Finding the Hidden Key West

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June 20th 2014
Published: June 21st 2014
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The first one up was me, as always. But I let everyone else sleep in. No agenda today. Well we did have one, but it was changed. I had booked a cruise to Dry Tortugas National Park several weeks ago for today. But the ferry group called me on Wednesday and told me that they were expecting rough weather on Friday and was giving people the opportunity to switch to Saturday to make it more enjoyable. I was skeptical at first for I had already checked the weather, but visions and memories of Donald heaving over the side of the boat of a snorkeling cruise we took about several years ago, swayed me to agree to change our plans.

So, with a free day, I looked for free things to do in Key West. The Dry Tortugas tour took quite a bit of our allotted money for this trip, so looking to cut corners where we can. Though Key West and the word free in the same sentence sounds a bit like an oxymoron, there are quite a few free things to do on this island. It turns out that the free activities are also the lesser known areas (somewhat hidden). I noted some on our map and had a short plan for the day.

When traveling, I like to eat at the non-chain restaurants - the mom and pop places. I like to try new things and new places. My family does not share the same sentiment. I have not pushed this concept on them during this trip, so this morning's breakfast was presented by IHOP. It was standard IHOP flavor no special key west additives. Afterwards we headed to the other side of the island. There are salt ponds, piers, and the only public beach areas on the island. Most of the island is surrounded by a concrete wall, but there are a few spots that have been kept as beach areas. Surprisingly, they are not that crowded - at least not what you would expect from an island so full of people. We stopped at White Street Pier (free parking!) and took a walk out on the ocean. It is a long and large concrete pier next to the beach area. We walked while looking into the clear water and saw many schools of tropical fish and saw a couple of sting rays. The humidity here is awful. So much so, that it completely fogged my camera - inside and out, so I was not able to capture many photos of the sea life there. After leaving the pier, we walked next door to the West Martello Tower and Gardens. The tower is a building of the remains of an unfinished fort built during wartime. A group of volunteers started the Key West Garden Club and have turned the place into a beautiful area of exotic plants and flowers. It was a short visit, but it was nice and free.

We then moved further down the island and stopped in the FL Keys Eco and Discovery Center. It too is free and ran by volunteers. It is a nice center with displays of the plant and animal life in the keys and contains a few aquariums. It is located next to the Naval Air Station and and a naval museum. We admired the naval ships in the area and saw a cruise ship that was in port. We then moved on down the road to try and find where our boat will depart from for tomorrow's cruise out to Dry Tortugas. The streets in Key West are numerous and not so easily navigated. So after many turns and a few u-turns, we think we located it. Then it was back to the hotel for a bit. We had lunch in the cabana at the hotel pool and just hung out a bit.

Key West is a small island - only 4 or 5 miles at the longest point. But it is jam packed with colorful people and places. Every square inch of this island is filled with roads, buildings, and construction. The main highway (Highway 1) is even in the middle of construction creating all sorts of issues. For the area to have that laid back island perception, it does not seem very laid back at all. It is more of a 'run or I will run over you' feeling. It is not a picturesque as I though it would be, probably because of the lack of beach areas. It is a busy metro area that suddenly stops at the ocean. The water itself is beautiful. It is so clear and has many levels of green and blue hues. A photo does not depict how it really looks.

We later went out to the marina and walked the boardwalk a bit. It is a nice historical walking tour. Hundreds of boats lined the sea wall and fish frolicked in the sea. They know the secrets to the area. The fishermen clean their catch of the day throwing scraps back in the water creating a free effortless dinner for the bigger fish below. Large tarpons fed for hours along with a couple of sharks. All their feeding made us hungry too so we went to Turtle Kraals for dinner. It was located on the water and had a local flair. The food was good and the entertainment quite different. The entertainment at Turtle Kraals is a contest of .....yep, crawling turtles. Everyone is given a ticket with a number of 1, 2,3, or 4. If your corresponding turtle wins, so do you. You win a chance at unlocking the box of cash. Our waiter gave us one of each number so with our one winning ticket, Stephen stood in line for his chance at the cash, but was not the winner. No extra cash for us.

With our bellies full and our pockets empty we headed back over to the pier we visited earlier today for sunset. It was not a good vantage point to see the sun set on the water, but it was still nice. Weather was good, small crowd, wind blowing, free parking, fish swimming, clouds floating by. It was a good end to the day.

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