"THE Conch Republic:" Rome has it's coliseum, BUT we have ...... REALLY!!
Key West, Florida
Caribbeanesque, warmer weather, more humid, warmer water, NO waves, "freer, looser, more laid back," history of piracy, privateering and plundering, more of an isolated, separarist feeling and atitude > this is how I'd contrast the Keys to So. California and even Hawaii. SoCal and Ha. are both, for the most part, more modern, more urban, even more Americanized then down here, especially in the "Lower Keys, aka 'Backcountry.'
Thirty plus years ago when Key West was strongly protesting the ongoing Border Inspections for illegal Cubans and Drugs (sound familiar fellow SoCals) and their negative economic impacts and felt Washington wasn't listening; they passed a secession measure (long live the confederacy) and called themselves the "Conch Republic." The publicity worked and the Inspections stopped. But for the locals, I think this mindset still lives on...
The Keys (small islands) are a Coral Archipelago which is a group of islands, about 1700 of them, of exposed portions of an ancient coral reef. It is the southern most portion of the Continental US, only 90 miles from Cuba and begins just 15 miles south of Miami. They divide the Gulf of Mexico from the Atlantic Ocean. The "Overseas Highway," Hiway 1 is a beautiful 150 mile drive over 42 bridges, including the famous Seven Mile Bridge, and over these narrow "spits" of land.
Key West, literally at the end of the road, is the 'Big City in the Keys.' EXTREME tourism defines this place. From Cruise ships (one to three daily > really!) to "Spring Breakers/Partiers," sailors, you name it. Actually pretty modern and lots of Corporate chains have a presence here. As you might imagine, for Laura and I this was not one of our favorite spots in the Keys. FYI, Brother-in-law Steve > lots of "Cuban" cigar shops!
But the Lower Keys/Backcountry, the rest of the Keys, actually more in the North direction, are much more Country-ish, more laid back. Lots of ocean EVERYWHERE. We loved Kayaking these waters, swimming and running/biking all the paths. One day after kayaking through a Canal, we happened upon an 8'+ Manatee covered in barnacles. They are a marine mammal, also known as "sea cows" (actually very fitting since they are herbivorous, loose and regrow their teeth continuously, and produce large amounts of flatulence/gas). We were actually able to get up close and even briefly pet this protected species.
Down the street from our RV Park, Lazy Lakes, is the "Mangrove Mamas" Restaurant. Anything dressier then T-shirt, shorts and flip flops is definitely overdressed! Outdoor seating, very good fishy food, try the Conch Chowder and Key Lime Pie, and nightly music makes for a really fun evening.
Laura has taught two yoga/sound healing classes to a small group of enthusiastic fellow RV'ers. It's amazing how well received they are. Always nice that somebody is now helping to support the family... :-0)
On another day, we took the "Yankee Freedom III" ferry from Key West, 70 miles out to sea to the Dry Tortugas National Park. It's only reachable by boat or sea plane. Most of it is underwater, actually 99% of it, except for a very few and very small islands. It's so named because back in 1513 Ponce de Leon discovered the islands and found countless Sea Turtles in the surrounding waters. But because there's NO fresh water to be found, "Dry" was added to the name.
Rome's Coliseum gets all the 'pomp and circumstances' and rightly so since it is truly an engineering marvel in both size and scope. However, on Garden Key in the Nat'l Park, back in the mid 1800's, a massive but partially unfinished coastal fortress was built. It's actually the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemispere and composed of over 16 million bricks!! It was built by prisoners and slaves and always remained in the hands of the Federacy. Dr. Samuel Mudd (history buffs remember this name??) who was convicted of setting the broken leg of the infamous John Wilkes Booth after he assasinated Pres. Lincoln and three other assasinator co-conspirators were imprisoned there. I feel comparing this structure to the coliseum has some real merit. Not from an engineering standpoint, but rather a logistical standpoint. Both were built by slaves and prisoners. But all of the supplies, bricks (even from Maine), mortar, lumber, survey/engineering/tools, food/water, etc all had to be brought in by ship. I can't imagine the industrial might this took to stage and deliver all of these things through the open ocean to a place of literally 'shifting sands' and frequent storms and even hurricanes. During the Civil War, these ships even had to leave the Union Ports and pass through hundreds of miles of unfriendly territory.
That's all for now. Thursday we're heading back to the Miami area for about 10 days. Mitch is flying down from Boston to spend a couple of days with us and with the 'sun and surf.' Can you imagine how excited he is to leave the snow and slush behind... Laura's brother, Art Penn and his wonderful family are also visiting Miama for a few days so we are going to be very busy this weekend! After everyone leaves, we're heading just 35 miles from Miami to visit and stay at the Everglades National Park, and also visiting Biscayne National Park which is very very close as well. "On the Road with the Gallerstein's" continue....
Viva Le Conch Republic!
Happy St. Paddy's Day to all of you
Gary & Laura