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Sun, Sand, and Sea

A quick trip to Elbow Cay

Everyone has that “go to” destination. That place you have been so many times that it’s like a second home. That place where you can get around with your eyes closed and where a trip requires virtually no planning. It’s that place you go when you have a few days and decide to take off at the drop of a hat. Abaco is our “go to” place, and we headed down for a quick getaway in early November.

Day One: Travel Day

Knowing the weather in the Bahamas is not as warm as the Caribbean in the cooler months, we decided to stay on Elbow Cay where there are more “out of the water” activities than our usual haunt of Guana Cay.

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This gave us the chance to rent our own boat at Marsh Harbor rather than taking the ferry which was a really cool change of pace! We stopped at Seahorse boat rentals, tossed our luggage into our boat and were on our way. It was a pretty quick hop over to Tahiti Beach on the southern end of Elbow Cay and we were amazed at how much time we saved by not having to wait for the ferry.

We had toes in sand and drinks in hand by noon.

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Ahh....bliss.

We stayed at Barefoot Bay, an AMAZING house near Tahiti Beach. The first thing everyone wanted to do was grab a cold drink and run up to the Crow’s Nest deck and take in the amazing views.

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And people wonder why we keep coming down here.

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We had brought newbie friends, John and Kelley, with us and Barefoot Bay provided a perfect set up. Not only did it have amazing views of Tahiti Beach and Tilloo Cut, but the house was split into 3 separate buildings, offering tons of space and privacy. The main building housed a beautiful kitchen, dining, living space with a great sound system.

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Then, each of the other two buildings had a large master bedroom and two smaller bedrooms. This place can seriously sleep a lot of people.

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Not to mention the pool....

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Once we had all settled in, we took John & Kelley into Hopetown for lunch and to grab a few essentials.

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By “essentials,” you all know I mean one of Vernon’s key lime pies and several bottles of rum.

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Seriously, do you need anything else? You have all the food groups covered. Fruit & Veges: Limes. Dairy: all that darn creamy stuff in the pie. Meat: Hello....merengue. What do you think it’s made out of? Eggs. Duh. Grains: I think graham crackers can be considered a grain. And don’t forget the rum food group, because it deserves one all on it’s own.

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We were sad to find the Reef Bar at Hopetown Harbor Lodge closed for a wedding, but happy to find that Cap’n Jacks was open. Hello, jackhammer!

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When I saw coconut fried lobster with mac n’ cheese on the menu, I was all over it.

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We took it easy for the rest of the afternoon and, after seeing the condition of the road to town post-hurricane, decided maybe we’d stick close to home for dinner that night!!

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Besides, I was dying to try out a new place, Firefly. Like any good southern girl, I love Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka and couldn’t help but notice the bar highlighted the delicious South Carolina libation in their cocktails.

It was a beautiful restaurant with a nice outdoor deck and sparkly sign. I love sparkly.

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The menu was small and seemed to highlight unique, creative, and fresh items. I ordered up a firefly cocktail and a curry lobster salad with papaya. Both were fabulous and refreshing!

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Travel day over, we retired to Barefoot Bay and watched the stars come out to play.

Day Two: Nippers or BUST (literally)

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What we didn’t know when we decided to head down to Abaco was that it was going to be UNGODLY windy the entire time we were on Elbow Cay. I think the wind averaged 25 knots each day we were there.

It was Sunday and that always means one thing: NIPPERS BEACH BBQ. Staying on Elbow, that meant a 45 minute boat ride to get there. When I looked outside our window and saw that the swimming pool was whitecapping….I knew we had a problem.

Not realizing the wind was a permanent fixture on our vacation at this point, we decided to head down to Tahiti Beach for a while to “give the wind time to die down.” (I laugh on the inside as I type this….ah….hindsight…you devil, you).

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Tahiti Beach is one of my favorites. A long curve of sand down one side, fringed with beautiful palm trees, takes you to a small point, where the beach then curves in, forming a perfect crescent beach with shallow water that goes so far out, you can almost walk to the next island.

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We noticed the sandbar had moved/vanished/shifted, I guess due to the hurricanes of the summer, but the beach was still magically beautiful.

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When we returned to Barefoot Bay, totally planning to boat it over to Nippers, we found the house owner’s brother, a super great guy we had met the day before, hanging out to see if we were heading over. He was down with a group of guys on a “guys’ maintenance week” trip on their other house. I put this in quotes, because we all know what this means. This means, they spend 4 hours drinking beer and then change a lightbulb. Spend another 2 hours sipping frozen Nippers and then rehang a door. Right?

They were also planning to head over to Guana that day and thought there might be safety in numbers. I mean, 9 idiots on the water who have no business being there is certainly better than 4.

We loaded up and headed out.

