I have to tell you, my readers, this country of ours is a land of beauty and diversity, one of Mother Nature’s masterpieces. From sea to shining sea we have monumental mountains, plains, oceans, deserts, waterfalls and lakes, fields, forests and woodlands and exotic islands. It is an awesome experience to travel in the USA, where each state seems to have its own personality, its own bounty of beauty, its own appeal.
As you know, my husband Bill and I treat each other to surprise birthday adventures, and this particular birthday in 1997 was The Last Resort.
Let’s begin at the beginning. It was March, and it was my birthday. I was the honoree, Bill was the planner. I was looking out of my kitchen window on a cold gray day, and hoping that all I would need for our upcoming adventure would be a light sweater. I wanted to be warm. Bill was deeply engrossed in planning, and I wanted sunshine.
Well, Happy Birthday to me! The surprise popped when it was announced that our adventure would be the Florida Keys, a coral archipelago off the southern coast of Florida that forms the southernmost portion of the continental United States. And our ultimate destination was Key West, known in travel circles as The Last Resort, of course because it is the last of the lower keys. It is also known as Party Time!
When we arrived in Miami, just seeing a palm tree made me warm. So off we went in our rental car to explore this beautiful part of the world. We stopped off in Key Largo to say hello to our old friends Humphrey and Lauren (remember the movie?), and we paid a visit to The African Queen, the steam-powered workboat that co-starred with Bogey and Hepburn. Then we were off to Plantation Key and onto Islamorada, where by chance the largest art show of the Keys was in progress. My shopping bag began to quiver with anticipation.
After overnighting in Marathon Key, we were off to Key West! We learned that no other city of its size— a mere two miles by four miles—offers such joie de vivre as this little action-packed jewel. For an introductory overview we took the Conch Train for 500 years of history, but it was in strolling around on our own that we experienced the real Key West. We ambled along Duval Street, tasted conch fritters, and joined in the wild antics of the Green Parrot Bar, the oldest rowdy saloon in town where locals outnumber tourists. We felt local.
Of special note was the Ernest Hemingway house, where the famed author penned many of his novels; the Key West Aquarium, which fascinated Bill (especially at shark-feeding time) and the Duval Street Wreckers Museum, where ship models, paintings and maritime objects brought to life Key West’s nautical heritage. Particularly stunning, though, was our visit to Houseboat Row where more than 100 houseboats were tied up and their occupants asleep on the dock in sleeping bags and ragtag blankets. Not a sight you’d see every day.
But Duval Street called. I grabbed my trusty shopping bag for an adventure to the many boutiques, gift shops, cafes, t-shirt shops—you name it. So here we were visiting The Last Resort and I heard my name being called. It was our friends Bonnie and Jeff from Newport News, a delightful unexpected surprise in a “small world.”
We reveled in the warmth, the sun, the famous Key West ambiance, and just relaxed. This is what a vacation is about. Take your shoes off and wiggle your toes. And what could be a more fitting finale to this pleasure-seeking experience than Key West’s famous Sunset Celebration. Every evening as the setting sun slid into the water, islanders—both locals and visitors—gathered on the docks of Mallory Square to be entertained by local artisans, clowns, jugglers, musicians, dancers and food vendors. And voila—there we saw Jeff and Bonnie again in this throng of people! It was like a festival every evening, lifting everyone’s spirits, making their cares disappear. That’s the Key West magic!
It was another birthday spectacular, filled with new sights and sounds, and I must say that the Florida Keys lived up to its reputation as Party Time. I was reluctant to return to the chill of Virginia, though my heart strings tugged at me for home. But in my mind I fancied digging up a palm tree as a souvenir, in hopes it would radiate heat and turn my yard into an exotic beach. Dream on.