We pushed through a port-o-john door covered in stickers, walked past the urinals, and entered the hidden bar behind Bodega Taqueria for what I’d thought would be a quiet speakeasy like the ones we’ve visited in Denver, San Francisco, Austin, Atlanta, Rome, Paris, Kyoto, Boston, New York, Chicago, and San Antonio. Instead, it was a giant, warehouse-like enclosure with a DJ and dancing. It was a time warp to 2019. “We need to get out of here before we get the Covid!” We closed our tab (the place took my card and told us before we entered there’d be a $100 minimum, so I asked for 2 of the best mescal they had) and got out after a few minutes, but we’d already been there too long, we learned a few days later.
The rest of our time at South Beach was great–we enjoyed the beach; we ate sushi at Katsuya (and enjoyed its low key hidden upstairs bar afterward, called Dragon Lounge) and pasta at Prime Italian Steakhouse; we watched NCAA basketball and enjoyed local sours at Abbey Brewing Company.
We also used our South Beach hotel as a launch pad for visiting my 35th national park- Biscayne National Park – on Easter Sunday. We snorkeled low 70-something degree waters until we lost feeling in our extremities, watching myriad fish swim inches from our faces between mangrove roots on Elliot Key. Then our captain took us to a dock, where we left the boat and hiked the island for a bit, so that the children could gather the information they needed for their junior ranger badges.
The next day, we explored Big Cypress National Preserve, which I actually enjoyed more than its neighboring Everglades National Park, probably because it did not pour rain on us at Big Cypress. We saw 25 alligators (that we could see and count) and over 100 birds as we hiked the Gator Hook Trail or drove the Loop Road. We even saw a Fox Squirrel, which is apparently super rare, but you’d never know it by how it acted around my rented HIghlander a few feet from its face. That night we had delicious stone crab claws at Joe’s Stone Crab and my favorite key lime pie anywhere.
The next day (April 6) was my 12th soloversary, so we headed south to Conch Key, rented Voldemort jet skis, and tore across turquoise waters before lunch and beers at Angler and Ale on Duck Key (where we badly want a house one day). We drove south to Eden House on Key West to check in before walking to Mallory Square for the sunset, put the children to bed, and enjoyed an awesome dinner at Little Pearl followed by Duval Street bars like Durty Harry’s and Rick’s.
On the 7th, we walked to Hemingway’s House (my 2nd visit there!) so the children could learn about Papa after seeing the special on PBS a few days before seeing his home. We brunched at Moondog Cafe and explored Fort Zachary Taylor and its nearby beaches before dinner at Blackfin Bistro, which would have been great, except our Covid fatigue from Saturday night was starting to set in. We went to bed early, as the next morning, we were scheduled to begin several days in the Gulf on a diving/fishing boat named Emily Anne.
Just as we loaded our diving gear onto the live-aboard boat Thursday morning, we learned our captain’s mother-in-law died the day before, and our dive instructor’s dad died that morning. So, instead of the kids getting dive certified over the next few days, our captain took us to Dry Tortugas to explore the national park but needed to bring us back so he could deliver his MIL’s elegy on Saturday. We were very grateful for his driving us and cooking for us under those circumstances.
It took about 8 hours to go the 70 miles from Key West; we arrived just in time to hike around Fort Jefferson and see the sun set before getting back on the boat, mooring, and sleeping in the hold in the bow. The next morning just after sunrise, we docked, grabbed our snorkeling gear, and swam most of the way around the island while surrounded by fish, jellyfish, and coral. I even got some video of what we saw:
There were about 85,000 birds on one side of the island, which was only unnerving to the adults, given our familiarity with the Hitchcock film. The children just thought they were loud.
We headed back Friday evening through much rougher waters. The girls both threw up most of the way; my bride and I lay in the hold hoping for a quick and safe passage back (or a quick and safe death). The boat ride was over 9 hours, and I was still awake at 3am when we docked by Key West. Our captain was not able to find an available dive instructor, so he left to fly to Birmingham to deliver the eulogy, and I made calls to airports and airlines to see if we could fly home early. We couldn’t, so we drove to Key Largo and stayed at its Marriott for the next 2 days, enjoying the beach and the pool before flying home from Miami and confirming with the local clinic that all 5 of us were positive for Covid-19. Luckily, the kids stayed asymptomatic, and the adults’ worst symptom was excruciating back pain I’d thought was from bouncing on turbulent waters for 9+ hours until it continued for a couple days after we were home. I took more ibuprofen or acetaminophen in 3 days than I have in 3 decades.
While we were obviously disappointed that we couldn’t get the children their dive certifications, if we had to hunker down with a disease for a few days, Key Largo was a great place to do it. Since getting back, we’ve been able to arrange for them to train where we did at SeaVentures in Alpharetta, and we’ll hopefully go back to Florida for their open water training–this time with 100% less Covid!
Our next trip is exotic Talladega, Alabama for the kids’ first NASCAR race, and we’re firming up lodging for a tour of 5 national parks in the Northwest in June before leaving the country (Covid-permitting) in July. Until then, it’s shake and bake time.