|Friday, February 6: Key West, the
Everglades revisited, to Miami
This morning the weather was much warmer and sunny. Still not warm enough for shorts, but the hell with it; I wore them anyway. The El Rancho staff said we could park there as long as we wanted after we checked out, so we set out on foot to explore the town some more.
Cock of the walk
The Key West Lighthouse was built in 1825 to help ships entering the port avoid the hazardous reefs. It's now a museum and open to the public. Consulting the map, it seemed we almost walked right by it last night but didn't even notice. When we got there, I understood how we'd missed it. It's only 110 feet tall. True I'm a long-time landlubber, but I don't understand how ships at sea would have spotted the light in time to avoid the reefs!
Due to the lighthouse's diminutive nature, we didn't feel like spending $10 each to enter. Later, I learned from my friend Charlene that if you climb the lighthouse, you look right down onto a hotel with a clothing-optional swimming pool for men. If it hadn't been too cold for skinny-dipping, it would have been worth the 10 bucks!
Key West Lighthouse
Our next destination was the officially designated "Southernmost Point" of the continental United States (*not geographically the most southern point), where we found a bevy of tourists lined up to have their photos taken with a fat stubby monument shaped like a buoy. Near this location you'll also find the southernmost hotel, the southernmost bed & breakfast, the southernmost Circle K, the southernmost water fountain, etcetera, etcetera. Alrighty, then. We'd reached the end of the road, and it was time to head north.
Further south point
Southernmost nude male sculpture
The wind picked up as we headed back toward the mainland, the sky got dark, and the temperature dropped once again. We stopped for lunch at Chili Willie's in Islamorada, an appropriately named restaurant considering the weather. I was regretting wearing shorts today!
Bridge to mainland Florida
Happily, when we got to the mainland, the sky cleared, and we went back to Everglades National Park to do a couple of short hikes we hadn't had time for before.
The Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm starts four miles from the park entrance closest to Florida City. As we approached from the road, hundreds of birds soared overhead in the late-afternoon air currents. I'm glad we came back to the Everglades!
Soaring above Royal Palm
The trail is a half-mile-long, elevated boardwalk running along a canal teeming with alligators, vultures, herons, egrets, and of course anhingas, among other birds unknown to us.
Along the Anhinga Trail
Swallowing a big bite
Black Vulture Fight (click for video)
We left the Everglades just before dark, but it was still reasonably early, so we decided to drive on past the abundant, reasonably priced hotels of Florida City and Homestead and find somewhere to stay closer to Miami, probably in Kendall, a mid-sized dot on our map that Tom, having once lived in Miami, assured me would be very Homestead-like and where we would easily find a suitable hotel. Therefore, everything that follows I blame entirely on him, and I was merely an innocent bystander caught up in events beyond my control.
As we came to find out, Miami has gotten a lot bigger in the 25 years since Tom lived there, and Kendall is no longer a standalone town, but rather is part of the sprawling Miami-Dade megalopolis. In the dark, in the traffic, not knowing where in the heck anything was located, we were having a lot of trouble finding a hotel. Twice we did come upon hotels, only to find one overpriced and the other over-booked. At both places we got directions to other hotel possibilities, but both times the directions were a wild goose chase and led us in circles.
Finally, we got off the state highway and onto an expressway, thinking on a road with exits, we'd come across some of those blue interstate signs advising of nearby amenities. Then our low-fuel light came on. So now we had two things we needed desperately that we didn't know where to find. Then, like a beacon in the darkness, as we neared Miami International Airport, we saw a sign for the Executive Airport Hotel. Thank God.
Tom stayed in the car while I went in the lobby and inquired about a room for the night. The lobby was decked out a little strangely, with hearts for decoration and "love baskets" of goodies for sale, etcetera, but it was approaching Valentine's Day, so I didn't think much of it. I was quoted $120 for the night. I checked with Tom, and we decided we really didn't have much choice at this point. After all, we were almost out of gas and couldn't keep driving around aimlessly.
I checked in and we drove around to our room. To enter the hotel grounds, we'd had to drive over a set of railroad tracks and through a very tall hedgerow. There were no other businesses in the vicinity. The hotel is very secluded. Many of the rooms even have their own garages for extra privacy, so a guest's car can't be spotted, should that be important, and guests won't be seen entering and exiting their rooms.
Our room was not a fancy one with its own garage. We just parked in front of the door like normal human beings. But apparently all the rooms are at least a little special. Ours had a Jacuzzi surrounded by mirrors, a nice lighted mirror over the great big bed, with great big industrial-strength bedposts, a giant glassed-in shower with multiple shower heads, a nice stereo system, and, oh, yeah, several channels of porn included at no extra charge, whether you want them or not.
I found out later that there are "themed" rooms available, too. If our room had a theme, I would call it '70s swinger classy (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more). Clearly, Tom and I will now be ineligible to run for high public office after staying at this place. I kept looking out the window for congressmen - this seemed the perfect place for a dangerous liaison - but they were undoubtedly in the rooms with private garages.
I also found out later we could have rented the room in four-hour blocks instead of by the night.
We went out for a delicious late dinner of pizza at the aptly named Loven Ovens and filled our car with gas for a quick getaway in the morning.
The Love Shack, Miami
Nothing but class