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HOLY MOLY. That was one rough ride. I think I would have fared better trying to stay on a mechanical bull for 8 minutes than trying to endure that boat ride. It was like trying to ride a really slippery, wet bucking bronco with nothing to hold onto as someone pours a bucket of cold, salty water over your head every 3 minutes.

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Our level of dedication should tell you how good that Nippers mac n’ cheese is.

Kelley and I held on for dear life. I made the mistake of thinking it might be easier to ride in the front. We were coasting along and I thought, hey, this isn’t so bad. I’ve got this! Just then, we hit the first big wave, sending me about 3 feet up into the air, after which I crashed down on the hard fiberglass deck of the boat and am pretty sure lost about 3 inches on my spine. I’m pretty sure I am now significantly shorter than I used to be…and I think a chunk of my tailbone is somewhere up around my ears.

I quickly jumped onto the padded seat, squeezed my eyes closed, and held on for all it was worth.

Soaked and salty, we finally pulled up to that familiar dock in that familiar town on that familiar street where all roads lead to Nippers.

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When we got to Nippers, I looked out at the ocean. What I have come to know as a tranquil sea of blue green that stretches calmly into forever, was a raging ocean of foam and waves. I have never seen it like that. It was pretty wild. Since there would be no swimming, I guess that meant we just had to do more eating, drinking, and dancing.

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We had our frozen Nippers and BBQ and sat back to enjoy the show. It was a pretty quiet start to the Nippers BBQ….until this guy showed up.

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Frozen Nippers have the ability to make even the most stiff legged stuffed shirt get out and bust a move and before long, we were all at it.

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We shook it until the sun started to go down and suddenly realized…Holy Crap…were not staying on Guana….we still have a boat ride!!!!

The group high tailed it out of there, hoping we had just enough time to get back before the sun finally set.

I think we made it with about 2 minutes to spare. Maybe one.

We grabbed dinner at Sea Spray and I think I had a chicken in a bag, but there is no photographic evidence and my brain was a little Nippers fuzzed by then, so I really can’t tell you much more than that. Bon Appetit!

Day Three: We Ain’t Afraid of No Wind!

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We had planned to see some beaches by boat but the wind and waves were even worse than they had been the day before. Rather than push our luck, we decided to head into Hopetown for a while.

The Reef Bar was OPEN…but there was no Gary. :(

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We enjoyed a little time on the Hopetown Beach. This has to be one of the most beautiful beaches ever. I never get tired of seeing it.

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There’s nothing better than a burger on the beach, in my opinion, so I dove head first into a Reef Burger and washed it down with a rum punch.

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Inappropriately confident, due to our previous day’s boating success, we decided that the weather wasn’t going to keep us off the water. We were smart enough to stick close, however, and only headed for Tilloo and the Pelican Cays.

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It was a pretty quick trip and relatively painless, but when we got to what I think was North Pelican Cay, the water was so rough, none of us had the heart to get in. Well, except Matt, but I am pretty sure he regretted it.

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Instead, we just enjoyed some tunes and rocked along on the boat, watching the incredible colors of the water.

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When we got back to Elbow, we just walked over to Tahiti Beach where we spread out in the sand with beer and chips.

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It was late in the day, so we settled in to watch the sky go from blue to gold as the sun dripped down into a golden haze on the horizon.

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Sometimes it’s the simplest things that bring the greatest pleasure.

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We ate in, throwing together a platter with some cold cuts, cheeses, olives, smoked salmon, and baguettes.

And pie.

Within minutes there was a knock at the door.

Our new friends stopped by to let us know that there was Karaoke at Ray’s that night.

Ha. Me? Karaoke? Fat chance. I sing like a badly scratched record and no one EVER hears me sing. No not ever. Never.

Not gonna’ happen in this lifetime.

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Okay, so apparently, after enough adult beverages, pigs do fly and hell freezes over.

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Day Four: Searching for Treasure

We woke up to strong winds AGAIN and decided (wisely) that the boat was not an option. We had met a couple on the beach the night before that were sailing and they really talked up Treasure Cay. As soon as Kelley heard them say it was named one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, she was there. She was going and she was not going to take no for an answer.

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We had nothing else to do, so we decided to take the ferry over, grab a taxi, and visit Treasure Cay. Uber planner that I am, doing something unplanned with no information left me a little unsettled…but hey….a ferry, a taxi, a great beach…what’s to worry about?

I’ll tell you what’s to worry about: A total of 2 hours to get there from Tahiti beach between golf cart rides to the ferry, ferry rides to Marsh Harbor, and taxi rides to Treasure Cay and a total of $25 per person for the ferry and $175 for a cab. Ouch!!

But…what’s done was done. By the time we realized how long it would take to get there and how much it would cost….we were already there.

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I can’t say I regretted it, though. We had nothing else to do and despite the windy seas, Treasure Cay was GORGEOUS.

