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Brazil: Part II, Day 3

Ilha Grande, Our Own Fantasy Island

The next morning dawned bold and beautiful.

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I woke long before Matt the next day and was excited to see a bright blue sky staring down at me. We had made a good decision by saving today for boat day!

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I took an early morning walk to the village and just enjoyed watching the sleepy town come slowly to life.

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Remember how I mentioned there seemed to be dogs everywhere? In the morning, they all seemed to be on the main street in town in various stages of sleeping, waking up, and playing in the sand. We'll call these four: Stayed Out Too Late Last Night, Still Asleep, Trying to Wake Up, and Already Had Too Much Coffee.

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Matt was up by the time I returned and we headed to breakfast so that I could get some more of those hot weenies. Yum!

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Before we sat down to eat, I asked the girl at the desk about a boat for the day. She told us we had 2 options: a large schooner that would be inexpensive but force us to share our day with about 50 other people or a private speed boat. While Matt wasn’t looking, I quickly told her “private boat.”

Within minutes, she had found us a boat for the day and told us to be at the dock at 9:30 and he’d pick us up.

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At 9:30 a.m., we were on our way! Within minutes of leaving the dock, he slowed the boat to point to a large pod of dolphins in our path. He stopped and let us enjoy them for 10 – 15 minutes before they finally headed on their way.

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Our first stop was at Lagoa Azul, or the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a natural shallow created at low tide between some small offshore islands and the island of Ilha Grande. It’s filled with beautiful coral and tons of colorful fish.

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We had arrived before any other boats. It was deserted. While we had it all to ourselves, we snorkeled for a while and then spent about an hour lounging on the boat in the sun, watching boat after boat after boat arrive.

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This was one of those places that was truly so beautiful, that you almost couldn’t believe what your eyes were seeing. The colors of the water, the blue of the sky, the lush green foliage…..I could scarcely take it all in.

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We could have spent all day there, bobbing gently on the water, but we finally had to tear ourselves away.

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Our next stop was a beach. I don’t know the name of it, but it was striking. Several tall, thin palms lined the middle of the beach, like little soldiers welcoming us to their tiny stretch of sand.

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The beach was small but incredibly perfect. A delicious little crescent of white sand, clear blue water, swaying palms.

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We were dropped off on shore and left to enjoy the beach for a while.

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Waterlogged and pruny, we finally motioned for our boat to return from the middle of the bay. He picked us up and once again, we were on our way. The views from the boat were amazing. I couldn’t believe how incredible this place was. I had been to beautiful islands before, but not beautiful islands that were so pristine and untouched.

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As we rounded yet another deep blue cove, lined with white sand and lush green palms, the boat slowed. Thinking we were visiting another beach, we looked up at our guy expectantly. He spoke no English but we had managed to communicate effectively all day. There are only so many words needed on boat day.

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He handed us a menu, pointed to shore where we could see nothing more than some shallow sand and trees, and raised his eyes in question.

Do I EVER say no to food?

We nodded in agreement and called someone on the radio. Within seconds, a small boat came whizzing out of nowhere and pulled up beside us.

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We piled in and the little boat headed toward the shore. Eventually, the water became so shallow that all 3 guys got out of the boat and pulled it with me sitting inside, very princess like.

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I felt very much like the water version of Cleopatra and decided that this should be my mode of transport from now on. It suited me.

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When the water got too shallow for even the tiny boat, I was forced out into the shallow water in a very unprincesslike manner. We waded toward the shore.

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Had my mother been present, she would have been certain that this was the moment when they would take us back into the woods, chloroform us, and hack out our organs for sale on Ebay. I had no worries. I was excited about this little adventure. We had no idea where we were headed and we didn’t care.

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And there it was. A cozy little tropical restaurant all tucked up into the jungle.

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This place gets my vote for coolest bathroom.

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I was pretty used to the fact that caipirinhas in Brazil were like getting a glass of water as soon as you sit down in a restaurant in the US. They were always there.

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We decided to try a Brazilian specialty: Moqueca de Camarao. It was basically a shrimp stew and had appeared on virtually every menu we had seen.

