Thurs. Nov. 7, 2019:
Marathon to Key West, Florida:
I had made until 9:30pm before caving and going to bed, I had to stay up and watch the new episode of Modern Family to see if the show still holds up. It was alright. It had been a rough night, I had trouble falling asleep and then later I woke up with a massive headache around 2am, in my tiredness I was somehow convinced the water was not safe to drink.
Before heading out on the road, we stopped at the gas station across the street because our hotel room had no creamer or milk for the coffee. There were chickens in the parking lot which lent a lot of credence to the fried chicken shop in the gas station, I joked that it must be really fresh. One of the chickens started clucking at me when I took their picture. The coffee was what you would expect from a gas station but it did the trick. We split a chocolate Moon Pie for breakfast. At first it kind of looked like a Jos Louis but it was more of a cookie with marshmallow filling and then all covered in chocolate. We also got a bag of tostones for snacking on later and a Mexican Pepsi. I saw a pink bird flying overhead and correctly guessed that it was a roseate spoonbill once we saw the beak shape. The only reason I knew this was from my time spent playing Red Dead Redemption 2.
It was a good thing we had stopped for that coffee because we didn’t pass anything until we got to Key West an hour later. I would’ve been one sad cupcake. We got to our hotel around 11am and check in wasn’t until 3pm. We thought there was still a chance our room could be ready? Nope. At least we got one of the few parking spots outside of the hotel. Everything was in walking distance of the hotel, so we didn’t need the car.
It was a short 15-minute walk to Hemingway’s house. There was a sign by the ticket booth saying “do not pick up cats.” This was my kind of place! Cats! It was really funny once inside to see the signs telling visitors not to sit on our touch the furniture and yet there’s a cat, sitting on Hemingway’s bed cleaning itself. There were so many cats throughout the property, that alone has it ranking in top historical houses of all time in my opinion. In the museum texts they referred to Hemingway as “virile” which was just hilarious. It was nice to see his writing studio and, in the end, I left the museum wanting to read a biography of Hemingway. Partly because I wanted to learn more about the six-toed cat he was gifted and how he became a crazy cat person.
From the balcony I could see people across the street that had climbed a tower of some sort. I wanted that view! I demanded we go across and see what it was. The tower turned out to be a lighthouse, except it was no longer on the coast but inland. Apparently, it had gotten destroyed in the mid-1800s so to protect it they rebuilt it further inland away from the coast. There was a funny sign by the ticket booth stating how many steps and that no you cannot see Cuba from up there. We had a good view of the entire island and we could see the southern most tip of the USA. Ergo, that was where we had to go next. I did not enjoy the stair climb up or down, the heat and the tight narrow winding made for a bad combo.
There was a giant buoy marking the southern most tip and apparently this was quite the sight to see. There was a line up of at least 20 people waiting patiently to have their photo taken beside the giant painted marker. One guy’s wife stood off the side of it, almost in the street, circumventing the line. I took a photo of it from the other side, I didn’t get the text telling me it was 90 miles to Cuba but I also didn’t care.
Up next on our sight-seeing tour we took to the main stretch, Duval St. Aka party central. We stopped in at Sloppy Joe’s for a drink because apparently this was Hemginway’s favourite haunt in Key West. We debated that over two drinks. It was not the original name, location or ownership. We still had to go as it was a “Key West” thing to do. The musician in there sucked and thankfully he finished up soon after we arrived. For the first round Brent had their in-house beer and I had a rum runner because it is the “official” drink of Key West and it was made with local rum. It was actually really good for something containing dreaded banana liqueur. For the second round Brent had a margarita and I had a key lime cider. It wasn’t very limey but still pretty good. This was a rare occasion for us to trade halfway. We also got the second round for free. After our first order the server gave us a bill but we said we’d be having another so she took it away. Then another server got our second round and, in the end, we only got charged for two of the four drinks.
here was a line out the door of people waiting to get into Margaritaville. All it says in my notebook is: WHY??? We were unsure about the open-drinks policy, it kind of seemed like it was allowed? We walked over to where we would be watching the sunset tomorrow to scope out the place and make sure it was good. It appeared to be more a bar patio than a dock. But it was pretty casual and we could just get a drink.
We continued along the pier to scope out the evening’s dinner and sunset spot. It didn’t seem like a particularly good spot, maybe it we had a table on the upper deck? On the way we saw all of the speed-racing boats and people crowded around. I did not get the appeal of looking at a bunch of boats in a parking lot.
We had lunch at Conch Republic Seafood Company. We had to keep it light as it was already afternoon and our dinner plans were early because they centred around sunset. We split a conch chowder and a callaloo dip. The chowder was more of a spicy soup but still very good. The dip was basically spinach dip except with the Caribbean plant callaloo instead. It was surprisingly good and I liked that it was served warm. I had tried to order a key lime mojito but with the Pilar local rum. The guy looked at me confused, the key lime mojito is made with key lime liquor and apparently you can’t swap them out. So, I had the “Hemingway” mojito which was made with that rum. It was the worst mojito I have ever had, I should have known it would be trouble when it was served in a pint glass. It was more soda water than anything else.
We walked back along the marina side of the pier (on the way to lunch we had walked along the road). We saw a crowd gathered by the dock so of course we had to go over and investigate. We could see giant fish swimming around, why were they hanging out so close to the dock and to fishing boats?! As we kept looking, we saw a giant grouper and as if that wasn’t exciting enough… a shark casually swam by! It was the most exciting and unexpected thing to happen. I did not think that I would ever see a shark in the wild in my life and here it just randomly happened. I’ll admit, I found the shark pretty cute, just swimming along. I did not expect grouper to be either so big or so ugly, it stands in stark contrast to how delicious it is.
