TOUR OF THE LITTLE LATITUDES – MOTO KEY WEST – Part 4

My hotel in Key Largo , the Holiday Inn Express, was beautiful. Situated right on the marina, at about MM110 (everything in the keys is denoted by mile markers), it truly was a tropical paradise. Below are a few slides showing the beauty of Key Largo:

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Unloading the bike and stowing my gear in my hotel room, I went on a quest to find The African Queen, the original boat used in the movie of the same name with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. Unkown to me, it was docked in the marina right at the hotel! What a find! As a Bogie fan, it was a real bonus to find this jewel of Hollywood right here on the east coast of Florida. Of course, it was Bogart who put Key Largo on the map by filming the excellent film noir flick, Key Largo, right here. By the bye, my hotel lobby is filled with Humphrey Bogart memorabilia. You can’t walk anywhere in Key Largo without seeing Bogies’ name everywhere. Ladies and gentlemen, The African Queen………..

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The African Queen was bought by a private investor, and was restored to it’s original weathered look as it appeared in the movie. She is now available for tours around Key Largo year round. How cool. Can’t you just see Bogie and Hepburn sitting in the cockpit taking verbal jabs at each other?

I had a great dinner in Key Largo, with the requisite piece of Key Lime pie, then a beer or two at the hotel Tiki Bar. Bye the bye, every day I was in the Keys, Key Lime pie was a dietary staple for lunch and dinner. Lip smackin’ good. Did you know that Key Lime pie was “invented” in Key West? Yessiree! It was a long, hot, day today, so it was off to bed early. Tomorrow, it’s down the Overseas Highway to Key West! 

There is an oft used and overused saying in the motorcycling community that says, ” It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

That’s a load of crap.

It’s about both, unless your journey is just riding around in circles or going to the market for bread and beer. If you don’t hold the destination of your trip in as high (or higher) regard as the journey to get there, why bother to go? Hmm? My journey to and from Key West was just as exhilerating as my time spent in the Conch Republic. Therefore, and forthwith, I will break this part of the narrative into “The Journey To” and “Key West.”

The Journey To: Key Largo to Key West – 110 miles

This is it! The reason I have ridden over 900 miles so far – traveling down the overseas highway by way of motorcycle to Key West. US 1 at MM110 to US 1 MM0 – the end of the line in Old Town Key West. I am thrilled and excited as I awake later than usual. Today’s ride is only about two hours, so a leisurley start is welcome compared to the last three days.

After a filling breakfast (no Key Lime pie; reserved strictly for lunch and dinner), I mount the ST and fire up the big V4. With more than a little excitement, I roll onto US 1 and swing the beaST south. Jimmy Buffet tunes are playing in my helmet as I bid Key Largo goodbye for now. My dream is now a reality as the ST’s tires roll on the famed Overseas Highway towards the Keys most infamous island paradise.

Tavernier, Plantation Key, Islamadora, Long Key, Marathon; all rolling under my wheels as Jimmy Buffet touched on them all in his music. Traveling the Overseas Highway by way of motorcycle is an experience like no other, and I can’t even describe the sensation I got as I rolled through Marathon and saw the most amazing sight rising in front of me: The Seven Mile Bridge! In the blink of an eye, I found myself heading skyward as I left Marathon and found nothing but the Atlantic Ocean under me! For seven miles! It was like I was riding on water, a sensation I never got traversing this bridge twice previous in a car. Fantastic!

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One of the smaller keys. Pic taken from Seven Mile Bridge. Yes, this was the only land mass in sight!

Ten minutes later I rolled off of the Seven Mile Bridge onto Big Pine Key, home of the National Key Deer Refuge. Key deer make their home here in the Keys, and Big Pine Key is their protected habitat. Key deer are tiny, about the size of medium size dogs, and they roam all over Big Pine Key.

I am now about 25 – 30 miles outside of Key West, and I can’t help but to wick up the throttle to get there quicker. Just as I start picking up speed, I roll under one big, dark cloud; just one; and in true Florida fashion, it drops water down in buckets. I roll off the throttle and cruise through this rather refreshing shower for about five minutes. Then it’s back into bright sunshine and dry roads. Within minutes I am on Big Coppitt Key, the last Key before Key West. The excitement builds as me and MyST climb up and over the last causeway and down onto The Conch Republic. We have arrived!

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Key West – Tne Destination – MM0

I was flooded by emotions as I passed the “Welcome to Key West” sign. A dream come to fruition, a thousand miles from home, by myself, on a motorbike. But it felt like home. Navigating my way towards Old Town, I headed for my hotel on the east side of the island, one block in from the Atlantic. Rolling into the parking lot, I shut the V4 down for the next 24 hours. Since it was only a two plus hour ride from Key Largo, I arrived way before my hotel room was ready. The front desk staff graciously stowed my riding suit, helmet and boots behind the desk while I quick changed from motorcycle tourer to Key West tourist. I grabbed my camera and shades and off I went! The first tourist stop I made was two blocks from the hotel. Everyone knows it, as it is the most photographed spot in Key West:

The most famous photo op in Key West known around the world.

