The Jamin News

Jamin News

Issue 6

Winter 1998
Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 

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For a Caribbean holiday without leaving the States, how about Key West? With the completion of Route 1, the coastal highway extension from Miami to Key West, you can drive to the Caribbean or fly directly to Key West from Houston. We suggest you fly to Miami and drive the Keys, from Key Largo on to Tavernier, Islamorado, Long Point, Marathon and finally Key West. The 120 mile drive is scenic, relaxing and allows you to gradually settle into the Caribbean.

 Key West is only 1 1/2 miles wide and 4 1/2 miles long and as the southernmost point in the United States is only 90 miles west of Havana Cuba. The white sand beaches and cool Trade Winds are the same you will find most anywhere else in the Caribbean.

We decided to make the trip to look at the many old homes on the island which are similar in architecture to those in Cayman and Jamaica. In Key West they are called "Conch Houses" not because they are made of conch shells (there actually is one in Cayman) but because of the architectural style, with pitched roofs, ship-lap siding, wide porches and  gingerbread trim. The most famous of these is the Hemingway House on Whitehead Street which has been restored to its original condition. It was here that Hemingway produced many of his works from "A Farewell to Arms" to "For Whom the Bell Tolls".

Being relatively small, it is easy to walk the whole island in a day or two. We stayed at the Southernmost Motel on the eastern shore and could walk down Duval Street, the main shopping strip, past many of the "Conch Houses" converted into Bed & Breakfasts' and on to Mallory Point and Old Town on the western shore where most of the restaurants, clubs and tourist attractions are located. At a friends' suggestion we took the Old Town Trolley Tour which covers the whole island and lets you get on and off wherever you wish.

Famous for its' laid-back atmosphere as popularized by Hemingway and later Jimmy Buffet, Key West began as a "wrecking" community, much like the Cayman Islands. Residents would wait until a ship ran on to a nearby reef and then salvage whatever they could for resale. This was such a lucrative business that most of the residents became quite wealthy and built many of the fine homes you find today. But the governent ruined it all in 1846 by building a lighthouse which is now a tourist attraction.

 Needing to survive, the residents then established a sponging industry which eventually produced 90% of the sponges used in the US. This industry too became obsolete so Key West then became the largest manufacturer of hand rolled cigars in the country until the machines again took over. This feast or famine economy, typical throughout much of the Caribbean lent much to the character and swashbuckling reputation of the "Conch Republic" as Key Westers call themselves. In Old Town you can tour the old Sponge Market and Customs House and find many of the tobacco warehouses converted into restaurants, bars and retail stores.

Most of the night life in Key West is centered on Greene Street just off Mallory Square. The most famous bar is "Sloppy Joe's", which was partially owned by Hemingway and was where he spent his evenings recovering from his writing.  Now called "Captain Tony's", it is a long, narrow and  dark room with low ceilings and thousands of faded business cards nailed to the walls and ceilings along with bras, caps, shirts and just about everything else you might take off with too much to drink. 

There are tons of restaurants in Key West, specializing mostly in fresh seafood, including conch fritters and lobster. We had a fine dinner at a small restaurant on Truman Street and lunch at the seaside "South Beach Restaurant". A local artist recommended "Cafe Blue" on Simonton street in "Black town" for breakfast, but like many of the places it was closed for September. Another local favorite is "The Deli" on Truman Street which offers an extensive menu of local fare at reasonable prices. The food was quite good and the service great. Finally, at a locals recommendation, we tried "Martha's" on the eastern shore, but it  fell short of her enthusiastic description.

  Key West has a wide variety of watersports activities including deep sea fishing, scuba diving, snorkling and just cruising. The waters are clear Caribbean and warm. Since we were only there three days in the off-season, we didn't have time for the diversions but if you're going schedule ahead of time. Our motel was adequate but for our next visit we will arrange to stay in one of the many Bed & Breakfasts on Truman or Duval streets or follow our friends suggestion of staying on Ismalrado or Marathon Keys, which are less crowded and only a short drive to Key West.

If you're planning a trip, check out one of the many Web sites on the internet for the Florida Keys. Many of the motels and resorts have their own sites and you can make reservations on the net..



The Forgotten Keys

Just south of Tampa/St Petersburg, off the west coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico are a chain of islands running from Bradenton to Sarasota called the Leeward Keys. You can travel along Route 789 Longboat Key and then south to the Lido, Siesta, Casey and Lover's Keys before returning to the manland at Venice Beach. On every key there are wide white-sand beaches and small towns with quaint  shopping and dining districts catering to the snow birds and tourists. We spent a day on Lido Key and its beautiful beach which was nearly deserted.  We spent some time touring the small shops in the main square and look forward to returning for an extended visit. 




Issue 6

Winter 1998
Page 1 2 3 4 5 6   

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