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Florida Keys


The Florida Keys is a 135-mile chain of islands between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean linked with 42 bridges of concrete and steel and the Overseas Highway. They begin just 42 miles south of Miami and end just 89 miles north of Havana. Their terrain is usually flat and scrubby with mangrove, pine and palm trees. Every so often, clusters of Golden Shower and Bougainvillea trees brighten the land with fragrant red and purple and yellow petals.
History of the Forida Keys is rich with gunrunner, pirates, dreadful storms, shipwrecks and sunken treasure, and peppered with literary greats such as Ernest Hemingway and John Audubon. Christened with practical yet whimsical names such as Duck Key, Sunshine Key, Key West, No Name Key and Key Largo; or romantic names such as Islamorada, Bahia Honda Key and Lower and Upper Matecumbe, they are havens for sailors, fishermen and sun worshippers, and profusely divers -- boasting of most dive shops per mile than anywhere else in the world.
One reason is the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park located off Key Largo. (The first Key you'll come upon after leaving the mainland and the one made famous by the movie of the same name starring Lauren Bacall and Humphery Bogart.)
Covering an area of 75 square miles, John Pennekamp Park is the first underwater park in the nation, and refuge to more than 400 species of fish and dozens of varieties of coral. ( Nothing compares to looking a fish right in the eye or getting a closeup look at the fascinating coral formations alive below the sea.)
Then there are the towns themselves: Key Largo, its fame assured through Bacall and Bogey; Tavernier, relatively unchanged; Marathon, known as the heart of the Keys -- and famous for its 7-mile bridge; and last, the most southernmost city in the USA -- Key West.
Key West is bright and lively with character and history in every weathered doorstep and worn floor; in every old- fashioned shotgun house and gingerbread mansion; and in every sidewalk cafe and tavern. The town exudes an air of pleasure, of laid back relaxation, of unhurriedness, even when the good times roll in places such as Sloppy Joe's and La Concha's. Creatively named establishments like Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, the Cat House and Fast Buck Freddie are really fancy boutiques and gift shops; however, the Audubon House was really once the home of John Audubon and Ernest Hemingway really did live in the Hemingway House. (Both these historical homes are open to the public.)
A good way to get an overview of Key West, history included, is on a train tour. Either on the historical Conch Train or the Old Town Trolley. They are both excellent. And proof that treasure and modern day treasure hunters do exist is indisputable at the Mel Fisher's Heritage Society and Museum. Now deceased, Fisher has uncovered over 400 million dollars worth of precious artifacts, coins, silver and gold bars, jewelry and other cargo thus far.)
Every night a crowd gathers at Mallory Square just around the corner from Zero Duvall Street and celebrates the breathtaking beauty of the sunset. Street performers juggle and play while the fiery red ball slowly sinks into the deep blue sea. A tall white sailing ship drifts by casting an eerie shadow in the twilight. A pelican, awakened by a sudden roar, stretches his wings briefly. To spontaneous cheers and applause, the life-giving sun bows out of sight. These are the visions of the Florida Keys.
For more information on the Florida Keys call 1-800-FLA-KEYS

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