Summer’s Last Last Gasp

I’m posting this on New Years Eve. Most of the USA is in a deep freeze. Here in the frozen tundra it has been down into the teens every night for the last several nights. It seems no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep it summer forever. I did make it to Key West, but I only stayed there a few days. I suppose if I could have stayed in the Keys, it wouldn’t still be summer any way. As I write this, tonight’s low in Key West will be near 70 degrees. The ocean water temp is down to 75 degrees. Now for some of you that might seem like it’s still summer, but I consider it to be winter. Any time the air temperature drops to 70 or the water temperature drops below 80, it’s winter for me. I know… I know… I’m a wimp.

So… even though winter has fully set in… except in Key West… I hope you enjoy my thoughts about summer’s last, last gasp.

I wanted to write stuff about my days in Key West but I wasn’t sure what to write. I’ve written a lot about the place in two of my books, Searching for Kokomo… and Cruisers Guide to Key West. I’m not sure what I should add without writing another complete book. There’s so much to see and do, but this trip I did some of the stuff I always do. I’ve written about everything I did this trip (and a lot more) in those books so I don’t want to repeat myself too much here. With that said, I’ll give you the overview and some pics.

I rented a bicycle and pedaled my butt all over town. As usual, I went to the Schooner Wharf Bar to have a frozen concoction to help me hang on and listen to some live music. I went to Margaritaville for a Cheeseburger in Paradise, a frozen concoction to help me hang on and to listen to some live music. I went to the “Conch Farm” for a Mahi Mahi fish sandwich along with a frozen concoction to help me hang on and listened to some live music. By the way… the “Conch Farm” is the nickname locals have given the Conch Republic Seafood Company.

One of the best watering holes for a frozen concoction to help you hang on and some live entertainment. This is "old time" Key West at it's best.

One of the best watering holes for a frozen concoction to help you hang on and some live entertainment. This is “old time” Key West at it’s best.

So you get the idea. That’s Key West for ya… a lot of frozen concoctions to help you hang on.

I also went to the sunset at Mallory Square. This is one of the things you just can’t do on a cruise. I went there many times when I lived in Key West, but just the same, I keep going. There was nothing new this time… it’s the same “carnie” atmosphere. I love it. There’s no place else in the world you can see a sword sallower, fire eaters, tight-rope walkers, singing minstrels, a magnificent sunset and have a frozen concoction to help you hang on… all at the same time.

Fire Eaters hailing in sunset.

Fire Eaters hailing in sunset.

Juggling and walking the tightrope as the sun sets.
Juggling and walking the tightrope as the sun sets.
A minstrel at Mallory Square for the sunset "celebration"
A minstrel at Mallory Square for the sunset “celebration”
Sunset view from Mallory Square... now you know why I keep going back.
Sunset view from Mallory Square… now you know why I keep going back.

Night time on Duval Street is a lot different than it is during the day. For one thing, it’s transformed into an adult bevy of activity. Very few kids are there and the party begins when the sun goes down. Another of the things you’ll never see while on a cruise is the guy that rides his “tricycle” down Duval street. He is an icon of Key West. He goes the length of Duval every night… his boom-box playing music, his lights whirring and flashing. Even though the picture is worth a thousand words, this is a sight you have to see for yourself.

Every night this icon of Key West pedals his way down Duval. He is part of the Key West character at night.

Every night this icon of Key West pedals his way down Duval. He is part of the Key West character at night.

There’s live entertainment everywhere you go in town. One of my favorites is “Black & Skabuddah” (that’s Laura Black and Russ… ummmmm, Skabuddah). They play all over town and quite often at the La Te Da. The La Te Da is a neat place with quite a history. I lived walking… errrrrr… stumbling distance from there, so it was one of my favorite places for liquid refreshment. But, not a frozen concoction. They have their own version of a Cosmopolitan… a La Te Da Cosmo.  It’s mmmmm-mmmmm good. But be careful because they go down easy and before you know it, you’ll be crawling home.

Needless to say, I spent an evening at the La Te Da. Although I like their Cosmos (their frozen concoctions are good too), the main reason I went there was to see Black & Skabuddah. I really like their music and style. Russ is an exceptional guitarist; Laura sings, plays guitar, and they’re both very engaging with the audience. I should also add that Laura is quite an artist. Besides her music, she is a member of “Island Arts” (across the street from the La Te Da) where her work is on display. I think her work is quite good. Although I don’t know Black & Skabuddah well, I consider them friends.

