Saturday in the Keys: From Flea Market to Bocce

Saturday was our last day in the Keys with Tim and Amanda and what a full day it was. We kicked it off with a trip to the Big Pine Flea Market, held on Saturdays and Sundays. There were booths with everything and anything your heart might desire – cheap souvenir stuff, higher end merchandise, antiques and collectibles, hardware, fishing equipment, plants, produce, clothing……… and so on.

Father- Son bonding moment as they  roam the hardware tents. “Hey, Tim, look at this,” Scavenger Dad says.

I didn’t expect to purchase anything, but I found something to add to a collection of mine.

Found this yellow glass float for a very good price, much less than my other two at home. Hmmmm, here’s a dilemma. Will it fit in a suitcase for the flight home? Perhaps I didn’t think this through…….                                                                                      I think it looks pretty good nestled between my blue and my green one. (I found a way to bring it home!)

Plants and hanging wind thingies. I bought one of them, too. They are made out of nut shells, twigs and feathers. It was the sea bean hanging as an anchor that convinced me.

There was a food truck making and selling “mini donuts.” 12 for $3. How can you go wrong?

The mini-donuts provided us with enough sustenance for continuing on to Marathon to visit the “The Turtle Hospital”. The admission price for a tour was more than expected, but the cause is very worthy. The Hospital opened in 1986 with four goals: “1) rehab injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat, 2) educate the public through outreach programs and visit local schools, 3) conduct and assist with research aiding to sea turtles (in conjunction with state universities), and 4) work toward environmental legislation making the beaches and water safe and clean for sea turtles.”

The building itself was once a motel. Parked outside was the hospital’s very own ambulance. And, naturally, there is the obligatory gift shop.

The tour began with a short presentation by our guide to provide a little turtle background.

Our guide teaching us about the  sea turtles.

This graphic is painted on the outside of the hospital. It accurately portrays the sizes of the five turtle species in Florida.

 

There are 7 species of sea turtles throughout the entire world. Five of the seven are found in Florida:

  • Leatherback (9-12 feet long and weighs up to 2,000 lbs.)
  • Green (3-5 feet long, weighs 200-500 lbs.)
  • Loggerhead (2-4 feet long, weighs 200-350 lbs.)
  • Hawksbill (2-3 feet long, weighs 100-150 lbs.)
  • Kemp’s Ridley (2-2½ feet long, weighs 75-100 lbs.)

After the mini-lecture, we passed through the “hospital” part of the building to see the operating room. That’s a plush toy turtle on the table waiting for a new lease on life.

What brings a turtle to the hospital? A turtle emergency. The website has directions on who to call (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Coast Guard, or a 24-hour hot line) and how to identify a turtle in distress. In a literal sense, humans bring the turtles to the hospital. When someone does find and report an injured turtle, they get to name the turtle.

Outdoors there are 23 individual tanks, ranging in size from 150-800 gallons. The largest tank is the 100,000 gallon salt water pool.

Watching the graceful swimmers.

The first tank held green sea turtles recovering from fibropapillomatosis (FP), an aggressive virus that causes benign tumors to grow mostly around the turtles’ flippers, neck, eyes, and sometimes internally. Without the ability to move or see, a turtle’s survival is seriously threatened. Surgery is the only option.

This tank held green sea turtles recovering from surgeries to remove the tumors caused by fibropapillomatosis. Poppy, Jacques, Lawless, and Donatello have been here for 3-10 months. Within a year, the turtles are usually well enough for release.

“Bubble Butt”

A boat’s propeller or a hull can cause significant damage to a turtle’s shell, as hard as it is. Sometimes when a turtle is hit by a boat, the damage can prevent the turtle from submerging, possibly due to air that is trapped under the shell, or other physiological damage. A turtle must be able to submerge in order to survive in the wild. The hospital named this condition “Bubble Butt Syndrome,” after the turtle who first arrived with this problem in 1989.

Lead weights are attached to the shell so that the turtle can submerge. This is not a permanent solution for life in the wild because those weights will eventually fall off. Any turtles that arrive at the hospital with “bubble butt” safely spend the remainder of their life there.

Resident turtles with lead weights attached to the shell to help them submerge and live a more normal life, although thy will remain in captivity.

