Monday, August 22, 2005

Back In Black

Sorry for the lack of post over the last month, but I just got back from a month in the keys. Yes the Florida Keys. The only Caribbean get away in the continental United States. It is the ultimate U.S. getaway; even the locals do not seem to see themselves as subjects of Washington. They refer to the keys as the Conch Republic. Although that is as far as I got into the local politics. I was there for the sun, fun and bugs.

Yes bugs, but not your local land loving pesky little swatters. No indeed, I was there for the under water bugs. If you still don’t know what I’m talking about then, sucks to be you. Because you probably have never experienced the immensely satisfying pleasure of plucking a live lobster from the sea floor and within a few hours eating that same lobster from your private beach front deck as you watch the sun slip into the water at the end of a perfect day. Now that’s the way God intended us to live!

This is no tale for the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

It is however what I have been doing for the last month. No I am not wealthy, no not by any stretch of the imagination. But you don’t have to be wealth to stop and enjoy life for a while. Actually I think the nouveau riche or the working wealthy as I like to refer to them, never enjoy their status in life. They seem too obsessed about their money or their new status to really enjoy either.

But luckily you don’t have to be rich to live richly in the Keys. There are literally hundreds of waterfront homes available for rental. Many have small boats available that you can take out and live the island life for real. My little slice of paradise was on SugarLoaf Key, just north of Key West, the last island in the chain that make up the Florida Keys. It was small by my standards and somewhat old. But old in a good way, like an old wooden boat, or your grandmother, reliable and full of stories if you could just get them to talk. I could stand on the back deck and smell the salt water which was no more than 30 feet away. And at dusk I would sit on that deck, sip Margaritas and watch the sunset as the sea breeze kept me cool and mosquito free. After the sun had put on its amazing show I would call a cab and head down to the bottom for a few hours of the Duval Crawl.

I picked this spot because of it’s proximity to Key West, because I love Key West, stayed on Key West many times. But you have to be very rich to stay in a private house on the water in Key West. Unfortunately Key West has been totally commercialized with regard to housing. Every square inch of land is being rented to tourist. And what remains private carries a price tag in the millions. But it still is a magical place as close to paradise as this country has to offer.

You must be ready to chill, because once you get past Miami everything changes. It’s like stepping into a decompression chamber, and you better be ready to slow down. You literally go from flying 75 miles-an-hour on a six lane super highway to 40 miles-an-hour on a two-lane secondary road that is the only land access to the keys. And if you are going to Key West you will be on this road for the next 200 miles. Get the picture. Time to really, seriously, chill.

However as you shuffle down AIA you in will be bored. There is water everywhere, many times on both sides of the road, water all the way to the horizon. And the water is bright turquoise in places, deep blue in others and almost white in place where sand bars poke above the water. You sometimes can look out over a mile and see people walking around on these sand bars in ankle deep warm Caribbean water. And when there is no water there will be countless other things to look at. Curiosity shops stuffed with amazing touristy trash, restaurants offering up some of the freshest seafood anywhere and of course bars. In Key West alone there are over 300 bars, quite a feat for an island only 3 miles wide and 4 miles long.

So you ask what is there to do after you;

eat and drink,
swing in your hammock,
swim in you pool,
walk on the beach,
tourist watch,
drink and be merry?



And that is the beauty of a month in the Keys, the ability to actually, really, do nothing. It is truly a glorious thing to wake up when the sun is very high in the sky just to sit on your beach front deck for an hour or so before you even begin to formulate a single thought. It is a feat of body and mind control that Buddhist monks take lifetimes to perfect and I can get in that state of total relaxation in just 24 hours after arriving in the lower Keys.

The First and Second Weeks

The first two week are pretty hectic. Running here and there seeing the sights that haven’t changed since the last time I saw them. Going here for lunch, there for dinner, here for drinks and there for drinks. And then about the second week you start waking up thinking of all the things that you want to do and remembering that you just did them. So you start fishing. And if you are lucky enough to be in the Keys during lobster season then God has truly smiled on you and you will carry memories with you that will cause you to smile when you are sitting in that old folk’s home, waiting.