Black and Skabuddah at the La Te Da (Photo curtsey of Black and Skabuddah)

Black and Skabuddah at the La Te Da (Photo curtsey of Black and Skabuddah)

By the way… the La Te Da is also a piano bar a number of nights of the week. So another of my favorites is Dave Bootle at the piano, but he wasn’t there this trip. It’s a good thing or I would have stayed another day.

I stayed in Key West as long as I could. Perhaps I should just move there again. But for this year, it was a bonsai run back to the Northernmost Caribbean to stay there for another month. It was a good month as far as the weather and beach were concerned. It was kinda weird with the beaches so deserted and free from the summer tourist crunch.

Now there are only a few footprints left in the sand.

Now there are only a few footprints left in the sand.

Still… there was a bit more to go before the last, last gasp…before my trek to Fin City. I spent as much time at the beach as I could. The water and the air were still warm. There were some magical times… a dolphin swimming by twenty-five yards off shore… while I was ankle deep in the water and a school of manta rays swam by…. and a pelican hunted for its dinner just off shore.

I was in less than knee deep water and these guys "flew" right by. Note my shadow cast in the water.

I was in less than knee deep water and these guys “flew” right by. Note my shadow cast in the water.

Another shot of the Manta Rays as they swam by me

Another shot of the Manta Rays as they swam by me

A [pelican hunts for his meal

A pelican hunts for his meal

A pod of dolphins swam by just off shore... maybe some of Flipper's children

A pod of dolphins swam by just off shore… maybe some of Flipper’s children

But in the end, I couldn’t hold off the inevitable… winter was coming… the sun was setting on summer. I was bound for the frozen tundra. OK… so it’s not the frozen tundra. Just the same, to me it’s cold so it might as well be the frozen tundra.

Sunset on summer in the Northernmost Caribbean. I'll be back next spring.

Sunset on summer in the Northernmost Caribbean. I’ll be back next spring.

Summer’s Last Gasp – On to Key West

Usually driving for me is just getting from one place to another. Not so in the Keys. The drive down US 1 through all the Keys is the only place I ever make a lot of stops… I do some sight-seeing instead of just getting there. It was lunch time so I only intended to made it to Islamorada… about 15 miles down the road. The place I almost always stop is Kokomo… duh! Kokomo is a tiki-bar in the Holiday Isle complex. To my horror, Kokomo is no longer there. The Holiday Isle is now the “Postcard Inn” and all references to Kokomo are gone. I got back in the car and headed back down US 1 toward Key West.

I made it to Marathon… about ½ way to Key West… when hunger got the best of me. My favorite place in Marathon is the Sunset Grill and Raw Bar. Just like it sounds, this is a great place for a sunset dinner. They have a huge menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. On week-end evenings they have live entertainment. They also have a large pool and beach area that is a great spot to spend some time. On Sunday afternoons they have what they claim to be the “Longest running beach and pool party in the Florida Keys.”

This was my first time to visit the Sunset Grill and Raw Bar for lunch. Other times were for an evening meal which were great. I generally linger there till they threw me out late in the evening. This time it was just for lunch so I had their Jerk seasoned grilled chicken sandwich. I ate out by the pool. Since I was driving, it was just water for me to drink. After that it was back on the road. The Sunset Grill and Raw Bar is just before the Seven Mile Bridge.

The Seven Mile Bridge. Since I always drive, I don’t have any pics of the Seven Mile Bridge of my own, so this one is courtesy of Lightenoughtravel via Wikipedia.

The Seven Mile Bridge. Since I always drive, I don’t have any pics of the Seven Mile Bridge of my own, so this one is courtesy of Lightenoughtravel via Wikipedia.

The Seven Mile Bridge is really just short of 7 miles long… about 6.8 miles, but then who’s counting. It just goes out across the ocean. In any case, it’s one of the Florida Keys icons. Note that the bridge off to the right in the pic is the old railroad bridge that is no longer in use except for walkers and I think bicycles. You will see remnants of the old railway bridge all along the way to Key West.

I love driving down the Keys. It was still quite warm for this trip and with the top down there’s just something magic about that drive. My next stop was in Big Pine Key… about another 16 miles from the Sunset Grill & Raw Bar. Big Pine Key is where a lot of the endangered Key Deer live. Key Deer only live in the lower Florida Keys. Big Pine Key is a preserve and sanctuary for the deer. As you drive onto Big Pine Key, there are warning signs and flashing lights to slow you down.

I’ve never seen any of the Key Deer in the area with all the flashing lights and warning signs. However, you can always find them on near-by “No Name Key”. No Name Key is off to the west of Big Pine Key. You turn right a little bit after you enter the town and drive out. There’s a small sign that points to No Name Key, but you have to look carefully to see it.

