Book Swap Mojo

April 26, 2014:

You might think the ferry ride back from the Dry Tortugas was a little disheartening, having to leave those idyllic islands behind, knowing we had kind of hit the mid-point of our trip, geographically, at least, but it really didn’t have that effect.  “So, we’ve got to take this ferry back to Key West where our sailboat and more adventures are waiting?”  Yeah, not really a downer in our opinion.  We returned invigorated, excited to get back to our boat and tell her how beautiful it was on Garden Key and how much she was going to love sailing there when we come back to the Dry Tortugas.  We were excited to see Key West coming up in the distance.


Phillip and I could both feel it, like a steady stream of electricity buzzing through us.  There were still so many places on the island to explore!  There was still so much to see and eat and do!  We were itching to get off that ferry to grab our next adventure by the collar and shake it!  This was our time!  And, we still had plenty of time that day.  The ferry returned from the Dry Tortugas around 4:00 p.m.  Uhhh-huhhh.  I know what you’re thinking.  Happy Hour.  That’s right.  We’ve still got time!  

We jumped in the shower quick to make it to Alonzo’s for the 50-cent oysters.  I brought The Paris Wife with me to the showers so I could make my tribute to the marina book swap on the way.  I finished The Paris Wife on the way to the Dry Tortugas, which was perfect, because it is a sad, poignant book.  The kind that sinks into your chest and begins to swell into an ache.  I found myself mad at Hemingway, hating him, but understanding him at the same time.  It certainly resonated.  So, it was good to shut that book and step off the ferry into crystal-green waters filled with shimmery fish clouds.  The feeling the book invokes is something you want to feel, but it’s also a feeling you want to balance with fresh air and beauty.  It was a day of closure it seemed, as Phillip finished In Our Time on the ferry-ride back.  He said it was really interesting reading it after The Paris Wife, where you saw Hemingway create it from his wife, Hadley’s, perspective, and he liked watching the evolution of Hemingway’s writing style from In Our Time, his first book, to his later masterpieces.  That one’s definitely on my list (as are many!)  But, since Phillip was reading it on the way back, I dug into my back-up book swap book – a juicy little Lee Childs thriller – 61 Hours.  I made it one third of the way through by the time we docked at Key West – certainly a fun, quick suspense read.

When we returned, I told Phillip I wanted to keep The Paris Wife and give it to a friend of mine back home who is an author, knowing she would appreciate the Hemingway haunt it had left me with, but he was quick to scold me.  “You can’t,” he said.  “You’ll ruin your book swap mojo.”

My what?!?

Yes, mojo, the Captain explained, in his infinite marina wisdom.  Apparently, there is some unspoken rule in the land of marina book swaps, that if you get a good book from a marina book swap, you’ve got to give it back at another marina to ensure your continued good book karma.  “Oh, alright!”  I supposed I could just tell my friend about The Paris Wife and she could get her own copy.  If that’s what it takes to nurture my mojo!

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So, I put it back, but, I think the marina sensed my flirt with thoughts of infidelity, because I was left with the Fabio, ripped abs romance novels, and this hot little western number:



Clearly my mojo was tainted.  I’m glad I had a Jack Reacher number and a few other alternatives to get me to the next marina, where I hoped to find less whips and abs.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Once showered, we headed to Alonzo’s Oyster Bar to enjoy another dozen 50-cent oysters and some crisp white wine in the shade.  The perfect treat after a long day in the sun.

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I love building the perfect bite on each cracker.  A fresh oyster, just the right amount of cocktail sauce, with a little horseradish mixed in, and a squeeze of lemon on top.  Follow that with a sip of chilled sauvignon blanc, repeat five times and that makes for a pretty darn happy hour for me!  While I was still mad at the man for his heartbreaking treatment of Hadley, I have to say, Hemingway certainly knew how to describe the taste:


After oysters, we headed back out on the street and found ourselves once again, drawn to the breath of the Hog!  Cliff Cody was belting out another Lady Gaga number at the Saloon, so we decided to stop in for a bit to check out the locals and let Cody serenade us through our first cold one(s).

