Two Weeks in the Keys, a pictorial journal of an RV trip.
Tiki Huts and Sunshine are waiting so come on down!
Getting to the Keys in an RV
We have landed in a campground in the Florida Keys.
It’s a nice campground, overall, and I did get a good deal to stay here. So we saved a few bucks up, pulled out from home yesterday and set up our RV in a campground yesterday.
Actually we live just south of Tampa Florida, so the trip was less than 6-hours for us, including rest stops and traffic.
Traffic to the Keys
If you are going to the Keys, be prepared, you will have to put up with some really terrible traffic conditions once you hit the Miami area. It’s unavoidable really.
You see, to get down into the Keys you have to deal with two of the major levels of RV Hell; first you have to go through traffic, Miami traffic. And secondly, you have to drive down on the old I-1 highway with its congestion.
Neither of these traffic situations are avoidable, if you are driving an RV, or actually, even if you are just driving your car, down to the Keys.
As a traveler, you may as well accept the reality that the Miami traffic goes all the way to the tip of the mainland. You will know that you are there when you start seeing all of the 6+ lanes of traffic and the multiple layers of flying overpasses everywhere.
And, you will know that you are actually in the Keys when I-1 turns into two lanes of road surrounded by water (usually the Gulf) and the “swamp glades” that come right up to within a few feet of the road.
It’s obvious, even on the maps, that this old highway is the main link to all of the populated Keys (read islands), and if you want to go to one of them you are going to use this main artery to travel there.
What that means is you are going to hit some really bad traffic at times. Not interstate traffic, but small town traffic.
I can only give you one piece of advice. First, understand that the permanent residents on these islands might like your money that is keeping their retail establishments open, but at the same time they real do hate what we tourists do to their daily traffic.
So typically, don’t look for anyone to give you a break.
Accept that if you leave a couple of car-lengths in front of you someone, maybe a car or a delivery van, of often a truck pulling a boat, is going to attempt to fit into that opening. They will often just slow down, almost to a stop before they turn into a side street, and signal lights are optional to them.
And, as in all hot and humid tropical environments, the lifestyle in the Keys is slower than where you came from, and this is often reflected in the speed of the traffic.
My best advice, once you hit I-1, is to; get your Zen on, slow down your heartbeat, accept the traffic delays and drive very, very defensively.
By the time you are in I-1, you are so close to your destination, so you don’t need a “fender bender” just a few miles from your destination.
Tiki Bar on Fiesta Key
Campgrounds in the Keys
I won’t go into the details of all of the campgrounds you can find and stay in when you go to the Keys, in this article.
Suffice it to say that there are many campgrounds along th length of the Keys, you just have to find one and make reservations. They do stay filled year round.
This time down, we found a campground that fits our lifestyle. It is run by Encore, and it’s called Fiesta Key. It’s a good campground in a good location.
We are only ten miles south of Islamorada and being at mile marker 70, we are close enough to all of the southern Keys, including, of course, Key West that we can hit them at our leisure.
I will do a little personal review of our campground later, but here are the basics for now.
Fiesta Key RV Resort has such amenities as;
- 300+ campsites. Some are on the water but most are just stacked together down several long parallel streets. All have; a concrete pad with full hookups and all have 50-Amp service. 50-Amp Service is a must in the tropics, by the way.
- Tiki Bar and Restaurant. They have a great Tiki Bar and restaurant combination right on the edge of the water. It is roomy and it’s run by an independent contractor who owns a couple of other restaurants on Islamorada. The food is relatively simple but it is fresh and tasty. Plus they have entertainment on weekends.
- Beach. There are several sandy areas for lying in the Sun, but it and the whole island is contained within its own seawall. You can swim in the beautiful waters using the steps located in several places.
- Cabins. Of course they look like they were built in the fifties or sixties and have not weathered well in the tropical sun, but very few building do.
- Park Model Cabins. These are pretty new and modern looking and they are placed right on the water.
- Marina. The CG does have its own marina with slips for several dozen boats. This, of course means many of the campers are fishermen (fisherwomen?).
- Tent Sites. There are just a few, but these seem to be used by couples who come down from Miami, and put up a large screened tent (so the insects don’t eat them alive at night) for a day or so.And their entertainment seems to be constantly cooking on the grill and drinking beer.
- Bathrooms and Bathhouses. The CG is in the process of remodeling these and the ones that have been redone are nice enough and clean. In my opinion, they need at least one more of each for the number of people they have camping here.