 

Turtles are not picky eaters and will chomp down almost anything. Unfortunately there are many synthetic things floating in the oceans that are not digestible. This leads to an intestinal blockage, called an impaction. In the wild, without assistance, the turtle cannot eliminate the impaction and will starve to death. At the hospital, turtles are treated with Metamucil, fiber and vegetable oil. This is why humans must be more careful of trash disposal!

More turtles recovering from various problems in separate smaller tanks.

Turtles can also ingest fishing hooks that can cause damage to their digestive tract and frequently become  trapped in fishing line and buoy lines. (Fishing line takes 600 years to biodegrade.) Worst case scenario, the turtle may drown or loose a flipper due to loss of circulation.

Another tank held a group of 15 small Kemp’s Ridley turtles that had been rescued near Cape Cod, MA on January 2nd  and brought to the hospital. They should not have been that far north in cold waters and became ill, “cold-stunned.” The website has updated their status – they were released on Feb 9th in North Florida. Success!

The 15 Kemp Ridleys were kept in this tank to warm up and recover. They were numbered, but not named.

The permanent residents live in the last, very large, saltwater tank.

We were given pellets to feed to the turtles. That’s “Coastie,” a 60 pound green turtle who was rescued by the Coast Guard in St. Lucie County, Florida in 1999. Coastie was battered on the head by a boat propeller, missing the posterior end of the shell,  and had a minor case of Fibropapilloma. A permanent floater and resident now, Coastie has a lead weight fiberglassed to the shell  to make life more comfortable.

Tubbie Time for Turtles! Click here to see an 8 second video of the bath.

Our visit to the Turtle Hospital was definitely worth the time and money. They are doing good things there with their focus on “rescue, rehab and release.”

Enough for one day? Nah………… We had a party to attend that evening! Amanda’s father, Bill, hosts “bocce night” every week in his back yard. Bill has a cool little place on Big Pine, living life the way a native “conch” should, although he is really a “freshwater conch”, spending his summers in Vermont.

Saw a few iguanas hanging out in Bill’s neighborhood.

Sign posted at the beginning of Big Pine Key.

We finally saw Key Deer, especially in Bill’s neighborhood. Key deer are only found in the lower Florida Keys and 75% of them live on Big Pine and No Name Keys.  In the 1950’s the Key deer population had dropped to only a few dozen animals. The formation of the National Key Deer Refuge and the designation of Key deer as an endangered species in 1967 led to a striking recovery of the species, which now numbers almost a thousand. Evidently they are very friendly and readily approach people looking for tidbits and snacks, which is why this sign warns drivers to be careful.

Deer and chickens grazing on a front lawn.

Key deer definitely aren’t afraid of people. I think they wanted an invitation to Bill’s party.

Can we join you??

Back to bocce. Neither Al or I had ever played bocce before. We had a lot to learn. Rolling balls down a sand court doesn’t sound complicated, but there are a lot of rules. Fortunately, everyone else plays regularly and were patient teachers.

Bill’s bocce court is not just a rectangular sand pit. It is a work of art.

Al and Tim, taking their turns. Look at that form! We both enjoyed playing bocce and think that Shennecossett YC should install a bocce court. Near the fire pit?

Speaking of conch, Bill whipped up some very excellent conch fritters that disappeared quickly. After finishing the bocce game, we all sat around the table and enjoyed a potluck supper. That giant “lazy susan” made it very easy to pass the food around.

Wow, What a day! From the flea market to the bocce party, it was a great last day in the Keys. Thank you, Tim and Amanda, and Bill, too. 🙂 Tomorrow we would be heading northward back to the west coast of Florida.

Road Trip to Key West

Key West is less than an hour’s drive from Big Pine Key, so Al and I decided to spend a little time there while we were visiting with Tim and Amanda. I have always wanted to see Key West, but I may have had a romanticized vision of the island because it was not quite what I expected.

5Brothers was recommended as a good coffee stop. Cuban coffee and pastry. We all know how much Al loves his morning coffee, especially with something sweet. 😉

We took that pesky prop with us and dropped it off at the Prop Doc so it could be unspun (is that the correct terminology for the fix????) The mechanic promised it would be done by the time we drove back. And it was!