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We set up camp at the Coco Beach Bar, a great beachfront place that let us use their thatched umbrellas and chairs as long as we were eating and drinking. For a while, we just took the lazy route and crashed in some chairs.

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When the smell of food got to us, we headed up to the bar for some fried grouper fingers and conch fritters.

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And an amazing Pina Colada that was reminiscent of a soft serve ice cream. Oh yummy.

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After lunch, we decided to walk the beach. I am so happy we did. If you stick to the area of beach behind the Coco Beach Bar, beautiful as it is, you will have seen only the least attractive part of Treasure Cay. Head down toward the water, turn right and walk as far as you can. Head toward the little cay you see offshore in the distance. You won’t be sorry.

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The first part of the beach just stretched out long and blindingly white, with crazy turquoise water lapping the shore.

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As you rounded a point, an entirely new and remarkable vista opened up.

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The water was super shallow and clear….stretching out to delicate sand bars that popped up just off the beach like tiny oases of white sand and bejeweled water.

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Beyond that was a small cay, shimmering just off shore like a mirage. No matter how far you walked, it never seemed to get any closer.

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There were beautiful shells, starfish, and sand dollars along the way to look at and enjoy. I found tons of these little guys along the beach. They are definitely too small to be sand dollars. I think these are sand pennies.

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As we splashed in the shallow waters and enjoyed the beautiful views, we all agreed that this alone made the entire trip worth every minute and every dollar. If you ever get a chance to go over to Treasure Cay for a day, you should do it.

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For our “last meal” we returned to Cap’n Jacks for more lobster. I know there is something about food always tasting better after a day on the beach, but I swear, Kelley and I both agreed this was our favorite grilled lobster EVER - perfectly grilled and juicy, with a squeeze of lime and dripping with melted butter.

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It seemed over before it had really begun. It was time to head home. As always, Abaco delivered beautiful vistas, the most perfect beaches and the most beautiful water, lots of frosty island cocktails and beach eats, and even some new friends.

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I watched the islands disappear from the plane window, a haze of blue and green below me, and I couldn’t help but wonder what next time would hold……

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For more photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/42427255@N00/sets/72157628127135090/

And if you want to check out Barefoot Bay:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/42427255@N00/sets/72157628122881444/

Posted by vicki_h 10:03 Archived in Bahamas Tagged beach island caribbean bahamas abaco Comments (2)

Tackling the Conch Republic in 15,000 calories or less Day 1

a.k.a., How I ate my way across Key West in 4 days.

Key West is a little jewel of an island that sits at the very end of the chain of the Florida Keys. Connected to the mainland by US Highway 1, it is the southernmost point in the United States. The closest Wal-Mart is 126 miles away and happy hour begins at 7:00 a.m. at the Schooner Wharf Bar. Key West has more churches per capita than any other place in the country, which might have something to do with the fact that it also seems to have more bars per square foot. I guess you can commit your sins on Saturday night and redeem yourself on Sunday morning. It has six toed cats and more chickens than you can shake a stick at.

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It is the very definition of laid back. Dotted with conch shacks and palm trees, it has the flavor and feel of the Caribbean without ever leaving home. It's like Spring Break for adults and I was lucky enough to spend a long weekend basking it it's sunny glow.

Day One:

We flew out of Knoxville early in the morning to avoid the summer thunderstorms that are all too common in July and to get a jump start on the day. As the sun came up over the Smoky Mountains, I dozed in my seat as Matt piloted us south.

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Before I knew it, the keys stretched out before me......a dotted ribbon of green in a sea of turquoise. We were here!

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We landed at the tiny Key West airport, grabbed a rental car, and were on our way.

First order of business was to check into our home away from home, an adorable cottage one block off Duval Street - near the center but closer to the quiet end. The location could not have been more perfect. The house couldn't have been more perfect either. The front structure was a 1 1/2 story open structure with a large den and kitchen. Glass doors stretched all the way across the back, opening onto a middle courtyard with a pool and hot tub. Behind the pool was a separate cottage that housed 2 bedrooms and the most beautiful bougainvillea.

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We dumped our stuff and hit Duval Street. I guess Duval Street is the main drag of Key West, housing most of the bars, tourist shops, and restaurants. While there is a lot to be seen off Duval Street, this was our first visit to Key West and I am not ashamed to admit that as much as we kept saying we were going to spend some time elsewhere, we ended up strolling up and down Duval about 90% of the time. It was just so darn fun, we couldn't pull ourselves away.

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The length of Duval is right at a mile. If it seems longer than that, it's probably because you've had one too many mojitos down on Mallory Square. If it also seems wobbly in addition to long, you probably should have passed on that third Grainorade from the Flying Monkey.