Things to understand about the Keys, Entertainment
OK, the Keys are not Disneyland.
You’re not going to find billion dollar tourist centers with exotic and impressive entertainment lined up for you to use. You will not (most of the time) find glamorous resort centers or self-contained high-rise hotels, full of luxurious accommodations and sights to see.
The keys really are, just a group of small islands sticking down from the tip of Florida into the Caribbean. Land is at a premium here, so the properties here are small.
And when you come down you will, most often, end up staying in a motel or renting someones Condo, if you want to stay in a nice place. That is, if you don’t have an RV.
And, the restaurants are not going to be the big chains you see everywhere in tourist traps. What you are going to find is a hodgepodge of small business’ that will typically be; a converted old home, a small store selling “Keys Junk” or sometimes just a shack with some outside tables around it.
The owners all know you didn’t come there for a crappy cheeseburger, or a frozen steak. They know that you want fresh seafood and if you do order a steak or cheeseburger, it had better be unique and taste really good.
They know that you want to be able to brag about eating the biggest, or freshest, or at least the tastiest foods and they had better deliver it.
What about me? With this kind of “local ambiance” everywhere, I try to avoid the few (read newer) and larger modern-looking places.
Too often they and their wares are much more expensive than you can find elsewhere, and when you go in one of these, you often feel like you should have worn something nicer, rather than the standard shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops of the tropics.
I mean it is the Keys, Right? A place where everyone seems to be serving fresh seafood, cold drinks, and often playing Reggae and Buffet music.
A place where almost every place you see has a water view. OK, this is true usually because the islands are so small (read narrow) and a water view is just, well ….. common.
But, I have low standards, that’s what I come here for; Tiki Bars and cheap looking restaurants, on the water, with a good view, a nice cooling breeze and good music (often live).
Language. Don't be surprised if you hear a lot of people speaking Spanish. Remember, the Keys are just below Miami and there is a very large population of 3rd and 4th generation Cuban Americans.
Most are successful people in their own right and able to own many of the nicer homes in the Keys as "getaways".
Screened Canopy to keep the Insects away
Even RV owners will need one of these when they are camping. I have this one because it folds up and packs away easily. When the insects are out and dining on me, I just set up my screen canopy and I can keep these pests away form my body.
Things to understand about the Keys, Scruff Looking
Yeah, I actually had to stop writing for a minute, right here because I was looking for a good word to describe the overall atmosphere and look of the Keys.
The best word I could come up with was Scruffy.
You see, here you can find your best meals, often prepared and served in some converted shack or gas stations that the Chef could purchase or rent cheaply. Sure there are a few traps that serve Crap, but they don’t last long.
Another thing about the Keys, is the weather. It’s HOT in the Keys. The weather ranges from Hot to very Hot and from dry to stormy. Of course, this is one of the great thing about south Florid and the Keys, the tropical weather.
Usually the rain occurs of an hour or so and because the land is really just a sandbar sitting on ancient coral reefs, the rain soaks in and disappears within minutes. And, the relentless Sun comes back out.
One thing this kind if weather does is that it ages things quickly. Painted wood chips and fades quickly, and windows get broken by flying things in the worst of the storms. Roofs are collectors of flying palm tree branches, leaves and bird poop. None of these allow for a “pretty look” to most of the buildings.
The owners understand that they can concentrate on being pretty or being in business and making a buck, so pretty often their overall image suffers until the places “really need” to be fixed up or cleaned up.
That’s why I use the word Scruffy. It’s a state of appearance that is somewhere below “nice looking” and just above being called a dump.
In the Keys, Scruffy is a state of mind and a personal and business look everyone goes for.
My photos of the Keys
As we explore and enjoy the Keys, we will be taking a few pics to share with you. They will be interesting, I hope, and each will have a short description for your entertainment.
But remember, we are here for just two weeks, and we will not be hitting all of the “touristy” places. Rather we will literally just drive around and stop at places that interest us.
This will not be a travelogue, but more like a personal pictorial journal. As I add to this article, I will release it again, every day or so, so check it out if you are interested.
by Don Bobbitt, 2015, July, August
Capt. Tony's Bar Ceiling
Day 2 - revision and update
OK, we drove down to Key West today. We had planned to hit Key West next week sometime, but for some reason we got bored early and hopped into our tow car and drove down.
