The annual SeaTrade conference - this year I stayed, half price of course, at the National there on Miami Beach between the Delano and Sagamore. The National, tastefully refurbished property from the 1930s, staid and a bit formal, is more like a Best Western in comparison to the trendy, rather Trendy capital T, Delano and Sagamore.
In front of the South Beach Stroll.
How they deco-ize even big new hotels.
More South Beach.
This is a complex that divides the trendy and small South Beach redevelopments from the trendy bigger properties, around 15th.
I couldn't resist the color...
Sunrise from Leigh and Scott's balcony.
Leigh and Marilyn. What a team.
I had a rather audible intake of breath when the receptionist led us to our room in Key West. 'Here' she said, 'you go on up half way and I'll pass you your bags'.
In spite of the stairs, the room was entertaining enough and the property was surprising.

Their lot was long and narrow. All the many odd buildings (bungalows, converted tabacco warehouse, the original owner's house etc.), four pools, paths and sitting areas scattered throughout the property seemed private and completely protected by thick and appropriate landscaping.

The place was very conveniently one block off the main drag yet you could easily, if you squinted a bit and hummed out loud, imagine yourself in a secluded sub-tropical retreat.
We were out walking the first night and for kicks we asked a kid who was standing in front of a tee shirt shop where he would suggest for dinner. With great enthusiasm he described this place in such detail we were sure we were going to a really colorful West Indian Soul Food joint.

Instead we got this woman who was cooking dinner, whatever you wanted, just ask, out of a garage serving three tables sitting in the driveway. Just her. She didn't have a liquor license but 'gave' us wine and let us pay 'whatever you think' so of course we had to overpay. The whole process took literally hours and was no doubt a one-of-a-kind dinner.
Our one full day in Key West we chose to spend on a sailing catamaran.

The day went like this - a lovely morning continental breakfast as we sailed out to a coral reef for snorkeling (waaaay to wavy for a relaxing float but fun nonetheless) then a full eat-drink-and-be-merry lunch as we sailed to a mangrove island where we kayaked our little hearts out (we got Much better at the end), then snacks and home-made sangria and music and lolling and then back to port.

It was a huge highlight not the least of which was my appreciation for such a well run tour. The staff of three was amazingly professional throughout, keeping all the participants involved, safe and happy. They did their chores so effortlessly and passed off to each other so seamlessly. What a treat.
Key West from the top of the tallest building, the most popular sunset viewing position. It was a roofgarden kind of place with an electronic one-man-band singing for our entertainment.
The sunset everyone was waiting for.
The view out our door. Our door was really just a big window you had to squeeze out of to get to those, what the management calls 'stairs' to squeeze your way down.
Off to the Everglades National Park. The everglades are mostly this razor sharp very long grass growing in marsh land occasionally interupted by mangrove islands.
Another view on this walk. The park was very well done especially the way they organized walks through what seemed entirely hostile ground.
The wildlife, especially the birds were so so so cool. I think it was totally worth it to take that 100 mile out of the way detour to see this part of the park.
Goin' fishing.
The bird tree. What A Racket!
He's drying his wings because when these birds dive down to catch fish, their wings get too wet and heavy to fly. An interesting fact courtesy of the National Park Service.
How cool are we.
thanks Blaise!
Reminds me of me as a teenager...
Biscayne State Park.
Air Boat Ride or Deliverance? You Decide.

So that first afternoon in the Everglades we're sitting out on a picnic bench eating lunch from a lunch stand talking about how the air boat ride near the park looked like no fun at all and what would we do next.

So then one of these two gnarly guys speaks up while the other races across the busy highway to punch out some kids who are kicking up dirt.

So he says come with me tomorrow. I'll give you the best air boat ride in the Everglades.

So we say uhhhhh oh well ahhh sure, see you at 9am.

The next morning at 9am they were not to be found and after relentless drama, at 2:30 we were here by the side of the road about to dump the air boat into an inch of water just there, by the side of the road, no nothing for Miles around.
So we're all aboard and Bobby (FloridaCrackerBobby is his handle we learn much later...) turns the key. gahrrah gahrrah. The sound of a dead battery.

So Bobby and Jerry stand around a while, smoke some cigarettes and then simply take the battery out of their truck, hook it up in the boat and we're off.
Air boatin' in the 'Glades.

But wait. We're stuck on a coral bed with no exit in sight.
No problem. We have beer and cigarettes and cell phones. Let's just sit here a spell and the water'll lift us right off 'er. How you girls doin'?

I should add that Jerry was opening beers with his knife, very nearly cut off his thumb and was shaking the blood off the end of the boat into the marsh, no doubt the siren call to alligators.
Notice Marsha's hand. She is expressing her opinion about how we girls are doin'.
So ol' Bobby and ol' Jerry slog through the razor sharp coral, lift the boat, Bobby hops on real quick, Jerry continues to push and hurray! We're off.

But wait! We're stuck in the mangrove.

No problem. We have beer and cigarettes and cell phones. Let's just sit here a spell and the water'll lift us right off 'er. How you girls doin'?

So after the requisite number of cigarettes and beers and a pointed 'we need to get back', ol' Bobby and ol' Jerry slog through the razor sharp saw grass and get us going.

At the end Marsha and I sigh in appreciation of our life and Bobby and Jerry crack another beer.
We're back in South Beach all in one piece and only a little sun burned. This is Marsha's niece Stephanie and her husband Peter, the parents of four children under the age of seven. No mental health care professionals hovering.
My dinner at the Cuban restaurant. The best rendition of this dish that I can remember.
The view from our window at the National.
A patio breakfast in South Beach.
The wisteria bloomed while I was gone!
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