24 Hours in the Florida Keys

What good is having a little extra money if you’re always too afraid to spend it on making a dent in your life? Rob and I revisit this question often when we find ourselves at the cusp of a fun opportunity. I’d like to think we straddle the spectrum somewhere in the middle left between Dave Ramsey and squander. But really, when we leave this Earth, the riches waiting for us that the Lord has prepared are far better than anything we will save up here. But I get it, we gotta feed and house ourselves for hopefully another 50 years 🙂

Anyway, recently I had to book some travel to visit my company’s office in Miami and so we talked about whether or not we wanted to make a little trip out of it. After all, my airfare and car rental was paid for, we would just need to pay Rob’s way out there and decide if we really wanted to budget an impromptu trip. At first I was all no. “No, No, what would Dave think?” I could hear him now. But then I started to think about the dimensions of our days, and why we work so hard anyway. As I get older I want less stuff and more substance. I want to see and experience more of what this life has just beyond our peripheral and beyond the grind of Monday-Sunday. I can’t name you half the things I “splurged” on last year, but I can remember what Forsyth Park smelled like that first night we arrived in Savannah last summer. And I can vividly remember walking back to our hotel in downtown Chattanooga after we saw a concert last spring, just as it began to rain, holding Rob’s hand and feeling like a teenager again.

So I thought about all of this, and I had a change of heart. Rob is an EXCELLENT negotiator. The boy missed his calling in a lot of ways.

So the plan was for me to fly into Miami mid week; I had to work Thursday, but Rob would fly into Miami Friday afternoon and meet me and then we had the entire weekend to do whatever. We decided to focus most of our time in Key West. We’ve had several friends visit there and say so many great things, and it’s such a tropical destination without leaving the country. It’s about 3 hours south from Miami, so the Mustang convertible I rented wouldn’t go to waste 🙂

Rob got in right at lunch time Friday, so we immediately hit up a local Cuban place called Latin Cafe- turns out its a chain, but a VERY authentic one. It was packed with locals, and it didn’t disappoint. I didn’t even take pictures of everything we ordered, but here is a good sampling. (warning: we basically ate ourselves through South Florida so must of this post will contain food pictures 😀 )

My new favorite beer is Presidente! From the Dominican and so refreshing; it’s a Pilsner but to me was more like a lager. Hopefully I can find it somewhere around Huntsville.IMG_0002 IMG_0003Pork Churrasco with Rice and Beans. The happiest part was having an entire avocado basically to myself. I could likely live happily for a long time on nothing but plantains and avocados if necessary.IMG_9891 IMG_9890 Cuban espresso with steamed milk. This stuff is business.IMG_9892 IMG_9893 IMG_0005After lunch, we cruised back to the hotel I had already checked out of to spend a few hours outside by their pool planning our next move. The best part was the poolside bar serving up tasty Pina Coladas.IMG_9889

Rob working on evening out that grass-cuttin’ tanIMG_9906The hotel had a little pier you could walk from the pool down to, so after awhile we walked down there to look out. It’s directly across from the airport, so if you enjoy aircraft, it’s actually a really great visual opportunity to see some planes land and take off, but there was some wildlife to spot too! We saw a few really big lizards/iguanas and a turtle.IMG_9911 IMG_9912 IMG_9913At this point it was nearly 5 pm, and our plan was to drive south of the city to give us a little head start on our way down to Key West the next morning. I found a decently rated motel called the Floridian in Homestead, which is basically the last town before actually driving into the Keys toward Key Largo. It was much less expensive to stay on the mainland for the night than anywhere else on any of the keys, so we got in the car and headed south.

Convertibles are fun! (once you make it out of rush our traffic).IMG_9914IMG_9974IMG_9948

Our motel Friday night wasn’t much to capture- just somewhere to sleep. “The Floridian” was the name, and it was okay and decently priced. However, we did manage to locate a hole in the wall Mexican joint that turned out to be the best Mexican food we’ve ever eaten. Sincerely, it was a magical experience. We were the only Caucasians in the establishment, and we tried really hard not to make scene with taking pictures of our food and enthusiastically talking about how incredible it all was. I’m sure they thought we were somewhat insane but I don’t care. The restaurant was called La Cruzada Taqueria, and if you are EVER within driving distance of Homestead, FL you really need to make time to go.

