Friday, November 22, 2013

Florida Keys

Driving the Florida Keys
There's a string of islands at the southern tip of Florida, threaded together by a series of long, low bridges. The islands are called the Florida Keys. I've tried to find out why they're called "keys" and the best I can come up with is that the word is an anglicised non-sequitur from the Spanish word "cayos", which corresponds with the English word "cays" meaning "a low bank or reef of coral, rock, or sand".

Local radio for the drive.
Estimates vary on how many islands there are in the Keys - some say 1700; but others say only 882 are charted. Around 40 of the islands are inhabited, and of these about 30 are reachable by road. Their names play out in an intriguing string from the Upper Keys: Key Largo, Plantation Key, Windley Key, Matecumbe Key, Fiesta key, Long Key, Duck Key; - to the Middle Keys: Grassy Key, Crawl Key, Vaca key, Key Colony Beach, Marathon (an aberration), Boot Key; - then over the Seven Mile Bridge to the Lower Keys: No Name Key, Big Pine Key, Big Torch Key, Cudjoe key, Snipe Keys, Saddle Bunch Keys, Boca Chica Key.....and finally Key West.
Over seas bridges and power lines.
The bridge system in the Keys owes its genesis to that great Floridian developer, Henry Flagler. In 1910 he built a railroad all the way down to Key West. Unfortunately parts of it blew away in a terrible hurricane in 1935, with great loss of life. It's never been fully rebuilt - the rusty ghosts of the old oversea railway trestles still poke out of the turquoise waters of the Gulf. These days the infrastructure is for car traffic, with some impressively long bridges including the famous Seven Mile Bridge.
Not Seven Mile, but long enough....

You may begin the justly famous drive to the Keys as I did, from Miami Beach. After about an hour of freeways and cityscapes, you join US Highway One (US Route 1)which runs from the Canadian/Maine border all the way to Mile Marker "1" in Key West, where it ends its 2,369 miles (3,813 km) run.

On the road. It's flat out there.

Florida Keys. "Know your buoys!"

Driving over seas.
The main town in the Upper Keys is Key Largo - star of the 1948 Bogart and Bacall movie "Key Largo" and the romantic one-hit-wonder pop song it inspired in 1981, 'Key Largo' by Bertie Higgins:
We had it all
Just like Bogie and Bacall
Starring in our old late, late show
Sailing away to Key Largo

End of the road, in Key West.
Off to each side of Highway 1 are expensive waterfront houses. On the highway, in the small towns, are the usual US strip developments, leavened with a lot of marine and boat dealerships and the occasional Turtle Rescue Centre. In the Middle and Lower Keys you'll find markers memorialising Indian history in the area, a refuge for Key Deer (deer? who knew?), and lots of fishermen out on and under the bridges.

I had a recommendation to stop for a snack at the Sunset Bar & Grill at Marathon, just before the Seven Mile Bridge begins. I spotted it off to the left, but before I could find an exit - whoops! - I was on the bridge. That's it for the next seven miles. The bridge is only two lanes, one each way, and apart from a hump in the middle to allow shipping to go under, it's pretty low to the water. It's a strange experience to drive out across the ocean. Kind of Biblical.

Dodging a fat iguana that tried to cross Highway 1 on No Name Key, I drove on. Next stop, the largest town in the Keys, with about one third of the population, KeyWest.

The Florida Keys and Key Largo also get a mention in the Beach Boys 1988 song "Kokomo":
Off the Florida Keys
There's a place called Kokomo
That's where you wanna go to get away from it all
Bodies in the sand
Tropical drink melting in your hand
We'll be falling in love
To the rhythm of a steel drum band
Down in Kokomo
Aruba, Jamaica ooo I wanna take you
To Bermuda, Bahama come on pretty mama
Key Largo, Montego baby why don't we go

...and over.

No comments:

Post a Comment