We headed toward the Southernmost Beach Café, a short stroll down Duval from the house, so that we could grab some lunch with a view of the beach. As we strolled, we noticed a lot of southernmost things. There was Southernmost Realty followed by Southernmost Guesthouse, the Southermost monument and the Southernmost House. I am pretty sure I even saw the southernmost crumpled soda can in the street.

Of course, we had to get the tourist shot of the monument. To not take this photo would be like leaving NYC without a shot of the Empire State Building or visiting Paris without a shot of the Eiffel Tower to send to Aunt Pearl in Idaho. I think it's technically a Key West exit requirement. They make you show them this photo at the airport before they let you out.

I read somewhere that originally there was just a sign, but people kept stealing it. I don't think they have to worry about anyone stealing this. I don't know, after a few Grainorades, I might try.

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Within minutes we were at the Southernmost Beach Café, staring out at the waves, and I had a Sunkiss in my hand. This might be the tastiest, and prettiest, drink I have ever had.

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A lunch of smoked fish dip, coconut shrimp, and a mango bbq pulled pork sandwich was brought to us by the perkiest, smiliest, chattiest Australian waitress that made me feel like I was being served by a 20 year old Bindi Irwin on high doses of Prozac.

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Lunch was a long and lazy affair. By the time we got up, we instantly started moving about 50% slower than we had when we arrived. I think Island Time had set in through a combination of intense July heat, excess food, and sunkiss overload.

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That did not, however, stop us from stopping at another bar on the short 4 block stroll back to the house. Seriously, it was so hot you really needed to stop every 3-4 blocks and get another drink to cool off. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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A 4:30 start to the day, followed by a 5 hour flight, followed by drinks and food and Australian waitresses on happy drugs, led to nappy time. We went back to the house and enjoyed the pool and air conditioning for the afternoon. Aaaahhh.......that pool was heaven.

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Matt is an oyster FREAK and he wanted to make sure he didn't miss the 50 cent happy hour oysters, so we eventually pried our pruned and waterlogged bodies out of the pool and headed to Half Shell Raw Bar.

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Half Shell Raw Bar was the kind of seafood shack you see next to the boat docks in most Florida towns. Nothing fancy, more likely to have newspaper than tablecloths, usually with a row of Harleys and pick up trucks lined up out front and a row of boats lined up out back, more dive than restaurant with the smell of steamed shrimp and beer wafting through the open doors.

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The happy hour oysters are only available at the bar, so we saddled up and Matt ordered 3 dozen. I ordered a bucket of voodoo juice and some more coconut shrimp and conch fritters. As he slurped and sucked, I read through the 9,765 license plates they had tacked up on the wall. If you have ever had a plate stolen, stop by here. Maybe you can find it.

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Happy Hour was followed by a visit to Peppers Key West. Matt and I have a true love of hot sauce. We love all things spicy. The more it burns, the better it is. This place was to us what FAO Schwartz is to a kid on December 23rd. Hot sauces of every shape, size, color, and flavor lined a 4 sided bar and all were available for tasting.

We tasted. We burned. We cried. We enjoyed.

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With a bag of newly acquired superhot treasures in hand and our tongues on fire, we headed to Mr. Mojito in Mallory Square to cool the burn and watch the sunset.

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That's Mr. Mojito himself, right there. I have to insert a funny story here. When I told a friend I was heading to Key West, she told me about the time she stopped at Key West on a cruise. Mind you, my friend is a sweet, quiet girl who doesn't have a lot of cocktail experience. There is a nice bar here at home that specializes in "fancy mojitos." One of their house cocktails is made with X-Rated Fusion Liquor (you know, the fancy pink stuff in the cool bottle?). They call it an X-Rated Mojito. Not realizing this was a specialty cocktail particular to one bar in one city, my friend walked up to Mr. Mojito in Mallory Square and, it being the only mojito she had familiarity with, asked him to make her an X-Rated Mojito. She said that Mr. Mojito, paused, looked at her and said, "What do you want me to do honey, take my clothes off while I make it?"

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The Mallory Square sunset celebration is a fun way to watch the sun go down. Crowds were light, so it wasn't the shoulder-to-shoulder sweat-fest that I had anticipated. There were several pockets of people watching various street performers - the fire jugglers, the crazy cat guy, or my favorite, the bad banjo player whose golden retriever wore boxer shorts and walked around taking tips in his mouth and depositing them into a bucket. (Yes, I gave that dog a dollar.how could I not?). I could hear salsa music from El Meson de Pepe and the smell of fried food mingled with the salt tinged air. It was one part carnival, one part Cuban street party, and one part magical sunset. It was 999 parts fun.

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We enjoyed our first Key West Sunset.

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It was our first day, and we wanted to see everything at once. That translated to visiting way more bars than was practical or advisable in one night. Yes, this was after a 32 oz voodoo bucket and a sunset mojito.

