“If you need to throw up, please go to the back of the boat.” These were the captain’s words before we started the 4-hour trip by boat from Key West to the Dry Tortugas. The westernmost islands of the Florida Keys are famous for their wildlife and coral reefs. The name’s origin: many turtles + no drinking water = Dry Tortugas. On the way to the islands hardly anyone puked, on the way back almost everyone did. My then boyfriend and I sat in the very back of the boat – where it rocks the least – and noticed all the misery. I couldn’t look, he did. Our conversation: “Look, this one ate spaghetti.” – “I do not want to know!” The only reason I didn’t join the reverse-eating was a nice lady sharing her medicine with me.
So, here is my first travel tip: Even if you think you do not need to take a remedy for seasickness, please take one with you. You can get it in any U.S. drug store.
We only wnet on a day trip, looked at Fort Jefferson and did some snorkeling there – my seasickness started already then. The 19th Century fortress is very neat to look at, but there is probably better snorkeling in other areas.
Second Travel Tip: Depending on your interests and on budget, you should spend two to three days at the Dry Tortugas, go camping and have a guide show you the right places.
Over all, the Keys never are low budget, but they are always fully booked. Please also keep this in mind if you want to use Couchsurfing.org. When looking for a hotel, consider the beautiful old Historic Key West Inns. They are often cheaper than the new ones. We stayed at the Key Lime Inn, and were pleased with the price-performance ratio. You won’t find accomodation for less $ 100 in te main season, and that’s on the cheap side. Our trip to the Florida Keys was a nice, relaxed couple thing, no kamikaze missions. We flew into Miami, rented a car and drove to Key West – a lovely route from island to island across the bridges. In Key West we rented bikes and cycled back and forth across the island.
We looked at the former house of the writer Ernest Hemingway, including dozens polydaktyl cats that belong to the inventory. Because of a genetic abnormality, they all have six toes on their paws – the most interesting aspect of the whole house-tour. But of course, you also have to have seen the paintings, the old furniture and the hunting trophies – same with Hemingway’s favorite bar Sloppy Joe’s. That’s where he probably came up with smart phrases like “an intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.” or “What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.”
There are not many beaches in Key West. So if you want to spend a day at the beach, the island Bahia Honda is ideal. If someone finds lazy beach days too boring, he can paddle a canoe through the sea, or go snorkeling. For kite surfing, visit Islamorada. There’s also a huge plastic lobster right beside the road. Such items of superlative with questionable meaning are characteristic for the States. Just think of Prairie Dog Town in Oakley, Kansas, “home of the giant prairie dog”. But that’s another story.
Back to the beaches in Key West. Smathers Beach is pretty nice, but not very big. And anyone who thinks they can undisturbed enjoy sex on the beach at night, perhaps discovers quiet onlookers. And while we’re on the stereotypes, maybe a member of the Mile High Club could tell me, how two people can get into an aircraft cabin without everyone noticing.
During daytime you wander through the streets of Key West and look at all the beautiful buildings, go visit the Butterfly House or enjoy Cuban food. Other gourmet foods you need to try once in the Keys are the sugar-sweet key lime pie or the “conch meat”. The latter is the meat of the animal which normally resides in the large shells that you stick to your ear to listen to the crashing of the waves of the sea. But it’s better to see the slug-like animals in the aquarium than on the plate. First they nozzle around and if all stones are grazed, the relocate they relocate with their thick pedestal base. The unusual wildlife in the Keys also includes the small white-tailed deer, called key deer, which can be found on No Name Key. Most of them are trusting towards tourists and seem to have intentions to crawl into your car.
Due to its proximity to Cuba, the culture in the Keys is very prominent. At night, you shouldn’t hang out with the “spring break teens” in the bars of Duval Street, but rather visit an outlying Cuban bar. We eventually did a pub crawl – up Duval Street, to the pier and Mallory Square. Then we found an authentic bar with authentic people in an alley in the north-west of the island. I forgot the name. What I remember is, we met a couchsurfer who moved to Key West to keep up the family tradition of being a writer. Due to lack of creativity for the high prose, he wrote a guide book: 50 semi-legal ways how to get into Cuba. Before the travel regulations were relaxed in the USA in 2011, a bestseller for sure.
Anyone who thinks they haven’t yet spent enough money, can buy new clothes in one of the trendy shops of Duval Street. Back then I had first contact with the water sports brand Bodyglove and was impressed by the quality. I still have the bikini. No product placement intended, but if something meets standards, you can say it.
Bottomline: the Florida Keys are very nice, but unfortunately also very expensive. I have a different understanding of low budget. Those who have the money, I’d recommend rather flying into Cuba – as long as it is still classic Cuban. After all, the Keys have a lot to offer when it comes down to activities and things to see. I’m glad I did the trip once.