Naturally, we ordered chips and guacamole to start. I love anything with avocados (as previously mentioned) so I was excited about guacamole, but when they brought out the guacamole in the molcajete I literally gasped (patrons turned and looked at me). This was the big leagues. This was much more than I had anticipated. The chips were home made, the guacamole was littered with fresh ingredients and my hair was a mess from the convertible ride over. All of it is pictured below.

IMG_0009Rob ordered some type of Combo dinner and every thing on the plate was outstanding.IMG_0010I ordered Shrimp Diabla and it was perfect!IMG_0012 We ate until we were food drunk and I was certain we wouldn’t want to eat again for many days. We did though, and that brings us to Saturday!

Saturday started bright and early, as we wanted to get on the road as quickly as possible so we could arrive in Key West mid-morning. I popped out of bed first but Rob was slower to respond to my wake up calls.IMG_9918We found a Starbucks to get a quick hit of caffeine and then hit the road. The drive down to Key West is a slow-go for the most part. The speed limit fluctuates from about 45-55 and generally it’s one lane most of the ways. However, it’s pretty during the long spans of bridge time, and the water going down just gets clearer and more turquoise the further south you go. There are so many fun looking places along Highway 1, some kind of bar and seafood joint about every 5 feet it seems. We made it to Key West about 10am and headed straight for our first stop: The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.

This house is located in Olde Town key West and was the home of Hemingway for ten years while he lived and wrote there. This house offers a chance to tour the home, the grounds, the gardens and interact with the cats that live there. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is home to approximately 40-50 polydactyl (six-toed) cats! About half of the cats at the museum have the physical polydactyl trait but they all carry the polydactyl gene in their DNA, which means that the ones that have 4 and 5 toes can still mother or father six-toed kittens.

Ernest Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat by a ship’s captain and some of the cats who live on the museum grounds are descendants of that original cat, named Snow White. They are all friendly, though most tend to not really care if you’re there or not. They seemed overly sensitized to human stimulation, but that didn’t stop Rob from trying to make friends with every one he saw. (Disclaimer: Rob claims he “doesn’t like cats” but I’ll let you decide).IMG_9921 IMG_9931 IMG_9932 IMG_9940 IMG_9937 IMG_9945 IMG_9942 IMG_9929 IMG_9922The house was beautiful and well preserved with original furniture, art and many photographs of Hemingway and his life.IMG_9926 IMG_9927 IMG_9928 IMG_9930 IMG_9944IMG_0013It was pretty inexpensive to get in (I think less than ten bucks a person), so definitely a good stop to make if you’re checking the area out and appreciate some cool history! When we left there, we set out to find a centrally located parking spot so we could start footing it through the city. I was in the mood for a frozen drink, so we made our way toward Flying Monkeys on Duvall Street.

There is little better than a frozen drink on a hot day. This place reminded me exactly of Wet Willies! We each got a mixture of Pina Colada and Banana something. I wish we had a frozen drink place in Huntsville! But I would squander my life there so it’s probably best we don’t.IMG_9951There is so much to see and take in on Duvall Street. It reminds me of 6th street in Austin or Broadway in Nashville. Shops, bars, restaurants, art galleries, nick-nack stores, vendor street kiosks, everything. We walked around with our drinks and then settled on a lunch spot called Caroline’s. You can get a good feel for the street from the picture below. People walking, people on bikes, scooters, just all sorts of activity! We had a front row view while we ate our lunch (I had some grilled mahi-mahi and Rob had an Ahi-tuna salad). We certainly took advantage of our location by trying to eat as much fresh sea food as possible (and drink as much fresh sea- beer as possible too) 😉IMG_0018IMG_9960So something really unique to this area is the amount of roosters and hens that wander around. On just about every block, there is a rooster herding a hen or two around. They just strut around and cock a doodle and act like they own the place. It’s really funny! Roosters are gorgeous birds- check out stud muffin below. At one point we saw a Momma hen and her 10 or so baby chicks just walking down the street. I wish I could have snapped a picture of them too. So sweet.IMG_0020 But I guess everyone just has a pet rooster on their property or something. Pretty unique!