My very observant captain spied this sadly neglected Nordic Tug behind a fence in a boatyard on U.S. 1. He even asked me to enlarge the photo (later) so that he could inspect its condition. For a brief moment, I was afraid he might decide to rescue another boat…….. after all, a Nordic Tug is an excellent vessel. 😉

U.S. 1, the only road that goes there. We wish it had been more like the top photo for the entire drive, but as we approached Key West, the traffic became quite congested. Just like any other “shore town” as we say in the northeast.

The name Key West is actually a misnomer. Spanish settlers found human bones all over the tiny island and called it Cayo Hueso (pronounced Kie-O Hwae-So), which translates to “Bone Island”. The bones belonged to the Calusa Indians who had once lived in the Florida Keys. It may have been a funeral island or the site of a fierce battle. English speakers thought Cayo Hueso sounded like “Key West” and the name stuck. I suppose that makes some sense since it is the westernmost island in that chain of cayos. The word “cayo’ comes from the Taino Indians of Hispanola and Cuba and means “small island.”

As Key West first-timers, Bill recommended that we take the Conch Tour Train to get the lay of the land. Yup, we really did this. In spite of how horribly touristy it is, you do get an overview of Key West without straining your legs and/or getting lost.

The Conch Tour Train. and Mark, our “engineer” and guide. I can’t recall all the tidbits, gossip, and history that Mark passed on to his passengers.

 I simply cannot remember everything Mark described as he drove us around Key West for 90+ minutes, especially after six weeks. Here are some of the things I was able to photograph as we passed (no easy task) or later when we wandered around on our own.

Not your average city birds. These two didn’t seem to mind mingling with tourists in Key West.

US 1, known locally as the Overseas Highway, stretches from upper Maine all the way south to Key West for 2,369  miles. The interstate highway connects most of the major cities in the eastern United States. The land version of the Intracoastal Waterway? Supposedly, people like to have their photo taken with the street sign. I think we were more excited about the ICW Mile Marker 0.

Mile Marker 0, on the corner of Fleming Street and Whitehead Street. One sign for BEGIN and one for END.  I guess it all depends on your plans.  Mark told us that the sign is replaced weekly because people take it (should I be blunt and say steal it??)

Mark and his Conch Train took us to another Key West landmark, the Southernmost Point, as it called. This location is just an anchored concrete buoy in Key West, that marks the southernmost point in the continental United States.  Can you really say that it is “anchored” when it is on land? Perhaps “secured” would be more appropriate.  This large decorated buoy is a tourist attraction that was established in 1983 by the city at the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street. However, the actual southernmost point in Florida (as well as in the continental United States) is really 10 miles away at Ballast Key, a privately owned island southwest of Key West. No way would tourists be permitted to line up there!

See the long line of tourists? We did not feel it was worth the wait to have a photo taken here. The close up photo is a small souvenir in a shop, not the real thing. In case you want to take one home with you.

Famous landmark statues – A 25-foot sculpture of the famous Life magazine photo of the sailor kissing a nurse in 1945, the end of WWII.                                                                                             Marilyn Monroe, in front of a movie theater. I should have had Al stand with her. 😉

There are bars in Key West. It has been said that Key West has as many drinking establishments as it does houses of worship, but I think there may be more bars. Disclaimer – We did not personally explore any of the bars shown below.

Just a sample of three bars that Mark pointed out.                                                                                Sloppy Joe’s Bar, founded on December 5, 1933 and known for its most famous patron, Ernest Hemingway. Since 1981, the bar hosts an “Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest.”                      Louie’s Backyard — Jimmy’ Buffett’s first apartment in Key West was located next to Louie’s Backyard bar.                                                                                                                                               Smallest Bar in Key West is 72-square-feet. I wonder if it is the smallest in the US?

On the corner of Duval and Caroline Streets is a building that houses three bars in one. On the 1st floor is “The Bull”, the loud rock band floor. 2nd floor is Whistle Stop, with a juke box, corner bar atmosphere. 3rd Floor is the Garden of Eden, a clothing optional bar.

Time for the more sedate side of Key West. There are churches.

Church of God….. “Tree of Life”

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Like most tropical climates, the cemeteries are above ground.

