Part 3 of our North America Adventure

The Final Leg

The third part of our adventures in the USA. In the last part of our journey we visited Florida, did a cruise in the Caribbean and then travelled through the panhandle via Texas to eventually California. After leaving Virginia we had a few days in South Carolina and Georgia.

We then went on to Florida where we spent a month. During that month we spent a week driving down in the car to Key West via the Everglades.

We then returned to Orlando for a few days at a Thousand Trails Campground. Then it was a short drive to Tampa and a week-long cruise in the West Caribbean where we visited Rotoan Island, Mexico and Belize.

After the cruise we did my favourite activity in the USA which was to swim with a Manatee. It was just brilliant. Such gentle beasts and with soulful eyes. We then spent Xmas in Jacksonville where I was sick us the proverbial dog for two weeks.

Our last leg was spent visiting Texas where we stayed with the lovely Helen and her pooch Charlie. We then visited several states including Louisiana for New Year, New Mexico and then on to Arizona and finally California. we did a lot visiting Tombstone, driving the Apache Trail, canyon walking in Arizona and boondocking at Quartzite.

After finishing the USA leg of our trip we move on to Australia.

Highlights for me

Swimming with a manatee
Meeting friendly Americans
Tombstone
Deadwood acting Debut
New Mexico and its scenery
Driving the Apache Trail
Boston
Yellowstone Grand Canyon
Old Faithful Geyser
Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monuments
Buffalo round up
Boondocking in Arizona
Visiting the Everglades
Air boat ride
Finding the original Yellow brick road from the Wizard of Oz in Peekskill
All the lovely swimming pools at campgrounds we visited

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Key West and the ugly highway

The Journey to Key West

After we departed from Everglades City we headed down to Key West. It was a long drive and took several hours especially as we were avoiding the toll roads. I was a bit surprised about the 100 mile highway out to Key West and its ugliness, having heard it is a beautiful drive. In parts it is gorgeous. There are parks and driving over seven mile bridge was nice. However, in parts the Keys are over developed. Especially around the towns like Marathon where the word ugly springs to mind with the miles of commercial development with no thought gone in to how it looks. I am glad we did the drive and were rewarded when we reached the old part of Key West with the beautiful buildings. After a walk along the waterfront in the evening we returned to our Bed and Breakfast along Duval street stopping for a beverage or two. On the return leg we decided to turn off the main highway at Key Largo on the way back and pay the dollar for the toll road, this route was much prettier and you drive through forest and how the keys may have looked hundreds of years ago.

Key West is the southern most tip of the Florida Keys and as the crow flies 90 miles from Cuba. Key means island in Spanish. The island is 4 miles (6.4km) long and 1 mile (1.6 km) wide. Duval Street is a mile long and the main street. The most famous personality who lived in Key West was Ernest Hemingway. The house is privately owned by a family who bought it in the 60s and it is open to the public. We gave it a miss as the house was full of people taking pictures of the cats and the garden. I would have hated to have seen it if a cruise ship had been in the port. If you ever visit I would suggest staying in the old part of town as the newer part of the town is ugly and full of malls and commercial areas. If we did it again I would like to fly in to Key West airport and hire a car to drive along the Keys at a slower pace. We also had limited time and only spent a couple of days on the Keys.

Accommodation

We stayed at the Grand Guesthouse. It cost $167 a night, had free parking, excellent free wifi, continental breakfast, no pool, room was clean and the bed comfortable. It was also only a 10 or so minute walk to Duval Street and the heart of Key West. My tripadvisor review is below:

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g34345-d144496-Reviews-The_Grand_Guesthouse-Key_West_Florida_Keys_Florida.html

Meals

We ate at a Cuban restaurant near our accommodation which was only $35 for the two of us. A lot of the sailors from the navy base were eating there as well and locals. The name of the restaurant was El Siboney.

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All in all it was an interesting trip and worth doing once.

Everglades City visit

Everglades City

We left Peace River where we were staying at a campground for Everglades City. About 500 people live in Everglades City so by no stretch of the imagination is it a city. The location is ideal on Chokoloskee Bay with nearby Ten Thousand Islands. We were lucky as the area has a tropical savannah climate which means warm dry winters and hot humid summers. In the summer mosquito’s would definitely be around and we managed to avoid that pleasure. The Tamiami Trail, Highway 41 or better known as the original alligator alley passes just five miles north of Everglades City. The city has several restaurants and a couple of motels and Bed and Breakfasts as well as the location of the Everglades National Park Visitor Centre and several air boat tour companies.

The Everglades National Park is 1.5 million acres so it plays to make some plans. Below is the National Park website which gives more detailed information about what to see, where to go and activities.

http://www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm

Where we stayed?

We stayed at Ivey House located off the main road. It was a great place, our room was large with two Queen beds, clean and the beds were very comfortable. There also was a pool outside our room. Breakfast was continental with a wide varity and ample to set you up for a busy day in the Everglades. It cost us US$109 a night. Below is a link to the Ivey House on Tripadvisor with several reviews, ours is titled ‘Great spot in the Everglades’.

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34210-d75073-Reviews-Ivey_House-Everglades_City_Florida.html

What we did?

We spent three days around Everglades City and did an air boat tour with Captain Jack, did several walks at Big Cypress Park and a boat trip out to 10000 islands where we lucky to see dolphins. We also saw a lot of bird life, a snake and many alligators. We chose Captain Jack’s air boat ride and did an hour-long trip in the mangroves which was a lot of fun. There are several air boat operators in the city and they all charge the same in a beautifully designed oligopoly. It cost us $39 each for the hour air boat ride. We also did a morning boat tour for an hour and half which cost $33 each. It was a nice boat trip taking you out to the islands and Gulf of Mexico. The highlight was dolphins and for me the bird life in seeing several species I had not seen before in Florida including cormorants.

We ate at several restaurants and my favourite was the Havana which is just down the road from Everglades City at a place called Chokoloskee. I had a great meal there enjoying the local delicacy stone crabs with a pina colada. Below is my review of the Havana restaurant.

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g34133-d1017244-r242684506-Havana_Cafe-Chokoloskee_Florida.html#REVIEWS

I also enjoyed Clarissa’s restaurant which was a few minutes walk from our hotel. I tried a mullet entrée which was tasty. I asked the chef about why it tasted so good. In New Zealand we use mullet as a bait fish. He told me it was because they feed above oyster beds which gives the flesh a distinctive flavour. Avoid the Oysterhouse restaurant we ate their the first day and were unimpressed. It also is where tour buses stop so the food is made quickly and I did not how they avoided putting prices on the menu for stone crabs and other fish quoting market price.

Verdict

I would love come back to the Everglades and spend some more time. There are several kayak trips you can do including one down to the town of Flamingo on the coast which takes around nine days. You also can hire kayaks for the day and go out to 10000 Islands but need to go out on the low tide and come back on the high tide otherwise you could get stuck out there because of the strong currents. My advice is to plan in advance and come around this time of year if you can or even a bit later as the temperature was lovely and it was not too humid.

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