February 6 – 20
We broke camp in the morning, Joanna doing much of the lifting and bending and then without much ado, took off north for Miami, a journey of less than four hours which would give us time to do a couple of tourist-like activities on the way.
About ten miles into the drive we spotted Baby’s Coffee and pulled in for a drink for the road. It’s a large shop that roasts its own beans and we purchased a large house blend and scone to eat outside at a table facing the highway. Finished, we pulled onto the highway and drove to Big Pine Key and our first stop of the day, the National Key Deer Refuge.
The Visitor Center for the refuge is tucked away in a strip mall, an obscure location but easy to get to. We took a look at the exhibits and received some good advice from one of the docents about where to see the deer. The refuge is home to the endangered Key Deer, a subspecies of the White-tailed deer, that is endemic to the Florida Keys and has a current population of around 800 animals.
Also found in the refuge are 21 other threatened and endangered species of plants and animals. As suggested by the docents, we drove a couple of miles up Key Deer Blvd to the Blue Hole, an abandoned limestone quarry dug in the 1930s and 1940s. The water it contains is mostly fresh and is used by various wildlife in the area, such as birds, snakes, alligators, key deer and green iguanas.
We parked and walked a short distance to a platform that provided a panoramic view of the hole. Unlike our experience at the Manatee farm in Tampa, it was loaded with wildlife, including turtles and numerous alligators. We took our time there, having to jostle for position at the railing as it was a popular spot that morning.
Back in the car, we continued up Key Deer Blvd a short distance to see if we could spot some deer, almost running one over as it sat placidly by the side of the road munching on the grass. Small and dun colored, they blend in perfectly with the surrounding ground and vegetation.
While I parked by the side of the road, Joanna hopped out with the camera and approached the deer slowly, taking pictures as she went. Likely habituated to humans, the deer just kept on eating as Joanna approached, getting to within petting distance.
Photo shoot completed, we returned to the Overseas Highway and continued north to Islamorada Key and a stop at the infamous Robbie’s, self-proclaimed as the “number one place in the keys that every tourist should visit”.
The place was a zoo when we arrived, it being a Saturday and a popular afternoon destination for south Florida residents. I snagged the one open parking spot within walking distance and we entered the complex, jammed with folks waiting for tables at the restaurant. The draw for us was their “feed the tarpon” attraction, where for $2.25 per person and $4 for a bucket of fish, you could walk out onto the dock and hand deliver the seafood to a hungry tarpon.
Unfortunately, this did not play out quite as advertised. The docks were crowded, but not unreasonably so. Quite entertaining was a group of college age girls, one in a revealing bikini, attired in t-shirts and hats promoting some tequila-based weekend activity that likely formed the core of their weekend.
No, the issue was the damn pelicans, ferocious devils that swarmed anyone with a fish each time they tried to drop it in the water. By the time we left, not one person was observed actually feeding a Tarpon.
And so we continued north to our destination for the next four nights, the Private Studio Airbnb in Miami. We would really enjoy our stay here, our own studio apartment detached from the main house with a private entrance for roughly $70 a night. When we arrived, the husband was power washing the roof and the hostess was apologetic about the mess, so much so she brought us a bottle of wine with cheese and crackers to welcome us to the flat.
Later, we took Lyft to Concrete Beach Brewery in the Wynwood neighborhood where we me Miami natives Anna and her husband Mark. Prior to my retirement in 2014, I’d met her when she was the Auxiliary Services Director at UNC Charlotte (the position I filled in for last year) and after connecting again, agreed to meet at the brewery for drinks.
It was a great introduction to the city and over the course of a few rounds, with a BBQ plate from that night’s food truck, we covered quite a lot of ground, including their upcoming trip to Europe, a first for Anna.
From there we walked over to an area known as Wynwood Walls, a centerpiece of the surrounding entertainment district. Being Saturday, the scene was jumping, with food trucks and retail booths carrying a diverse array of goods.
The neighborhood was conceived of by the late urban developer Tony Goldman in 2009. His idea was to revitalize the neighborhood by turning warehouses into works of art and the area is curated by Goldman Global Arts, an art dealer that has a gallery inside the wall area. It is Long referred to as “Little San Juan”, and commonly known as “El Barrio”, as many Puerto Ricans began immigrating to this Miami neighborhood from the island and northeastern cities in the 1950s.
If we ever return to Miami, we will come back to this area again, particularly on a weekend night when it is full of life, brilliantly lit, the smell of food wafting through the air, and music coming at you from many directions.
Each corner we turned revealed yet another astonishing mural, another thought-provoking work of art. My back began to get the better of me though and so we bid adieu to Ana and Mark, thanking them for a delightful evening and start of our Miami experience. We hoped that the next couple of days would be as exciting.
Baby’s Coffee: https://babyscoffee.com/
National Key Deer Refuge: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/national_key_deer_refuge/
Concrete Beach Brewery: http://concretebeachbrewery.com/
Wynwood Walls: http://www.thewynwoodwalls.com/