Saturday, June 8, 2013

Ultimate Road Trip – The scenic Overseas Highway to Key West, Florida USA

The Florida Keys are coral islands in southeast United States. They begin at the southeastern tip of the Florida peninsula, about 15 miles (24 km) south of Miami, and extend in a gentle arc south-southwest and then westward to Key West. At the nearest point, the southern tip of Key West is just 90 miles (140 km) from Cuba.
Visit to Florida Keys is a spectacular hundred miles drive and road crosses several islands over the spectacular bridges. Alongside the Overseas Highway, there are hundreds of places where you can pull over to fish or kayak or enjoy a pina colada. Camping in the Keys is a special treat, and there are dozens of magnificent coral reefs where you can snorkel or dive. Fresh-caught seafood is a Keys staple, offered at a broad range of Keys restaurants.
We leave Everglades early in the morning and return to the Florida town of Homestead and catch on the US route 1.

Sunset in the Keys

We travel in the Everglades marshlands and patches of dense jungles and several alligator farms. Alligators and crocodiles are bred in captivities in this area and then meat and skin is sold. Also reptiles those stray in the residential areas are brought at these places for elimination. Crocodile burgers are a delicacy in this area and I am told that the meat tastes like chicken. Crocodile meat looks white after cooked just as chicken.
Crocodile or alligator farms are helping the municipality with their hazardous wastes originating from slaughterhouses and poultry farms. Everything is brought here in these farms and grinded and made paste.

Map of Florida Keys
This paste is then fed to the reptiles and they grow fast. Three years of age is the optimum time to harvest their meat and skin because after three years span, growth of meat and skin slows down where as per-day cost to raise each animal stays the same. A bolt gun is used to slaughter the crocodiles.
Finally dense jungle opens up and time and again we peak at the ocean and islands. Area is so serene and green that we want to spend some time here so we stop at a café and buy two cups of coffee and walk on the trail next to the café. Trail goes midst the marshes and alligator breeding grounds. There we sit on the grass at the edge of marsh and drink our coffee. Many birds are making lots of noise in the marsh.

100 Miles road over the hundreds of islands in Keys
Two flamingoes are standing and hunting for fish right next to us.
The Upper Keys – from Key Largo to Islamorada – are cluttered with touristy shops and motels, and from the highway you can’t even see the water. But as we go further south into the Middle Keys, the land starts to open up, offering the startling realization that we are actually driving from island to island. The islands get smaller as we reach the Lower Keys.
We arrive in the first town of Florida Keys, Key Largo. As it is at the northernmost point of the Keys. Probably the best thing about Key Largo is that it adjoins the Everglades National Park along the southeast border.

A bridge in Keys
This is the spot where the salt water from Florida Bay mixes with the freshwater from the Everglades, and this is where several eco-tours to the Everglades coast can be arranged. One can do kayaking, canoeing or just taking a boat ride through the many tiny creeks. Some adventures take multi-day kayaking trips to all the way out to the Flamingo Visitors Center, the outpost where the Everglades meet the sea. Here I find watery coconuts being sold by the street each for 20 cents. Lady has no arrangement to open up the coconuts she is only selling these because they fall in her backyard and wants to get rid of them. I regret not brining my cordless drill machine to do the job. We stop our car near the bridge to the next island.

Cruise Ship at the Key West town
There we make holes in the coconuts with a rock and screwdriver and fetch the liquid.
We stop for breakfast in the next town called Islamorada. Comprised of six islands, it is the only place in North America, there is a coral barrier reef. The islands sit between the water of the Everglades National Park and the Florida Straits.
Islamorada is considered as sports fishing capital of the world. So if you love to fish, then this is your place. Hire a charter boat and try your luck at catching the mahi mahi or marlin or other exotic fishes, or make your way through the shallower waters finding some of the more elusive fish. But fishing isn’t really our thing.

Bridges on the highway to Key West
We pass through several islands and arrive at Marathon, the starting point of the Lower Keys region and also where the famous Seven Mile Bridge begins. The Seven Mile Bridge is the favorite section for all visitors to Keys. We had seen it in so many movies over the years and everybody is eager to drive across. This it is the largest segmental bridge in the world.
Parallel to the Seven Mile Bridge, runs and old railroad bridge that is now open to pedestrians to walk along it at either end and take in the ocean view. It is not wise to pass up the chance to stop at the smaller island below.

Clear waters
The island, called Pigeon Key, was where workers who built the original bridge used to live. It has been largely left unchanged. There is a museum on site and tours are available to view life of the early 20th century.
Before reaching Key West we stop at Bahia Honda State Park. This is a perfect place to for swimming and some lunch. The best part is that this park is free! It is nice to be in the park because our eyes are tired and hurting by sea flashes because sea is just all around us all the time. At the picnic table we cook daal that we eat with breads and then hit the road again for the next bridge.

