Key West on the Cheap
I wasn't as psyched about my dive trip this year. Maybe it was because I have been to Key West many times. I don't really believe that but I don't know what else it might be. Anyway, I was able to use frequent flier miles to get to Key West. It cost me 37,500 miles and I have three connecting flights each way, but the ticket was free.
When Karen's friends and relatives came up for the shopping weekend last year I was excited about going to Isla Mujeres and it turned out to be a very nice vacation. Karen and I went there September of this year and she likes Isla as much as I do, enough that we are going back this summer to see the whale sharks.
I had a 7:30 am flight out of Minneapolis going to Cleveland. After a short layover in Cleveland, I flew to Miami, then on to Key West. The only flight that was delayed was the one into Key West, I think we were only about an hour late getting into Key West. I had never flown into Key West before, I had always driven. We were in cloud cover most of the way and when the clouds broke you could see we were following the over seas highway. We saw see the big white weather/spy blimp in the air to our east. It is either a weather blimp or a spy blimp depending on who you talk to. After landing, I got my luggage, mine was the first one off the carousel. I grabbed a cab to the Budget Key West.
I decided that since Karen was not with me I would try to get by as cheap as I could. I did not rent a car until Friday, I was staying in old town so I didn't need a one, also parking sucks here. It took me twenty minutes to find a parking spot tonight (Friday) and it is two blocks away.
Budget Key West Hotel
I walked down to Duval to grab dinner, I ate at an open air bar/restaurant called Caroline's Cafe, I had a beer and a grouper sandwich, it wasn't bad and the bill came to $13.62 plus tip. I roamed Duval for a while and came back to the room. For some reason I woke at 6:30 am the next morning and would not get back to sleep. The Budget Key West is not a bed and breakfastl so I walked into town to get something to eat. Again, since this is going to be a cheap trip (I am not broke, I am thrifty) and I was not very hungry, I am not a breakfast person, I hit a the marina deli and convenience store and grabbed a water and a blueberry muffin.
My plan was to be at Lost Reef Divers when the doors opened. Karen and I had dove with them the last time we were in Key West and liked them. The captain was from Minnesota. The shop did not open until about 8:20 am. I was met at the door by a huge doberman, luckily he was friendly. I asked about the diving and the person in the shop said that they were not going out that day and maybe not the next. Something did not seem right. Later I was told by one of the people at the B and B they thought the dive shop was going out of business.
My plan was to dive Friday morning and do a wave runner tour the following day and a dolphin encounter the day after that. I wanted to dive on Friday because you should wait 24 hours from when your flight arrives to make sure you do not get the bends. That was not going to be possible, I saw on the Weather Channel that a cold front was screaming down from the north and winds were going to gust 30-40 miles per hour by Thursday evening so the best dive conditions would be Thursday morning and Thursday afternoon would probably be my last chance to dive. It would take several days for the winds to die down so a Friday dive would not be possible and I would not dive Saturday because I'd have to fly first thing Sunday morning.
The "concierge" recommended another dive shop so I walked there to see about diving. They booked me on the afternoon dive. I walked back to the Budget Key West and checked out. I picked the Budget Key West because it was only about three blocks from The Popular House, the B and B where I am staying the rest for the trip. I took the three block trek with my bags in tow.
The Popular House alias Key West Bed and Breakfast
I met Jody, I am not sure but I think she may own the B and B. I dropped my bags off and decided to take a stroll around the island. The walk was a good decision but my choice of sandals was not. I wore my crappy Columbia sandals. The problem with the sandals is there is a groove that makes an outline in the sandal and while walking the sandal flexes and the groove compresses and pinches your foot. I got the sandals just in time to wear to T and C, we did not do much walking in T and C so they were a minor annoyance. I wore the sandals when I went to Vegas for work. I did a lot of walking in Vegas and my feet hurt the entire time but all of the walking I did broke them in, they had formed to my feet and the grooves had quit pinching my feet but the sandals lost their fit before I went to Key West I also brought a pair of Sketchers that resemble Keen sandals for backups. I walked from one end of Duval to the other and when I got top the beach on the north end of the island I realized that the wind was blowing at about 20 mph. I made up my mind that I was going to cancel the dive. I walked over to the dive shop to cancel and the girl at the shop insisted that the conditions were still good. I had 45 minutes to walk back to The Popular House and get my dive equipment and return. I barely made it there and back, but my feet were killing me.
Once on the boat out of the harbor, I discovered that one couple on the boat was just snorkeling, a girl on the boat was taking her open water, and the other couple was spearfishing. The dive master told me that I would have to dive with them. I was a little apprehensive about going with two spear fisherpeople but I had no choice.
They were a very nice couple, Tim and Brittany. They both worked for the University of Florida, he was maintenance and she worked in a lab. They were in the keys working for the university, they were collecting lobsters.
