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Touring the US East Coast - Day 8

Written By:
Alain Kasteleyn
February 11, 2014

We’ve planned a quick tour of Key West centre prior to heading back up the US-1 to Islamorada. And we’re doing this on the ‘Conch Train’! Basically this is a little train that goes round the streets and shows you all the landmarks, important areas and allows all the people walking in the streets to gawp and laugh at you! But what the heck, the sun’s out and it will be good fun to just sit there and take it all in!

The ‘Conch Train’ headed off down Whitehead Street (one of the main north-south roads in the central part of Key West), and then headed east allowing us to see even more of the fabulous buildings. The driver explained all the history, updated us as to who lived in what building at various times, the historical significance of some of the buildings and how the town had developed. All in all, very interesting and very relaxing.

We passed Earnest Hemingway’s house, his favourite bar, and other places he frequented. Hemingway is perhaps Key West’s most famous resident, moving to the area in the 1930’s, writing his books and helping put the town on the map. Business, holiday and now education is the nature of our trip!

Once completed we bought a fridge magnet and a ‘Conch Republic’ flag! (Don’t ask…!). We loved the place, and we were proper tourists! The ‘Conch Republic’ stems from the early 1980’s when the USA government set up road blocks in Key Largo, at the final bridge to the mainland, and started checking vehicles as they left The Keys, for drugs and illegal immigrants. This greatly upset the local people of The Keys, and created tailbacks of five or six hours to cross back into mainland USA. The people rebelled (nicely), and declared their independence; they attacked the USA military by throwing wet stale bread at them, and then surrendered and requested assistance from the United Nations. The blockade was lifted, but the actual independence and UN assistance never really happened. However, the idea of a separate nation was born, and the locals became known as ‘Conchs’. A bit of modern history, kind of tongue in cheek in what was being asked for, but it does make for a good story, and for the sale of ‘Conch’ merchandise!

We got back into the car, set Betsy up to tell us the way back to Islamorada (basically head north on the US-1 !), and set off. We had decided to stop over in Big Pine Key and see if we could spot any Key deer. These are an endangered local species of deer, and are protected. We arrived in Big Pine and turned left from US-1, and headed to the deer reserve area. Within minutes of arriving we spotted two deer; they ran across the road in front of us. Amazing! Then as we drove round some smaller roads we spotted a deer right next to us on the road side. It just stayed where it was, fully aware we were there and allowed us to photograph it. What a treat! We left the reserve after that and continued north towards Islamorada.

Our destination was ‘The Post Card Inn’, and after about one hour we arrived. The place was pretty huge, built over several blocks, with bars, beach area and two swimming pools. We had arranged a tour of the property, and did this as soon as we arrived. There were various rooms, of different categories, and we reckoned the best one to stay in would be one of the ‘Ocean View’ rooms. Following the tour we grabbed a beer during the ‘Happy Hour’ and sat over-looking the water, watching the fish, rays and corals down below. It was all quite magical!

After settling in it was dinner time, so we headed to the on-site restaurant, Shula’s. We sat and had some good food on the terrace, near to some Chinese tourists, who were completely blown away with the place…. And who could blame them! Shortly after dinner it was the usual story, of heading to bed and getting a good night’s rest.

**Alain’s top tips**

  1. Always plan your journey, even if it seems simple. Also plan for the fact that you are more than likely to find something of interest on the way. Stopping will add time, so plan for it. If you decide to pass by you are likely to miss some real treats!
  2. For food options, there are more than enough in the USA! Just take your pick, and you can be sure to find a restaurant pretty much anywhere.
  3. Don’t dismiss any of the local State Parks, or Reserves you might come across; usually there will be a visitor’s centre, guides, information stands, parking and trails. It can break the journey and provide an interesting distraction en route.
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