Got out early for once and headed Northon 41. Somehow got all turned around and wasted a few hours weeding through traffic in St. Pertersburg and Tampa (Yuk Towns! Stear clear for your sanity!) Finally stopped at a lovely rest stop off Hwy 275 and sat a while to enjoy the breeze and ocean views.
Got turned around again somewhere betwen there and Hwy 19; laiden with traffic and chaos! Detoured as fast as we could out of city traffic and found Hwy 54 East to 301 North. A short time later, following a brief struggle through small-town traffic and road construction, we were enjoying a leisurely drive in the country…still on 301.
Found a quaint little roadside cottage style inn near Ocala called the Hill Top Motel, and paid for a night. We loved this place! The motel/Inn consists of about a dozen or so adorable little cottages. Nico and I were wishing we could live in a quaint little cottage just like the one we were housed in for the night; beautiful pine trees and green grass all around, peaceful country setting. Just lovely! We would definitely recommend this little out-of-the-way place to any road-weary traveler. We hope to return soon.
Smooth sailing most of the way. Only lost once per T.J.’s directions, so we stuck to the map from then on out. Stopped in Homestead, FL., for gas and rest-stop (diaper change, etc.) and quickly realized that it’s a BIG produce, vineyard, garden/greenhouse town. Agriculture everywhere!
Finally got on the right track on Hwy 41–Tamiami Trail–throught Miccosukee Indian Reservation Territory. *Neat adobe houses of bright ‘earth tone’ colors, with tiki style thatch roofing. They were hard to see because of the stockade fencing surrounding the villages. We wanted to stop and visit.*
Instead, stopped at a little wayside park for a bit of a rest and saw first Alligator on this entire trip. Many more swam up when Nico brought Baby up and she started to squeal a bit from excitement. I think the gators thought she was lunch; an injured animal or something. Lunch…either way! Talk about scary…freaky! It was eery to say the least! **SEE Video Below**
We quickly escaped ‘gator park’ and made our way to a Motel 6 in Fort Myers for the night. Exhaustion had set in, but it had been a good day trekking from the Keys…across Florida on the Tamiami Trail (Gator Ville, USA) back West to the Gulf Coast.
Take it from me. Keep Your Baby or Toddler AWAY from the Gators! Far…FAR away! We shot this from waaay up on a overlook, enclosed with fencing and thick gage protective barnyard wire-mesh fencing. Even though we were at least 8 feet above the water, this still sent chills up my spine just to see how these gators responded to our little girl’s screams. We high-tailed it outta there as fast as we could. I had seen enough of the gators to last me a lifetime!
Traveling Along Tamiami Trail
Wayside Swamp on Tamiami Trail
Us at ‘Gator Park’
Here Fishy Fishy! Can You Spot the Gator?
He’s Right There!!!
Gator Lake, just off Tamiami Trail (unofficial name we gave it)
The Fishies Have Started Back to ‘School’
This was a Huuuge Gator!
One Scary Experience
He had to be at least 15 feet long
Thatch Roof of Miccosukee Indian Village
Miccosukee Indian Village on Tamiami Trail
Hard to See Colorful Indian Village from Behind Fence
Three weeks had gone by like a blink of an eye, and our stay in the Florida Keys was coming to an end. It was time to start heading back to Tejas. Even though we would’ve loved to stay in the Keys forever, we had obligations with the coming of our first grandchild. Sometimes life just works out that way I guess.
And while the anticipation of a baby is usually a happy time, our’s was bitter-sweet, as our grand baby’s father had been murdered when my daughter was just two months pregnant. It was a traumatic experience for her, to say the least. So, while we’d been gone for almost two months, we had known all along that we would have to be there for her in her last trimester. She had been spending time with her dad and brother in the time we’d been gone. She was safe–of this we were sure.
So…the morning came when we sorted through the belongings we’d somehow accumulated in three weeks’ time, and begun to rid our ourselves of the things we knew we couldn’t carry and were sure one of our new friends could use. T.J. was glad to take the small TV we’d been using for Baby.
We said our good-byes after the van was packed to the gills, and headed back up Overseas Highway; hoping to make it past Homestead by nightfall. I sat quietly in my ‘copilot’s’ seat until the tears began to fall. I could not contain my sadness for leaving this place we’d called home for almost a month. To me…it felt more like home than the place to where we were returning. I was overcome with grief. Nico held my hand, comforting me from where he sat.