While diving, it was interesting to see them work as a team to try and get fish, all of the signals were non verbal and they were pretty good at it. I just followed behind them and tried to stay out of their way.
The visibility was not all that good. I saw a lot of fish, that is the nice thing about the Keys, there are always a lot of fish. Other than that I saw one large eel, several lobsters (in traps) and towards the end of the second dive I saw a huge (7 foot) nurse shark that had some nasty bite marks on its head. I was able to get close to snap some pictures, but the shark had enough of me and left. I was a little afraid because he headed right for me at first but eventually turned.
We dove Marker One and Nine Inch Spike. We were down for an hour the first dive with a maximum depth of thirty feet and the second dive was fifty-five minutes at 25 feet. The water temperature was cold, 76 degrees and vis was about 45 feet.
On the ride back we passed Mallory Square just as the sun was about to set, we got to see the throngs of people on the dock to see the sunset. It was dusk by the time we docked and I traded email addresses with Tim and Brittany. I shot some video of them diving and I am going to post it on YouTube for them.
I hiked back to The Popular House, I stopped to get a six pack along the way. I took one of the beers and hit the hot tub, the water was about two degrees below scalding so it felt great and I did not take long to warm me up.
I walked into town and grabbed a burger and a beer at Margaritaville, it came to $14.79 plus tip. I went back to my room and since there is no TV at the B and B I had downloaded some programs from Itunes and watched one of them and went to bed.
It was cool and windy when but I got up and I went for a run. It was actually a good thing that it was cool otherwise the humidity probably would have killed me.
I decided that Friday was a good day to get a car so I booked one using Hotwire. I got a mid-sized car for about eighty-four dollars for two days. I did get cheap and walked to the airport, about three or four miles. Time-wise it worked out perfectly, I could not pick up the car before noon and I arrived at the airport about five minutes after noon. For some reason my quads were killing me, it could have been all of the walking the previous day along with the run that morning. Since I was wearing my Sketchers and not my Columbia sandals my feet were sore but they survived.
I came back to the B and B to get my snorkel stuff and have lunch at the marina . I ate at the Conch Republic. I had a bowl of conch chowder and a Stella. The conch chowder was just OK, it would have used a little more spice and there was something missing, I am not sure what it was though. It came to $12.26, probably my most expensive lunch but the ambiance at the restaurant is great, it is so nice to sit the marina and just take it all in.
After lunch I headed for Bahia Honda state park, it is about twenty six miles north of Key West. Admission is $3.50, all I wanted to do was hangout at the beach and I did for a while and maybe do a little snorkeling. I did not go snorkeling, it was windy and the water seemed much colder than when we dove. Since the cold front had hit the keys the temperatures were only in the low seventies with a strong wind, not ideal beach weather so I was only there about an hour. I am writing this before dinner on Friday night so I am not sure what I will have dinner, I was thinking about a slice of pizza and a salad.
(The next evening) I did get a salad, beer and a slice of pizza for dinner. I found a hopping little pizza by the slice joint called Angelina's Pizza on Duval street. The guy behind the counter had to ask the manager if they could make a salad, apparently they do not get many requests for salad. I have been eating so crappy all trip that I decided I would try to offset all of the cholesterol and fat by eating a salad. I am a little afraid the of the quality and freshness of the salad dressing since they apparently do not make salad that often, but I am still alive.
I decided to hit the big tourist bar, Sloppy Joe's. I had been there many years ago, but it was in the afternoon and it was pretty dead. Not so last night. The place was packed and it was hopping. It was an interesting crowd. When I walked in there was a gentleman leaning up against the bar with his eyes closed, passed out or sleeping, you choose. From time to time he would start to slip to one side or the other and he would open his eyes, stand up straight and the close his eyes again.
A girl and her boyfriend got into a fight directly in front of me, I was afraid that I would have to step in if things turned violent, she walked away thank goodness. She had some pipes on her so I would guess that she lifted weights. The people watching was great until I had to tear my self away at about midnight.
The next morning I woke up at 8:00 am, showered and took advantage of the free breakfast. Not bad, I had a bagel, kirsches, and two cups of coffee. I was going to find a gym and work out but I decided that I would do a little shopping first. I also wanted to check out renting a wave runner.
I found wave runner rentals at the end of Duval and found out that they had a tour leaving at noon. I went back to the B and B, stopping along the way to pick up some Key West Aloe lotion for Karen and my mother. I had just enough time to change and make it back to the wave runners.
We did a tour around the entire island of Key West and it was great. It was just the guide and myself so we went several places that he normally would not go. The tour lasted half an hour longer than it was suppose to. The wave runners had 150 horse engines in them so they flew and I had a hard time keeping up with Eric the guide at times. I was going over 50 mph and getting air time when I hit the big waves, it was great.
