SUNDAY DECEMBER 17, 2017
 
Blog TRAVEL
KICKIN' IT IN THE FLORIDA KEYS
KeyLargoChrist.jpg

From a bird’s eye view, the strip of low-lying islands and islets that curl off Florida’s southeastern tip towards the Gulf of Mexico are as thin and stringy as the back of a thong bikini.

On the descent into Key West International Airport, inexperienced travelers may want to skip anticipatory peeps out the window. For an uncomfortably long while, it appears like a water landing must be in the cards because you see nothing but shimmering teal.

Post touchdown and requisite land-lubbing sigh of relief — it’s time to get wet and wild on my own accord. There are 250 bars dotting this skimpy two-by-four mile wide island, the lion’s share of those on Duval Street including watering hole landmarks Sloppy Joes and Hogs Breath Saloon (technically on Front, but there’s a Duval entrance).

Unsure what to imbibe? Fill up on key lime shooters, daiquiris, Rum Runner cocktails and plenty of drinks featuring muddled mint. Hemingway penned a half-dozen of his tomes, from "The Green Hills of Africa” to “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, while calling the streets of this subtropical paradise his stomping grounds. While the literary and liver killing giant’s taste for whiskey and absinthe was legendary, he’s also often credited with helping to popularize the mojito.

Hemingway’s handprint on the booze- and arts-fueled enclave even extends to generations of mutant felines. Descendents of his six-toed pet cats make up a large cohort of the island’s free-roaming kitty population and also carry the polydactyl mutation. Feline-averse visitors to America’s southernmost point ought to see their allergist to stock up on antihistamines before coming down. I hardly noticed the abnormality but upon closer inspection, it’s apparent and I can just imagine the screech those extra-clawed paws would make should they ever encounter a chalkboard.

KEY LARGO

In the only Key that gets individually namedropped by the Beach Boys on Kokomo, I embark on a pair of religious experiences, gorging myself on mouthwatering key lime chocolate truffles and swimming with Jesus. Amy and Justin, the brother-sister tandem behind Amoray Dive Resort shepherd my crew a few miles into the deep blue aboard a 26-foot Glacier Bay catamaran.

KeyLargoGroup.jpgWhile skimming the aquamarine waters at a brisk clip, Justin, a fun loving Jersey transplant who at one point refers to himself as the “King of Key Largo,” blares Tim McGraw-era country music with the volume turned up to 11. Despite suffering from mild seasickness and contemplating forgoing the actual splashing about in the ocean portion of the excursion, I man up, get my fins, and go diver down or whatever it’s called when you jump off a boat without a SCUBA tank strapped to your back.

I was told I’d see Him if I headed toward a buoy so there was a level of anticipation, but still happening upon the Nine-foot tall Christ of the Deep is a neck-hair raising experience. You just don’t expect to see Jesus underwater when you’re kicking flippers and sucking air through a snorkel.

His arms are the first thing that strike me. They’re outstretched as if to say, “I love you this much”, the head tilted back so that he may gaze up towards the surface and the heavens above. He’s been silently proselytizing schools of passing marine life and helping divers and snorkelers find religion in the deep blue since 1965 when a barge brought the 4000 lb. bronze likeness a few miles off the Key Largo coast to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. While I was too focused on the statue to give passing fish much notice, large spotted eagle rays and southern stingrays are often sighted at this popular dive spot.

As any self-anointed underwater Jesus statue aficionado such as myself could tell you, this one comes from the same cast Italian sculptor Guido Galletti used to mold "Il Christo Degli Abissi" for the Cressi familia. They in turn donated the statue to the Underwater Society of America, who then helped place the statue in its Floridian perch where it soon after became a go-to spot for submerged weddings. The original stands in the Mediterranean Sea near Genoa where Cressi, the spearfishing and scuba equipment manufacturer, is still headquartered.

On the ride back, Justin’s mix shifts gears, rotating between bass-heavy dancehall and '80s hip hop, transforming the boat into a rump-shaking Vegas day club. His musical about-face typifies the Keys vibe dichotomy; you can quietly read on the beach, kayak through mangroves listening to nothing but gentle sound of scurrying aratus pisonii (mangrove tree crabs for the binomial nomenclature challenged) or party like every day is Mardi Gras on Duval Street.

 

Get thee to the Keys: http://www.fla-keys.com/

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