Aug 16, 2021
8 mins read
Our trip to Florida was supposed to be just a family visit, but it quickly turned into so much more than that. Last time, I mentioned how we were able to have lunch with Mike from Road Dog Publications, and then we met up with our old friend who we'd traveled around Africa with - Leo. And we would've been completely satisfied with all of that, until we realized we had enough time (and some very good luck) to be able to squeeze in a few more adventures - one to the Florida Keys which has the southernmost point of the continental United States, and the other aboard a small six-seater plane to the Bahamas!
There's nothing better than meeting up with motorcycle friends such as Mike!
Riding the Keys
Ever since I heard about their beauty, and their ocean vistas, the long string of islands trailing out from the tip of Florida known as the Florida Keys have always called to me. Mostly all connected by roads and bridges, they also create what is undoubtedly one of the world's most unique roads on earth, which includes something called Seven-Mile Bridge - an engineering marvel that as you ride it, you feel like you are just floating over the water.
This is an outline of our travels by motorcycle through Florida, including our ride to the Keys.
There are a couple problems with visiting the Keys though. The first of which is that by their nature of being tiny little islands, there's very little land, and so prices for accommodations are high. Even camping spots are usually fully booked months in advance. And so this meant that if we wanted to ride through the Keys, we were going to have to do our best to see it all in one day. Luckily, we were able to stay at Leo's place in Miami as a jumping off point, but considering it's a nearly four hour drive from there to the farthest island (Key West), that makes it a very long and hot eight-hour day.
The other problem (besides the heat of Florida) is that there's really only one road, and it can get congested. So as we geared up and got ready before 7am, we headed out from Miami with high hopes for the best, but with a few worries that things could go terribly awry.
I love the early morning sunshine.
Between the metropolis of Miami and the islands of the Keys is the Everglades, or the "River of Grass" as it's often called. There's also a Florida panther preserve nearby, and as we took a rest stop at one of the pull-offs, we found ourselves in a gorgeous marshy landscape known as Alligator Alley. And although we didn't see any alligators (Tim did see one from the bike as we rode by, but I missed it), we did see lots of cool catfish and beautiful birds such as eagles and egrets.
Can you spot the catfish?
The first of the Keys was Key Largo, aptly named since it is the largest. We took a side road through it called Card Sound Road, which followed the mangrove forests that lined the ocean. Periodic thunderstorms of miniature proportions speckled the sky, and were refreshing to ride through even during the cool of the morning.
We stopped for coffee and snacks at a little Cuban place that served tamales and something I'd never had before - croquetas, which are like mozzarella sticks stuffed with fish, pork, or other savory fillings. They were the perfect snack to keep us going from island to island, from one bridge to the next, riding high above the ocean with turquoise blue waters surrounding us... until we reached our destination - Key West.
This is a croqueta.
The ocean views throughout the Keys were gorgeous.
Key West is an extremely popular tourist destination, and has its own tiny airport to accommodate the flow of people coming and in and out who don't want to drive the whole way in a vehicle. It reminded me a bit of the crazy spring break spirit of Cancún, but without the sprawling beaches. But Key West had its own unique historical flair.
There's a special Key West architectural style to the buildings there - all clapboard houses painted in pastels with expansive porches and surrounded by picket fences. It's here on Key West that you can find Ernest Hemingway's house which still has a population of six-toed cats! There's also the Harry S. Truman Little Whitehouse, as well as a butterfly conservatory... and although we didn't have the time to delve into these things, it was still a pleasure to ride around the island, gazing at all the architecture, and being able to officially say that we have ridden the bike to the southernmost point in the US!
The marker of the southernmost point that you can get to by road in the continental US.
Our way back up through the Keys was not nearly as enjoyable as the way down, mostly because we were hot and tired at that point, and all the refreshing storms had let up. Also, there was a lot of traffic leaving the Keys, but we were fortunate in a way because somehow we avoided the worst of the traffic when coming back into Miami. So overall I will call the day a win, especially when taking into account all the incredible things we had seen!
As you may remember in the previous blog, Leo had asked us if we wanted to join him and his family in a small plane to an equally small island in the Bahamas called Bimini. And we realized that even though we were motorcycle travelers, we could not pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
So we had our passports overnighted to us (because who rides a motorcycle to Florida with their passport?), and we packed our bathing suits, and the next day boarded a little six-seater plane, put on our headsets, and watched the city of Miami fade into the distance. The flight to Bimini only took 20 minutes, but because of the intimate experience of being in such a small plane, and the low altitude, it was one of the most magical flights of our lives.
Once the islands of Bimini appeared in the distance, the waters around them were so crystal clear that we could see the white sandy bottom, rippling in waves like the sea itself. The most incredible colors of aquamarine greeted us, but it didn't really dawn on me how small this little island paradise was until we came in for our landing, and nobody was responding from the air traffic towers. That's because this airport didn't have an air traffic tower. The runway barely had tarmac as we skidded in, and the customs building consisted of just a few staff members.
I'm not sure why I thought Bimini would be just like any old beach resort in the US, full of tourists and commercialization. And even though the northern part was a lot more developed than where we had landed, I was very happy to find that along with the new stamp in my passport, I got to experience a new culture. The accent of the Bahamian people we met was lovely, their smiles were bright, and the Caribbean look to their colorful buildings on stilts reminded me of Belize, but with an even more laid-back feel to it.
The fried fish, and fried conch we had, as well as a delicious conch salad that was like ceviche, was all so good... but the part that impressed me the most were the beaches.
Now in all of our travels, we've seen a lot of impressive beaches. From the Costa Rican whale tail of Playa de la Ballena, to the exotic shimmering coastline of Tanzania. But for me at least, the beach we went to on Bimini was the purest, most stunningly blue beach I've ever seen in my life.
Is this not the most jaw-dropping water you've ever seen? It certainly was for me.
I gasped as we approached the white sand shores where the water tenderly licked at my toes. The sea was like a glittering sapphire, so crystalline blue I can't even describe it. Even pictures don't do it justice. It's something that has to be seen to be believed.
We spent a night there on the Bahamian islands of Bimini, and then took our little plane back to Miami, where we got an aerial tour of the city. I had never been to Miami before, but had always wanted to experience its blend of Cuban and American cultures, and see its pastel Art Deco architecture. And as we flew by Miami Beach and soured over the skyline, I felt like a VIP on a private tour, or like a celebrity, or perhaps I was just the luckiest person in the world. It was indescribable.
And once we landed, Leo took us to see the sights from the ground, and drove us around the city. We got to eat at Versailles, a.k.a. "The World's Most Famous Cuban Restaurant" (where we had HUGE pieces of cheesecake), and we visited Little Havana. We drove through parks and mansion-filled neighborhoods that looked straight out of a Malibu Barbie dreamland. Even though the experiences from the past couple of days had already made me feel like I was dreaming, I certainly had to keep pinching myself.
I never in a million years thought that this was how our little expedition into Florida was going to end up, but somehow the fates had blessed us. And a personal connection that we had made long ago in Africa, had brought us fortune here in the States. We can never truly express to Leo and his family how grateful we are that we were given this opportunity, and if it wasn't already set in stone, our friendship is certainly life-long now.
We simply cannot wait until our tires get to touch the pavement again together and we all ride off into whatever adventures await us once more...
Tim and Leo with their trusty steeds.
But all good things must come to an end. Because in our next post... disaster strikes, leaving us in a bit of a predicament now.
Until next time, stay safe and happy riding!