On Friday May 11th, we were ready for the last official part of our trip. The journey we started in Seattle almost 40 days ago was coming to an end. Today we were heading for the southernmost part of the continental United States: Key West (Hawaii is located further south).
We checked out of the motel and headed for the Miami International Airport where we located the Hertz store. We were ready to switch cars for the last time. Upon the delivery of the Volvo, we agreed that it had been a good choice to go for this “boring” Swedish car in Boston - it had served us well, and was a great vehicle for the road. There had been one or two occasions during these two weeks where we’d been stuck for God knows how long in the Lincoln Town Car we were initially dealt.
But now it was time to let the swede go and find a ride more fit for a trip to the Keys. Louis had wanted to do the entire trip in a Mustang. We’d agreed that it would be both expensive and impractical, but for this last leg we felt we deserved to finish with style. So we turned in the Volvo, and was delivered the keys to a black Ford Mustang convertible. Louis was happy and excited as a kid on X-mas morning. Selma shared the enthusiasm for a while - until we started stuffing all our gear into the car.
Our final ride: A Ford Mustang Convertible
Louis entered the US with a tiny backpack, but five weeks on the road had generated a massive amount of luggage. Selma had dragged along a huge suitcase and a bag across the continent - and we soon discovered that the trunk of the Mustang wasn’t big enough to hold it all. But Louis wasn’t willing to let anything lower his enthusiasm, and worked some magic to make most of our stuff disappear into the tiny trunk compartment. He strapped Selma’s suitcase in the back seat and jumped in behind the wheel. Selma got in on the passenger side and sunk to the floor. Literally. The bucket seat was so low, and was impossible to regulate vertically, thus all she could see from a normal position was the dashboard.
The view from the passenger seat in the Mustang
So Selma was a bit grumpy as we hit the road in the new ride, but it helped a little as we got out on the road and aimed for the Keys. Besides, the floor in front of her was packed with luggage, so she had to sit on her knees - which improved the view a lot. This time, we had no Kitty to help us find the way, but we were given a map and good directions back at Hertz. And finding the way was no problem, - as soon as we got out of Miami, there was only one way out to the keys: Highway 1, or more specific for this stretch of the road: The Overseas Highway.
Rolling down the Keys with the wind blowing in our hair (and the back seat full of luggage)
We’d pictured the Florida Keys as a bunch of small islands with long bridges between them, going on and on forever just slightly above the water - somewhat like the long bridge we crossed along the Florida panhandle. But actually, it was quite the opposite: Long islands with short bridges between them. Road work was going on along the road for the first few miles after leaving the mainland, so the traffic went slow and the smell of the mangrove swamp was anything but pleasant. It didn’t keep us from riding with the top down, though! It was extremely hot, but quite misty - and even though we barely could see the sun through the haze, we could easily feel it burn.
With sunblock within reach as we drive with the roof down
We entered Key Largo, the largest of the keys, and finally understood the mumble in the song Kokomo by the Beach Boys.. We located a Subway (as usual) and had lunch. We took turns going in, as we had the open car full of luggage and didn’t bother putting the top on. We hit the road again, and continued further south - through Islamorada (”Village of Islands”), Marathon and across a bunch of tiny islands. The Seven mile bridge was the closest we got to a “driving on water” experience, and in all fairness - it is pretty amazing.
No, we’re not trying to kill ourselves - this is looking back at the Seven mile bridge
After about three hours, we arrived at the furthest island, the Key West. With our rooftop down, we blasted the speakers (but were listening to a blues channel on the satellite radio, so we didn’t roll like big time gangsters) and took a spin around the island before locating our hotel close to the southern tip. We had some trouble finding parking for our car and had to drive around a few turns before settling for a spot a few blocks away from our hotel. It was run by a funny and talkative guy who gave us a few pointers about different places and stores to check out - with a “just tell them I sent you”.
Our hotel, the Lighthouse Court, was located on Whitehead Street - just across the street from Ernest Hemingways old home. It’s a lovely resort with a pool in the back yard, clean and cozy environment, and clean rooms with a smell of lavender. All in all pretty gay, actually. Key West is considered a very gay friendly island, and many hotels (ours included) have rainbow flags in their front gates to signalize their gay friendliness.
After taking in the lavender smell and confirming the delicacy of the bathroom, we realized the room had only one bed. We hadn’t even considered that, since all the hotel and motel rooms we had visited so far had had two beds. Back home in Europe, you rarely get more than one bed in a room (and don’t expect to either), but we’d grown accustomed to the large rooms with two queen size beds. Even though we’re close friends (and have grown even closer during the past weeks), we prefer separate beds. Especially since Louis has a tendency to toss and turn like a child - throwing sheets and blankets and pillows like a madman in his sleep.
Louis checking his e-mail from the bed we were about to share
We asked for an extra room at the front desk, but they had no vacant rooms until the next day. We were staying two nights, so we booked an extra room for the second night (at this late stage of the trip, we could afford the extra luxury). And we figured, after all we had experienced together on this trip, we would endure one night in the same bed as well.
But before going to sleep, we had to check out the town a little further.
First we located the main street, Duval, just one block north of our hotel. The street is filled with restaurants and stores - both catering to the thousands of tourists visiting the island and town all year round. But we both agreed that the atmosphere was quite different from most of the other tourist spots we’ve visited around the world. The stores weren’t as cheesy (which isn’t to say they weren’t cheesy at all), and they felt more unique than the typical tourist stores lining typical tourist streets. We just peeked into a few of them, and decided to save any shopping until the next day.
Duval Street, Key West
As we were strolling down the street, Selma suddenly noticed a guy walking past us - carrying something that looked like the spitting image of Brad. Oh - it was Brad! Louis had been carrying him in a strap on his shorts, but he must have fallen down - poor thing! The guy was walking in a rapid speed, so we had to take action fast! Louis stopped the man and told him he was carrying our travel mate, and could we please have him back? The man told us he had found it and planned to give it to his niece, but somewhat reluctantly handed him over. As the man walked on, we realized how terrible it would have been to loose our companion on one of the last days of our trip - after all, he’d been through a lot with us!
Relieved, we went a little bit further up Duval to (the new) Sloppy Joe’s, before going back to hunt for a place to grab something to eat. Despite the number of original restaurants along the street, we ended up having dinner at the Hard Rock Café. Most of the other restaurants were crowded, and our tummies were getting impatient. After dinner (Louis went a bit crazy and ordered fish!), we finished off with the island speciality - Key Lime Pie. It was ok, but not suuuper delicious - but then again, the Hard Rock Café is probably not the best place to get one either.
A blurry taste of Key Lime Pie
We ended the night by taking a quick walk through Mallory Square, home of the Key West Sunset Celebration (but the sun had already set), before we walked home down Whitehead Street. About halfway between the square and our hotel is the official start of the US route 1, the major north-south U.S. Highway that serves the East Coast of the United States, and this is illustrated with a Mile 0 marker. We made Brad pose for us with the sign, but he was still a bit upset that we’d almost lost him so we ended up doing the posing ourselves:
Selma posing with the Mile 0 marker on 490 Whitehead Street
It was fairly dark and hard to get good shots, but we also fired off a few rounds at the nearby courthouse and a huge Kapok tree standing in front of it. Then we walked the last four blocks to the hotel, and sat on the porch outside our room, listening to the silence and looking for lizards, before calling it a night.