The Conch Republic
When we began to plan this Overlander experience, I wanted to make it to Alaska for a second time, and what better place to start this adventure than the Southernmost Point in the United States, Key West.
After 2 nights in Redneck Yacht Club, we went south on U.S. Highway 27 merging with the well known Turnpike, until we finally made it to U.S. 1. Our drive got to be very slow and boring, mainly because it was Memorial Weekend and the road was full of cars.
Key West presented to us as a bubbly and festive city, lot of tourists walking in the streets, going from bar to bar, riding bikes, golf carts, electric carts and regular cars. Its old style architecture and the absence of high risers took us back to the old times, Duval Street (touristic spot) and its surroundings stand out for their peculiarity.
Key West has a very rich history, on pre-Columbian times it was inhabited by the Calusa natives and with the arrival of Juan Ponce de Leon on 1521 it was made an Spanish colony and many say the Spaniards name it “Cayo Hueso” due to the great amount of bones left by Calusa natives dead during their fight against the Spanish conquerors. The most accepted theory says that the name changed to Key West instead than Key Bone because of the sound it makes in English phonetics: Key “weso”, key “wes”, Key West.
On 1761, when the Kingdom of Great Britain took control of Florida, the Spanish community and the natives were moved to Habana, twenty years after, Florida was one again under Spanish ruling but there was no legal agreement assigning the control of the island, so it became a fishing port for the British Bahamas and Cuba, with no official authority until well after the American independence.
These immigrants from British Bahamas were known as Conchs (pronounce as Conks), so as time went by, the habitants of Key West began calling themselves Conchs too. During the 80’s, a very strong popular and regionalism feeling started to sprout and it was because of the “Marielitos” exodus (Mariel Exodus) and the arrival of Cubans to the island. The USA Border Patrol blocked U.S.1, and required to see the “Conchs” documents to let them drive to the continent, so as a protest they declared their symbolic independence from United States on April 23, 1982 and became the Conch Republic. You can see more of this part of history on the following link: http://www.conchrepublic.com/history.htm
Key West is a very friendly city, full of tourism and open minded, many of the buildings and stores have the rainbow flag to let everybody know that support gays and lesbians. There are many interesting sites to visit, among them: The House of Ernest Hemingway, the Art and History Museum, the Lighthouse and Ripley Museum (Believe or Not).
We wanted to see one site particularly, the Southernmost Point, a popular monument on the most south point in the continental United States. It was not easy to take pictures and video here because of the number of tourists there. The irony is that this is not the most south geographical site on the continent, this is merely the touristic spot, the real southmost point is located on a USA Navy Base, to which civilians do not have access.
We left Key West with the expectation of the adventure that awaits us; what we are going to learn, the stories we will encounter and the anecdotes we will make on our way north. Next stop: Ocala…