We drank our way through Hogsbreath Saloon, the Smallest Bar, and Sloppy Joe's. I only know this because I had photos of them on my camera the next morning. I really liked the Smallest Bar. It was like an elevator with liquor. And better music.

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We ended up at Bobalu's where there was a live band and hot pizza. I am pretty sure that Bobalu's garbage pie at 1:00 a.m. is the 8th wonder of the world.

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I think I went to bed after that. I'm not really sure. Duval Street leaves things a little fuzzy....

Posted by vicki_h 06:43 Archived in USA Tagged beach island tropical key_west florida_keys duval Comments (1)

Tackling the Conch Republic in 15,000 calories or less Day 2

a.k.a., How I ate my way across Key West in 4 days.

Good morning, Key West.

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What to do today?

Everyone says, "Don't go to Key West for the beach." They aren't kidding.

Key West beaches are nothing to write home about. Most of them are man made, with sand shipped in from the Bahamas, and if you have a fondness for Caribbean beaches, Key West beaches will just make you depressed. My advice is go have another drink and buy a beach postcard. That's all the beach you need.

We did, however, have a beach need that had to be satisfied, so we decided to drive to Big Pine Key and visit Bahia Honda State Park, reported to be one of the best beaches in the Keys. It wasn't that far and we needed a sunshine break, so away we went.

First stop was at Sandy's Café for café con leche and breakfast sandwiches for the road.

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I was happy to see that Sandy's was open 24 hours a day. Sometimes you just need a grilled pork chop at midnight.

We ordered up and waited. The café con leche was hot and delicious, made with lots of sugar, just the way I like it. Local patrons lined up to place their orders, read the paper, and shoot the morning breeze. This guy was my favorite. I think he was looking for the drive-through.

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With a hot bacon and cheese sandwich on Cuban bread in hand, we were on our way.

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It took about an hour to drive to Bahia Honda and we made it in time for the 9:30 am snorkel trip to Looe Key. Excited, we all checked in, got our snorkel gear, and sat by the boat to wait.

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We sat listening to an excruciatingly long and boring and long spiel about snorkel and boat safety, how to wear your vest, how to signal "ok," blah, blah, blah by Captain PT, and were forced to listen to one too many bad jokes in the process. After all of that pre-snorkel torture, the boat barely even got going before the engine died.

No snorkel for you.

You mean I listened to those bad boat jokes for NOTHING? Sigh.

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The upside was that we had more time on the beach. We headed over to Sandspur Beach and soaked in the waves until we pruned. Then we soaked in the sun until we fried. It was glorious.

We decided to head out just as some ominous clouds began to roll in.

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On the way back to Key West, we decided why not stop at Hogfish Grill? It was right on the way.

After 19 turns and passing 4 mobile home parks, 3 stray dogs, and a boat junk yard, there it was. I can see why folks say it's out of the way. It's not far from the main highway, but as you drive back to it, you keep thinking, "It CAN'T be back here. We must have made a wrong turn. Or 7 wrong turns."

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What a great place. With a big thatched roof, tropical plants, and walls that opened to the water, Hogfish Grill welcomed us in. The food? Well, that was great too. We shared some Key West pinks. Oh my. Were those good.

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While I was still licking the Old Bay from my fingers, the waitress brought us hogfish and scallops and a lobster BLT with fried green tomatoes. Fantastic.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent back in our super fabulous pool.

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Before we knew it..it was happy hour! Where to go? Where to go? Should we go back to Half Shell for more voodoo juice? What about Kelly's for wings and margaritas? Alonzo's for the half price menu? Schooner Wharf for live music? So many happy hours. So little time.

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We ended up at Turtle Kraal because Matt wanted 50 cent oysters but I wanted to try a new place. Turtle Kraal seems to have 50 cent oysters all day long. Matt got his oyster fix and I ordered up a bucket of bones.

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Now, we have some darn good BBQ ribs here in Tennessee...and I know a good BBQ rib. Those Turtle Kraal ribs were good enough to make you slap your momma, your sister, AND your dog. Served up with 6 different sauces, it was BBQ heaven.

There was live music and before I knew it, I was singing along with BBQ sauce smeared from ear to ear.

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With our food fix in, we did a little strolling and shopping. I wanted to buy this dress.

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Matt wanted to buy the mannequin.

Trying to pretend we hadn't nearly eaten ourselves into a coma already, we headed to the Flaming Buoy Filet Co. for a proper dinner.

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Small and intimate, with a great wine list and a divine dinner selection, we both opted for the filet. Usually, when I order a filet at an upscale restaurant, I get a dainty (small) piece of meat with side of vegetables that's usually so miniscule and decorative that you aren't sure if it's an accompaniment or if it's a garnish. If you are lucky, the entire tiny affair has some sort of fancy drizzle running around it.

This is what showed up.

