When we ran out of Highway 1, we knew we must be in Key West, southernmost point of the fifty states, biggest city in The Keys, county seat of Monroe County, and unofficial capital of the Conch Republic.
Back in 1982 Key West declared itself the independent Conch Republic to protest a United States Border Patrol blockade. A seventeen mile traffic jam backed up when the Border Patrol stopped every car leaving the Keys for the mainland, supposedly searching for illegal immigrants.
The hit to tourism was so huge that the people staged a nonviolent, one day revolt. Click here to see our full story on the Florida Keys!
Ever since, they have celebrated their own Independence Day every April 23rd. But the blue Conch Republic flags can be seen all over Key West any day of the year, with its clever slogan, “We Seceded Where Others Failed.”
In the hope of establishing international relations we decided to drop by The Conch Republic Office of the Secretary General, but no one was around. The diplomats must have been observing island-time. Conchs, as Keys citizens are known, are generally pretty laid back.
The town is easy to walk, so we continued along on foot. First stop, Willy T’s for a quick conch chowder. Conch is sort of the national food of The Keys, ever since colonial times when the shellfish was the only food that the king didn’t tax.
The chowder is tasty and Willy T’s is a hoot, with hundreds, if not thousands, of dollar bills scrawled on by previous patrons stapled to every available surface. An establishment really needs to be quirky to stand out in Key West.
After lunch we strolled through the neighborhoods of classic island bungalows with tropical gardens packed into their tiny yards. No sprawling lawns here, land is at too much of a premium.
When we found a quintessential example of a house that just happened to be for sale, we decided to call and see what a one goes for. WOW! $795,000.00 for this little place, but the realtor said he had some cheaper ones around half a million.
Looks like being an eccentric, laid-back Conch can be expensive.
We moseyed on, passing the official ending point of US highway 1, the “Little White House” where President Harry S. Truman spent eleven vacations during his terms, and the former home of Key West’s most famous resident Ernest Hemingway.
From his house we figured we should hit Sloppy Joe’s, Hemingway’s favorite watering hole. At least that’s what they tell the tourists. Our feet were telling us to take a break so we sat down and hoisted a cold one to Papa.
There’s only one place to end the day on Key West, Mallory Square. It’s the site of the famous Sunset Celebration every evening, which is definitely the highlight of any day on the island.
Trained house cats, circus acts, jugglers, clowns, psychics, musicians, artists, street performers and pretty much every kind of dog and pony show gather to entertain, ply their wares, and hopefully make a little money every single day as the sun sinks slowly into the sea.
It’s all spontaneous and free, just toss a little dough into the hat as it gets passed. Later, many of the acts can be found spending some of their tip takings in the gin mills on Duval Street.
Not that we would ever frequent those establishments.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com