This issue we are looking at Key West, which is as far as you can travel in the Keys by car. Key West is by far the biggest city in the Keys, but still has less than 25,000 people and has always been more environmentally and culturally aligned to the Caribbean than the rest of the US. In fact, it is 40 miles closer to Havana, Cuba than Miami.
An incident in 1982 sums up the Key West attitude. In that year the US Border Patrol set up a roadblock stopping all cars leaving the Keys looking for illegal immigrants. A huge traffic jam was caused, and it started hurting the life blood of the keys – tourism. So the Key West city government, with tongue in cheek, seceded from and declared war on the US as the Conch Republic. After one minute the mayor surrendered to the military base and requested $1 billion dollars in foreign aid. The stunt worked, and the roadblock was lifted.
Our first stop in Key West will be Ernest Hemingway’s House, where he lived from 1931 through ’39. This was his most productive time as he wrote Farewell to Arms along with several short stories during this time. A one hour guided tour takes you through the house where you can hear stories of the writer. One story involves the pool his wife had put in for $250,000 in today’s money. When he saw it, he gave her a penny and said she might as well take his last cent. It is now embedded next to the pool. As you walk around the grounds you will see 6 toed cats that are descendants of the ones he raised. He even made a water fountain for the cats out of a urinal he took from his favorite bar.
Another house worth visiting is the oldest house in Key West. It was built in 1829 and you are rewarded with a pleasant backyard, detached kitchen and a tour of the interior when it is open.
By the mid 1800’s Key West had become Florida’s largest and wealthiest city. This is due to the savaging of shipwrecks on the many reefs of the Keys, and you can learn all about it at the Shipwreck Museum. In the guided tour you are provided with a history of wrecking, a look at salvaged merchandise, information on diving, and an observation tower. Thinking back this was my favorite place in Key West.
Another museum worth visiting is the Pirate Museum. Here you will see displays on the history of piracy in the Caribbean including weapons, tactics, captains, and much more. They have interactive monitors to test your knowledge and a ship display showing a pirate boat.
The main road in the older part of town is Duval St. This is also the most famous and is often crowded with tourist. The street is lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. The most famous bar was built in 1933 and Ernest Hemingway was a frequent patron. Legend has it he is the one who came up with the bars name – Sloppy Joe’s.
When the sun goes down in Key West you need to head over to Mallory Square for the famous Sunset Festival. Here you will find an amazing place to view the sunset and there are plenty of vendors selling food, souvenirs, artwork, and street performers for your entertainment.
Visit www.svGuidingLight.com to read more from Captain Shane about the Bahamas, Caribbean, life aboard, world traveling, and more. You might also want to check out his travel video series.