Key West and the Everglades National Park

7 Feb

Flying into Miami airport on our return to the States gave us the opportunity to explore the southern areas of Florida before heading back to Crystal River to be reunited with haRVey.

Our first night we had booked a hotel not too far from the airport so that after breakfast we could begin our drive to the Keys. I have to say the first hour or so was pretty uninspiring, especially as we hit construction delays even before we left Miami. This continued for a good part of the journey and we did begin to wonder if we were doing the right thing. Mile after mile we looked for some scenic views but it wasn’t until  we reached Marathon that the blue, green waters of the shallow Florida Bay became visible.

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Entering Key West almost 5 hours (including a stop) after leaving Miami, we drove to the Old Town area where we had booked two nights at Heron House Court. The property is in a quiet back road but not too far from Duval Street, the harbour area is only a very short walk away. Our room was on the far side of the garden courtyard which had a Jacuzzi pool in the centre, a main swimming pool was tucked away around the corner. 

With humid sunshine fading at the end of the day, we walked into the main town area to look for food. Our host Roman had marked up a map for us with plenty of  options we might try for veggie and fish meals. We opted for his recommendation of The Cafe and after a walk to get our bearings we enjoyed a great meal there.

Breakfast next morning was again an outdoor event, we enjoyed muffins and pastries from the local bakery and plenty of coffee to wash it down while we chatted to our fellow guests. It was a pleasure to be able to leave the car where it was parked and walk out to the Marina and harbour area to begin to take in the sights of Key West. The sun was hot on our faces and the humidity quite high, we could not help but compare to a few days earlier and the chill winds of Newcastle we had left behind.

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The Old Custom House

In the harbour were two huge cruise ships and the lower end of Duval Street was rowdy with the hustle of the tourists who had arrived for the day. Plenty of sight seeing buses were driving up and down fully laden, the cycle tours were doing a good trade too, we continued to use our feet and stretch our legs which had been inactive for far too long.

All around the key, in the shady gardens of the lovely period properties, cockerels scratch for their food. Thought by some to be a nuisance because of their early morning chorus I found them a colourful addition to the streets and very photogenic.

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Among the bars and restaurants, souvenir and tee shirt outlets there are also some galleries and craft shops selling quite unique items. It all makes for a busy eclectic mix where it would be difficult not to find something to interest you but if not there are always the beaches and the warm sunshine to enjoy.

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We visited the Audubon House, built by a sea captain, John Geiger for himself and his family including nine children, to live in. It has been restored and furnished with antiques and P1160074artefacts but also  houses original pictures by John Audubon from his work on ‘Birds of America’.

In the shady cobbled courtyard garden there were lots of orchids in flower hanging from the palm trees and tucked into corners. It always amazes me when I spot plants thriving outdoors which we struggle to grow as houseplants in the UK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

P1160080 We were intrigued by a purple hanging ‘thing’ until we followed its stalk up to a green fleshy growth higher up, slowly the penny dropped as we recognised the leaf…. it was a banana, well we think it was…

Anyone who knows better can happily correct me please!

I just love the way it looks like its hanging on a spring..

 

 

Fortunately the drive back along the keys passed more quickly the construction having mostly disappeared or it was on the other side of the road. Our next stop over was to be Florida City to give us a base to visit the Everglades National Park. I think that is probably the only reason anyone stays there as the town seems to consist of hotels, chain restaurants and a Outlet Mall. However, it was a room to stay in.

As usual we made the Visitor Centre our first stop in the National Park. It was well worth while for the information on where to go from the Ranger who pointed out the best places to see wild life. We watched the 15 minute film and toured the exhibition before driving just 4 miles to our first viewing opportunity.

Royal Palm Lodge has a boardwalk which surrounds an area of wetland teaming with wildlife. It was almost like being in a zoo especially as the birds were so not bothered about all the human activity and just carried on regardless.

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This Wood Stalk was just feet from us along with a Great Blue Heron, they were fishing for lunch and there were certainly some large Tilapia around for them to catch. The water was shallow but clear and apart from the Tilapia lots of small fish were trying hard to stay away from sharp beaks.

Along a short off shoot board walk we joined a group of others to look over an alligator hole. As the water disappears in this the dry season the gators are forced to share their watering places, a large group had gathered making quite a show.

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Wading birds carried on regardless stalking their prey. We had learned from the information in the visitor centre alligators only eat about twice a week and can go long periods without food, today they appeared not to be hungry, maybe it was just too hot.

The trail here is called the Anhinga trail, named after a beautiful bird we had not seen before, very much like a cormorant they can swim underwater for long periods while fishing and then like to sit with wings outstretched to dry.

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Although it is only February lots of birds are nesting and the Anhinga had already got chicks,

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Underneath this nest lay in wait several alligators just wishing the birds would fall from the trees!

Almost at the end of the trail we were attracted by a group of people peering over a small wall and into the water below, not wanting to miss out we peered too. A group of baby alligators were resting together in the grass, attempting not to be someone’s lunch, that’s nature for you I suppose.

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We drove on towards Flamingo stopping off at the Mahogany Hammock, a hammock we learned is a raise in the land which typically is wooded, this one with Mahogany. A National Park Ranger was just about to begin a walk which we were able to join in with. A stroll along the boardwalk led through the hammock, where the ranger explained how the surrounding ancient woodland had evolved and was now protected for the future. One huge Mahogany tree lies within the wood having stood on that spot for hundreds of years it has avoided damage from both humans and from hurricanes.

Flamingo, the town at the end of the road has not faired so well, in 2005 when so much damage was caused by hurricanes in this region the visitor centre and surrounding buildings were severely damaged and are only just beginning to be repaired. It was near here however that we were fortunate enough to see crocodiles, which are less prevalent than we thought.

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These two were well camouflaged and tucked away from the regular pathway.

On top of the Visitor Centre an Osprey had built a nest and was feeding two or maybe three young, one of the parents flew over us with a fish in its claws ready to feed the hungry family who were squawking and making their demands obvious.

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By now it was getting towards the end of the afternoon but there was one last place we wanted to stop at Paurotis Pond in the hope of seeing Roseate Spoonbills who roost at the far end of the lake. The spoonbills are pink, the same colour as flamingo (who are very seldom seen in the Park) with a long bill flattened at the end and long legs, although overall they are smaller than flamingo. We were thrilled that we could just pick them out in the distant trees, unfortunately too far away to take a decent picture, we were just happy to have seen them and completed our day.

Looking for food ourselves is often not easy, vegetarian choice is often limited, on the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Farmers Market Restaurant in Florida City to see if they had anything to offer. The building is within the area of the local market and looks like an old farm building, inside was rustic but pleasant and the ladies very helpful, it being Friday I opted for the fish fry and chose Dolphin (local name for Mahi Mahi) which I thoroughly enjoyed, Robert had an omelette with a choice of vegetables and French Fries, always a hit!

Saturday we drove north to Lake Wales just south of Orlando, staying the night there before completing our journey Sunday and arriving back with haRVey Sunday afternoon. We were pleased to finally be ‘home’ and despite it being much cooler (and as I write this Monday, wetter – it has poured down today) it is great to be in our own surroundings once more.

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3 Responses to “Key West and the Everglades National Park”

  1. Susan February 8, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Welcome back to the states!
    Paul and I love Key West and the Keys in general. We were planning on going there in February for his birthday, but decided Florida was too far to go right now. But I am jealous. We WILL get to New Orleans, another one of our favorites.

    Hoping our paths will cross at some point! Meantime, enjoy!!

  2. kourtnie February 19, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    your good

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