Saturday, 11 January 2014

THE FLORIDA KEYS

This is a rather belated report, my apologies. According to the previous report I'm still on Paradise Farm South of Miami. I was looking for a boat out of the USA, and therefore I decided to take a ride down to Key West in the hope of finding a sailboat to the Carribean. I took a leasurely cycle down to the Keys via the Everglades. Across the bridge the first I got to was Key Largo, where I camped on the waterfront in the parking garage of a building under construction. The following morning somebody from the construction company came to check that nobody was illegally in the building, he nearly stepped on my tent but fortunately didn't see me.
At Big Pine Key I stayed over for a few days in a nice place where I was sheltered and out of sight. There are many pretty places in the Keys, and there are also many expensive places. Apparently the police there are not very tolerant of people camping all over the show, as homeless people tend to gravitate in this direction in order to escape the cold weather further North. So, I was pleased to find a nice place where I could spend some time.
There are many boats in the Keys, and many places selling boats. One boat yard was selling speed boats with 4 V8 350 hp outboard motors (I'd never even seen a 350 hp outboard before!). So guess who buys these boats? I suppose the drug runners always need to stay a step ahead of the law.
The Keys are actually a string of islands connected by bridges. The longest of the bridges is the 7mile causeway, about half way down the line.
Running alongside the bridges is the remnants of a railroad, built by a man named Flagler many years ago. In Key West town the Flagler station still stands, now some sort of museum it seems. The railway apparently soon became known as “Flaglers Folley” when the first train on the line was wiped out by a hurricane (I think that's how the story goes?). In places they've now cut holes in the bridges so that the sailboats can pass through.
On Cudjoe Key I camped on a deserted side road amongst the shallow mangroves. It started raining in the night, and when I stepped outside to secure the tent I found that the water had risen with the tide. My tent was now an island, and while I was floating around on my mattress I thought it was funny for a while – then it became less funny when I remembered about the saltwater crocodiles!
When I got to Key West it was pouring with rain, and a homeless guy advised me to camp somewhere in the less savoury areas on the outskirts of town – there the police would be less likely to bother me (so I camped in a car wash which sort-of sheltered me from the heavy downpours). Key West is very touristy, but also somewhat quirky – an interesting place. There's a cruise ship every day, and many fancy boats in the dock. However, many people live on houseboats, and cruise around town on rusty bicycles. Before I left there I met the “advising” homeless cyclist again, and he gave me a jar of peanut butter!
In Islamorada (close to Tavernier) I stayed with Joey, an ex-Bronx policeman and now a self-appointed missionary (see www.5loaves2fish.org). He has a trailer loaded with tarpaulins and other emergency equipment which he uses to help people who've been hit by disasters such as hurricanes. He currently lives in a caravan behind a church, taking care of the older demented Jimmy who he found wandering around in a parking lot having lost his van. I slept in a storage shed behind the church, and I had a key to the bathroom (I don't think the pastor knows about that).
Earlier, on my way to Key West, I met Ruby and Jim who have a wonderful house right on the waterfront in Cudjoe Key. They invited me to stay with them on my way back, which I did for a number of wonderful of days. Jim and Ruby are from Alaska where they live in the summer, spending their winters down here. He dives for lobster and she's a great cook, so needless to say I ate well. We also went out to visit their friends in the area, including dinner at Pete's (who has a diving dog, retrieving things from the deep end of the swimming pool).
So now I'm right back where I started this report, on Paradise Farm in the Homestead area South of Miami. I've been here for a couple of weeks already, having spent Xmas and New Year here (some of us who stay on the farm went for a walk in the Everglades on New Years). One of the feral cats has become my friend, named Guacamole because she eats the fallen avocados.
In the evenings some of us on the farm hang around the central side kitchen, and in picture with me are Kelly (delivery truck driver and photographer), Andy (farmer), and Andrew (volunteer student). Usually it is warm and humid (even now in winter), but there was a cold front with some chilly weather, hence all the warm clothing.
So, next Friday I hop on the plane for a trip to the land of Bob Marley for a couple of weeks (thanks to Paradise Farm owner Gabriele). Hopefully I don't take this long again before giving a report on that episode.
Daily distances cycled on my trip down to the Keys are as follows:- Key Largo 47 km; Islamorada 31 km; Marathon 65 km; Big Pine Key 40 km; Cudjoe Key 19 km; Key West 51 km; Cudjoe Key 55 km; Tavernier 112 km; and Homestead 72 km. The total distance which I have cycled so far in USA and Canada is 16 160 km (10 100 miles). The distance which I have cycled thus far on this journey is 120 786 km (75 491 miles).

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