by Bob Wonders
One of the good things about visiting the Miami International Boat Show is the opportunity to take a detour south and visit the Florida Keys and its capital, Key West.
Sloppy Joe’s, Duval Street, Key West, arguably the most famous bar in the United States - Key West
In February I made my third visit to this truly magical part of the world, a world of crystal clear waters, stunning sunsets and more bridges…..well, more bridges than almost anywhere, I would think.
Although Key West, the southernmost point of the Continental United States, is only a four-hour drive, one must cross 42 bridges, including the ‘daddy’ of them all, the All American seven-mile (11.25 km) bridge.
‘The Keys’, as locals refer to the region, must seem like Heaven on Earth to anglers and scuba divers; every strip shopping centre or mall seemed to host tackle stores, scuba equipment outlets, charter boat operations and boat yards, while the entire coast on both sides is dotted with marinas of all shapes and sizes.
Keen anglers rate the region as ‘paradise’ for both light tackle and heavy tackle fishing.
Islamorada, one of the first major destinations on the Keys after leaving Miami, offers sport fishing for all comers form one of its many marinas.
The waters wide of the coast are home to a variety of fish, including highly prized billfish and dedicated anglers recognise the region as among the finest fishing grounds on South Atlantic waters.
Key West, which calls itself ‘the Conch Republic’, is rather historic in many ways, its use even dating back to the American Civil War; it also became prominent during the so-called ‘Cold War’, particularly when the late President John F Kennedy threw down the gauntlet to the USSR over the Cuban missile crisis.
A ‘conch’, by the way, is a crustacean resembling a snail; I’m told Spanish-speaking people pronounce the word as ‘Conch’, English-speaking peoples pronounce it ‘Conk.’
Take your pick.
Real estate in Key West is expensive, make that incredibly expensive.
A local told me that ‘decent’ houses start at about $4 million; condominiums from $1 million (and that’s for a fairly small one!).
To rent a small, one-bedroom apartment, figure on $1200 or more per month.
A scuba diver off Key Largo - the township still promotes itself as the setting for the Humphrey Bogart movie of the same name.
Away from fishing, scuba diving and just playing tourist, Key West can lay claim to some, well, let’s say mighty interesting attractions.
Foremost among them is the historic Sloppy Joe’s, a bar on Duval Street which also stages annually the Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest which regularly attracts in excess of 100 entrants.
This particular establishment is actually the third to carry the name Sloppy Joe’s; the genuine original was in Havana, Cuba, and in 1934 it opened just a few doors from the present site, a location now known as Captain Tony’s.
The present Sloppy Joe’s opened in 1937 and has been there ever since, dispensing all manner of cooling drinks to local and visitors.
Texan David Douglas (centre) was named winner of the last Ernest Hemingway look-a-like contest held at the famous Sloppy Joe's.
Hemingway made no secret of his fondness for Key West and his house, where he write one of his blockbuster novels, ‘To Have and Have Not’, is a major tourist attraction; as is a quite palatial residence known as ‘The Little White House.’
This was the home of former US President Harry S Truman, who spent most of his free time out of Washington, DC, at ‘The Little White House’, which made him smarter than the average politician, in my book.
'The Little White House', former US President Harry S. Truman's favourite 'hang out' away from politics.
Another attraction to both locals and tourists is Mallory Square which, as the name implies, is the city’s square, but it has won fame for the view it offers for Key West’s fabulous sunsets.
Entertainers, buskers and various market stalls all give the square a carnival atmosphere and the sunsets are definitely worth seeing.
Mallory Square, renowned for its view of sunsets and the artists and entertainers that show their skills. - Key West
Hotels, motels and guest houses all seem to make maximum use of waterfront locations and it’s easy to locate a restaurant or bar where your feet are almost awash with the waters of the Caribbean, the Atlantic or the Mexican Gulf, depending on your actual location.
Many sections of the highway from Miami to Key West have water both sides, the Atlantic Ocean to your left, the Gulf of Mexico to your right.
It’s all just part of the broad appeal of the Keys.
To those readers who have never been there, my advice is do it, do it soon.
It’s unique, it’s a one-of-a-kind place that you will want to re-visit time and time again.
Don’t believe me?
Visit the very informative website, www.fla-keys.com
I’ll wager you’ll start looking at ways and means to get there.
Every visitor to Key West checks out 'the rock' - the signage says it all. - Key West