Like I do on most trips down the Keys, I drove out to No Name Key to see the deer. It’s really no big deal… The Key Deer are just like “regular” deer except that they are smaller… about the size of a large dog. I don’t know why I always want to go there, but it’s a nice drive and another of those iconic “Keys” things. If you’ve never seen a Key Deer, take a little time to drive out there.

I didn’t have any pics showing the relative size of Key Deer, so this one is courtesy of No Name Pub.

I didn’t have any pics showing the relative size of Key Deer, so this one is courtesy of No Name Pub.

Another reason for going out there is the “No Name Pub”. Despite its name, it is not on No Name Key. Instead it is still on Big Pine Key on the way to No Name Key. This is another of those “Keys things” everyone has to go to at least once. The No Name Pub is a funky little place with dollar bills covering the walls. Although they have a full menu, most people seem to have their pizza. Seating is mostly outside on picnic tables with umbrellas. I didn’t stop this time ‘cause I had already eaten. But if you are driving down the Keys and have not been there, it will be worth your while to check out this old­-time Keys hang out.

No Name Pub

Big Pine Key is about 30 miles from Key West… and it’s a nice drive. But other than another batch of Keys that are “stepping stones” for the “Overseas Highway”, I have no idea what’s on any of those Keys. With names like Cudjoe Key, Summerland Key, and Sugarloaf Key you would think I would stop and check them out. I always tell myself that I’m going to stop at watering holes with names like Mangrove Mama’s and Square Grouper Bar and Grill… or any of the dozens of tiki bars along the 30 miles. There are also several SCUBA places that should tempt me to stop.

But nooooooo… by the time I leave Big Pine Key I’m foaming at the mouth to get to Key Weird. The slower traffic on the two lane road seems to get more aggravating. I know there’s a frozen concoction to help me hang on waiting in Key West. Since I’m driving, I can’t have that concoction till I get there. It’s not just the booze that’s waiting. It’s the whole Key West experience. I’m like a kid at Christmas… “I just can’t wait”.

Summer’s Last Gasp – More Key Largo

I have been remiss in getting these out. Considering that most of the country is in the deep-freeze today, I hope as you are hunkering down this will bring you back a bit of summer.

Before I talk about my second day of diving, I need to tell you about one of my favorite places to eat in Key Largo. Actually I have three favorite places… Hobo’s, the Sundowner, and Mrs. Mac’s. Hobo’s, like most places in the Keys, has a lot of sea food. But… I go there for the burgers. I think theirs are the best in Key Largo.

Sundowners is a place right on the FloridaBay. It’s kind of an upscale place… at least upscale for the Keys. So shorts, and flip-flops are still perfectly acceptable. The big deal at Sundowners is the sunset. If the weather is right, you can sit on their “outside porch”, have a great meal, a couple of tasty margaritas, and watch the sun set. It’s an amazing sight as the big red, orange, and yellow ball sinks into the distant ocean and mangroves. It ranks among the best sunsets I have ever seen anywhere in the world.

One of the best places for sunset dining in the world.

One of the best places for sunset dining in the world. You can also go for the Mexican, fishing, or diving, but it’s the sunsets and seafood that bring me there.

A table inside Mrs. Macs.

A table inside Mrs. Macs.

Mrs. Mac’s is my favorite place. I never go to the Keys without eating dinner there at least once. Mrs. Macs now has two places… the original that’s been there forever and a new one about another 1/3 mile down the road. I always eat at the original because I just walk there from where I stay. It’s kind of a “hole in the wall” place. I call the décor “early American trailer trash — funk”. The walls are covered with license places from all over the country and the lamp shades are made from bent-up license plates.But don’t let any of that fool you. It is clean and the food may be the best in the Keys. They have been voted “The Best” in the “Peoples Awards” year after year. By the crowds that are always there during the tourist season, all the food must be good. I say it that way because I have only ever had one thing to eat every time I’ve been there… Mahi- Mahi. It is the best I’ve eaten anywhere. I also get the black-beans, cole-slaw, and top it all off with Key Lime Pie. I ate there this trip and as usual it was mmmmmm-mmmmmm good.

Mrs Mac's Kitchen... Original location.

Mrs Mac’s Kitchen… Original location.

The next morning’s dive was to a ship-wreck. A US Coast Guard cutter, the Duane, was sunk as an artificial reef. Diving on the Duane is one of my favorites. I think I like it as much because of its history as for anything else. She served the country for nearly fifty years. During World War II she escorted convoys in the Atlantic. During the Vietnam War she participated in interdiction and fire support missions off the coast of South   Vietnam (1967 & 1968). She has a long list of citations including a “Presidential Unit Citation.”Two of the Duane’s sister ships are also in Florida… the Bibb and the Ingham. The Bibb was sunk near-by as an artificial reef and I have been SCUBA diving on her. The Ingham is a floating museum in Key West. Like the Duane, the Bibb and Ingham were convoy escorts during World War II and served off the coast of Vietnam.