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Moqueca is a savory stew made only with fish or shrimp. It has its origins in Bahia and is a staple of the Brazilian comfort food diet. The Brazilians have been making this dish for over 300 years. Its simple name, which translates to "shrimp stew," belies its complex flavors.

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Moqueca takes hours to prepare. Fresh shrimp are simmered in a coconut broth and palm oil with a sauté of onion, garlic, bell peppers, cilantro and tomatoes. They say the palm oil is so rich, that a teaspoon takes a year off your life. Hey, the year comes off the slow end, so who's complaining?

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It was served with rice, the ever present bowl of farofa, and a bowl of something we didn’t recognize. I ate it, because I am always up for something new.

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The weird gravy-like substance didn’t have a very strong taste and it certainly wasn’t offensive, so I slathered it on and lapped it up. Matt is not a fan of the unfamiliar and took a pass. After we returned home, I looked it up to see what it was. Pirão is a kind of gravy usually made from fish broth and cassava flour. It is typically made from a broth obtained by cooking a fish head and scraps not used in whole fish dishes (i.e., the parts you ain’t supposed to eat), with other ingredients such as coconut milk, tomatoes, parsley, garlic, chives, pepper, and fresh cilantro.

At the time, I had no idea I was eating fish head and guts gravy, so……Bon Appetit!

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After a long and leisurely lunch, it was time to be carried, Cleopatra-Style, back to our boat.

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It had been a full day and we were certain it was time to head back, but were surprised when we were pulled up onto yet another pristine beach. This might have been the best yet because we were the only two people in sight.

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We had about an hour of “deserted tropical island experience” before it was time to head back.

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We were dropped off back at Sagu. Matt was feeling a little off again and went in to take a nap.

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He woke up sounding like a 97 year old smoker.

His head was pounding, he had a terrible cough, and he was hoarse and raspy. I had some Aleve and gave him one but he really needed something for that cough.

“I saw what I think was a pharmacy in the village,” he said.

We headed into the village. Our vision was that we would walk into a pharmacy that looked just like a US pharmacy. We would see medicine we recognized on a shelf and we would buy it.

Are we really that dumb?

Instead we stepped into a tiny pharmacy that had no medicine of any kind out front. There was a pharmacy counter in back and everything was on shelves behind Mr. Pharmacist in non-descript, unrecognizable, black and white printed boxes.

We walked back, hopeful that the pharmacist spoke some English.

Are we really that dumb?

Of course he didn’t speak English. He also didn’t carry any American medicines. Matt proceeded to do an elaborate game of charades that included mimicking a cough and a pounding head. Mr. Pharmacist returned with a strange box containing a little bottle of vile looking brown liquid and a teeny tiny cup. He held up 3 fingers and pointed to the cup. Did that mean 3 cups or 3 times a day?

We were pretty much on our own from there.

I had no idea what was in that bottle, but I am certain that it was not FDA approved.

It made Matt feel better, though. Probably because it was a combination of morphine and crack.

We took it easy and just crashed in a couple of chairs by the water at Cafe do Mar.

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It was a cozy little place that was open to the ocean and filled with twinkling lights and candles.

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Matt said he wasn’t hungry, probably because he was high on morphine and crack, so I took the liberty of ordering us a “snack.”

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We had a fresh caprese salad, what was basically fried cheese on a stick (GENIUS), and the most amazing garlic shrimp. It was lick-the-plate good.

We even had live entertainment as a very convincing pirate seemed to stroll up out of nowhere. Literally.

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He was promptly chased off by the bar dog.

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It was time to get Matt to sleep before he overdosed on the unidentifiable medicine.

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The next morning Matt was worse. A lot worse. It was obvious that he had something akin to the flu. Caught from the lady on the plane that was hacking up a lung for 8 ½ hours, no doubt. The worst part was that we had to load up, take a 1 ½ hour ferry ride, then drive 2 hours back into Rio de Janeiro, and then find our accommodations in the heart of that vile city.

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To shore us up, we had our final breakfast at Sagu. Bye, bye hot wieners.

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As we piled onto the ferry for the return trip, I couldn’t help but be apprehensive. Matt was sick. We had a long drive. We had to find our way back into that horrible city that we thought we’d never get out of a few days before.

