And Then the Roosters Came

April 25, 2014:

Okay, I’m going to be honest.  We awoke from the previous day’s Big FOUR-OH in a bit of a drunken slumber.  The sun rose, we moaned and groaned our way back into the upright position and stumbled our way back over to the Cuban Coffee Hut,

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to do more stupid things … but not faster.  With the vast quantities of rum and tequila still swimming in our veins, three Cuban coffee queens and we would still only be doing things at normal stupid human speed.  But, we were Day One into Phillip’s second forty years and still on the hunt for new adventures in Key West.  It seemed everywhere we walked there were plenty of interesting sites and scenes to take in.

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“What the truck?!?”

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“Don’t dredge on me!” it says.  You gotta love the quirky conch personalities on this little island.  Take this for example.

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I know you see her.  That pirate-clad pixie up in the upstairs window.  What’s she sayin?

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“Help me!”

Uhh-uuhhh Miss Sparrow.  You got yourself commandeered up there.  We want no part of your pirate drama!  But, do feel free to show us some pirate booty!  

I know, I know …

Hemingway

Speaking of, while we were mozeying around downtown, I got to show Phillip the little hole-in-the-wall bookstore where I stormed in during my first blaze down Duval Street to get his birthday book.  For some reason, the Captain didn’t think that story was funny the fifth time I told it …   “C’mon, that’s good stuff!  Wait till I write up the blog on it!”

But, a couple of coffees down and now on the hunt for lunch, right around the corner we found our haven.  A pink stucco gas station-turned-Cuban Caribbean eatery!  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Paseo’s!

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Take it in …

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Phillip ordered up a hot pressed Cuban sandwich,

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and I got the Paseo’s Greens bowl.

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Basically, a huge Carribean bowl filled with pickled beets, cabbage, and piled high with the most succulent chicken thighs I have ever put in my mouth.

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And … I’m a champion wing eater!  That chicken was so moist I started to think they had to be wringing their necks out behind by the building upon order and roasting them up in house.  And, then my suspicious were confirmed!  Because …

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... that’s when the roosters came!

They were clucking around all over the place!

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Even little baby ones!

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Right by my feet!

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“Those must be the thighs I ordered!  Grab ’em Pedro!”

The roosters really started to rally the troops when our shared side came out – a whole roasted ear of corn (still in the shuck), slathered with seasoned sour cream and topped with fresh chopped cilantro.

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I mean … 

The Captain and I ate ourselves just about sick.  It was hard to sit upright after we finished. A good fifteen minutes after our meal, and we were still kicked back under the gas station awning, picking corn from our teeth and letting the misters spray us down.

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Ahhh … 

After that meal, we were stuffed!  We headed back to the boat to nap it off.  Because that’s what you do in Key West.  Drink, eat and nap.  In that order.  Oh, and wash your boat.  We did that, too.  Since the previous day had been devoted entirely to celebratory matters, we spent most of the afternoon getting our boat chores done – filling the tanks with water, filling our spare diesel cans and giving the boat a good, long scrub-down.  She was literally caked with salt from the passage.  You could physically see it on the handrails and stanchions.  Our girl was itching for a bath.  And, it was a hot day to do it, but there’s just something about getting that boat all cleaned up, even in the sweaty heat of day, that’s truly rewarding.  We showered up afterward, too, and the boat and crew all felt better for it.

As you may recall, we had plans that night to have dinner with our buddy Postal Bob on his Catalina 34.  Remember, we had the mackerel, he had the shark, and Captain Ron was coming with the yellowfin tuna!

Bob invited us over around dusk to start with some sundowners and tall tales at sea.

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“C’mon on board!”

And, there’s Johnny, too!  Mr. Walker and his son made the trip from Ft. Myers to Key West with us on his 38′ Morgan, the s/v Windwalker.  Bob’s boat was set up perfect for hosting.  A big spread was laid out in the cockpit, a full bar was opened to everyone below.  Bob had a specified “beer cooler” in the cockpit full of brewskies and he was working on a four-course feast when we arrived!  Not to mention his boat.  Gees!  It was like a condo at the marina.  He had A/C, a microwave, TV …  That’s living!  We sat down below in the A/C for about all of fifteen minutes before our teeth were chattering.  It seems we had fully acclimated and preferred to dine al fresco.  It was a beautiful evening out anyway, and the cockpit is just always a great place to gather.

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There’s the Windwalker/Plaintiff’s Rest crew.  Johnny next to me, and his son, Jeremy, next to Phillip.  They were a lot of fun and, thankfully, they hadn’t yet heard all of my crazy stories.

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“No, wait, wait.  Let me tell you boys about my bikini sprint to the bookstore … “

Bob was such a generous host, too.  He did all of the prep work himself down below and plated everything up while we were visiting in the cockpit.

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“You keep passing drinks up here and we’re going to want some dinner to go with it!”  I call it the “Give a Mouse a Cookie” phenomenon.  But Bob had us covered.  He cooked up the mackerel we had caught on the way down to the Keys (yes, we still had plenty enough left over to feed the whole crew).  That was one big fish!

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And, Bob taught us a great trick about mackerel, too.  We had cooked up a few filets our first night in the Keys and while it was good, it had turned out a bit more meaty, a little tougher, than other fresh fish we had caught and cooked up.  But, Bob said “just soak it in milk!”  He let the filets we brought over soak for a bit before he grilled them up, and that did the trick!

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That mackerel was perfect.  And, Bob had made beans and rice, a salad with fresh grated parmesan and grilled zucchini and squash!  See?  A four-course meal … pretty much.  Certainly a fit feast for a boat.  We passed a few plates around and this crew didn’t wait to dig in!

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“Thanks Bob!”

It was a great night spent with great fellow sailors down in the Keys.  Phillip and I really felt like two of the group.  We were cruisers now!  We watched a beautiful sunset from the dock while we polished off the mackerel and another round of drinks.

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We decided to call it an early night because we had a big day the next day.  The biggest of the whole trip perhaps (aside from the Captain’s birthday).

Where were we going tomorrow you ask??   I’ll let you wager a guess …

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The Big FOUR-OH

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 …

Ron

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.

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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.

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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!

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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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Yum!

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

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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.

Ladies

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.

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Thankfully, this man is not!

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

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

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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.

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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:

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(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!

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“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,

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

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(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.

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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!

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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!

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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!