Part I – Miami to Key West

Miami
We are off on a tour of the Carribbean Sea, so a-blogging I will go. ALL ABOARD!

Miami is where we board our ship, and with our day there we had the opportunity to walk to the winter residence of John Deering. Mr Deering and his family made their fortune in the farm equipment business. He merged his company with others and eventually formed American Harvester.

img_0244Vizcaya, like San Simeon, is an example of what a person can build if they are filthy rich, love the arts, and have a decent amount of time.

The main mansion is Spanish with rooms built around an open courtyard. The rooms contain many influences from Europe: marble, frescos, and custom furniture. But the really cool tour is a walk of the gardens. On the walk in, we strolled through a pristine hemlock forest to the house in a clearing  But on the other side of the mansion is Biscayne Bay. Mr Deering created a dock that could have been imported directly from Venice. There is a concrete barge that was accessed by boat, for barbecues and outdoor concerts. There were two yachts in case Mr Deering wanted to spend time on the water or visit his brother in Miami


I forgot to mention that all of this was built between 1895 and 1920. It is now a preserved county park that can also be rented for serious events. My lovely wife pointed out three young Hispanic women who were celebrating their 15th birthday with photo portraits taken in the gardens. She says this is a really big deal in the Hispanic culture.

So let others spend their time in South Beach. I’ll learn something about a great American entrepreneur and his passion for art collection.

 

Key West

img_0266As we completed a day visit as part of our Caribbean cruise, I also found  myself reflecting on a time we visited here many years ago when we didn’t have the money to go to Jamaica or Barbados   On our first visit, we came by car…which is something everyone should do at least once. The drive from key to key, connected by bridges, is very special. Don’t be in a hurry…Just sit back and enjoy the water, islands, and beaches. Interestingly, these bridges were initially built to connect Key West to Florida’s mainland by train. I don’t recall the name of the man who built it, but his idea was to make a lot of money by transporting coal to Key West.  Coal????  Yes, coal. Back then,  the cargo and passenger ships were reprovisioning in Key West, and these were steam ships. So they needed resupplies of coal. However, when the railroad was completed, most ships had been converted to running on oil. So the railroad tycoon lost a lot of money. And now there is a highway where the railroad once was.

On our first visit, I was struck by the peculiarity of the residents  I recalled thinking that Key West would be the perfect place to live if I was an alcoholic because there were so many bars. And there seemed to be a lot of residents that eked out just enough money to live on by being street performers at their local square while tourists congregated to watch incredible sunsets. I have a photo from my first visit that has an iguana on top of my hat. I paid a dollar so my daughter could get her picture taken…mine was a freebie. Our guide on our second visit confirmed that the residents here are still quirky. For example, medical care is lousy in Key West because most of their doctors only work a couple shifts each week and spend the rest of their time out on the water in their boats. Nobody really wants to work too hard here. Our guide also said that he is a real minority on the island.  He is married, employed, and straight… He said there were about six people who met this criteria on Key West.

img_0257So on this trip, we didn’t come by car. And we didn’t arrive by air either. I included a picture of our ride: considered to be the swankiest cruise ship on the high seas. Man, have we come a long way from our young professional, young parenting days. And we are very thankful for it

Back to the bars…There are 250 of them.  But there are also 200 churches in Key West. I wonder how many host AA meetings???

img_0273The geography makes Key West special. It is part of the Florida Archipelago which stretches 50 miles more to the southwest. Key West is the last island navigable by car. Hence the photo of the beginning of Route One, which has its other beginning/ending point in Maine. They also have a marker for the furthest south point on the continental USA. There I am with my family of best friends (for one minute)…I took a selfie rather than waiting in line for 45 minutes.

A bit of history…The Spanish first settled here, and called it “Kago Weso,” or the Bone Cay.  It seems that the indigenous population had used the cay as a cemetery, and bones laid around, due to almost no top soil. When the English bought Florida, they couldn’t understand or read Spanish, and renamed it Key West. The primary industry was a sort of theft…The residents built towers along the shoreline and watched for ships that got swept up on the extensive reefs that surround the Key. Our guide said that if the sea captain could see the reef, it was too late to save his ship. Boats went out and salvaged the goods, which were then auctioned off.  25% of the money was spread about for the residents. Still today, shipwreck diving and treasure hunting are big deals.  If treasure is found, 25% to the finder, 50% to the owner, 25% to the government.

img_0281

There is a festival in Key West every two weeks. These range from the Harley guys to the women’s flag football tournament, and everything in between

I’ll also mention that Ernest Hemingway lived here with a bunch of 6-toed cats (considered to be good luck).  Also, President Truman lived here for about three months while tired and stressed from the pressure of the end of the war and dropping the atomic bomb. Despite being on a military base, they now call it the Truman White House.

A couple more notes…There is a very strong list of do’s and don’ts concerning house. colors, size of windows, etc. I have included a photo of a typical Key West home and vehicle.  However, the Key also became home to a large group of Bahamians, who settled after The abolishment of slavery in app. 1830. They have more colorful homes and loved cock fighting. When this was abolished, they still loved their chickens, which are now considered domestic animals. They wonder around the island at will.  Kind of like the cows of India or the camels of Jordan.

One final tidbit.  Key West is 140 miles from the nearest Walmart and 90 miles from Cuba. It’s still quirky… like a bunch of ex-DeadHeads with Caribbean souls.

 

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