The Florida Keys – whose name comes from the Spanish word cayo, ‘small island’ – is a group of coral islands forming a semicircle starting from the southmost tip of Florida.
If you don’t want to fly directly to Key West, the most populated island of the whole archipelago, you can arrive from Miami through the scenic US1, also called the Overseas Highway, which connects to the mainland almost all islands. The rest are to be reached by boat.
I chose the Overseas Highway.
At first glance such beautiful perfection is almost unreal. The few busy roads are just an intermission before the next highlight. Every time one leaves an island, a long bridge gets to the next one, and at this point the sight opens wide and the Keys offer a stunning view, comprising crystal clear water and blinding reflexions.
More islands are hidden in the background and stand out against the blue of the sea. Looking carefully, one can spot hidden beyond the lush vegetation exclusive residences in solitary and well protected position.
The islands have coral origin, a true paradise for divers. Therefore you win’t find wide sandy beaches, exception made for Bahia Honda State Park where the beach stretches for kilometres, the water is clear and very low, every sound is softened and the mind can roam easily to remote thoughts without fears to be abruptly brought back to reality.
There is just one thing linking one’s mind with here and now: the animals, especially migratory birds, undisputed rulers of the archipelago, possessive owner of their land but ready to offer an unmatched show to visitors.
I was lodged in Key West, not far from Ernest Hemingway‘s house. The island is inhabited, but never chaotic or noisy. There aren’t any big buildings, just wooden houses in vivid colours and surrounded by small gardens. Few are the cars on the streets: in Key West the most popular mean of transportation is the bicycle.
The only evident exception to the peaceful and quite atmosphere of this island is Duval Street: here loud music and alcohol have their way and the corner seems a revival of Vegas’ Strip or Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Also the food was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. Havana is just 140 kilometres away and Cuban influences are well expressed in traditional restaurants with simple flavours based on fresh seafood and few other ingredients.
After three days in Key West I think I realized what is the secret of this place: American efficiency and the Caribbean pace brought by Cuban population made a perfect match for a life far away from Western stress but without missing any good side of the US culture.
Once again, the best solution proved to be the one through welcoming reception and respect for cultural differences.