What would the next 2 days have in store for us? Only time would tell.

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Posted by vicki_h 16:34 Archived in Brazil Tagged island brazil south_america ilha_grande Comments (1)

Brazil: Part II, Days 1 & 2

Ilha Grande, Our Own Fantasy Island

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The ferry pulled away from Angra dos Reis at 1:30 p.m. It was a really ugly day, so it was perfect for a travel day. The ferry ride was long (1 ½ hours) and boring. It was noisy and smelled like diesel fuel and exhaust no matter where on the boat you went. This did not help Matt’s pounding head. He was feeling worse by the minute.

At 3:00 p.m. the ferry pulled up to the small village of Abraão on Ilha Grande. We had arrived.

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Ilha Grande (pronounced Ilya Granjee) is a small island off the coast of southern Brazil. The island is undeveloped and is known for its natural beauty, filled with tropical beaches, luxuriant vegetation, parrots and monkeys, and rugged mountains. There are no roads or cars on the entire island and the largest village on the island is called Vila do Abraão, with a population of about 1900 inhabitants. The island is considered “paradise,” particularly for those who are somewhat adventurous, with its jungle trails and waterfalls in the mountainous, it’s rain forests and deserted beaches, and it’s shimmering waters.

I was psyched.

Matt was sick.

It was obvious at this point that he had some kind of cold or something, but he wasn’t feeling 100% terrible….yet. The good news was that there was a shiny white speedboat with a sign that said “Hatfields” waiting at the ferry dock, ready to whisk us over to Sagu Mini Resort so that we wouldn’t have to carry our luggage.

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Sagu was a small resort with only 9 rooms, scattered about the hillside, tucked up into the lush rainforest. The main building sat right at the water’s edge. As we walked down the long wooden dock, brightly colored buildings with clay tile roofs peeked out, half hidden behind thick green palms. Riots of flowers bloomed everywhere. It was hidden, private, and as exotic as I’d hoped.

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We settled our luggage into our room which was a large cottage with a private verandah overlooking the water. There was a mosquito net over the bed, which I hoped was just for ambience, since the room had air conditioning. I like nature….but not in my room.

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I thought Matt would want a nap, but he was finally hungry, so we decided to walk over to the village for a late afternoon bite.

It was about a 10 minute walk along a path at the water’s edge from Sagu to the village. This location gave us the privacy we craved but kept us close to all the restaurants and shops. It was a perfect location.

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I expected something rather primitive, but Abraão was a beautiful little town filled with upscale restaurants and shops as well as street vendors and casual oceanside eateries. The main street bordered the beach as it curved around the harbor. Tall mountains rose up behind it. The buildings were colorful and bright, with bougainvillea and hibiscus spilling out between them. Dogs seemed to be everywhere.

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We made our restaurant choice in a very discriminating way: we chose the closest one with a good view. We were seated at an outdoor table in the sand with a great view, despite the gloomy day.

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Pe Na Areia Restaurante served up a mean caipirinha and some fantastic marinated olives.

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We had only intended to get a light snack, but we were HUNGRY. We ended up ordering shrimp in a cream cheese sauce. This came rice and a mango salad.

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Bellies full, we wandered around town a bit to get the lay of the land. The village was small and could be walked across in just minutes. There were lots of cute shops and plenty of restaurants. When I saw this place, I made up my mind that I HAD to eat there. Forget the fact that the most amazing smells were wafting out the windows, look at how CUTE this table is!

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We took the afternoon off to let Matt recharge his quickly depleting batteries, in hopes that he would feel better the next day. We spent the afternoon and evening listening to the soft sounds of samba music, swaying in the hammock, napping, and reading underneath the giant palm tree beside our verandah.

Because lunch had been so late, it was very late when we got hungry for dinner. Sagu is supposed to have one of the very best restaurants on the island, Toscanelli. We decided to stick close to home. We made the 30 second walk to the restaurant and found that we were the only patrons.