Love the people-watching at Hog’s.  We knocked back one or two and then made our way over to the La Trattoria for a big, Italian dinner.  I mean, we’d been to the Dry Tortugas and back today.  We had snorkeled with sharks!  We had required first aid!  Certainly, we were entitled to a decadent, four course Italian meal?  We decided we were, and breezed right in.


Table for two, please,” said the Captain.

We ordered up a great bottle of Montepulciano and the escargot.

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The wine had a great pepper finish that really cut through the richness of the escargot.  While it took me a couple of tries and several reiterations by the Captain for me to get the pronunciation of the wine right (had nothing to do with the alcohol intake I assure you), I finally nailed it!  Mon tae pul chee ahh noh.  And, I proudly showed off my Italian skills when I ordered our second bottle.  Teach me to pronounce wines, and you’re just asking for trouble …

It came just in time for our salad course – a homemade caeser with whole anchovies, fresh-grated parmesan and big crunchy, spiced croutons.  Superb!


But, the dish that really stole the show was the canneloni.  Fresh canneloni, made in house, stuffed with ground veal and spinach and smothered in a baked tomato sauce.

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Press fingers to lips and “muah!”  Our big, Italian dinner was the perfect treat after a long, adventurous day.  We had been to the Dry Tortugas and back – a definite milestone on our trip.  But, we still had so much ahead.  We still had to sail our boat all the way back to Pensacola from the Keys.  If the trip back was anything as exciting as the trip down, we were in for an incredible adventure.  We had one more day in the Keys, then we would set off again, back out into the open Gulf, back on night shifts, back OUT THERE!


Thursday – April 24, 2014:

A BIG day for Phillip.  And, a BIG day for us.  Waking up in the Keys.  Does it get any better?  After taking in the carnie sights and sunset at Mallory Square and cooking up our fresh-caught mackerel the evening before, we woke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Phillip’s birthday – ready to paint the island red!  Like any other thirsty sailor, we headed out for our first drink of the day – COFFEE!  Not a few blocks from the boat, we ran into none other than Postal Bob!  That man was everywhere.  He told us we needed to try this great little Cuban coffee stand just a few blocks over and we started putting together some plans to have dinner on his boat the following evening.  Still having plenty left from our hefty Gulf catch, we said we could bring mackerel.  Bob said he had some shark.  And, then this salty surfer looking dude …


Yeah, something like that

who was just randomly walking by said “Well, I’ve got some yellowfin tuna I can bring.  Where we meeting?”  You gotta love the Keys!

We bid Bob farewell and headed over to the famous Cuban Coffee Queen hut.


Not a bad little jaunt from the boat.  And, in addition to the yellowfin tuna guy, there were plenty of quirky little Key West sights to take in along the way.




Two hundred miles from everywhere!

The sight at the coffee hut certainly had that authentic Cuban charm.  There were roosters clucking around.  Coffee runners (each of whom seemed to sport the same style dreads and flip-flops) loading up mopeds to go make Cuban Coffee Queen deliveries.  A line of folks waiting for their coffee and breakfast sandwiches.  This was definitely the happening coffee spot!


The guy at the counter cracked us up, too.  We didn’t see any orange juice on the menu so Phillip asked “Do you have any OJ?”  The guy sloshed around a huge vat of juice for us to see, which wasn’t really an answer, so Phillip asked “Is it for sale?”  To which the sweaty Cuban coffee clerk replied, “Sir, everything’s for sale.  I’ll sell you the shirt off my back if you want it.”  I liked that guy.

We got two piping cups of Cuban coffee and an awesome pressed Cuban sandwich.

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Even the merchandise seemed to have a good sense of humor.


We were definitely pleased.  The coffee hut was going to be our regular stop every morning for sure!  After coffee we ventured back toward the north side of the island near Mallory Square, where we found some great sculptures and tourist pieces.

This whimsical number is located near the Custom’s House and is intended, I presume, to be a boy dreaming about … well what all boys dream about.


I decided to take some liberties and show him a little bit of the real deal …

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But he couldn’t handle it!

And, besides, this guy was painting the scene while we were there, so I didn’t want to taint his muse.

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But, being a sculpture too, he seemed to also be impervious to my charms.


Thankfully, this man is not!


