Shiver me glass-bottomed timbers!
After scoring nil point on both the sparrow and cuckoo front, Mr F was out today well before the early bird had even thought about brushing it's teeth.
He returned at 9am to join me for breakfast, still sans sparrow & cuckoo so not a particularly happy bunny. The plan of attack for the day therefore, centred around getting at least the cuckoo in the bag. Not literally you understand though!
After awarding top marks to Travelodge for their checkout perfection, we set off for the Keys. We'd drive straight down to Marathon, check-in, dump our bags and head straight back out to explore Key West. My over-exuberance with the sunscreen yesterday meant a quick detour to Walgreens first however.
As we drove south, we quickly found that the humble shark had taken on a great celebrity status. There were giant shark jaws, giant sharks dangling from cranes and giant sharks crashing through roofs. In fact, anything giant seemed popular. Amongst the common giant dolphin and giant manatee, you occasionally caught a glimpse of the highly endangered giant rhino. My personal favourite though, was a toss up between the giant lobster and the giant angelfish. The angelfish eventually clinched it when I saw it's spectacular night time display of fairy lights.
Sadly I didn't find out what these beasties were actually advertising but it would be a fair guess that it involved a glass-bottom boat of some description. I was quite taken with the glass-bottomed kayaks. Paddling along in the crystal blue, admiring the marine life below, sounded a great idea. I quickly realised this probably wouldn't be the case though - the view from above would scare the fish away!
We finally tracked down our abode for the last night of the trip. I'd booked direct on the hotel's website and then made the fatal error of checking it's reviews on TripAdvisor afterwards. I don't usually hold all that much with review sites, but this place, the Bonefish Resort, scored nigh on 100% bad. The main complaints appeared to be grubby rooms, grumpy staff but overly friendly cockroaches. With all this in mind, I approached the front desk (eventually found in the neighbouring hotel) with some trepidation.
The look of surprise I encountered when I presented our booking confirmation did not start proceedings off well. There was no booking apparently, which was odd considering I'd already paid for it. Once that small problem was resolved, we moved on to the room - if we didn't like it, tough and don't bother complaining. And this was all before we'd even seen it! Do you get the feeling people might complain quite a lot here?
Next came the 'resort fee' of $6.50. Now, I'd read about this (though not on their website) so was expecting it and it was hardly going to break the bank but after the reception, I was damned if I was going without some kind of a fight. Apparently it was to cover parking (on the road), wifi (it didn't extend to our room) and DVD hire (I doubt if we'd be spending that much time in the room). We were told in no uncertain terms, however, to pay up or push off, no refunds. Hmmm, this guy really needs to work on his people skills.
We figured we'd take a look at the room at least and if it really was as bad as they said, take his 'advice', push off to Key Largo and put it down to experience. Turned out that although basic and out of the ark, it was clean enough and best of all, lacking cockroaches (that we could see anyway). For one night, we'd risk it and as it looked like we were the only people staying here, at least we ought to have a quiet night.
Bags dumped, we drove off down the Key chain. Crossing the famous 7 mile bridge was fun and sadly for Mr F, we'd just missed the annual 7 Mile Bridge Run which would have been good for his marathon training! This took particular eminence after today's forthcoming lunch.
It was only during this US trip that I realised what an IHOP was. Several people had mentioned it before we left but I assumed it must be some new fangled gadget from Apple. It turned out to be oh so much better. For those of you not already in the know, IHOP stands for International House Of Pancakes.
On this visit however, we ate no pancakes - I wondered whether this was an arrest-able offence? The pot roast sandwich on the menu just had a bigger draw today. And Mr F got sucker-punched by a beef burger with egg, bacon and cheese. Our hopes, sorry, MY hopes of a pancake to finish off the meal died a death. Must pencil one in for our final breakfast tomorrow.
We drove down to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park to take our picture at the USA's most southernly point. The signs on the entry kiosk stated the air temp was 96 degrees with the sea temp being positively chilly by comparison at 84 degrees. Despite these conditions, there were still keen folk out jogging and playing tennis and somehow managing not to collapse from heat exhaustion. We didn't stay long out of the car's air con and instead headed off to Sugarloaf Key to have another go at Mangrove cuckoos.
With Mr F happily ensconced in a mosquito ridden stretch of mangrove swamp, I listened to the tootling and chirping of its denizens from the relative safety of the car. I say, relative safety, as I still had the windows open to prevent me from being boiled alive and Mr F had run off with insect repellant. Once you got past the buzzing noises, the mangroves emitted the most bird/amphibian noise I'd heard on the trip. Shame you couldn't actually see any of them really - denser than a South American rainforest. A bright red Cardinal popped out at one point and was so surprised at seeing me quietly sitting there, that it actually did a double take before zipping back to tell it's friends. Not long after this, I remembered just how much coffee I'd consumed in the IHOP and wondered how much longer Mr F was going to be. I mean, just how many Mangrove cuckoos could there be?
It turned out none to be precise so back on the road we went to look elsewhere (and find a rest stop too if I had anything to do with it). Along with the fetish for giant sharks, the Keys were also a little top heavy on the overall pirate theme. High on the list of favourites was the 'Pirate Wellness Centre' (aargh, me heart-y), but the best had to be the 'Guns & Gold' shop, where you could pawn your pieces of eight and buy a nice 45mm all in the same easy transaction.
The great cuckoo hunt continued at the National Key Deer Refuge. The Key Deer being a tiny wee version of the common White-tailed Deer found elsewhere in Florida. Having once inhabited all the lower Florida Keys, it is now sadly restricted to only a few islands. The old favourites of habitat loss and over-hunting obliterated their numbers down to an estimated 50 individuals. Happily, the Refuge was set up and along with heavy law enforcement, the population has since increased to around 800.
I harboured no hopes of seeing one of these endangered creatures - I mean, heck, if we couldn't see a cuckoo..! I'd not considered, however, their near-domestication. Their cute looks have led tourists to hand feed them, both increasing their road kills (70% of all Key Deer deaths) and reducing their fear of humans. We ended up seeing them not in the Refuge but on a suburban street, trotting between gardens. About the size of my Labrador, cuter and dribble less - you can see why people like them.
Alas, Mr F eventually gave up on the cuckoos and I gave up my hopes for stone crab for tea - damn you IHOP! We returned to our dubious abode and hoped the cockroaches wouldn't come out the woodwork during the night.