of many houses, in their own spaces jutting off from the canals. Parking for cars in front, parking for boats in back. Older communities and new construction are nestled together everywhere; it is easy to see why people would choose to live in such a friendly weather environment, although most people here do buy hurricane insurance.

On Tuesday Sue and Elrose drove us the two hours it took to get from Key Largo to Key West. Neither of us had ever been this far south in the States before; the beauty of driving that narrow highway was quite different from anything either of us had seen before. And Key West itself was a fun place to visit. We had only one day, so we filled it with all the touristy things people do: learning the history of the Conch Republic, seeing Hemingway's reputed haunts, walking on the boardwalk and around Mallory Square, seeing the southernmost spot in the US, heading down Duval Street, taking the Conch Train, and wishing to stay a day or two longer. I had read it was considered an anything-goes type of place, but compared to where I lived in Cambridge, Mass in the early 1970s, with rebellion, revolutions, street performers all day (and night) long in downtown Harvard Square, and the smell of marijuana everywhere, Key West was rather tame. Still, I could see living here for awhile, to enjoy getting a better measure of what passes for fun and freedom in this part of the world, in this much more submissive day and age.

On Wednesday we were invited to go on a boat trip to Boca Chita. I had thought we were going in just one motor boat, but it happened that there were six boats in this flotilla, a grand party gathering of friends and neighbors who love boats and the sea. It was a gorgeous, sun-filled, people-filled day! Bouncing along, racing on the water, it took over an hour to reach Boca Chita, part of the Biscayne Bay National Park system. After our picnic lunch we climbed up to the top of the pretty, purely decorative lighthouse, gazing out over the colorful and vast ocean. Walking along the beach, looking for perfect shells, suddenly we realized people were calling us to go back; all too soon boats were already leaving. (Why, I wondered, since it took us so long to get here? I would have stayed all day, or at least more of the day, exploring the area and just enjoying being here. It is unlikely that Bill or I might come here again, but of course all the others can.) But we were off, the last boat to leave. Since when we got back it was still early afternoon, Peter, the pilot and owner of this boat, asked if we would like to motor down some of the smaller canals; we could look for manatees, or maybe crocodiles. I hadn't seen (or held) a crocodile since my trip into the wilds of southern Louisiana, so this was an exciting prospect. We meandered into a few beautiful canals, and suddenly I saw some large shapes in the water: manatees! Three of them, one still a baby, swimming peacefullly along beside the thick vegetation. Such gentle creatures, so large and ungainly, but so graceful in water. Even though I love swimming I would not want to be a manatee as I enjoy litheness and speed, but these were beautiful animals, shyly trying to escape the boat's close proximity. We tried to follow them for awhile, but they easily eluded us. Eventually we came back to Peter's dock, unpacked the day's picnic trappings, thanked our new friends and bid them adieu.

We left Thursday morning, again on the trains for two plus more days of long but grandly calm travel home, taking the few hours we had between scheduled departures for a short but delightful stop in Virginia for dinner at my son's house. All too short a reunion, then more separations, from my son and daughter-in-law and active grandsons, as well as earlier from our lovely friends, Elrose and Sue. We continued heading to the frozen, snowy north on our way home, replete with warm and happy memories of our short, but glorious times with friends and family, enjoying our odyssey-like journey, very thankful to have taken this vacation week to explore and luxuriate in, and to and from, the welcoming environment of the Florida Keys.


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