There were a ton of great “touristy things” to check out near the Square.


Which makes sense.  That’s right where the cruise boats come in.


Not so big from afar.

After the Square, we headed over to the north side of the island to check out some of the houses and gated properties.  The other side of the tracks I guess you would say.  No roosters clucking around or grungy coffee runners on mopeds here.  This part of town was pristine.

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The houses were gorgeous.  Bright local brush and flowers spilled over every fence and seemed to reach out for you.  We scoped out a few lunch spots but decided to head over to Hemingway’s House and do the tour first.

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Come on in!

We got lucky and scored an exceptional tour guide.  This young, bright-eyed college-looking kid, but he was super knowledgeable about all things Hemingway, and he had a real passion for sharing the trouble writer’s story and pointing out so many little idiosyncrasies about the house and its former (and current!) inhabitants.

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Have you ever heard of the six-toed cats?  It seems some cats that came over on ships developed a sixth toe (making them polydactyl), and those that did were sought after for their improved mice-catching capabilities.  Apparently Hemingway also developed a bit of fondness for the finger-favored felines and started a small collection.  The house is now home to about 40-50 six-toed cats.  That’s like 1,200 toes!

The cats are lying around all over the house, completely oblivious to the hundreds of tourists passing through.

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I mean, I wouldn’t give much mind to us either.  We’re just walking around staring all of the time.  These cats have their own personal veterinarian who comes to check on them all, make sure they’re properly fed, cared for and maintained.  So, yeah, all they have to do is lie around and snooze.  What a life!

One of my favorite parts about the tour was the story of Hemingway’s “Last Red Cent!”  It seems Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline, was none too pleased with Hemingway’s constant travels as a war correspondent, probably because it also helped to foster his philandering ways, so she had a $330,000 (in today’s dollars) pool built while he was away.

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Legend has it when Hemingway returned from the Spanish Civil War and learned of Pauline’s pricey pool, he threw a penny at her and said, “Well you might as well have my last red cent!”  Pauline was happy to.  She claimed that and plenty more when the couple later divorced, and she had the cent embedded in glass near the pool to show her friends when she hosted grand cocktail parties by the pool.

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Take that Hemingway!  Plenty more stories about Hemingway’s House if you’re interested HERE.

But, I have to say, my ACTUAL favorite part was Hemingway’s office.  He had a suite built out where he would spend the better part of the day every morning toiling away on this vicious craft.  Writing can be so exciting, so invigorating one day, and so draining and absolutely depressing the next.  It’s a terrible burden to know you’ve written something that can be better, but also a blessing to know that you can write it better – if you’re willing to sit down and push yourself there.  If you have it, which Hemingway, certainly did, it’s a torturous gift, and it certainly tortured him.  It was incredibly humbling for me to see the actual room where Hemingway chipped away at the same stone.

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After Hemingway’s house we were famished.  We decided to dine at a little Creperia we had passed along the way.  La Creperia.


And … Oh.  My.  Gosh.  The best crepe I have ever had.  By far.  Hands down.  No questions about it.   Not mine – I ordered the La Campagnarde:


(frisee, lardons, tomatoes, potatoes, shallots, egg over easy, with a red wine vinaigrette), which was good, but Phillip ordered one with chicken, spinach, mushrooms and this decadent bechamel sauce.  It tasted like creamy white country gravy melted with cheese and poured over succulent chicken.  I don’t have any pictures of it because we tore right into it and devoured it in seconds.  My phone never stood a chance of getting in there.  The crepes are still ranked to this day one of our top meals on the trip.  It was a perfect little bistro setting, too.  We sat outside at a cute little rod-iron table, sipped mimosas and ate our fill!

After our gluttonous lunch, we decided to do what any fat, full tourists in Key West would do — lounge it off, sipping cocktails at the pool all afternoon!


“Two cabana chairs, please!  And a drink menu!”

I did capture some fun shots on the way, of the Schooner Wharf Bar,

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(we’ll be stopping in there later in the week), the dinghy dock,


(yes, that’s just for the dinghies!), and some seriously old salts hanging out at the dock,


(watch out National Geographic, here I come!) before we made it to the pool.  But, make it we finally did!