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THIS, my friends, was a meal. A nice sized filet, cooked perfectly rare, with a generous pile of mashed potatoes, an ear of grilled corn on the cob, sliced carrots, and a corn muffin with a surprise broccoli floret cooked into the center.

This is eating Vicki-Style.

We waddled our way back down Duval Street and made a few stops.the Bull and Whistle (watch out for the Garden of Eden is all I have to say.....that's just not right......just.....not.....right.....no one needs to see a 70 year old man in his birthday suit with black hiking sandals......just not right.....)..the Flying Monkey for a Mojo (made with PGA so it packs more than a punch, it pretty much hits you with a sledgehammer......), and found ourselves heading to the Green Parrot.

I had even worn my Green Parrot skirt in honor of the occasion. Okay, not really, but what a coincidence, right?

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The previous night at Bobalou's, our waiter had told us that there would be a great band at the Green Parrot.

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Now, I realize that the Key West Public Works Department has an obligation to put up street signs, but a poorly placed DO NOT ENTER sign in front of a bar door messes with a person who has just finished off a Flying Monkey Mojo. They really should think about that before they place their signs all willy nilly all over the place.

Once I was convinced that sign didn't mean me, we stepped inside. The place was hopping. Body to body, it was standing room only. We wiggled and wriggled and writhed our way to the back corner and couldn't believe we found empty seats.

I knew that DO NOT ENTER sign didn't mean anything. I knew it.

Just as I thought it couldn't get any better..I realized we were sitting next to a popcorn machine.

Oh happy day.

Who doesn't love a bar with a popcorn machine?????

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The Green Parrot was a little different than the other bars we'd been in. It was a little less shiny, a little less touristy, and there was no fancy cocktail menu with drink names like "Sunshine in Paradise" or "Pretty Purple Parrot." This place was more PBR-in-a-can than Pina-Colada and the staff looked more likely to bet you a beer they could beat you at darts than ask if you wanted a $30 souvenir photograph taken. It was hot, loud, sweaty, and dark with a giant parachute hanging from the ceiling draped with green lights.

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I liked it.

The Bobalu's waiter hadn't lied and the band, a salsa band, was great. The drinks were strong and the popcorn was hot and fresh. The crowd was noisy and fun.

What a great night.

Posted by vicki_h 06:43 Archived in USA Tagged beach island tropical key_west florida_keys duval Comments (0)

Tackling the Conch Republic in 15,000 calories or less Day 3

a.k.a., How I ate my way across Key West in 4 days.

Despite the late night, I was awake at 5:30 a.m. No one else was awake, and I didn't expect them to wake for a while, so I decided to take advantage of my early morning solitude.

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I grabbed my little travel buddy, Zoey, and walked her down to White Street Pier. Zoey is a great traveller and she loved Key West. It was too hot to take her out unless it was very early in the morning, because she is old and fat, but she loved it all the same. She especially loved that I kept ordering things with bacon and kept bringing the excess bacon home to her.

On a side note, while Zoey loved Key West, she did not love her very special July 4th outfit. She said it made her butt look fat.

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It was at this point that I really wished that our travel companions had agreed with me to rent bikes.

It was a looooong way to that pier.

Nevertheless, Zoey and I trucked on. She needed the exercise to work off all that bacon and I was enjoying the time alone. It was a still and quiet morning. Key West was still asleep and the streets were empty with the exception of about 6 people coming out of Denny's that I am pretty sure were still up from last night.

And the guy sleeping on the steps of the Rum Bar. I wasn't sure if he just hadn't made it very far after leaving the night before or if he was trying to get any early jump on the next day's drinking.

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Not only was it a long way, but my walk stumbled me right into the middle of the unofficial Higgs Beach Hobo Camp. It's what I get for not paying attention and strolling around in my own little world 99% of the time. Before I knew it, Zoey and I were standing in the middle of about 30 homeless people in various stages of waking up in one of the beach pavilions.

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It really wasn't that bad. Everyone was nice to me. Everyone was nice to Zoey. They all wanted to pet her and, the creepy factor totally lost on her, she genuinely seemed to enjoy all the attention.

One guy even tried to pick me up. Although, I'm not sure how that would have worked out. Where do you go on a date when you live under a picnic table?

We made it to the pier just as the sun was peeking it's way into the hazy sky.

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Zoey and I were pretty hungry now, so we headed back to Croissants de France and drooled over the bakery counter.

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I couldn't make up my mind, so I ended up with a Key Lime Beignet and a Coconut Crème Croissant.

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Back at the house, it was almost 8:00 a.m. and everyone else was still asleep. I ate my pastries in glorious silence, but quickly, lest anyone stumble through wiping the sleep from their eyes and, god forbid, expect me to share. As I licked the last of the powdered sugar from my lips, I heard the others finally start to rouse.

I guess they can't hold their flying monkeys like I can.

