Friday, 12 December 2008

Florida Holiday Part 4 - To the Florida Keys and Paradise on the Beach

Next morning we sadly left the serenity of Chokoloskee behind and headed off on Route 41, The Tamiami Trail. Our first stop en-route was Ochopee Post Office, said to be the smallest post office in the USA, and yes, it was tiny!

Route 41 was another very straight road that was easy to drive. There was slightly more habitation than on Route 75, but it was still quite a desolate road in parts. We stopped off at Shark River Visitor's Center and took one of the bus rides into the Everglades. There was a narrow seven mile road that was specially built that went to a 50 foot viewing tower where you could view the Everglades.

The driver was full of information, the main thing I remember is of how the Everglades got it's name. When it was under English rule, one man explored the area which reminded him of glades at home and called them the "forever glades" and this became the Everglades. That's an interesting snippet for you!

It was typical Everglades, flat, with occasional low mounds, grasses, mangroves. We saw countless alligators, from a massive ten footer to little babies merely a foot long and birds of all kinds. The view from the 50 foot tower was amazing, and close to its entrance an alligator lay sunning itself, no one went too near!

We continued on our journey and reached habitation once more in the form of Homestead and Florida City, neither looking too appealing, we were glad to be only travelling through. We had thought of staying in that area to access the Everglades, but had decided on Chokoloskee instead and now we realised what a wise decision that had been.

It wasn't long until we entered the first of the Florida Keys, Key Largo. To be honest it, didn't look that exciting at first. There were a lot of trees that blocked out the gulf/ocean views, there were buildings flanking the highway, not my image of the Keys.

We soon found our accommodation, the Bay Harbor Lodge, just off the Overseas Highway (the road that runs the length of the Keys). And there we found a little paradise! Situated right on the Bayside beach, lush vegetation, palm trees. The rooms were lovely, all had their own outside seating, and there were barbecues for visitors use. By the beach were sun loungers, tables and a tiki hut, there were also canoes and paddle boats for guest use. There was also a heavenly warm pool. It was gorgeous! I was so glad that we had our first three night stay in this lovely place. The delights of Key Largo are certainly well hidden!

We decided to have some retail therapy, as Key Largo is long and straggly and there's no real "centre" the shops are strung out over a few miles so you do need a car. I found my shoe heaven in a sandal outlet (won't tell you how many pairs I bought! LOL!). Then I found a designer outlet, oh dear! I loved every minute of the shopping.

Next day we had breakfast under the tiki hut by the water the next day, accompanied by cheeky squirrels and elegant egrets. The water of the gulf was calm and it was pleasantly warm., we saw the fin of a dolphin as it passed by. What a way to take breakfast!

We were taking a glass-bottomed boat trip to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef which lies a few miles off Key Largo. On the way through the narrow waterway from the dock to the open ocean we passed some fantastic houses, the rich certainly know where to live! Just as we entered the ocean proper the weather closed in and it got very windy, wet and surprisingly cold.

We chugged and rolled to the reef despite the weather. It slowed down when we got there and we all stood around the glass bottom to view the underwater scene. I found it a bit disappointing really, we saw quite a few fish. lots of jellyfish, various corals, but it wasn't as colourful and varied as I had expected. There were also large areas where the reef was dead which was sad to see. Maybe the inclement weather had something to do with it, possibly we couldn't get to the best parts of the reef because of it. The boat was rolling about a lot and quite a few people were seasick including my friend Sylvia - I felt a little queasy myself.

Most of the rest of the time I spent chilling at the Bay Harbor Lodge, it was the kind of place you could go to to totally unwind. Also, as it was not a large it was always peaceful and uncrowded and you never had to fight for a sun lounger! Also, being bayside we had glorious sunsets each night. So, once more, it was hard to leave when we had to head off down the road to our next destination.

Right - a particularly calm evening at the shore of the Bay Harbor Hotel


  1. Thanks for visiting Dolphin Research Center!

  2. The DRC was a fabulous experience and I'll be blogging about it in the next chapter about my Florida holiday which I'm working on at the moment