In Florida, never far from the sea

Posted: December 9, 2013 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Photography, Travels
Tags: , , , , ,

To be fair, life is always more beautiful close to the sea. I don’t mean on a boat, but near the coast, a few blocks away where it’s possible to enjoy the sight of waves gently arriving to a sandy beach or crashing against rocks, where one can breathe the salty breeze. That’s true no matter where you are in this world.

(C) jennroig, 2013

(C) jennroig, 2013

However, if you are in Florida, the weirdest state of the Union, or by any means you are planning to move here, you should take this advise very much into account. Florida isn’t nice. It’s rural, it’s humid, this used to be a land for alligators, insects, flamingos and cannibals. But everything changes if you manage to live near the sea. Let me make my point.


In November one of my best friends visited me. Patricia and I share a kind of traveler soul. No wonder our first impulse was to rent a car and hit the road. In a week, we were in Atlanta, Tampa, the South Keys and Miami. But Atlanta is Georgia, a whole different story. When we were back in Florida, we stopped first in Clearwater.

(C) jennroig - Clearwater, November 2013

(C) jennroig – Clearwater, November 2013

Taking the US 60, going West from Tampa, Clearwater is considered a city in Pinellas County. It is a surprisingly beautiful drive that takes you through a highway build over the sea. So you get to see Tampa Bay’s  skyline on a side and a number of sandy spots on the other, where regular fishermen and occasional visitors park their cars without need to actually reaching the city.

clearwater2Once in Clearwater, first impression suggests a posh neighborhood. But it isn’t, the average household income there is lower than Florida’s average.

Usually the highest season comes with the summer, when not only northerners who are running away from the winter arrive, but also locals take time to spend days by the beach. By then, parking will be almost impossible and the price of seats will skyrocket.

We skipped those inconveniences. We were there on November. The sky was cloudy gray though it was still warm. There were people, no matter it was a Monday, but not so many.  I rather avoid that annoying feeling of stumbling upon bodies tanning under the sun or listening to strangers’ conversations.

clearwater 4Seagulls and pigeons are part of the landscape the entire year. While Patricia is afraid of seagulls, I still think that to speak in terms of “a bird attack” is a bit excessive. But the guy that was renting the chairs seemed to be in line with her. He lets us to be there for free until we had finished our lunch, to prevent seagulls from attacking us.clearwater5

Turtle statues are another trademark in Clearwater. Walking along the beach, there are several notifications warning about city lights at night and how to handle illumination. If someone knows, please explain me the connection between sea turtles and lamps.

The South Keys

Florida’s nature in general is exuberant. But the Everglades and The South Keys indeed set a standard. In order to go to the Keys, one option is driving south through the I75. At some point you must pass a large fenced route in the middle of swamps, with occasional notifications of possible panthers crossing.

evergladesI asked, nobody claimed to have ever seen a panther. But alligators show up very frequently in private pools and even at Walmart’s doors.

keysThere are actually two segments of the Everglades in the route to the Keys. From North to South, the first one will be in the I75 and then the second on the US 1, this is the two-lane “18 Mile Stretch.” Passed the stretch, Keys and bridges make the sight all the way to the Southernmost point in the USA, only 90 miles away from Cuba.

Deers, manatees, dolphins, and again seagulls are part of the natural environment. We slept in Big Pine Key, where both nights we met a deer walking the street as confident as we were.

Lifestyle in the keys has to be distinctive. Maybe addictive. There’s at least one New Yorker who arrived to Key West around 13 years ago and stayed there. He’s a guitar player, an interpreter, an entertainer in a bar, that also sells t-shirts and homemade CDs. It’s hot, it’s isolated, but heartbreakingly beautiful, lay-back, easy-going, clean, peaceful and welcoming.

keywestKey West stands out for its night life. Fortunately it was low season, we left the car on a parking lot where the owner told us only a couple of weeks before he had been charging 60USD per day and people were paying, only because there was some sort of festival going on. In two more weeks, by mid December, prices will go up again, so it made sense for him to be generous with us. Market’s laws at its best.

The little island is entirely different from the rest of the state. In the historic quartier, the architecture echoes colonial times and the center of everything is Duval Street. Restaurants, crazy shops, art galleries, a theater and the San Carlos Institute, founded by Cuban exiles, fight for the space.

Hemingway bought a house there, and his wife paid to build the most expensive pool at the time as a gift to him. Truman also liked it there, and left the legacy of the little white house.

Still, there’s nothing more astonishing that the sunset.

Tradition sets that visitors and locals that are having a happy hour drink in some of Duval St bars, start applauding to the sunset.

Tradition sets that visitors and locals that are having a happy hour drink in some of Duval St bars, start applauding to the sunset.

Remember, in Florida, keep track of the sea.


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