Diving on the Duane is for those with advanced certification because of its depth. There is usually a swift current so that often makes diving there quite challenging. This time was no different. The current was at about the max that we could dive in. The good news is that with that kind of current the “viz” is great. There were lots of large barracuda patrolling all around the ship. We discovered another giant grouper hiding inside the ship. Man… those are big fish.

After the Duane we moved back to Molasses reef… “mo.” The current was still high so we did a “drift dive”. I love “drift dives”. The dive boat just drops the group of divers in the water and “drifts” along with them a short distance away. The divers descend (this time to about 45 ft) and then let the current carry them along. It’s really “neat”… you just sort of hover near the bottom and as the current carries you, you watch the underwater world go by. On this dive we saw stingrays, a giant eagle ray, a huge sea turtle and we captured two lion fish.

This friendly sea turtle just swam by and didn't seem to care anything about us.
This friendly sea turtle just swam by and didn’t seem to care anything about us.

The dive sites around Key Largo are protected, “no take” places. That means that you can’t take anything you find with you nor can you take any fish. (No fishing is allowed in those areas either.) However, the Lion Fish is the exception. They are not natural to these waters and have no predators in the region. They are a danger to the other fish so it is allowed to capture them.

Lion Fish

All in all, the morning dives were very good. The water temperature was 82 degrees and was just what I was hoping for. That said, the night before I had a change of heart… I decided after the morning dives I would go to Key West; Cayo Hueso… BoneIsland. After all… this is summer’s last gasp and I couldn’t get this close and not go there.

I suppose I should explain about the nicknames; “Cayo Hueso” and “BoneIsland”. Actually, that’s not a nickname. The Spanish originally named the island “Cayo Hueso” which translates to “BoneIsland”. It was named that because of the bones the Spanish found all over the island… human bones. It had been an Indian burial ground. The world Hueso is pronounced “Weso”. So when the Yankees heard the name they thought it was Cayo Westo… hence Key West.

Anyway… instead of diving a couple more days, I decided to spend the time in Key Weird (another of the nicknames). I checked out of the motel before going on the the dives. Then, after changing into some dry clothes, I put the top down and headed to Key West.KM_KeyWest

Summer’s Last Gasp – Key Largo

I decided a trip to “The Keys” was in order. I had not been there for nearly a year. OH THE HORROR OF IT ALL!!! So I figured that would be a perfect first step in keeping summer going past Labor Day. I always agonize on where to go in the Keys… Key Largo or Key West. Yeah, Yeah… I hear you; such a tough decision.

I lived in Key West for a little while a last year and I’m still completely in love with the place. But… it had been only a few days since I had visited there while on the Carnival Breeze cruise ship. The thing is that cruise ships always miss the night stuff. Ships are required to sail from Key West a minimum of two hours before sunset. The sunset at Mallory   Square is one of the best in the world. And… nights in Key West are always good for the soul.

On the other hand, the SCUBA diving in the Key Largo area is the best in the Keys… some of the best in the whole world. And Key Largo is 100 miles closer to the Florida “mainland”. I always figure I can just zip down to Key Largo from Miami and be SCUBA diving in the afternoon with my favorite dive operator… Rainbow Reef. Also… even though Key Largo is a little more laid back than Key West, my favorite tiki bar in the world is in Key Largo.

At Rainbow Reef dive kiosk... just in time to make the afternoon boat trip.
At Rainbow Reef dive kiosk… just in time to make the afternoon boat trip.


If I had unlimited time and money I could spend as much time in the Keys as I wanted. But it is an expensive place to visit. Barely acceptable rooms cost nearly $200 per night in Key West. It’s a bit more reasonable in Key Largo… especially if I book through “Rainbow Reef”… but it’s still not cheap. Finally I decided. I would on a few days in Key Largo before heading back to the Northernmost Caribbean.

I was already in Miami so just like I figured, a little after noon I was in line for a 1 PM dive boat trip out to Molasses reef. I was once asked if I could only dive in one place in the world, what I would choose. For me Molasses reef would be it. It’s a huge barrier reef just a few miles off shore from Key Largo.

But I suppose choosing “Molasses Reef” is kinda cheating on my part. That’s because “Mo”, as the locals call it, is actually a collection of dive sites. With places with names like “Wench Hole”, “Spanish Anchor”, “FireCoralCave” and “Hole in the Wall” there’s always plenty to see and explore. There are “un-officially” 10 dive spots at “Mo” along with over 25 mooring buoys.

