Florida Keys and Key West

By İlknur Gürdal Fieldhouse

The Florida Keys is a group of small islands located in the southernmost US in the Atlantic Ocean. In the Caribbean, small islands are called “Key or Cay”, and this is where the Florida Keys derive their name. The difference with this group of islands is that they are connected to each other with roads and bridges, and it is possible to travel to the islands by car.
As you travel through the islands you will feel relaxed and you will drive with less speed. To enjoy these islands you have to give yourself time and adapt yourself to the slow pace of time in the Caribbean.
Key West Fantasy Fest.

Driving south from Miami, the first island you will reach is Key Largo. You can stop over at John Pennekamp Park, take a kayak tour, and discover the undersea world through diving and snorkeling. At the Theater of the Sea Park located on Islamorada Island you can swim with dolphins in a natural salt-water pool and learn interesting information about dolphin behavior.

To travel on the bridges connecting the islands is a different delight in itself. The longest of these bridges is named “Seven Mile Bridge” and is 7 miles or 11.2 km long. To drive on a bridge built into the ocean is only possible in the Florida Keys, and is a fantastic experience...

If you, during your trip, encounter the tropical rains that are a characteristic of the climate, enjoy getting wet. If you get drenched by passing a cloud and then after 100 meters see everything dry, don’t be surprised. 4-5 hours after leaving Miami, driving on the famous route US1 while breathing in the beauty of the islands, you will reach the magical, charming, sweet, and amiable Key West. If you follow the route all the way down to the end of the highway, you will be able to see the “mile marker zero.”

Thelma Strabel, renowned for her book “Reap the Wind”, which was set in Key West, wrote this about Key West in 1940: “There is nothing for restless people to do. It is quiet and careless and charming.” Indeed, when you step on the island even so many years after that was written, it is impossible not to feel the attraction and charm of Key West. The only difference after so many years is the speed of life on the island.
Key West is one of the ideal places to do nothing or to do everything. You can sleep all day on a hammock between two palm tress, and listen to the buzz of insects at night. Or you can spend the day on the ocean beaches, in small shops on Duval Street, participate in Key West activities, and then take one of the pink Key West cabs at night, go to a bar and choose to enjoy yourself sipping tropical drinks.

If Thelma Strabel could see today’s Key West, she would realize that now there are many things to do for active people in Key West. You can rent a bicycle, a motorcycle, or a golf cart and take a tour of the small streets of Key West, which are adorned with palm trees and red flowered Poinciana trees, or, if you like water sports, rent a jet ski and discover the boundaries of the island from the ocean.

To fly with a parasail over the ocean, or to participate in a snorkeling tour at dawn or at sunset are delights one cannot get enough of in today’s Key West.

One of the characteristics of the Key West is that it is open to gay people. Whatever your sexual preference might be, Key West will provide you with the stressless and friendly environment of a tropical climate. If you are one of those who like to watch the sunset, Key West is the perfect location for you. Don’t miss joing a sail or a catamaran tour when the sun is going down.

On another day feel the enjoyment of watching the boats gliding in front of you while you sip your “Pina Colada” in the Sunset Pier Bar of the Ocean Key Hotel, located on Mallory Square, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf of Mexico. Let the joy of the hundreds of people, the musicians, the street vendors, and the artists displaying showing their skills that fill the Mallory Square wrap around you. Another place to watch from is the terrace bar of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. When you watch the sun disappear below the horizon and the days change over to moonlit nights, you will understand why every sunset is celebrated in Key West.

The history of Key West, the southernmost tip of the United States of America, which is marked by the Southernmost Point Monument, is full of interesting facts. It feels like all the famous harbors of the World Wars, houses of famous writers, appealing restaurants on Duval Street, and eccentric people have all added a different magic to the ambiance of the island. The house of Ernest Hemingway, who lived on the island for 10 years, has been converted into a museum, and is one of the places that must be seen. You will observe that the house is surrounded by tropical trees and cats that the writer adored. You can add to your travel list the house of Flagler, who contributed a great deal to the Florida railway, which has also ben turned into a museum, The Ship Wreck Museum, The Key West Aquarium, and the lighthouse.

Key West is at the same time one of the rare places that has the most varied and beautiful underwater life, and the most amazing underwater shipwreck gardens of the world. Joining a diving, snorkeling, or scuba tour and discovering the colorful corals, the oldest in the northern hemisphere, or the fish, each one a different color, swimming in the crystal clear waters around you will add unforgettable memories to your trip. Dark blue fish schools will pass next to you. When you watch with smiling eyes the fish in rainbow, yellow-black, orange, or transparent hues, you will bet that the fish also have eyes that smile.

You can also explore the little islands, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico from the air by hydroplane. It is worthwhile to allocate a day to travel 112 km west, either by hydroplane or by ferry, to visit Fort Jefferson, the  largest 19th century coastal fort, and Dry Tortugas Natural Water Park.

When in 1982 roadblocks were set up to control the arrivals and departures to and from Key West in order to catch illegal immigrants to the country, which had a detrimental effect on tourism, the residents tried to declare independence from the USA. Mayor Dennis Wardlow tried to establish an independent nation consisting of these islands. Although this attempt never succeeded, these days this island region is called the “Conch Republic.”

On a vacation to the Florida Keys, the only thing that you have to do is  relax, fully enjoy the tropical climate, and not return without tasting the delicious Key Lime Pie. And you can even return home with a “Passport of the Conch Republic.” One more passport cannot hurt.

Seven Mile Bridge.

If I tell you “you will be retreating from the real world for a week and you will impersonate the person you always dreamed to be and meet the person you always wanted to meet up, or were afraid of meeting. You will be living a week of fun, craziness, and surprises, without any prohibitions and without any offenses. This will be such a week that you will remember the entire year and you will yearn to be in the same place at the same time.” And if I add that you will pay for this with pain in your facial muscles because of all the smiling and the entertainment, pain in your legs because of all the walking, and pain in your stomach because of all the alcohol, would you say “yes” to living that week again?

If you like all these fantasies and want to make yours come true, then it is time to make plans to join the “Fantasy Fest”, held in Key West, Florida during the week of Halloween (October 28), otherwise there will be no vacancies in the hotels, and everything is much more expensive when booked at last minute. I advise being there for the last two days of the festival and not missing the procession flowing through the streets.  Ask yourself,  “Well then, what is your fantasy?”

(July 2006, 21th Issue)
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07