Two days after our wedding, at an hour sometime between night and morning, Robin Hood and I shuffled onto an airplane in Albuquerque. Two transfers and 10 hours later, we arrived at our honeymoon destination: the Conch Republic.
Immediately upon exiting the Key West airport, we felt the tropics. The air was so thick we could have cut it with the edge of a conch shell. Palm trees fringed the streets. The smell of the ocean flirted with our nostrils. Chickens roamed free throughout the town.
We definitely weren’t in Albuquerque anymore.
We took a cab to The Mermaid & The Alligator, a bed-and-breakfast we had found on the Internet, and promptly fell even more in love with the place than when we had originally booked our stay. The owners were friendly and helpful, and our room was lovely, comfortable, and had a balcony. As if all that wasn’t enough, the owners’ dog amiably patrolled the property, charming everyone she met. The place was perfect.
Our first night there, we made a beeline to Mallory Square to watch the sunset. It’s a popular spot – besides the restaurants that line the waterfront, folks go there to just hang out. There are street performers, food carts, a coconut man (you just have to go and see for yourself), and a generally festive yet mellow atmosphere that was exactly what we needed.
And for dinner? Cuban food, naturally! We dined on the patio of El Meson de Pepe, where our drinks sweated a little, we sweated a little, and everything was delicious.
In the days that followed…oh man. The days that followed.
We slept in. What usually woke us up were church bells: across the street from our B&B was the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea (is that not the greatest name for a basilica EVER?) and its bells began their hourly tolling at 8 am. I guarantee you won’t find a more peaceful wake-up call.
We went to the beach, which proved a little rocky for my taste, but hey, a beach is a beach. We splashed! We soaked up the sun! We were very glad that we got out of the water minutes before a pair of stingrays drifted practically onto the shore!
We went fishing and caught a dozen yellowtail snapper. We kept four and had them cooked harborside at a floating Thai restaurant, and we ate them on the rooftop as the sun set.
We visited the Ernest Hemingway House, and saw where he lived, where he wrote…and many, many cats.
We went on a late-night Ghost Tour, where we got to ride in a trolley; and on a daytime “Conch Train” tour, where our tour guide sounded eerily like Joe Pesci.
We ate. We ATE! Never a lot at once, because it was too hot for that, but our bellies were so happy. Fresh breakfast every morning at the B&B! Seafood! Cuban sandwiches! And, of course, key lime pie. YUM.
On Saturday, the 4th of July, our last full day there…well, Jimmy Buffett would have been proud. We took a seaplane ride to the Dry Tortugas, reportedly America’s most inaccessible national park. There were ten people on the plane, we only flew a few hundred feet above the water, and I will never forget how that water looked. So many shades of blue, and so clear we could spot sea turtles paddling along.
Our destination was Fort Jefferson, which dates back to the Civil War (fun fact: it’s the largest masonry structure in America). We had just a couple of hours to spend there, so Robin Hood and I divvied up our time exploring the fort; snorkeling; and picnicking on the beach. Try as we did to savor it, though, the time flew, and before we knew it we were making our return trip (just as magical as the first leg) back to Key West.
We watched the fireworks that night from the Southernmost Beach in the United States, held hands, and smiled.
Not a bad way to start a marriage.