We stumbled upon the oldest house in Key West as we walked around the streets. This little one-and-a-half story house and garden is open to the public for free. For decades it was the home of Captain Francis Watlington, his wife Emeline, and nine daughters. Watlington was a sea captain and also served as Harbor Master, state legislator and then Confederate Navy.

The oldest house in Key West, constructed in 1829.  A typical 18th century cottage style.

These houses were more of what I was expecting for an island community.

We learned about the blue ceilings of the porches in Key West homes, which is rather interesting.  Aficionados of architecture offer two legends and/or reasons for this tradition. African descendants from the West Indies believed that spirits or ghosts (called “haints”) couldn’t cross water. By painting the ceilings of their porches a shade of water-color blue, the haints would be disoriented and not enter the home. Another explanation was (and still is) that blue porch ceilings confuse bugs. The blue looks like the sky and bugs don’t build nests in the sky; therefore, a natural bug repellent.

Take careful note of the porch’s blue ceiling. It deters bugs and haints.

We needed lunch and a rest. After trial and error, we chose the Schooner Wharf Bar, near the water.

Schooner Wharf Bar – a tiki-style casual place with live music.

A good view of the docks and boats.

Just chillin’ out in Key West.

Our lunches and our friendly waiter.

The back of our waiter’s t-shirt intrigued me. What is the Conch Republic? Evidently, in April of 1982, Key West declared itself a “micro-nation” in an irreverent secession attempt. That spring, without prior notice, the U.S. Border Patrol set up a road block and checkpoint on U.S. Route 1, the only road out of town, to look for drugs and illegal immigrants. Agents required U.S. citizens leaving the Keys to prove their citizenship and submit their vehicles to a search. Keep in mind, this was not an international border. The road block caused a 17-mile traffic jam. Dennis Wardlow , the mayor of Key West is reported to have said, “By establishing that border they have declared us a foreign nation,” he told reporters. “We’re tired of the U.S. government picking on little Key West.”  Although there was a serious side to this episode, the “Conch Republic” is now more of a tourist attraction with merchandise and a yearly festival, and a website.

According to the Conch Tour Train website, “Americans loyal to the British crown after the war, Tories, were not very popular, so they fled the southern states to the next British colony, the Bahamas. Unfortunately, the British Parliament started taxing the Bahamians on their food just like they taxed Bostonians on their tea. The Bahamians said they’d rather eat conch than pay taxes and that is just what they did. They came up with 27 different ways to eat this animal. 

Throughout the years, many came to know and use the term Conch to describe the locals, and those who made the island their home were proud to be nicknamed Key West Conchs……..To this day if you are born in Key West you are a conch. If you are born elsewhere but live here seven years you become a fresh water conch.”

Souvenir shops take full advantage of the whole conch thing. Our self-gathered Bahama conch shells aren’t as clean and pretty as these, but I do love each and every one precisely because we found them ourselves. 

Did I mention that cruise ships stop at Key West on a regular basis?? This is the Empress of the Seas.

On the dock near the Empress of the Seas is this signpost, that cheekily includes  “Selfiemost Point.” I like it. Very funny.

House boats and homes at a marina. Love that smiley roof.

The artsy side of Key West isn’t only in the galleries. There was art out on the streets. I consider conch shells to be art.

Even vehicles can be transformed in art.

Mattheessen’s caught our eye. (We all know Al has radar for ice cream shops.) Al showed restraint and enjoyed his double scoop of raspberry and chocolate. For some reason, I lost control and chose a chocolate covered slice of key lime pie. What was I thinking??? It was delicious, but my tummy ached for a while. Worth it?? You betcha! 

Final thoughts about Key West? We only spent 4 hours in Key West so it is unfair to make any firm judgments. Since I expected something more offbeat, off the beaten track, and less congested with tourists (although that’s exactly what we were), it was a little disappointing. A trip in the evening or on the weekend might have been completely different. We did enjoy ourselves (we almost always do) and would know better how to spend our time if we ever have the opportunity to return in the future. I would be sure we toured the “Winter White House” of President Harry S. Truman and the home of Ernest Hemingway.

Outdoors in the Keys

What does everyone wish for when they travel or vacation? Good weather. We didn’t have good weather, we had great weather. First on the list – beach time! We packed a picnic lunch and headed to nearby Bahia Honda State Park.