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The restaurant was an open air wooden building sitting at the edge of a hill overlooking the water. It had a tropical feel to it that turned romantic as two tall candelabras were lit behind us. We ordered a bottle of wine and I opted for a banana wrapped filet for dinner. It was thick and cooked perfectly rare, served with couscous and a slice of some sort of potato pie. Double starch me again, baby, I like it!

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After a long day, a good steak, and a couple of glasses of wine, sleep came easy. And no, I didn’t need that mosquito net.

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Breakfast at Sagu was a self-serve buffet on the verandah behind the main building, overlooking the water.

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They had everything….baskets of rolls and cheese bread, several platters of cakes, sliced breads for toasting, cereals, granola, plates of fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, bowls of yogurt, eggs….but despite all those offerings….I became hooked on these:

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Yes. Those are sliced up wieners in hot sauce. My true white trash nature comes out every so often, particularly when I am in close proximity to yard sales, Vienna sausages, pork rinds, or anything with rhinestones on it. Oh my, but they were good. Don’t worry, I had plenty of carbs to balance out all that hot dog protein.

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We had 2 days on Ilha Grande and had only 2 things we really wanted to do: 1) do a hike through the jungle to Lopes Mendes beach and 2) rent a boat to take us around for the day. The weather looked iffy. Not wanting to waste the money for a boat on an ugly day, we decided to do the jungle walk.

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Matt was feeling better this morning, so we were hopeful that whatever had him down the day before was brief in passing.

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The trail head was very close to Sagu and we headed up into the jungle. The park map had said that it was a 4 mile, 3 hour hike through the jungle, over the mountains, to Lopes Mendes beach on the other side of the island. Up, up, and up we went.

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It was a tough hike, but rewarding. There was very little flat ground on the 4 mile hike. We were climbing steeply up or steeply down. The jungle was dense and lush. It was peaceful and quiet and the exercise felt good after so many days of leisure filled with so many carbohydrates. There were some amazing views.

I was keeping my eyes peeled for monkeys. There were monkeys in this jungle, and I was going to find one.

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After about an hour, we came to a beach. The sign told me it was not our beach.

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We had arrived at Praia Grande das Palmas, or the “Big Beach of Las Palmas.”

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There appeared to be a very small village, and I am using the term “village” generously, applying the east TN standard. In rural east Tennessee, you can call something a town if there is a fireworks store, one movie rental/gas station/tanning bed combo, and a post office.

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This village had 2 tiny restaurants, a few houses, and a church.

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We decided to stretch out and relax for a bit before pressing on.

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We headed to the far end of the beach where a sign pointed up a steep rock telling us “that way.”

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We hiked through more steep jungle. I still hadn’t seen a monkey. Where were those darn monkeys? It was like the Montana moose hunt all over again.

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After another hour we came to another beach.

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It was GORGEOUS. A long stretch of blinding white sand, gently lapping water, and swaying palm trees. We saw only one other person on the beach. The sun was starting to pop out and we needed a break, so we decided to stretch out on the sand for a while, get some sun, and take a leisurely swim.

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Matt found a friend. I don’t know what it is, but strange dogs and strange kids always gravitate to Matt on vacation.

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After an hour or so, we felt sunned and refreshed and decided to make the final push to Lopes Mendes. It was so tempting not to, with so many beautiful beaches tempting us to stop along the way.

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We walked to the end of the beach and saw a small booth, a sign with an arrow, and a man.

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He told us Lopes Mendes was about 20 minutes through the jungle and that his boat would take us back to town if we wanted, at 4:00. Not wanting to make that steep, hot, 4 mile trek back, this made my day.

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Hot diggity dog. We were almost there AND we had a boat to take us back. The only thing that would make this day better were some monkeys.

We were about 5 minutes into our final walk through the jungle toward Lopes Mendes when we saw them.

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There were about 10 of them and the largest were no bigger than a kitten. The marmoset monkeys dangled on the branches of a small tree right at the edge of the trail. They peered curiously at us from behind branches, caramel colored eyes bright and inquisitive. I’m pretty sure they hoped we had some cookies in our pocket. We didn’t.

I had already eaten them all.

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After enjoying their antics for a while, we pressed on for our final destination: Lopes Mendes. Although, I didn’t really care about seeing the beach at this point because I had seen MONKEYS!