We walked to Ben & Jerry’s on Duval St for dessert. On the way we passed by a momma chicken and her little babies peeping, it was too cute. There was a guy sitting on the stoop outside saying the place was closed but the girl who works there said to ignore the idiot. Things only got weirder inside. As we were deciding on flavours another guy came in and she was talking to him. Apparently, he had squirted her boyfriend’s 5-year old kid and now she was saying (jokingly?) that her kid had PTSD? It was all way too weird for me. We got our ice cream and got the heck out of there. I was so happy to finally get my Phish Food fix BUT it melted so damn fast in the Florida heat.
We still had time to kill before our room was ready. We headed over to the zero-mile marker, because according to all the tourist tchotchkes in the shops, it was a thing to see? We ran across the street, got a picture of the marker and ran back before the light changed. (We later saw that our side of the street also had a marker, oops.) We started back towards Duval St. where I had seen a liquor store but then Brent found on one the zero-mile marker street so we went there first. I am sad to say that there was no green parrot at Green Parrot Liquors. The selection was also not that great. We walked back to Duval St. to KWest liquors. It only dawned on me later that it was not “quest” but “Key West” and I momentarily felt like a dummy. The selection was also terrible, until we found the cooler of ice and singles near the door. They had singles of The Claw, we didn’t need that 6-pack after all (but how were we to know that?) I even stopped at a corner store on the way and struck out again. I would be needing a Publix pit-stop the next day.
Brent cracked open his Jai Alai for the walk back to the hotel. I was carrying the other Florida beer. It was a cinnamon and hibiscus beer, it did not sound good. It was nice and cold so I held it against my head and neck. Eventually it warmed up and the can was dry. We passed by the graveyard again, it was weird because all the tombs are above ground. There was a cat sleeping on one of the graves. We also saw two roosters fighting in the street, an actual real-life cock fight. The winner strutted around inside the cemetery while the loser stood on a car and kept looking back in at the cemetery.
There was a line when we got to the hotel. The lady in front of us checking in was claiming that her ugly little yappy dog was a service dog. There was no way it was. Then a guy came in all huffy and mad and angrily sat down in a chair. He cut us off and started complaining his key didn’t work, he asked for a key that does work. The (poor) hotel clerk said all the keys work, and was about to offer him another key. But then another lady came in, she wanted some water bottles. She told the guy to try the other lock on the door. She looked at us, clearly waiting in line, apologized and continued ordering two bottles of water. Then she realized she had no money and went out to get her wallet. We just stood there whole time watching this saga unfold wondering what the f—k is going on here?! Our hotel room was more of a small apartment again. This time we had two bathrooms! The living room had two air-conditioners and a fan.
The nice cold Strongbow was just what I needed after all that heat. I settled in with my ebook, there was zero chance of any good TV in the middle of the afternoon. At least the wifi was finally good, it barely connected at the last place. We looked up the time of sunset and headed back out to Schooner’s Wharf restaurant. They are listed as good spot to watch the sunset, but even when we went up to the deck, the view was not that good. We left and walked over to the Sunset Pier. We caught the second half of the sunset as we walked over to Mallory Square. Now THIS, this was the place to watch a sunset! Beautiful unobstructed views, no restaurant requiring us to make a purchase. In the view we had all of the yachts and sailboats that had gone out on the water to see the sunset. Periodically a speed-boat would race through. The square was really nice, we were going to come back for sure. On the way out we passed through a gift shop but there was no sign of a manatee magnet for Adrian.
We went back to Schooner Wharf for dinner. It was an outdoor covered patio but it was so poorly lit. We had to use our cellphones to illuminate the menu. We were sitting near the stage where a band was setting up. Brent kept singing cheeseburgers in paradise and saying he had to order a cheeseburger. I didn’t get it. They were known for their pina coladas (hard pass), conch chowder (we had it for lunch) and conch fritters. Our server gave me a weird look when I ordered the Key West shrimp BLT with no tomatoes. It’s not that odd a request when you have something else in there in addition to the BLT part. The sandwich was so damn good, as were the conch fritters. The only let-down was the burger, it was bland and all I could taste was onions. I finally got to try key lime mustard and I loved it. So much so I made a note to myself to buy it or find a recipe to make it. I finally got my key lime mojito fix at dinner. It was so much better, with just a splash of soda water. It was really sweet and it went down way too easy. For my second drink I had another mojito, this time made with 21-year aged Panamanian rum. I had sip of Brent’s pina colada, only verifying my stance: they’re so gross. I kept saying thousand percent nope in response to it. The band playing was much better than earlier in the day, they were actually good.
We stopped at Kermit’s Key (West) Lime Shop for key lime pie for dessert. Well actually, it would be tomorrow’s breakfast, we were both stuffed. I got key lime ice box cookies for my co-workers and family as souvenirs. As we headed back, I kept thinking about the larger size of cookies that came in a tin with a nice painting of Hemingway’s house complete with cats on the fence. I cursed myself, I should’ve gotten that one and used the tin to store my travel mementos! What was I thinking!? I had to go back the next day, it was decided. We stopped at a convenience store and I got a strawberry Fanta, again the drink selection was paltry but I also didn’t really need another drink. Those mojitos were strong. We watched the new Jersey Shore reunion (or according to my notebook “remix”) show and I yelled at all the plot holes.