After the tour finished I hopped into the car and went to Fort Zachary State Park. I paid the $3.50 to enter the beach and deposited myself on the sand to do some serious reading. I talked to Karen for a while, feeling guilty because she is working her but off organizing and shuttling people around back in Minnesota and I was driving wave runners, diving and laying on the beach. At about 5:00 pm I came back to the B and B and discovered that I am a lucky guy. The previous day I had parked in what I thought was a legal parking spot, however upon returning from the beach I discovered that it was actually the driveway to someones house. Fortunately the house is for sale and no one was living there so I did not get a ticket. I had to park two blocks away and was not looking forward to dragging my luggage to the car in the morning.
I decided that I would eat at the Conch Republic on my last night, but as I approached I noticed that everyone was dressed much nicer than I was, I had on a t-shirt and cargo shorts, so I decided that I would continue on my way. I went past a Thai place and kept going, they did not have any of my favorites on the menu. As I got closer to Duval street I passed Guy Harvey, it was a seafood restaurant- fresh fish in Key West, how could I go wrong? Well let me tell you...I should have known that it was not that good of a restaurant, it is almost on Duval street, restaurants in the heart of tourist areas are almost never good and it was never busy when I walked past. I decided that I would splurge on my last Key West meal so I ordered Mahai Mahai. The fish looked great when they brought it out, accept for the sauce that they artistically dispensed on top of the fish fillet, which I promptly scraped off. There is nothing better than a well seasoned piece of grilled fish and I am not sure why they insist on putting special sauce on fish in the Keys. Unfortunately. the fish was tasteless once the sauce was removed.
After dinner I walked across the street to Sloppy Joe's, it is the only bar on Duval that had an actual full band, every other bar had a guy plating guitar. I don't know the name of the band but lead singer was a Jimmy Buffet clone, they were reasonably good but the band I heard the previous night was much better.
When I saw the bartenders I thought I had time warped back two weeks to fantasy fest, the two female bartenders at the main bar were wearing playboy bunny costumes. I had my usual one Stella, and left at 9:30 pm. People watching wasn't nearly as entertaining as the night before, but it was still early and I am sure that things picked up.
I was in bed by 10:00 pm and woke up at 4:30 am and could not get back to sleep, so I read for a while and showered at 6:00 am. I had packed as much as I could the night before so all I had to do was shower and haul my bags down stairs. I was at the airport by 7:00 am and had breakfast at the airport cafe. I had pancakes and coffee, both were good, especially for airport food.
My flight from Key West to Tampa Bay was on another nineteen seater like on the flight from Miami. I did make it with out injury or a crash and as I write this I am sitting in the Tampa Bay airport waiting for my Cleveland flight.
I just couldn't write about this trip without talking about the ghost. Yup it sounds crazy but I think I had a ghost in my room at the Popular House. My bed linens consisted of a sheet and a blanket. I woke up in the middle of the night to discover that the sheet that I had pulled up to my neck was still in place but the blanket was pushed into a heap at the foot of the bed. I don't move when I sleep, usually I lay on my back, close my eyes and go to sleep and when I wake up I am still in the same position. For the blanket to end up where it did I would have to sit up, push the blanket all the way to the foot of the bed and pull the sheet up to my neck when I laid back down. I didn't do that.
I woke up in the middle of the night with a feeling that something was wrong. I saw the blanket and immediately knew that I had not in any way, shape or form manage push the blanket to the foot of the bed and still keep the sheets around my neck. I managed to roll ever and go back to sleep. In the morning once I was fully awake, I noted the position of the blanket, it was like it had been pushed straight down to the end of the bed.
I was undisturbed the second night but last night when I went to bed I had two blankets . When I woke up at 4:00 am one blanket was on the floor at the foot of the bed, the other had been pushed all of the way to the foot of the bed and the sheets were still around my neck. To make this sound even crazier the blankets were arranged in a way like someone had been sitting at the foot of the bed.
When Karen and I stayed at the B and B three years ago I vaguely remember them telling us about a ghost on the premises. It was three years ago and maybe I am wrong but I do believe there was some talk of ghosts when they gave us a tour of the property.
I did call and talk to someone at the B and B and they said that they were not aware of a ghost, but they were not working there when my wife and I had stayed three years earlier. I don't know what happened, but I do know that I did not move the blankets.
It was a good vacation despite the weather, I was a little apprehensive in the beginning, I am not sure why, possibly because I could not make up my mind about where to stay.
I wish Karen had been with me, and I think she does also, I talked to her yesterday and she was pretty stressed from playing host to over twenty people.
Key West can be expensive, but if you are a single traveler, you can get a room for about $80 including breakfast at the Popular House. There are plenty of cheap places to eat, you just have to look. I cannot recommend strongly enough that if you stay in old town do not get a rental car, parking is terrible and you can walk anywhere old town. There is plenty to do, from the butterfly museum, to diving, snorkeling, renting boats and waverunners.