Sparkling water to swim in.

Sand to wiggle toes in.

Al enjoyed watching boats in the distance.

I enjoyed a walk on the beach after a refreshing swim. No sea glass, no shells. 🙁

A conch shell near the edge of the water. There was a still living tenant inside so the shell stayed right there.

Amanda’s father, Bill, joined the four of us for dinner at the Square Grouper, well known for its fresh seafood menu as well as its environmentally friendly “green” approach (all paper products and straws are made from corn products.)

The Square Grouper. Not much to look at on the outside. And what is a “square grouper”??

The name, “Square Grouper” and it’s funky, slang meaning belies the excellent food and interior ambiance. “Square grouper” refers to the square bales of marijuana that drug smugglers would toss out of planes into the sea.  the ocean current carried the bales to the Keys to be picked up, back in the 1970s and 1980s.

The full story from the bottom of the menu. I like the whimsy of it. It was one of the first times I felt like I was in the quirky wacky Florida Keys and not just an ordinary beach resort town. I say that as someone who has never even tried weed. Really.

Family dinner –
Bill, me, and Al
Our kids – Amanda and Tim

Three seafood dinners and one barbecue pork. All delicious. Square Grouper does an excellent job.

In spite of our full tummies, we went all in and chose a dessert. The five of us shared this banana cream puff topped with chocolate. Oh so good!

After a good night’s sleep, the next day was more outdoor time. Yeah!! Tim took the day off and we all headed over to Bill’s on the other side of Big Pine Key. The plan — use the 18-foot Boston Whaler to go snorkeling.The five of us with gear and lunches piled into the boat and out the canal to “bigger” waters between Big Pine and No Name Keys.

Smiling, happy faces anticipating a day on the water and in the water.
And my sweetheart in the bow.

The water was bigger, as in wider, but not very deep. The big water farther out also looked very choppy to Bill so he decided it wasn’t the best day for snorkeling. 🙁  Oh well, so we turned around. The engine raced, but the boat suddenly slowed down, significantly. Uh oh. Did the prop hit the bottom?? The trip back was decidedly slower and more cautious.

Backing the boat in for a closer look at that prop. Is this a prop study group?

The Watson duo, Bill and his friend all studied that prop. No damage visible. Tim, our techie, quickly searched on his phone for answers. Conclusion – The prop had “spun.”

When the guys announced that the “prop was spun,”  I thought that was an odd conclusion to make. Of course the prop spins ! It’s a prop and that’s what they do – SPIN! Right?  Silly me. “Spun your prop” is actually a technical term, of sorts. Evidently the prop was older and the stress of having 5 people in it was too much. A  rubber sleeve that is pressed into the center of the prop was old and hard, got too hot and couldn’t grip the metal inside, so it “slipped.” When this happens you are lucky if you can even coax idle speed out of it.

Change of plans – let’s all go kayaking. Bill led the way to show us a hidden place.

On our way from Bill’s house on the canal over to No Name Key.

Just for reference:
Bill’s house is the yellow dot.
Red dot is about as far as the whaler got before the “prop was spun.”
Back to the yellow dot.
Purple dot – The hidden entrance to a very cool kayak experience.

The entrance into the mangroves was very concealed. Without Bill’s guidance, we would never have found it. This hidden gem turned out to be my favorite Keys adventure.

We all follow Bill, single file, one after another into the mangroves. Literally.

The route is narrow with only an occasional wider section. That means you can’t turn around. It is so narrow that it is impossible to paddle most of the time. Propulsion is by arms, pulling on the mangrove roots. So glad I had a short kayak to maneuver.

Al’s long arms gave him an advantage in the arm propulsion method. I will confess that I occasionally considered the possibility of an alligator or a snake.

Of course there has to be a selfie here in the mangroves.

WooHoo! We popped out into an open area.

We kayaked around the baby and adolescent mangrove “islands” in this shallow body of water.

VERY SHALLOW WATER

Amanda and me

Tim found a geocache, without the assistance of a GPS. Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate (on land or water) to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. Tim wrote a note for the container.

Al created this graphic to show our possible route through the mangroves.

Guess that spun prop was a good thing. 😉

Another sunset to end another day.