After lunch we set out on foot toward the Southernmost point. From where we were, it was about a mile down Duvall street. So off we went, and we took our time just strolling and peeking in all of the different places. At one point I stopped and got a new pair of knock off Ray ban sunglasses with pretty sunset colored lenses. About halfway toward the beach, I got an opportunity to check an item off my bucket list. For years I have been telling Rob how I wanted to order a fancy drink that was served in a fruit (either a hollowed out pineapple or a coconut). I’m not sure where the intrigue came from, probably just because when I think of someone with a tropical drink like that in their hand, I imagine “they’ve made it in life.” One, because wherever they are must be incredible, fancy, and relaxing and two, I would imagine a drink like that would be ridiculously overpriced and who would pay that for a silly adult beverage. But still, I pined for it to be me one day.

So, on April 23rd, 2016 it was finally my turn. I ordered a Strawberry Daiquiri in a pineapple (and it was only 15.00 bucks and came with all the fruit too!!)IMG_0021I was so happy. The chick behind the counter at this little hut couldn’t have cared less. We interrupted her phone games and she seemed really annoyed that I was so thrilled with my new life-status but I didn’t care. My right of passage into full-monty adult hood is complete and I took my pineapple and skipped away. Good thing I crossfit, it got really heavy to carry after awhile. 😀

Eventually, my pineapple drink and I made it to the Southernmost point of the US and had our picture made together.

IMG_0023 Oh, Rob was there too 🙂 It was so cute because we were trying to take a selfie and a sweet woman who was down the pier with us offered to take our picture which we happily let her do. And when we were done she asked us if we were newlyweds on our honeymoon! I told her no, but it still felt like it. Almost 7 years strong!! I can’t believe how lucky I am to do life with this man.IMG_0024The actual landmarker is very popular to find and get a picture with and there was a HUGE line of people. So we just…ran up and snapped some pictures with everyone else in it.IMG_0027 IMG_0030When we had finished our fun photo op, we headed back toward where we parked the car, because we wanted to visit Fort Zachary beach, which is a very nearby public beach access/National Park. It was only 6 dollars or so to get in, and we arrived around 2pm. You have access to the park until sunset, and this is a really popular destination to come and watch the sunset as the view can’t be beat. You can park and set up camp basically anywhere. They have dozens of picnic tables and small outdoor grills set up in the shaded tree areas and a large general concession area too. There were umbrella and lounge chair vendors too, so it’s a pretty ideal place to come and plop down for an entire day. We only wanted to spend a little while on the beach and in the ocean, so we didn’t get too comfortable. The beach and water is gorgeous, but fairly rocky so take some shoes!IMG_9954 IMG_9957 IMG_0034We ended the sun-filled day a few hours later, and decided to make our way north toward Summerland Key, which is where our Airbnb house was located. If you have never looked into Airbnb, you totally should!! It’s a pretty great travel option if you’re open minded about where you stay. We found a beautiful beach house off a canal in Summerland Key where we rented a room and private bathroom for the night at a really reasonable price. We’ve used Airbnb before and have had good results, so check it out if you’re in the mood for an adventure while traveling or get bored of the generic hotel experience!IMG_9973

Thus concludes our Key West experience. We had an incredible Saturday evening in Summerland and ate at one of the best seafood restaurants we’ve ever been to. But every time Rob asked if I wanted to take a picture for the blog, I declined, because I wanted to stay in the moment and just remember it for what it was while it was happening. It was an incredible date night that capped off our fun weekend so perfectly and I feel so blessed that the Lord gave us such a sweet opportunity to get away and just love on each other. On the flight home, we got some really good views of the coast.IMG_0043 IMG_0044While we wished we could have stayed longer (and plan to go back some time and do just that) we felt happy to able to return to our beautiful piece of Earth back at home where our critters were waiting for us. I feel particularly lucky that, even when I go somewhere that looks a lot like paradise, it still doesn’t compare to what I have waiting for me back home.backyardOur backyard at sunset is pretty great too, and it’s here where I truly feel like “I’ve made it”.

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