Want to go Kayaking in the Keys?

Two of my best friends are not only internationally-known travel writers, but they’re also kayaking guides who offer beautiful tours through the crystal blue Florida Keys.

This is just one of Mary and Bill Burnham’s many travel books that you can order from Amazon or Barnes and Noble — or you can take advantage of their expertise by booking a tour with them.

Here’s a note from Mary:

A world of silent paddling amid mangrove creeks and shallow Caribbean-blue waters awaits you on a kayak adventure with Burnham Guides. Bill & Mary Burnham, authors of the award-winning Florida Keys Paddling Atlas, are your guides for overnight expeditions ranging from an island overnight along the Seven Mile Bridge, three days in the Lower Keys Backcountry, or the 100-mile Key Largo to Key West “bucket list” trip. One-day trips around the Southernmost Point in Key West are also available. This is your chance to get off U.S. 1 and immerse yourself in the fascinating environment and colorful history of this coral island chain. Kayaks, camping gear, meals and instruction included. Gift certificates available. Call 305-240-0650 or visit www.BurnhamGuides.com for details, customer reviews, and last year’s trip blogs. Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/burnhamguides  

If you plan on visiting the Keys this winter, contact Mary and Bill to get the best oversea tour of the island chain.  Me?  I’d just head to Key West and throw back a few with them, then enjoy grilled dolphin at the Half Shell Raw Bar.  Either way, a trip with the Burnhams will be a great time, on the water or off.

Another Key West Story…I mean, Tail

For Clyph:

So Maria and I are sitting in Capt. Tony’s Saloon on Greene St. in Key West. That’s THE Capt. Tony of the Jimmy Buffett song, “Last Mango in Paris.” About 3 or 4 in the afternoon, ready to have the first beer of the day — yeah, I know. Amateur! So in walks a Conch. Okay, maybe not a native Conch, but a Conch at heart. Ex-hippie. Holes in the t-shirt, unwashed shorts, long gray beard. He has a dog on a leash. Not a strange sight at all in the bars of Key West; hell, Capt. Tony’s has a water dish out front for the fur monsters. But on top of this dog was a cat. Riding the dog’s back.

Not a bad trick, I thought.

Then I saw something squirming on top of the cat, making it agitated.

It was a little white mouse.

I blinked a coupla times, took a sip of my beer, and said to Maria, “Goddamn.”

Then — then — it got interesting.

This guy had semi-trained the animals so he could show them off and panhandle. Not a bad gig — I’ll give him that. But the operative word above is SEMI-trained.

You can only train a cat soooo much.

He led the three-furred-salad farther into the bar…and something spooked the cat. I’m betting the mouse shit on his head. Anyway, the cat rrrooowwwwwwlllllled and sprang off the dog — the mouse went flying — and the cat, claws extended, embedded itself in the left side of a guy at the bar.

First, the hippie picked up the mouse and put it in his shirt pocket. Then he pulled the cat out of the man’s flesh and put it back on top of the dog. The cat sprang off again. The man flinched in expectation. The cat landed on the floor and licked a front paw, as if saying, “I meant to do that.”

“Goddamn,” I said.

The hippie gave up, picked up the cat, and led the dog away.

Lest you don’t believe me:

Key West Stories

Wild in the streets. That’s what Key West is all about. Not riot wild. Not even New Orleans wild — although it can get that way in October during the annual Fantasy Fest.

I guess I mean, wild at heart.

Whatever you want to do in KW, as long as it doesn’t cross the line — and even when it does — not a problem. It’s a frontier, laid-back, grab a beer, love ’em, leave ’em, it’s your life mentality.

July 4th one year. Fireworks going off the New Town side of the island. Maria and I were standing at the top of The Bull and Whistle. The Bull is the first floor bar, where they usually play live blues or rock. The second story is the Whistle Bar, and the third story, on the roof, is the Garden of Eden. Lounge chairs for nude sunbathers in the day; bar at night.

We heard women screaming and laughing down below on Duval Street. This was the first year Hooters was open on Duval (only a year or two later it became a Hard Rock). We look over the ledge, and there’s a naked guy running down the street — well, he was wearing sneakers. The Hooters waitresses were loving it, as was the crowd watching from the Garden roof. I’m still surprised the building didn’t topple over from the weight.

Same vacation, early afternoon. Oustide at a table at the Schooner Wharf Bar, on the Key West Bight. Afternoon blues guitarist/singer. Hippie chick lights up a smoke…but it ain’t a Marlboro. And nobody bothers to stop her.

You gotta love it!

Fantasy Fest, nudity runs rampant. Instead of arresting the offenders, the cops hand them t-shirts. (2nd offense, that’s different.)

Justice at work.

Speaking of Justice with a capital J, I stupidly took off a semester in grad school. If I had stayed in Miami, I could possibly have heard first-hand about the Conch Republic — the only town to ever secede from the U.S. I recommend reading The Conch That Roared by Gregory King for the whole story. But here’s the brief history, as reported by Wikipedia:

In 1982, the United States Border Patrol set up a roadblock and inspection point on US 1 just north of the merger of Monroe County Road 905A/Miami-Dade County Road 905A onto US 1 (they are the only two roads connecting the Florida Keys with the mainland), in front of the Last Chance Saloon just south of Florida City. Vehicles were stopped and searched for narcotics and illegal immigrants. The Key West City Council complained repeatedly about the inconvenience for travelers to and from Key West, claiming that it hurt the Keys’ important tourism industry. In fact, Eastern Air Lines, which had a hub at Miami International Airport, saw a window of opportunity when the roadblocks were established; Eastern became the only airline to establish jet service to Key West International Airport, counting on travelers from Key West to Miami preferring to fly rather than to wait for police to search their vehicles.

When the City Council’s complaints went unanswered by the Federal Government and attempts to get an injunction against the roadblock failed in court, as a form of protest Mayor Dennis Wardlow and the Council declared the Key West’s “independence” on April 23, 1982. In the eyes of the Council, since the federal government had set up the equivalent of a border station as if they were a foreign nation, they might as well become one. As many of the local citizens were referred to as Conchs, the “nation” took the name of the Conch Republic.

As part of the protest, Mayor Wardlow was proclaimed Prime Minister of the Republic, which immediately declared war against the U.S. (symbolically breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a naval uniform), quickly surrendered after one minute (to the man in the uniform), and applied for one billion dollars in foreign aid.

The mock secession and the events surrounding it generated great publicity for the Keys’ plight — the roadblock and inspection station were removed soon afterward. It also resulted in the creation of a new avenue of tourism for the Keys.