After a bit of a lie in, we left Markham Park behind and began the very long drive to Key West. SunPass tolls made a reappearance, but this time we were not forced to go through a toll that we couldn’t pay and managed to avoid tolls all the way. The overseas highway through the Keys was beautiful, but so so long. We stopped off at a supermarket to buy supplies for the next few days as well as a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for lunch, which we had to eat very quickly in the car before it melted. The rest of the drive was uneventful and we arrived at Leo’s Campground at about half past 2. We were walked over to our campsite, which overlooked a mangrove swamp with our own private deck.

Our campsite, complete with private deck and mangrove swamp

We set up the tent and Lizzie devised a system of anchoring it (driving the car over the guy rope) since we couldn’t drive the pegs into the coral. After setting up the tent we had a pretty quiet afternoon catching up with our blogs and after having brie and tomato sandwiches for dinner we watched some TV on the laptop before bed.

After a slow start we went to catch the bus into Key West proper, but managed to miss it. With the next bus not for about an hour and a half, we decided to walk since it couldn’t be too far. It was far, even though the island is only 4 miles by 2 miles, we walked about 3 miles before we reached the main beach. We liked the idea of parasailing and asked if we needed to book to go parasailing the next day, apparently not, and they will give us the Spring Break student discount even though our student cards are out of date and in the UK, win! After trying to catch the bus into town we had about an hour to wait, so settled down on the beach to read for a bit. This was not to be either as we attracted a strange man (this is becoming a theme) who told us all about places to go in Key West, we then escaped to wait at the bus stop. The bus eventually arrived and after chatting with more strange men on the bus we arrived on Duval Street. Our first stop was Margaritaville for lunch, disappointingly they only accepted passports as ID, so Liz was unable to have a margarita, I had a raspberry flavoured one which was nice, but rather alcoholic. After lunch we wandered along Duval St, popping into various shops along the way. We looked briefly for Mallory Square, apparently the place to go at sunset, but overwhelmed by the crowds and faced with the decision of waiting 2 hours for a bus or going home now, we headed back to the campsite. Our evening was mostly taken up by planning the next month of our trip on the office porch (to get Wifi) with a few beers. Later on we were joined by a couple of boys staying in the campsite to play drinking UNO and Scrabble for the rest of the evening… we do lead such exciting lives!

We were up very early the next day to decant everything from the car so Liz could take it to “check in” with Alamo while I guarded the stuff at the campsite. She returned with minutes to spare until the next bus and we hurried to the bus stop and got there just as the bus rounded the corner. It was a short bus ride to the beach where we signed up for our beach pass and booked our parasail for noon. Our first stop was to take a two man kayak out, we were advised to head into the wind then drift back when we were tired since abandoning the boat further up the beach would cost us, as would rescue. The kayaking was great fun, although it was very hard work in the windy conditions. After about half an hour out on the water we returned the kayak, got some lunch and sat in sun loungers waiting for our parasail time to come around. It was getting windier and windier and the previous group were late returning and some of them had not been able to “fly”. We were told that we could wait until later in the day, weather depending, come back tomorrow or get a refund. Since we were leaving in the morning and didn’t fancy waiting around on a cold windy beach all day we went for the refund option. Having just missed a bus, we started walking then caught the bus when it got to us. Back at the campsite we had another quiet afternoon, planning to go back into town later that evening after more planning. We were both so tired that this never happened, but we did go for a drive since we were told that we could not miss Duval St at night. It was very different from the day time, but we realised that we really didn’t have the energy for it, so not going out was a good idea. Back at the campsite, we weren’t up for long before heading to bed, Terry is taking us kayaking through the mangroves tomorrow morning at 8am before we hit the road.

I was lying awake just before the alarm went off when Terry’s voice came from outside, “Girls, are you awake? Are we still on for this morning?” Both in that half awake stage we both said that we were awake, very much in the way that you say to parents when they wake you up in the morning after you have overslept. Seconds later our alarm went off, setting to rest our worries that we had overslept. Once we were both dressed and had packed up the tent, we moved our car into Terry’s parking space and set off in his truck, with the kayaks in the back, to the beach. Although we could have kayaked straight from the campsite, the currents near there were quite strong with all the windy weather, so he took us somewhere safer. Arriving at the beach, which is where the original US-1 highway ran until the hurricane in 2005 obliterated it. Since most of the land it had been built on was gone, they decided not to rebuild it in the same place and rerouted it and built a new bridge to the island. We started with a brief walk along the beach, listening to the planes take off from the Naval Base where they filmed Top Gun, as Terry took us along the beach to show us a fortress built with chunks of coral, bits of the old road and driftwood. It was quite impressive, but we left when we found someone’s campsite there. He also showed us the “shoe rack” of abandoned or washed up shoes attached to the fence, and picked up one from the beach to add to it. Going back to the car, we got the kayaks out and pulled them down to the water. The hardest part of the day was the first part, paddling into the wind with waves breaking over the front of the kayak. After paddling hard for what seemed like forever, I glanced to the side to see that I was only about 10 metres up the beach from the car which was disheartening. Eventually I made it to the small inlet where Liz and Terry were waiting for a quick breather before tackling the final bit of open water before entering the channel to head inland. The waters in the channel were almost completely still as we paddled slowly through the mangroves. The water was so clear in some places that we could see all the way to the bottom and we were able to spot several shoals of fish. After a while we reached the end of the channel, where it rejoined the ocean, even though it was shorter, it was easier to head back through the mangroves so we turned around. We tied the kayaks together and he towed us most of the way through the channel, stopping for a swim about half way along. The water was a little cold, but lovely, however, going for a swim did mean having to climb “elegantly” back into our kayaks, which went surprisingly well. The trip back to the beach was surprisingly easy on the return journey with the wind in our favour and took a fraction of the time. Back at the beach Terry sent us to look for conch shells (no luck unfortunately) while he packed the kayaks into the car. After beach combing for a while we headed back to the campsite for showers and then took Terry out for lunch as a thank you for taking us kayaking. After lunch we drove into Key West for a final time to do all the things we had missed.

Does what it says on the tin

In our whistle-stop tour we went to Mallory Square, Sloppy Joe’s Bar, Truman’s Little White House and the southernmost point in the USA, sampling Key Lime Pie along the way. We tried and failed to find Kelly McGillis’ restaurant (the girl from Top  Gun), but Wikipedia reliably informs me that she no longer owns it, and thus no longer serves there, which takes away the excitement quite a bit. After a quick dash back to the car, we left Key West behind and headed towards the Everglades.