If you ask anyone in my family, I am destined to live on a island…connected to land….by a large series of bridges. When I told my Dad 18 years ago that I was moving to Florida, he laughed and told me that ever since I visited the Florida Keys in 10th grade, it was a forgone conclusion. (It was a weeklong trip sponsored by the National Aquarium in Baltimore, complete with dolphin swimming and hugging adventures; heaven for a 15 year old girl). And just like Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines in the movie Running Scared, once I realized that, yes, there’s a place where people celebrate the sunset everyday, and yes, I want to do that. Of course pesky things like high school got in the way. (Yes, obscure 80’s reference, you’re welcome.)
But enough with the memory lane trip – today we did something totally local and unique. My friend Sheryl lives in Islamorada and begs me to come down and visit more often. Last year she stayed with us in Key West and took us on a live-like-a-local-tour of the houses where she grew up in that city, complete with showing her name etched in the concrete sidewalks. Today she took us to a local hangout inside a stand of mangroves (also known as a mangal — I’m full of useless trivia today!) We put our kayaks with the kids in behind an abandoned house in in Tavernier (“don’t worry, everyone knows its been empty for years”), parked in another empty lot (“I’ll call my sister and let her know, she knows the guy”) and only had to paddle about 500 yards out. Sheryl came over with her dinghy with a trolling motor.
This is a playground/fort that has been established by locals. Sheryl knows that it has been there since at least the 70’s, with various items falling apart, and new toys appearing with every visit. Today it consists of a slanted, but stable, dock, some rope swings, some playground swings, and a bright yellow circular slide. We packed sandwiches, juice boxes, and some adult-beverages, and hung out for nearly 4 hours.
While we lounged on our floaties, and the kids jumped off the rope swing, Dear Hubby snorkeled off, bringing back some starfish and mangrove oysters to show the kids. Its not season, but we did see some lobsters and other yummies – we’ll just have to come back.
Another dad and his daughters pulled into the fort for a while, and he and Sheryl were discussing all the different oddities that had been out there over the years: basket swings, zip-lines, grill, a freakin’ drawbridge!! I suspect that locals bring their kids out there when their little, teens come out on their own to get high and be rebellious, then have kids of their own to bring out and decide to add or modify something to it.
We’re absolutely coming back – we had a blast. We paddled home and had lobsters (caught last week during season) on the grill, and homemade Key Lime Pie. Yeah, one day I’ll be a conch.