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Ahhhh … that’s better!  We were on Cloud Nine all afternoon, just watching the people, reading (I finished The Paris Wife there!) and napping.

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Sexy beast!

And, we had some serious entertainment at the pool.  There was a noisy, bachelorette bunch near us that underwent complete military-style invasion.  There were five girls, hovering around the obvious bride in the center, all laughing and giggling and taking selfies, and you could see this bunch of Ed Hardy-type muscle-bound dudes behind them planning their attack.  First, the guys sent over a tray of shots to the ladies, who downed them no problem, with giggles and hiccups and a swipe of the chin (“tee heee!  I love buttery nipples!”) but still no penetrable chink in their armor.  So, the dudes then sent a drink over – to the bride – smart move and then they started to flank them, one-by-one, approaching with drinks in hand.  One guy came toward their circle via the pool and started distracting an obvious weak gazelle on the outer rim.  She engaged and started swimming around with Mr. Muscle which left an opening for Guy No. 2 to saunter over.  He made his way in and started trying on the next gal’s shades and complimenting her on her style.  That soldier fell fast too.  They were dropping like flies, leaving the bride pretty open and exposed.  We watched each tactical maneuver, commenting and narrating over the rims of our rum drinks – of course, until the guys had completely infiltrated.  We were actually impressed.  Maybe these guys had a chance, but Phillip called it.  “Please?  A bachelorette party?  Those are the worst odds.”  And, he was totally right.  A couple of hours later, having burned through a couple-hundred dollar bar tab, I’m sure, the ladies packed up shop, huddled around their bride and marched right off, leaving the chumps behind.  It was … awesome!

After a nice, relaxing afternoon by the pool, we decided to stop on our way back to the boat at Alonzo’s Oyster Bar for happy hour and try their 50-cent oysters Postal Bob had been telling us about.

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Nothing like a salty oyster and an ice cold glass of white wine to remind you you’re a sailor in love with the sea.

For Phillip’s birthday, we had made reservations at this place called Santiago’s Bodega that we had scoped out the previous day during our conch train tour adventure.  We cleaned up around dusk and headed back out on the town for more drinks, of course, before dinner.  A little buzzed and definitely feeling a little frisky, we walked the docks waving at all of our marina neighbors and eyeing all of the big yachts we would never be able to afford.


Phillip looked like a kid in a candy store, a goofy smile spread across his face, nudging me and pointing at each one, “Look at that one.”  “Hey, did you see this one?”  “Check that out!”  He was definitely spending some daydream dollars!


Maybe for your fiftieth Captain.  … Maybe.

Once we snapped out of it and made our way off the docks, we found ourselves strangely drawn to the scent of Hog’s Breath!


A big guy clutching a guitar was actually singing a Lady Gaga song, Poker Face, as we walked by and we knew this was going to be a treat.  His name was Cliff Cody.  We saw him there several times during our stay in the Keys, and I swear if you closed your eyes and just listened, you would think you were sitting three feet from Travis Tritt.  Cliff sounded JUST like him.  The guy was pretty incredible.

But, it was time for dinner!  We headed over to Santiago’s and started a seven course tapas feast!

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Croquettes, then salad, empanadas, stuffed dates, roast duck …  It was a feast fit for kings.  Or, fit for the Captain I suppose.  We had certainly made a day of it.  For a man that craves adventure, I think having sailed his boat all the way down to the Keys with a pretty rough-and-tumble First Mate, who can thankfully pass for pretty some days too, Phillip was feeling pretty content.  I know I was – it felt like it had been my birthday too.  It seems like we shared it.  Such an incredible feat to accomplish sailing down there and such a luxurious day of food, wine and fun to celebrate it.

But, did I say the man craves adventure?  I believe so.  Two bottles of wine behind us, and this man decides he wants to go on a mission to find the “BEST key lime pie on the island.”  “The BEST,” he says.  “It has to be the best.  Let’s GO!”

And, go we did.  We hit Duval in a drunken fury, dancing and singing and poking strangers.  We were a riot, and the night was young!!

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“Ceeee-lebrate good times, C’MON!”  Happy Birthday Captain!