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|Driving the All-American Road to Key West, Part 3|
|Written by Debi Lander|
|Tuesday, 02 March 2010 04:02|
Interlude in Islamorada
When you drive down U.S. 1 heading toward Key West, you know you've arrived when you come to a city: a downtown with stoplights, shops, and homes. That may seem like an obvious statement, but when you motor by the other 1700 islands, or keys (most of them are tiny and uninhabited), you feel rather betwixt and between. The landscape is a tad monotonous: a small strip of land surrounded by shimmering blue water, or patches of development with 1950s-style buildings and soaring palms. I was feeling neither here nor there, more in a twilight zone of locations known simply by their numbered mile markers.
It was in just such a spot that Jay and I stopped to take some sunset photos at a bridge on our return after two fun days and nights in Key West. So it happened that we approached Islamorada near dark, when the sun's warm afterglow had disappeared into the waves. The original name, Isles Moradas, pronounced- eye-la-mor-ah-da, translates to purple isles. Pick the name derivation, as no one knows if it's from the purple-shelled snail or the colors of the orchids and bougainvillea. I found the place enigmatic, full of mystery and intrigue.
Night descended quickly, and we drove right on past our lodging. Realizing our mistake, we made a U-turn, then ventured in and registered. I would never have stayed at La Siesta Resort (Mile Marker 80.5) had I just driven by. It has little by way of curb appeal, but I'd been told by the tourism folks arranging our stay, "Try it, you'll like it. You'll be surprised." I was--and I'd absolutely stay there again, even on my own dime. We located our quarters, a small single-story villa that was more than accommodating. With a king-sized bed, full kitchenette, dining table, and den with sleeper/sofa and wall-mounted flat screen television, it would have made a comfortable home away from home for a week.
We dropped our bags and left for dinner, choosing the Islamorada Fish Company (Mile Marker 81.5). Arriving around 8:30, I thought we'd get a table, but found the sprawling restaurant full. Our names were added to a list and we were given one of those vibrating light-up disks, so off we went for a drink. We waited; we enjoyed our margaritas; we were the last ones at the bar. Finally, the hostess came over, said she had tried to contact us, but our communicator wasn't communicating. Well, the margaritas had been refreshing and the view lovely--guess I was getting into "island time," that kick-backed nature of The Keys. Nonetheless, my stomach was starting to growl. I was ready for food. We soon ended up with lovely yellowtail snapper and grouper for dinner.
Back at the villa, we fell asleep early. The sea air must have tuckered us out. And when the morning's ochre rays filtered into the room, I awoke immediately. I crept to the double-security sliding-glass door, opened the drape, and found, well...an amazing site. A hammock rested between two palms by the patio and a huge swirl of sand like a labyrinth garden lay beyond.
I wanted to enter and follow the path, but hesitated. My footsteps would desecrate the pattern, like making tracks through freshly fallen snow. But I couldn't resist. I paced round to the middle and realized it wasn't the middle. No, this was the beginning. Of course, whoever created it started in the center. Hmm. I felt the need to sit and meditate or try a yoga pose. Instead, like being knocked on the head with a coconut (which could have actually happened), I suddenly realized I was barefoot, standing in an open hotel complex in my pajamas with a camera strung around my neck.
I returned to the room to dress and discovered Jay slowly coming to life. He doesn't do mornings very well, at least not before his coffee. I left him in his post-dawn stupor and went back outside. Several fishermen had arrived on the scene. I watched as they loaded their boat with about 20 fishing lines. Before taking off, they shared a secret: coffee and Danish were being served by the pool. Good news indeed, especially to Jay.
A little later in the morning, I drove a few miles to Florida Keys Kayak at Robbie's Marina. I was expecting to be expected, as travel writers frequently are, but I wasn't. Nonetheless, I arranged for a kayak and went in search of a crocodile, one I'd been told would make a great photo. Alas, he wasn't there. Now I admit, I don't have the best sense of direction, and the map handed me looked somewhat like a drawing by my first-grade grandson, but it led me astray. Perhaps my car's GPS has spoiled me. I needed a voice to tell me, turn here--NOW. I was lost in the lush mangroves.
Eventually I ran into three other kayakers who were, shall we say, also creatively off course. Mind you, two of them were college professors, and we all four attempted to get to a point on the map and see that croc; and we all got lost together. I thought it rather funny and decided it was time to retrace my outing and return my boat. Fortunately, I did remember where I'd made those "wrong" turns and once around a bend, saw the familiar bridge.
After lunch, I returned to La Siesta Resort for an afternoon nap in our hammock. A siesta at La Siesta! That evening, Jay and I went to dinner at the Hungry Tarpon restaurant (Mile Marker 77.5) back at Robbie's Marina. The outside looked like a breakfast diner, which it was, but it also had an outdoor patio strung with Christmas lights that was actually an awesome gourmet restaurant (if you can call an "old Keys-style marina and fish shack" a gourmet restaurant). The chef, Joseph Sassine, came out to speak to us, but couldn't stay long because his assistant needed supervising. The assistant was rather new on the job, he added; he'd only been working there for five years.
After another restful night, I awoke to find the same curious pattern created in the sand during the night. I rather enjoyed the mystery and never inquired. Some things are best left alone.
I convinced Jay to go back to the Hungry Tarpon for breakfast, even though we weren't hungry. I wanted to feed the famous jumping fish I'd learned about the night before. Tarpon usually like deep water. The tarpon at Robbie's Marina, however, like to swim near the surface so they can be fed by human hands. Wouldn't you know, on this morning, the hungry tarpon were neither hungry nor jumpy. The prehistoric-looking denizens must have felt the cold air, as a recent spell of artic air had chilled Florida.
"Time to drive home," Jay announced. One last time I insisted on stopping. "I must photograph Betsy, the lobster," I begged. Betsy is a huge roadside attraction, the type of thing popular back in the Sixties when drivers traveled Route 66. So, for the record, here she is, a real beauty. What more could one wish for on a trip to the quirky Keys and an interlude in Islamorada?