Longest bridge
A little further on and the backwaters Big Pine Key are also great to explore by renting a kayak or motorboat to visit some of the uninhabited islands. The Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary has some of the best shallow dive experiences where there are some great coral formations. In the Clear-water one can see hundreds of kinds of colorful fishes.
Bird watching lovers always make a stop at the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge but we are not really bird watchers. The Great White Heron, the largest wading bird in America, is only found in the Florida Keys and the South Florida mainland. .
Before we knew it we have reached the end of the line: Key West.

Evenings at Mallory Square in Key West
The Old Town still maintains much of its 19th century charm through its architecture and it’s easy to get around on foot or by bicycle. Many of the houses have been restored to their former glory with bright colors and lush tropical gardens. First thing we do after parking our car in a busy side street is to grab a cup of coffee and then walk to the southernmost point in the continental US. Cuba is 90 miles from here. It is around 4PM an we are deciding weather to stay in hotel or do camping near the shore. We decide for camping although campsite is equally expansive as of the Choice Inn hotel.
We come back on the road and take a spot in the campsite that is a narrow strip of land in the lagoon with very small spots for each tent and luckily site is almost empty.

Southernmost Point of USA
Lagoon is full of colorful small fish and I ask the manager if we may see any shark and he says yes we may see some sharks but feeding the fish or attracting the sharks by throwing meat in the water is illegal. We erect our tent and arrange our belongings and return to the Mallory Square in the Key West town.
Everything happens at Mallory Square, where each evening there is a mixture of performers from jugglers to fire eaters. There are also food stall around but most are selling seafood. Evening is settling in as the crowds wander toward Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, a daily event since the ’60s. We grab a margarita from a stand and wander among the crowds and street performers. Spectacular sunset takes 20 minutes, and then we head back to campsite.

A shark near our campsite
At the way we stop our car at a supermarket to buy beers and provisions and I cannot resist the temptation to buy some meat to attract the sharks although it is illegal. While on our return to our campsite we take Roosevelt Boulevard and we cannot resist our temptation to sit by the water near Key West International Airport runway that is across the road behind the fence.
If you have read Frederic Forsyth’s novel “The Avenger”. This is the Airport in the novel, and about at this spot the action happened where we are sitting now.
The “Avenger” tracks Zilic to his palatial and fully self-sufficient farm/compound in South America. Meanwhile, the CIA operatives work furiously to prevent the “Avenger” from nabbing Zilic because CIA has recruited Ziliac to contact UBL (Usama Bin Laden) to sell Uranium, hence to pinpoint his location. The Avenger is tipped off by an unknown source that the CIA is onto him and evades them at every turn. He successfully manages to transport Zilic to Key West airport and into police custody. Just as the story ends, the date is stated to be September 10, 2001. At the end as the airplane is on the runway, he opens the door and shoots the right wheel of airplane so aircraft veers towards the fence and crashes in the mud and Avenger cuts the fence and comes out.
We return to the site and to our joy or rather horror we need not to throw any meat in the water, whole bunch of sharks are roaming in the water just next to us. There are a couple of stingrays also. Probably both fishes go along well. Anyway I throw the meat in the water and we witness a frenzy among fishes that lasts just few seconds. Now all sharks are gathered close to us. Campsite is 4-5 feet raised in the water so we are not in any danger.
Over the beers we cook our dinner and watch sharks who are still hovering around us, probably all campers feed them so they anticipate more meat. Night descends fast in the sub tropics and now we cannot see sharks anymore although there water surface stays alive. We cook our food and then have a long walk on the shore before going to sleep next to the sharks.
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Champhor tree
This grows into a giant tree.
This is an invasive tree of Florida whereas it has been mostly exterminated in India due to over harvesting. Champhor sold in the markets in India is synthetic and made by petroleum. It is much in demand in herbal medicines.
Kapur (Camphor) is being used in Ayurveda.It is one of the best bactericides, very useful in ailments like cholera, hysteria, excessive thirst, and burning sensation and is used in disorders of the skin also. It stimulates the heart. Promotes the secretion of gastric juices and other secretions in the digestive tract and is given in the stage of coma where a patient is collapsing. It restores the pulse beat to the normal level. It removes foul Kapha, expels it and regulates respiration. It is used in oils and ointments for the purpose of application and it helps sweating. In the beginning it shows a stimulant effect and thereby produces a feeling of relaxation.

Giant Camphor tree
Camphor is used in many medicinal oils for rheumatic pain, pain in the chest, back etc. Take one part of camphor and four parts of coconut oil. Warm the oil a bit, add camphor and preserve it in a bottle. This is very useful for massaging, even for infants.
Champhor is an ingredient in many cough lozenges.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

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