I wanted to go by Capt. Tony's and pick up a T-shirt. You see, the existing Sloppy Joes carries the title of being the site where Hemingway went to do his serious drinking, when in reality the existing Capt. Joes is the original sight of the bar he frequented.
I once had a t-shirt from there, but it has long ago disappeared, so we went down and I picked up a new one.
There is nothing great about the place or the T-shirt, but I like Hemingway, his writings and his ridiculous (suicidal?) approach to life. So, I picked up a new t-shirt for myself.
Of course, being there, we walked around hitting a couple of bars for a quick drink and some music. Finally, though, we left and headed back home.
After all, Key West has turned itself into just a bunch of bars and restaurants designed to suck the last buck from the tourists. Not like years ago, when it actually exhibited some semblance of character.
Hidden Sight on Duval St. in Key West
Storm over the Gulf
Day-5 Update - Tropical Weather
Well, I guess it's time to talk about the weather in this tropical paradise.
Without a lot of details, you should expect to have rain in the Keys. I'm not talking about those all-day storms that keep you inside for the whole day.
Oh they do occur, but typically, depending on the time of day, you will have belts of thunderstorms, carrying rain of course, passing over you.
The past couple of days, we have ben experiencing the standard tropical rains. The weather hasn't kept us "locked" in our RV, but it has been something we have watched and worked around as we moved around the Keys.
The temperature differentials between the Atlantic and the Gulf, tend to generate this kind of weather. But these storms will, most of the time, be of short duration and pass over within an hour or so.
And if you are prepared, you tend to accept this kind of weather and enjoy the sun and sights between these passing rain storms.
The most important thing to remember is to get inside when you hear the thunder nearby.
The Beach at Curry Hammock State Park
Day-8 Update - State Park with Camping
OK, we have been here of over a week now and we're still enjoying ourselves.
We have found some interesting places that we will remember in our trip planning the next time we come.
There are two state parks nearby. One is less than two miles away, down Interstate-1. The other one is larger and is nine or so miles further down the road, on Marathon Key.
The one on Marathon, called CURRY HAMMOCK State Park, has a number of excellent campsites available for rental at some great pricing.
Each site has 30/50-Amp service and water. The campground itself also has a dumping station, so overall, they are set up nicely for longer stays.
It has a nice beach for walking and sitting in the Sun, along with clean bathrooms and lots of shady picnic tables sprinkled around.
I saw a flyer on the bulletin board at the campground for an APP for my phone called PocketRanger. This APP has information on all of the Parks and State facilities in Florida. Once in, you can go to information in other states.
Anyway, we have walked a lot on Bike/Walk roads, as I mentioned, but now we contain our walking to the campground itself.
Today? Well, we will be exploring up towards Key Largo. Or at least we will be heading in that direction.
Morning View at Fiesta Key
An Island of Seaweed
Last Day in the Keys, Thoughts
Well, all vacations must end, and this is our last day here.
As we plan our last sunset dinner in the Keys, we were going over our stay and here are a few of our thoughts about the Keys that I would like to pass along to everyone.
People come here to Fish and to eat seafood and have a couple of drinks in interesting Tiki Bars. That's it! There are no amusement parks for kids and they are going to get pretty bored very quickly if they have to spend a week or more in the Keys. Make sure they have access to a swimming pool and a beach area for your own sanity if you do bring kids.
We have been here several times over the decades, once with friends and a couple of times just the two of us. Being with others gives you a little more entertainment, but eventually, you can even tire of them.
This time, it was just the two of us and as experienced RVers, we knew one of the secrets of vacations. And that is, you need to bring your own entertainment with you. OK, if you fish, bring a boat. If you are a photographer, do you research and know where you can get good pics. If you just like to take it slow, bring some good books with you.
My point is, "the Keys" is not a metropolitan center with all of the variety of entertainment you find in one. The keys are a narrow strip of islands that someone was smart enough to tie together with a two-lane highway.
And, where there is enough land, people, long ago, bought the land and built on it. In reality, there is no more land left in the Keys, most of the owners have already built their marinas, restaurants, and the occasional store. The homes are mostly owned by people who live in South Florida and can afford to have a "weekend runaway".
So, if you want to enjoy the Keys, just accept these facts, and come on down. The weather is very nice or just plain HOT, depending on the season. It is an enjoyable place to visit, and I suggest that you move into the slow pace of such tropical areas, and get out if you start to get bored.
Us? Oh, we'll probably come back again, in a few years, but only for a week maximum , next time. Two weeks pushed our limits of slow-paced tropical fun.