Day 40, November 19, 1997: Naples to Key West, FL

I declared yesterday the worst day of the trip and I'll stick by that evaluation. Today was mucho mo bedda but that wouldn't take to much to accomplish.

The drive down from Naples allowed me to escape the worst of the development and suburbanization that had made yesterday so vile. There was still some south of Naples but that quickly turned into pasture and then the swampy forest that borders the Everglades. I have been through the grassy-looking parts of the Everglades by airboat and decided this time to do something a little bit different so I headed south to the national park and took a guided boat tour of the "10,000 Islands". This is a huge area of mangrove islands and shoals that cover the southern edge of the swamp and span fresh to brackish to salt water.

The tour was 1-½ hours and I found it quite interesting. For once I knew what the birds were that I was seeing and was able to ask questions. Got to see several new types of birds: ibises, yellow crested herons, black crested herons, lesser blue herons, roseate spoonbills, and ospreys. The guide also excitedly pointed out a bald eagle but, coming off a 17-year stay in Alaska, this wasn't too fascinating. I was the only native English speaker on the boat, the other tourists being German speakers and the guide being a suth'n speaker. (I know that if I keep that up I'll get strung up in Tennessee)

After the tour it was time to head off for Key West. Since it was a cloudy day and not too hot I braved putting the top down and started off. The drive down was not terribly exciting the second time around. If you have never driven the highway down the Keys and wonder what it is like, just imagine a string of islands, big and small, arcing to the south-west from the tip of Florida around 140 miles. Now imagine them strung together by causeways and bridges up to ten or so miles long. Add traffic and a mixed amount of development and there you have it. The portion of the highway nearest to the mainland has a serious traffic problem which becomes intermittently better as you head south.

Key West itself is a large island. I don't know if it is the largest of them but it is the most developed and most mixed. The old part of town, where 'Papa' Hemingway hung out in the old days is the most charming. A kind of genteel sleaze has settled over it. At the center is Duval Street, a haven for the wild spring break crowd but around it is a large historic area. The air of the whole is a bit like Venice Beach in Los Angeles but without the pretentiousness. On my first visit here somebody told me that "Key West is where the weird turn pro." That seems to fit it perfectly. There are some, shall we say, colorful characters here and they seem to fit in perfectly.

The traffic on the island is getting to be pretty horrendous and takes some joy out of looking around. One option for those visiting here is to rent a motor scooter or bicycle to get around and this is probably a good idea. Many of the streets downtown are very narrow and some interesting places aren't even driveable in a car. All in all, this is a fun place to visit and well worth the drive down.

Pictures today include a mangrove island in the Everglades. The edges of the islands show how they have been built up over the years, seemingly largely of oyster shells, blown sand, and rotting mangrove leaves. The aerial roots of the mangroves generally develop a blob of encrusting shells where they touch the water and eventually the island grows to encompass the overhanging roots. The other is the "must photograph" marker at the tip of Key West. One line on the marker that doesn't show up too well is "90 miles from Cuba" which tells something about how far the islands extend across the Gulf.

Tomorrow I will definitely head north again having completed my second "edge". I will have to make a decision soon about when to quit the tour and head north for my Thanksgiving appointment. It looks now as though my two intended New York visits will not be made this year under any circumstances. I guess that I can always try to pick up where I leave off next spring if there is nothing pressing going on then. Time and winter aren't going to allow me to finish in one go as the 13,000 mile solo journey around the edges of the USA continues for another few days.

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