PJ set an ambitious itinerary for us today starting with rising before dawn to head over to the Edward Knight pier to watch the sunrise. We definitely weren’t the only crew with this idea in mind. There is a lively group of locals that appear to know each other well who obviously make this a tradition and a handful of other tourists like us out to witness the beauty of the birth of a new day. The attitude was totally casual and the dogs were free to race around off leash. Cali joined them for awhile being off leash that is, not doing so much of the racing around. Some dogs would try to sneak up on the pervasive gangs of pigeons and give them a chase down the pier.
The sun made a spectacular entrance and all eyes were over the railing looking east as the golden orb moved up into the morning sky. Salty locals, young lovers, tourists on skates and sunburnt RVers with a senior dog all stopped for a few moments to gaze in awe at the glorious display and to contemplate the possibilities that are open to them as we move into the fresh beginning of a new day.
We lingered after to walk the AIDS memorial and read the messages while reflecting on the lives lost and families forever altered. A moving tribute and poignant reminder. Some not so reverent roosters followed us about singing praises to the new day and reminding us to live in the present and be grateful for each moment.
Nearby on the other side of Higgs Beach there is the African Cemetery where slaves from captive ships that didn’t survive had been buried. Three U.S. ships intercepted the slavers and liberated those in the holds but several hundred still died and are resting here in Key West. PJ strolled around reading the plaques and getting her history lesson.
From there it was a short drive over to the southernmost spot on the continental U.S. where a large buoy shaped marker announces the fact. People line up for their turn getting the perfect picture to prove they made it this far south. For us early birds there were only a few people there and we got in our obligatory souvenir photos to document our amazing feat. I’m sure we are the first to ever make it this far. There used to be earlier versions with street sign type markers but people kept stealing them so they finally came up with this version and nobody is walking away this. I’ll bet when Cali was a young pup in Mexico she never dreamed she’d be posing at the southernmost point in Key West.
PJ had some phone calls to make and I had a nap to take, so we headed back to Boyd’s and did some lounging for the hottest part of the day. In the afternoon, there was no rest for the wicked as Pea still had several agenda items on her list that needed to be checked off. We got motivated around 4:00 and paid a visit to the botanical gardens over near the community college. We meandered through the grounds always looking for the shadiest spots to keep from sweltering in the torrid heat. Even the butterflies were taking a siesta as we only saw a few living creatures as we roamed the property. PJ found a labyrinth and did a meditative walk around the concentric circles while I admired some Cuban palms and a wall of interesting epiphytes. The air conditioning had stalled in the docent’s office and she wasn’t about to remain on the grounds a minute after the bell chimed so we got the heave ho and took the drive into the city center.
We parked up on Whitehead Street and started walking around town from there. Our first stop was the Truman Southern White House where he used to come to take a breather when this was a military base. They were closing up too, so we strolled the grounds outside and checked out the old building. The neighborhood surrounding the White House is one of the more exclusive enclaves in Key West. We walked the blocks admiring the genteel houses and beautiful tropical landscaping as we pointed our toes towards the old lighthouse down near the Hemingway House.
The lighthouse had also shuttered its doors for the day, a shame in a place where the temperatures don’t reach a habitable range until the early evening. We prowled about the compound for a bit sitting at their picnic table to strategize our next move. The shining white lighthouse a picturesque background to our deliberations. The lighthouse itself is now several blocks away from the shoreline since the navy in the early twentieth century filled in several square miles of the gulf here to make land for the military base.
We moved over to Duval Street, the main tourist artery lined with bars, eateries, cigar stores and souvenir shops. We joined the diverse and colorful array of tourists slowly moseying along both sides of the avenue. We perused a few stores and steadily ticked off the blocks until we found ourselves in front of Jimmy Buffett’s original Margaritaville restaurant. PJ had wanted to see the famous landmark and I decided to do her one better and actually sit down for a cheeseburger in paradise.
We had spotted an unoccupied table at the open air front window looking out on Duval, so we claimed it and relaxed for a tasty dinner served up by an amiable young man named Pablo who was also training a new waitress to be a server. It turns out the new waitress is his mother. He explained to us on the side that it was hard training his mom because when she goofed up he was uncomfortable telling her what she did wrong. They were charming and we had a great meal with parrothead music in the background, a lively crowd partying at the bar, and a street level view of all the animated people walking by our seats.
A Cheeseburger in Paradise
There were a couple of more things we had wanted to see but we knew when to say enough and steered the car back towards Boyd’s making a grocery stop at Publix along the way. Cali was glad to see us home and the three of us rested up from a busy day of being tourists.