For those that might just want to go snorkeling, there are just as many places on the inside part of Molasses Reef that are really good. There are also lots of other places in the area including several other reef areas and ship wrecks to explore. I won’t try to describe them all here, but as you can see, it’s not likely that you will ever run out of places to dive or snorkel

The visibility… or “vis”… is almost always great anywhere around Key Largo. “Vis” is the “holy grail” for divers. For most places in the world, 30-40 ft “vis” would be a great day. In Key Largo that would be a bad day. This time was great as I expected… we had 60 – 70 ft. “vis.” Just an average day for Key Largo.

And the water was in the mid-eighties. I fully admit that when it comes to cold water, I’m a wimp. I consider it to be winter-time diving any time the water is below 80 deg. F. And I won’t dive if the temperature is much below 75… even then I wear a thicker wet-suit. Did I say… “wimp”. Warm waters are the reasons I dive in the Keys and the Caribbean. The pacific coast of the US is simply too cold for me all year round.

The Tropical Adventure on the way to "Mo".
The Tropical Adventure on the way to “Mo”.


I arrived at the Rainbow Reef kiosk just in time to go out on the boat dive for two single tank dives in the afternoon. For the first dive we went to FireCoralCave. It’s just what it sounds like… a cave with fire coral. Besides being a cave, this is also a swim through. You enter at one end and come out the other. But for this dive we couldn’t swim through… it was occupied by a giant Grouper. This was a truly massive fish that must have weighed four or five hundred pounds. No… I’m not making a silly exaggeration. It was really that big. Although the giant groupers don’t seem aggressive toward divers, we didn’t want to make him mad. Giant groupers are known to eat sharks. So we just let him have the cave.

Although it's not a very good image, this is the giant grouper that occupied Fire Coral Cave. Look carefully to the left of the groupers mouth and you will see a sergeant major fish.
Although it’s not a very good image, this is the giant grouper that occupied Fire Coral Cave. Look carefully to the left of the groupers mouth and you will see a sergeant major fish.


For the second dive we moved over to Wench Hole. This has nothing to do with pirates or women or anything like that. Rather, a three masted wooden schooner, the Slobodana, sunk here in 1887. Today, what remains is a massive wench, some ballast, and a few gears. All around Wench Hole are huge coral heads which are home to zillions of marine life. I have been to Wench Hole a number of times and no matter what, I always see amazing stuff.

The wench at "Wench Hole".
The wench at “Wench Hole”.


After the dive I grabbed a quick bite to eat and then went to my favorite tiki bar. It’s actually the bar at the Holiday Inn swimming pool. The Holiday Inn in Key Largo has kind of a “Bogie and Bachal”…  theme. The restaurant is called “Bogies Café” and posters of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bachal adorn the walls. And of course the tiki bar is “Bogie’s tiki bar”.

I sat down at the tiki bar and ordered my usual when in Key Largo… a Mexican Mojito. I’m probably the only person in the world that orders that… tequila instead of rum… so the bar-tender immediately did a double take and then recognized me. He said it was good to see me and that it had been a long time. I said, “yeah… way too long”. I don’t plan on it being that long ever again.

I sat at the bar for a while chatting with some of the other people that had been diving with me. Most of us were going to go diving the next day and wanted to go to the Duane… an ex Coast Guard cutter sunk as an artificial reef. After a couple of Mexican Mojitos it was starting to get dark. I figured that I should go check in. It had been a really good day… warm weather, warm water, great diving, and new friends.

Even though it was September, it was a good day and a great way to keep summer going.



KokomoMan’s Guides

For anyone thinking about a cruise with stops in Key West or Grand Cayman, there are two Kindle books you should check out; KokomoMan’s Guide to Key West and KokomoMan’s Guide to Grand Cayman. These are very inexpensive at $3.83 each. They have just about everything you need to know for planning your day at each of these very popular cruise ship stops.

You can read the first part of the book on the amazon web site to see if it’s for you. Click on either image below to go to Amazon, Then when you get to the amazon page, click on the cover image to “look inside”.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a Kindle device. They have apps for just about everything on earth so that you can read the book. This includes, PCs, MACs iPads, and almost all smart phones. Here’s the link for the apps. Kindle App

Click to go to Amazon

Click to go to Amazon


Click to go to Amazon

Links to other Kindle books from Naked Fanny Publishing

Searching for Kokomo – Diary of a Madd Cruiser
Plagued By Good Luck
Memories of Naked Fanny