The most famous photo op in Key West known around the world. Only 90 miles to Cuba!

As it was time for lunch, by my watch and my stomach, I walked a short distance to a really cool natural foods deli by my hotel. Miles of walking was on the docket today and tonight, so I fueled up accordingly. Yes, I had Key Lime pie. Lunch done, I headed one block over to Key West’s infamous main drag where everything happens, all the time:

Day or night, this is where it all happens.

Day or night, this is where it all happens.

Duval Street is the happening place in Key West. Everything you want to see, everything you really don’t want to see and everything you wish you didn’t see, is here. You pick and choose. Duval Street runs east and west across the entire island, approximately two miles. By day, you rub elbows with all the other tourists buying t-shirts and island trinkets. By night, the weirdness that Key West is noted for emerges, beginning at sunset on Mallory Square, through Little Cuba, and down the strip of Duval Street from west to east. It’s definitely an exhilerating experience. People of all ages, persuasions, walks of life; a collage if you will of humans; people you don’t mingle with or see in Suburbia, USA, converge on this two mile ribbon after sunset every night to party and celebrate life. It’s just awesome!

By day, I played the typical Florida tourist (sans the pasty white epidermis). Checking out the business establishments on Duval Street, the historic sights, and beautiful ocean views was a blast. Rather than give a play by play account of what I saw and did, here is a slide show of  my daytime experiences this first day in Key West:

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 By now it was late afternoon, and I was on the west end of the island in Mallory Square, with still a two mile hoof back to my hotel. Time to take a dip in the pool, freshen up, then back on Duval Street for dinner at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Cafe. I ate way earlier than I usually do. I didn’t want to miss the beginning of the Key West nightlife at the Sunset Party on Mallory Square.

Entrance to Mallory Square

Entrance to Mallory Square

Inside the entrance to Mallory Square, you walk through a maze of shops, hawkers trying to sell you anything they can, and a museum or two. Once on the other side, you venture onto the square itself. This is a far cry from when I visited here in the last century. At that time, Mallory Square was pretty seedy, and nothing but the end of the road on a dirt/gravel patch to revel in the Sunset Party. But just look at her now!

Mallory Square

Mallory Square

Leaving Jimmy Buffets place with a full belly topped off with key lime pie, I hoofed it the remaining 1 & 3/4 miles to Mallory Square. Perfect timing, as the sun was low in the sky and the crowds were beginning to gather.

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The Sunset Party at Mallory Square happens every night of the week in celebration of another day in Key West. It is a unique Key West tradition. Of course, on weekends, the revelry gets a little rowdier. But, every night street performers come out to show their stuff and most make their living doing this by travelling around the country giving performances.

Fire ring toss

Fire ring toss

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This girl was talented!

This girl was talented!

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A schooner trawling the waters off Key West.

A schooner trawling the waters off Key West.

Finally, as the sun began to set, the crowd began moving like a herd of cattle, to the waters edge. Although it was a cloudy night, people came out in droves to celebrate the end of another day in Key West, and the beginning of The Key West nightlife. Let the partying begin!

What everyone was waiting for. A cloudy night, but the sunset was just as beautiful.

What everyone was waiting for. A cloudy night, but the sunset was just as beautiful.

By now it’s dark, and the crowd disperses and moves along the rest of the square, into Little Cuba, and down Duval Street. The bands start playing, the beer starts flowing, and everyone seems to be having a real good, laid back time. Island time. I saunter over to Little Cuba, sit at the bar and order a beer, as the band kicks in with some great sounding Cuban music and the smell of Cuban cigars fills the air. People were dancing in the streets. Wow. This was no Disney “reality” theme park. This was authentic.  These people were the real deal, as a large percentage of Key West’s residents are Cuban.

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Great music in Little Cuba

Around midnight, I start my trek down Duval Street, or as some call it, “The Duval Crawl.” People everywhere, drinking and partying and just hanging about with the ever present smell of Cuban cigars. One (of many) strange sights is of this gentleman riding his bicycle up and down Duval Street with rock and pop music blasting from speakers he has mounted somewhere. But check this out. His bike is covered axle to axle, top tube to bottom bracket, in flashing lights. He cruises all around Old Town every night, all night, seven days a week. Must be in great shape, or is it the Cuban cigar he smokes?

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This guy is amazing. I tried to talk with him, but he was a man of little words and did not wish to have his picture taken. He let’s his chariot talk for him, and it sure does.

I’m beginning to feel how long the day has been. I stop at Sloppy Joe’s for a final beer, some good music, and fabulous people watching, then it’s the “Duval Crawl” to bed for me. What a great day in Key West. But it’s not over yet…….

Next up: More Key West: Ernest Hemingway; Why did the chicken cross the road?; Back to Key Largo.

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