We woke up with the sun, sweaty and ready for showers. In the “cool” of the morning, we packed up our tent prop, cleaned the dinner mess we should have cleaned the night before, and headed back to our beloved mango orchard for a photo shoot. A few more ripe mangos had dropped in the night, and we gathered them along with our giggles and decided it was time to hit the road.
Miranda had posted on Facebook requesting driveways to stay in, as we learned how it was either expensive or difficult it was to find overnight parking in the keys. We were lucky to find not only driveways, but two guest rooms on two different islands where fellow Brevardians had recently moved to, and welcomed us to stay at. Our first destination was at Justin’s house on Big Pine Key. We called him once we left the mainland and told him we would arrive in about 2 hours, forgetting about our spontaneous nature. We arrive at his house 6 hours later. Here’s a few places where we got sidetracked:
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical Garden where we walked 2 miles through quite the collection of diverse plants, serene ponds, and wistful butterflies. Halfway through the loop, we became uncertain if we were going the right way. It wasn’t a simple circle as implied by the name “2 mile loop,” but rather a windy path that made us feel like we were walking far in only one direction; the manmade trails diverting off the man path became increasingly tempting as we hoped to reach the van by the end of the day. We picked up our pace after reading a laminated sign: warning bee activity. Though this had already been happening for the first leg of the trip, the bees flying circles around our heads increased significantly, their only pause being to fly into our mouths or ears. I ran most of the way back, with Miranda’s laugh and video camera trolling behind me.
Islamorada Fish Company was located on scenic waterfront property, with a small white sand beach, and 3-4 feet tarpon swimming circles in the center of the restaurant, eagerly waiting for tourists to throw them their leftovers. We picked a table by the water and I chose the only appetizing vegan option: french fries, while Miranda chose the only other affordable option of clam chowder. I splurged for a berry mojito, and sucked down all ten dollars worth, in a fewer amount of minutes.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park has a better name than we found the experience to be. It could be that we were merely in the right place at the wrong time, but the waters were dirty, murky, and worst of all, the surrounding air was putrid. We breathed only through our mouth, paranoid of what we might be contaminating ourselves with, without the filtering effects of nose hair. This risk was worth it, as nose-breathing just wasn’t an option. There was a nice aquarium there, though I don’t think of any aquarium as a particularly “nice” place, but rather a glass jail for innocent creatures. So by nice, I mean we could breath normal and not only was the air fresh, but it was cold! I quickly surveyed the sadness in the tanks and spent more time on the informational side, reading about the different types of fish, coral, and animals local to the area. We spent less than 10 minutes total in the park and felt like the 9-dollar entry fee was wasted money. We quickly forgot about that loss, as we were pulling out of the parking lot and the air conditioner screamed out before its devastating death. Perspective is everything. We no longer cared about our wasted entry fee, yet we weren’t completely disheartened by the AC dying, because we smiled at each other, both thinking “well, at least it’s not the engine.” We rolled our windows down, and the breeze blew harder than the air-conditioner ever had anyways.
Home Depot was an inevitable stop, though I didn’t expect would be necessary so soon. The drawer locks I had purchased online for the kitchen cabinets didn’t quite cut it. Though the 3M tape may be strong enough for a toddler’s pull at the liquor cabinet, it was not match for momentum stored and released on the necessary quick turns I had to take to get back on to US1 each time we were finished with a detour. The doors and drawers kept spilling their contents at each turn and even worse, one drawer slid all the way out and actually broke into several pieces when it hit the floor. I also needed to buy and install handles so we could open the drawers more easily since one hand was already required for running a magnet over the child lock. I needed screws, so that the locks themselves would stop falling off. Both things were easily found, neither were ever actually installed.
We arrived in Big Pine Key around 4pm and were greeted by Justin in his driveway. This was my first time meeting him, and only Miranda’s second or third. Nonetheless, he started off with “Make yourself at home, anything you need is yours, my home is your home.” We showed him the van, decided we should buy some beer, and asked him if he knew where we could see the famous Key Deer. He jumped in the van and led us to a road bordered by a few homes, but mostly trees. Within minutes we were pulled over on the side of the road, taking pictures and oooing and aawwing at the miniature sized friendly deer. Miranda and I were giddy, and I could tell that Justin was a person who enjoyed other’s enjoyment, so even though he had seen this all before, he was happy too. A baby deer in the bush on the way to the beer caused me to reverse about 100 yards so Miranda and I could ooo and aaa once more.
Back at Justin’s, Miranda and I offered to cook dinner for him and his two roommates. We attempted the magical couscous meal from the night before, but failed to perfect it the same. Not being able to compare, they loved the meal just the same and were very open-minded to its’ “vegan-ness.” They offered us their paddles boards for a sunset cruise through their canal and into the nearby sound. Justin went with us, and while the clouds prevented a breathtaking sunset, it was still a beautiful evening with good people, clear waters, cold beer, and some contemplative time with nature.