We made it a lazy morning by the pool, finally heading out around noon. We did a little shopping as we made our way over toward Blue Heaven.

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Yes. I chose the most popular, crowded, well known, crowded, talked about breakfast spot for Sunday Brunch, the most popular, crowded, well known, crowded breakfast day. Did I mention crowded?

I never said I was smart.

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Sure, there was a wait, but they had a breezy garden bar, Grey Goose Bloody Marys, and a little lady channeling Minnie Pearl was putting on quite a show.

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Besides, I wasn't hungry yet. I was still full of pastries.

Two bloody gooses later (bloody geese just doesn't sound right, now does it?), we were seated as Oksana-the-waitress-with-the-thick-Russian-accent-who-just-happened-to-be-a-University-of-TN-Knoxville-grad told us about the specials and the brunch rooster strutted back and forth behind our table.

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I settled on shrimp and grits with the homemade banana bread. Matt dove headfirst into the strawberry and blueberry pancakes. I'm not sure who won the ordering contest. Both were simply divine.

And that wasn't the bloody goose talking.

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Unaware that 2 drinks along with a giant pile of food could possibly leave me inebriated, I had to throw out the white flag after brunch and go doze off my buzz. I gave. Duval Street won. I was spinning! That bloody goose will sneak up on you. Watch that one.

Sneaky goose.

Appropriately de-goosed, we later did a little more shopping and strolling. We hit Flamingo Crossing for coconut and lime ice cream.

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We said "hello" to the hot dogs.

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We checked out some potential new rides.

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Matt dragged me a way from the bicycle full of Chihuahuas so that I wouldn't be arrested for stealing. I was pretty sure I could fit all 4 Chihuahuas inside my purse but he wouldn't let me try.

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I found beautiful handmade jewelry at Besame Mucho, quite literally the best smelling store in the universe. Matt talked me out of buying a $1000 friend for Zoey at Dogs on Duval. We found cool t-shirts for Matt at Graffitti. I drooled over $178 swimsuits at Aqua.

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Before we knew it, it was time for a sunset sail. Typically, I hate things like this. I am not one for crowds, tourist attractions, or booze cruises. However, we were traveling with friends and pretty much planned this trip around their tastes and things we thought they would like. So, I lined up with 122 sweaty people in Key West tank tops and sun visors and boarded the Fury Catamaran. Yes, I know. I sound like a booze cruise snob, and I guess until last week, that's exactly what I was.

Who knew I had been turning my nose up at such a super fun time?

I owe every wife-beater wearing, flip flop flopping, booze cruise loving tourist an apology.

I LOVED THE SUNSET SAIL.

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I loved the live band. I loved the never ending plastic glasses of cheap champagne. I loved waving at the folks on Mallory Square as we sailed by. I loved lining up at the edge of the boat with 122 other people to take a picture of the sunset.

Call me a convert. I had a great time.

It might have had something to do with the fact that there was a freakishly beautiful sunset that night.

Nope. These colors have not been digitally altered.

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It was almost 9:00 by the time we got off the boat with the other 122 people and we were HUNGRY.

We made our way down to Amigo's for some frozen margaritas and square tacos.

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Amigo's has cool bar seating facing the street, so there is live entertainment no matter when you go. Amigo's also has an extensive collection of unique hot sauces categorized by heat. I particularly liked how the hotter the sauce, the raunchier the name. A mild sauce, for example, would be Melinda's Mango. Isn't that sweet? A medium sauce? How about Rectal Rocket Fuel. A hot sauce? Why, that would be See Dick Burn or Bubba's Butt Blaster.

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I ordered a frozen margarita and the waitress upsized me to the "Big Guy." I only got 2/3 of the way through that monster before I was toast. TOAST.

This was the first time in my life I was full on drunk twice in one day.

I am so ashamed.
(not really, but my mom is reading this)

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The food at Amigo's was my husband's favorite of the trip. And he is the seafood fanatic of the family. Their shredded beef and slow roasted pork carnitas were pretty fine.

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I think I managed to stumble my way back to the house. I have a vague memory of going to bed with my stomach on FIRE. But I liked the burn. Mmmmmm..Amigo's. I love you.

Posted by vicki_h 06:42 Archived in USA Tagged beach island tropical key_west florida_keys duval Comments (0)

Tackling the Conch Republic in 15,000 calories or less Day 4

a.k.a., How I ate my way across Key West in 4 days.

We woke to another beautiful day in Key West.

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Breakfast was at Pepe's, which doesn't look like much from the outside.

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The inside, however, is freakin' adorable. A rustic old interior with lots of artwork and polished wood opens to a great garden patio with a nice bar. The food is also pretty great. I wanted the french toast with blueberries, strawberries, and coconut, but my stomach was suffering from Rectal Rocketfuel Afterburn, so I took it easy.