The scene was always like a dream: the endless miles of beautiful aqua blue water, the historic railroad bridge beside Bahia Honda State Park, the old abandoned Overseas Highway that is now used more for a footbridge or for bicyclists. I was in love with this place for its quiet calmness, peaceful waters, even the ‘sometimes stinky’ mangrove swamp.
We had bonded with Key West the evening we sang at the Sunset Celebration on Mallory Square. I remember, as we walked to our first gig as Street Performers, looking down at the well-worn and weathered brick streets in Old Towne…thinking how I’d love to walk barefoot on them. The pirates who’d come to Key West hundreds of years before had walked those same streets. I was fascinated by the idea of walking in their same steps. Hopeless romantic…I am!
One thing I know for sure — I will always treasure our time in The Florida Keys and the nice people we met, the friendships we formed. There is a special place in my heart reserved just for Key West and Sugarloaf Key. To me….they will always feel like home. I pray someday…soon, the wind will catch our sails and we will find ourselves there once again. A girl can dream…a girl can pray.
So…we’d set-up to play the Sunset Celebration on Mallory Square there in Key West. We’d never done the ‘street performer’ gig before, so we had no idea what to expect. After being directed into a nice spot near the water’s edge, we began belting out a few of our tunes; not sure if anyone was listening at the time.
I have to admit, without any sort of amplifier or speakers, it was all I could do not to strain a vocal chord to two. But we managed to get through it all just fine. In fact, Nico did wonderfully and seemed to fit right into that sort of scene. With my soft voice, I can’t be so sure anyone ever even heard me, much less have an opinion.
But there was one man who did seem to have something to say, and a few folks stood close by listening as best they could while we sang the sun into the ocean. The nice man told us “You have great spirit.” We took it as a compliment since he and his wife had been listening to our show for quite some time. Click on link below to see hightlights from our performance on Mallory Square.
All in all, we had a great time–it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I wouldn’t change it for the world! And the next time we head back down to Key West and the Florida Keys, I look forward to going back out to Mallory Spuare and singing my heart out…once again. After all, I have nothing to fear…and nothing to lose.
There are a few things I know I’ll never forget about our 3 weeks in the Florida Keys, and the Party we attended at Mangrove Mama’s on Sugarloaf Key is definitely one of them. We’d been invited by the owner earlier in the week, when Nico just happened to be introduced to him at the KOA Bar…in the campground next to LL. He’d gone to the store for something and, as luck would have it, ran into a few friends from LL, who were enjoying their 4 o’clock refreshments.
Needless to say, Nico and the owner of Mangrove’s hit it off and we were accepted into the rather tight-knit circle of friends/acquaintances on Sugarloaf Key. According to Nico, the party would be a benefit auction for a friend of Mangrove’s owner…who’d just-recently passed away. He was an artist…and so, they’d be auctioning off his works to raise cash for this, that, and the other. Either way, it was for a good cause, and the food and drinks were ‘on the house’. How could we refuse?
No…really! Since Mangrove Mama’s was classified more as a restaurant than a bar, we felt it was safe to take Baby, and lo-and-behold, she wasn’t the only kid there. I was a bit worried we might be walking into an environment not suited for our little one. But in the end, it all turned out to be a fun night…minus a few mis-haps and misgivings on the part of a few drunks and loud-mouths. It seems…there’s always one (or two) in every crowd.
All in all, we danced to a bongo band called the ‘Margarejects’…laughed with new-found friends, and made it safely home at a reasonable hour…across Overseas Highway and back to Lazy Lakes. In the end, Nico and I both had to admit “They really do know how to party in The Florida Keys!” What a blast we had with the local Conchs! I hope we can see them again…someday soon.
Okay, so we’d been lingering a lot on Sugarloaf Key and not had too much time for Key West until… Until we decided we had to know more of the island that our friend T.J. swore to us was ‘much better than we’d so far experienced’. *not word for word* We knew we’d have to make a day of it and, once and for all, see it for ourselves; Duval Street…Southernmost Point and everything in between.
In no time at all, Peniki was blaring down Overseas Highway at 55 mph and we were once again on Key West. This time, we’d left our bikes back at Lazy Lakes and opted to go afoot. We tried to think like the local Conchs and check out the ‘not so touristy’ spots where, in our opinions, the local-focal were likely to frequent. In our search, we ended up at a little outdoor bistro with a tropical setting like no other we’d seen anywhere near Duval…complete with talking birds. One Mango Daquiri later, I was sure we’d made the right decision by choosing to take a more intimate look at Key West and Duval Street. We were fast becoming friends with the Florida Keys.