Monday, January 15, 2018

Key West

Key West is for me the acme of the Florida keys.  The signature subtropical character and architecture of the Florida keys - beginning in Key Largo and dilating through Islamorada, Duck Key, Marathon and the numerous tiny keys along the Overseas Highway (the notorious Florida State Road A1A which goes all the way to Jacksonville in northeast Florida) - reach their zenith in the heart of Key West. After breakfast this morning we shifted here from Marathon, a mere one hour drive away.   By ten o'clock we were pulling into the drive of the Hyatt Residence Club which appropriately is at the end of A1A where it intersects Key West proper.  Not unexpectedly our "beach house" was not ready for us upon check-in so in order to profit by the delay we asked the Front Desk to arrange the delivery of two bikes. The chap from Island Safari Rentals arrived within 15 minutes and had us set up and going moments later.

Last year when we visited Key West we had circled around the island on our bicycles so we had some familiarity with the area.  We repeated the trek today, consuming about two hours in all (excluding our very agreeable coffee house interlude). The route along the north side of the island consists of a wide, smooth sidewalk designed to accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists.  It borders the emerald sea.  On either side of the road are malls, car dealerships, marinas, dive shops, restaurants, resorts and smaller hotels.  It is by far the more urban district of Key West.  It leads into the centre of Key West where the surroundings precipitously change to charming shuttered homes nestled among palm trees, boutique shops and ultimately the Bohemian clubs, bars and restaurants along Duval Street where the trolley buses and tourists abound. But the hysteria of the core area is highly concentrated and its strength thins within several blocks of its heart.  By the time one reaches the Southernmost Point near the Waldorf-Astoria Casa Marina hotel the sidewalks widen again and afford a spectacular view of the Gulf of Mexico.

There are many large resorts along the southern route of the island as well as parks and a relatively long beach which in Key West is a highly qualified credit as beaches here are quite unlike the east coast of Florida.  Key West is surrounded by a coral reef.  The reef is barely below the water's surface and reputedly extends up to ten miles out to sea. As a result of this hidden danger there are reportedly innumerable of shipwrecks off the coast.  Most of the disasters date back to the time of the invasion of the Spaniards and other adventurers of the sea. This misfortune has contributed to the thriving treasure-hunting business for which Key West is notorious. I have heard that the shipwrecks were the basis of the name of the island.  It was labelled as the Key of Bones which in Spanish was a variation of Ilave de Huesos, Cayo d'Oso, Calle del Oso or Callo del Oso. The similarity of the Spanish word Oso to the French word Os (both meaning "bone") transformed into something close to the French word for "west" which is "ouest" because of course this lower key is the most western island.  Thus it is asserted that the Key of Bones became Key West.

There are countless secret hideaways throughout Key West.  The place is so dense with habitation that scads of charming corners and niches have sprung up in the most unlikely spaces. It requires some determination to tear oneself from the beaten path to venture onto these sometimes narrow and seemingly dead-end streets to discover what lies at the end.  But invariably there is a reward for the pertinacity.

Today's introductory adventure whetted our appetites for more.  First however we had to address the matter of provisions for our stay since we intend to prepare and eat our meals at the beach house rather than dining out during our stay (we'll have an opportunity to do that when we shift hotels at the end of the week). After checking our luggage into the beach house we immediately departed for the nearby grocery store.  Our nutritional routine is now so hardened that we fairly flew about the aisles and soon returned home to unload and stash.  Before dinner we descended to the pool for an evening swim.  I believe we'll sleep tonight.

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