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Because our snorkel trip to Looe Key had been snatched from us so harshly, we decided to make a second attempt. Besides, I was now a superfan of the Fury Catamaran. How could I not go again?

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We did an early morning snorkel trip that included 2 stops. We wanted to snorkel because we have done a great deal of snorkeling and diving throughout the Caribbean and we love it. We'd heard the snorkeling in the Keys was great. We didn't want to miss it.

I'll be frank. I don't want to discourage anyone that wants to snorkel in Key West, but I wish I had passed. It was okay, but on a scale of one to 10, I'd give it about a 3. Maybe we just went on a bad day. Maybe our boat went to a lousy location. Maybe I am just trying to compare it to some of the really phenomenal places I have seen.

But it was just....meh.

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We'd passed by Bo's Fish Wagon on the way to the boat, so we stopped in for lunch on the way back.

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I really liked Bo's. It's the kind of place that your mom wouldn't let you eat in when you were a kid because she was certain no one washed their hands. It's the kind of place you feel like you need a tetanus shot before entering and that seems impossibly held together by rope, old signs, and spit. The wine cooler is a large, gray, plastic garbage can and none of the tables or chairs match.

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The food is good too and the portions are large. I had the Famous Fried Grouper Sandwich with hand cut fries.

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I liked the atmosphere. I liked the décor. I liked the food. The only complaint I have is the price. Four of us ate here and we each got a sandwich, we split 2 orders of fries, and we each got a soda. It was $80. Even though the food was good, $80 is a big much for 4 sandwiches, 4 cokes, and 2 fries.

Oh well. Maybe Bo is saving up for a new wine cooler.

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I grabbed a frozen chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick from Kermit's before heading back to the house because..well..because everyone told me I had to.

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Yes, it was good, but I like plain old key lime pie on a plate better.

We enjoyed some downtime, nap time, and pool time and it was time to hit the streets again.

Just one block over from our house was the 801 Bourbon Bar. Yeah, I know it's a drag bar. That was obvious by the giant color "DRAG SHOW" sign on the door and the neon circus sign that stretched the entire length of the bar that said, "Dragasylum."

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But it had a sand floor.

How could we not go in?

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We each grabbed a vinyl bar stool depicting a different drag queen, toes in the sand, and the bartender sauntered over and asked what we'd like.

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I asked him what the best thing they had was.

"You mean other than me?" he responded as he proceeded to pour us all a tall glass of frozen red something something with a heavy poured dark rum floater.

Tasty.

The drink. Not the bartender.

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My only regret here was that I didn't make it for Sunday night Drag Queen Bingo.

There is always a next time, right?

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We had dinner at Salute on the Beach. What a cute little place was this????

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We sat out back, overlooking the beach. Brightly colored tables greeted us along with the incredible smells of garlic and sea breeze.

We all thought it was some of the best pasta we'd ever had. I spent 10 days in Italy and I don't remember anything tasting better.

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They also had a key lime pie that was out of this world.

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You didn't think I was going to leave Key West without a piece of pie, now did you?

We had to leave early the next morning, so we spent a relatively tame night enjoying the sunset, grabbing a cocktail or two along Duval Street, talking our friends out of buying a $595 hammock, and just enjoying our last night.

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We woke early the next morning to head out. It seemed like we had just gotten here and it was already time to leave.

We had to head out early to beat the summer weather, but I didn't mind. As I looked down at Key West, an ever fading dot on the horizon, I knew I'd be back. There were too many things I missed: renting bikes, drag queen bingo, getting to see the crazy cat man at Mallory Square, salsa dancing at El Meson de Pepe, a meal at El Siboney, getting off Duval Street and seeing some of the other sites, sunset cocktails at Louie's Afterdeck, the french toast at Pepe's, seeing the Ernest Hemingway Home and catching a glimpse of a six toed cat, Schooner Wharf Bar for a 7 a.m. happy hour, the 6 p.m. turtle race at Turtle Kraals, or having some Cuban toast with my café con leche.

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There were also things that I know I have to experience again: a cheap glass of champagne on a crowded catamaran while watching a fiery Key West sunset, Key West pink shrimp, an Amigo's square taco with shredded beef, more than one piece of key lime pie, a garbage pie at Bobalu's or spaghetti at Salute, and a sniff inside Besame Mucho.

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Key West was unique. It was a place all its own. It's like someone took an island in the Caribbean and mixed it with a coastal Florida town; tossed in a little dash of Havana, Cuba; sprinkled it with some Bourbon Street; added a cup of sand, palm trees, and seawater; then dumped in some Tennessee Valley Fair, Ringling Brothers Circus, and Vaudeville; blended well, and poured it into a tall, frosty glass.

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I think one day I'll take another sip.

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Posted by vicki_h 06:41 Archived in USA Tagged beach island tropical key_west florida_keys duval Comments (1)

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