Lobsters, or Bugs as the locals call them, is truly a culinary event. If you do it right it can consume your entire day and reward you with a truly pleasurable experience that evening. To do it right you have to boat out to where the lobsters are. Finding them is a trick and a secrete ritual I will not disclose in this post. But once found you simply snorkel down to where they hide, grab one behind the head and put him in your bag. It is somewhat more involved but you’ll just have to do it to understand what happens. The lobster catch can take a good 3 to 4 hours if you just getting a few for dinner. Or you can spend the day enjoying being on the water with friends.

Once you are back to your island paradise there is no pre-cooking prep involved. Unlike fish there is no scaling, no cutting or gutting. You simply drop the little guy into a pot of boiling water and wait. Now here again I like to stretch out the process for a few hours to make sure my friends and I are eating around sunset. So I like to create what is called a low country boil. I place a large 10 gallon pot on an outdoor propane burner. I add 5 gallons of water, lobster boil seasoning pouches (to taste), a couple ears of fresh corn per dinner guest and 3 small new potatoes per guest, some smoked sausage and an a couple of cut onions and a whole garlic cut up. Boil till potatoes are fork tender and then I add the lobsters, scallops and a few shrimp. Here again timing is everything. Every ingredient takes different amount of time to cook. So there is a lot of talking and drinking and adding different items at different times, it is quite a show. But when it is done I drain the water off and dump the entire contents onto old grocery store paper bags in the center of the table and the steam wharfs up like sacrificial offerings to the sea gods. And we eat. And that is a great day in the Keys.

The Third Week

Now the third week is THE week. By the third week my friends have grown too tired or too full of your nightly feeding rituals to keep up with me. My drinking buddies can no longer hang with me. And the “one-wreekers” have all cycled back to the civilization. I have done everything you came here to do at least a dozen times, I am alone and I have reached nirvana. Those points in time where all my wants have been satisfied to the point of boredom, and I can comfortable sit and contemplate my naval with total and focused commitment on that task.

Yes now I am in paradise. For one week. One of the fifty-two weeks in the year I can sit and want and do absolutely nothing. True and total peace. Peace with the world and peace with myself. And that my friend is a true vacation.

The Dreaded Forth Week
Everything cycles. Including pleasure and pain. So it goes to reason that after extreme pleasure there will be extreme pain. And yes that is what the forth week is; extreme pain, the pain of leaving paradise. I try and numb the pain by getting back into the cycle of going here and doing this. Back into the habits of drinking with more friends I have invited down to share my last week in paradise. All this helps distract me from the pain but it is still there stabbing my mind with its razor sharp spears of reality. And I always catch myself doing the eventual vacation countdown. I start counting how many days I have left. Counting the hours and minutes until I must leave.

I catch myself getting up a little earlier each day. I find myself facing each approaching day with a little bit more apprehension. And each sunset is a little more bitter sweet that the previous one. I feel as if I loose something each day so I spend the next day searching for it by fishing that flats one last time, snorkeling the Blue Reef one last time, visiting the Hog’s Breath one last time, watching the sunset from Mallory’s Square one last time. Doing everything one last time and promising myself that I’ll be back, real soon.

I have come to regard the forth week as a necessary evil which prepares me for my return to civilization. I believe it is a process I must go through to maintain my sanity. Can you imagine a cave man walking out of the jungle and stepping onto I-95. I think that would be enough of a shock to create a mental break from reality. So I see the forth week as an process that allows me to return to life as we know it and love it today. But for a brief moment in time, that glorious and wondrous third week I have experienced a little slice of heaven on earth.


Blogger Christopher Trottier said...

I had no idea such a place existed. Thank you for telling me about it.

3:52 PM  
Blogger cube said...

I'm a Floridian who hasn't been to the keys in an awful long time. Thanks for reminding me how great it is.

BTW I hate those loooong bridges. Are they still as desolate as I remember?

10:48 AM  
Blogger Don said...


Love the spam there (not) about the surfboards!! (Nope, no link to their (his?) crappy site.)

Love your recapping of your month in the Keys. I'm actually heading down to Florida the first week of January perminately, and have a friend that lives on the Keys, so I hope to be there often during the years to come!!

Love how you fix your lobsters, sounds deliscous!

10:45 AM  

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