Lopes Mendes is one of the most famous beaches in Brazil and is the most famous beach on Ilha Grande. It was reported to be a huge stretch of glistening sand, soft as sugar, with towering mountains and palms behind it and wildly crashing waves pounding the shore. There are no buildings or restaurants on the beach, just sun, sand, and sea.

When we finally broke out of the trees to see the beach, it was as breathtaking as everyone had said. Lopes Mendes turned out to be worth every steep, muddy, slippery, hot step.

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We tucked up under the shade of a palm tree and just took it all in. The beach was absolutely huge, length and width. It was also absolutely beautiful.

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We lounged. We walked. We splashed.

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We watched all the interesting people. Everything they say about Brazilian beaches and beachwear is true, by the way. Virtually every woman has on either a thong or a bikini so tiny it may as well be a thong. Virtually every man has on a tiny speedo. It does not matter what your age, body type, body size, or how much body hair you have. They bare it all.

That is not always a good thing.

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When we’d had our fill, we made the walk back through the jungle to the beach with the boats.

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We had 30 minutes to kill so we headed to the one little restaurant on the beach. It wasn’t really a restaurant. It was more of a garden shed with a food window and some plastic tables.

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I’m still trying to figure out if that dog is the same dog that was on the earlier beach, a 30 minute jungle hike away……

We hadn’t had lunch and my new pig belly was growling for some potatoes or rice. I ordered us 2 caipirinhas and an order of batatas fritas (french fries).

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Those drinks were so strong I believe they could be used to strip paint.

We had been sitting and waiting on those darn fries for a while. We only had 10 minutes until the boat left and I still didn’t have my fries. Matt was going all restless and squirrelly on me, the way he always does when we are in an unfamiliar place and his boat/taxi/train/bus is about to leave and I am distracted by something like food/monkeys/shiny things.

“Five minutes,” he said as he started walking toward the boat. “I am getting on the boat. You can wait for the fries if you want. The boat leaves in 5 minutes.”

And with that, he left me there.

He’s only a saint to a point. Even Matt has his limits.

I refused to leave without my fries. I had forgotten that this wasn’t McDonald’s but that I was at a shack on a beach in the middle of the jungle where they probably had to go dig the damn potato up before they could make the fries.

I waited. Four minutes. I waited. Three minutes. I waited.

With literally seconds to spare, my fries were delivered. I gave the owner a huge tip and a huge smile as I grabbed the salty potato goodness and literally ran for the boat.

Me and my fries made it.

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Because he declined my giant greasy pile of fries on the boat, Matt was ready for dinner by the time we got back. We quickly got cleaned up and headed for the village.

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We stopped at O Pescador to see if we might want dinner there. Located on the ocean, it has a great view and is supposed to have incredible seafood (and they speak English!). We ordered caipirinhas (of course we did) and perused the menu. Nothing really grabbed us, so we decided to find dinner elsewhere.

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As we walked down the street, we smelled a heavenly garlic scent drifting through the air. We followed our noses and guess where they took us? Right to that adorable little table I had seen the night before. We instantly made it ours.

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We noticed in Brazil that about half the restaurants we went to had English translations in the menu. This was extremely helpful, despite the fact that the translations weren’t always spot on.

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I wonder….does “Chilly” mean cold soup or the stuff with beans and beef? What the hell is “weird rice?” And who can resist ordering something called “Neebles?”

Neebles might just be my new favorite word.

As in most restaurants, we resorted to the point and grunt method of ordering. Here is Matt attempting to communicate with our extremely NON-English speaking waiter.

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The meal was fantastic. We started with a seafood bisque (although I really wanted the chilly). That was followed by olives and a crab spread with baguette slices. For an entrée, I had the pasta Bolognese, which was loaded with rich meaty sauce.

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We strolled around town a bit. My favorite thing were these giant rolling dessert carts. There were several of them and they were filled with unimaginable goodness.

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Eventually, it got dark and we got tired. We picked our way along the trail with flashlights and were soon nestled in our soft bed, fast asleep.

Posted by vicki_h 15:24 Archived in Brazil Tagged island brazil south_america ilha_grande Comments (2)

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)

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