The Keys to Paradise – Where You Will be Spoiled for
If you are looking for anything but a serene retreat, where the bold, the bodacious, the bawdy, the heroic and the historic reign as points of interest, then the Florida Keys are a perfect destination for your next trip. This incredibly beautiful archipelago is known for every imaginable water sport, luxurious and trendy accommodations, and a local population that never fails to entertain in quirky, colourful, and unusual festivals. With direct flights to Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, jaunts to the Florida Keys, just another couple hours away, are easier than ever.
Like a Caribbean necklace, the Florida Keys is comprised of a stunning 1700 islands and grouped into five general areas: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, the Lower Keys, and the final destination, Key West. It is a strange sensation to leave terra firma south of Miami to travel along the Overseas Highway, your vehicle mere inches away from the Atlantic on one side, the Gulf of Mexico on the other. At other times, you will be driving high along the famous Seven Mile Bridge that takes you from Marathon to the Lower Keys.
Key West is simply fabulous – full of shops, restaurants, huge resorts, pirate ghosts, and loads of ocean sports – all available on tour boats, fishing boats, sailing boats, glass-bottom boats, and big huge cruise ships. A Lilliputian marvel of predominantly old Bahamian-style cottages, classic bungalows, and guest mansions, and where former American presidents and famous authors, such as Earnest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams once resided, Key West will leave you spoiled for choice with its distinctly tropical flavour, beautiful waters, historical attractions, and electric atmosphere. ”Old Town” includes the major tourist destinations of the island and features Duval Street, well known for its many gammy, glitzy, and gadfabulous bars, clubs, and restaurants. Not to be missed is the Southernmost Point of the continental US where absolutely everyone has his or her picture taken, and Mallory Square, where a nightly gathering of buskers, pipers, and new arrivals from cruise ships savour the sunset, amidst gently swaying palm trees and very mild ocean breezes.
People of the Keys have a marvellous history – little known is the very recent development of the Conch Republic.
In 1982, the United States Border Patrol established a roadblock, stopping all northbound traffic returning to the mainland to search vehicles for illegal drugs and illegal immigrants. The Key West City Council repeatedly complained about the roadblock, which was a major inconvenience for people traveling from Key West, and hurt the Keys’ important tourism industry. After various unsuccessful complaints and attempts to get a legal injunction against the blockade failed in court, the Mayor declared the independence of the Keys, calling it the “Conch Republic”. After one minute of secession, he, as “Prime Minister” then surrendered and requested one billion dollars in “foreign aid”, all leading to the now famous slogan: “We Seceded Where Others Failed”©®™. The stunt succeeded in generating great publicity for the Keys’ plight, and the roadblock was removed.
The spirit of the Conch Republic lives on and is evident everywhere throughout the Keys, with its very laid back lifestyle and a wide variety of year-round festivals, such as the Faux Blues Band that plays underwater, the Hemingway Look-Alike contest, and a New Year’s Eve celebration featuring a pirate wench and giant conch shell.
The Key West Chamber of Commerce advertises that they truly believe they live in paradise, and unlike the stark black and white of Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo, the Florida Keys are exceptionally vibrant and vivid, and will truly awaken your senses, your adventurous spirit, and your inner Conch islander, once you have experienced the fascination of this particular parcel of paradise.
© Colleen Stewart Haynes