Thursday, September 24, 2015

Defending Our Borders

The United States Coast Guard has a huge presence in Key West, with its primary mission to capture and return to Cuba any migrants found at sea before they can set foot on US soil.  While staying in Key West, we got the fantastic opportunity to have a private tour of a Coast Guard cutter and speak at length to the boatswain's mate.  The most versatile crew member, he joked with us that he was a "Jack of all trades, master of none!"  He can perform almost any task on the ship to include deck maintenance, supervision and navigation.

The harbor this day had 3 cutters in port - we toured the smaller one on the left.  It's also one of the newer ones assigned to the Coast Guard.

All ships are named for Coast Guard heroes.  William Trump (no relation to Donald!) jumped out of a personnel carrier on the Normandy Beach on D-Day and manually lowered the front when it was stuck, allowing the personnel to disembark for the battle.

Communication antennas and, in the foreground, you can partially see the huge gun that is mounted on the front of the ship.

The U.S. Jack flag is flown by the Coast Guard on ships in harbor.

The bridge
All interior sections of the boat were air conditioned.

Combination day room/dining room/tv room
This is the common area that is used by the men and women assigned to the ship, about 27 or so.  The other side had coffee pots, microwave, toaster oven, water dispenser - anything that an individual would need during off time.  The flat screen TVs on either end had satellite reception and wifi was available.

There are two cooks assigned and they cook pretty much non-stop.  Their job is to feed the crew, as well as any migrants that are picked up.

The boat used to approach migrant vessels and ferry migrants to the larger ship is contained within the larger ship.  The back folds down and the smaller boat is launched from there.

I didn't photograph any of the crew sleeping quarters out of respect for privacy, but let me tell you, they were tiny!  The largest contained two bunks, a tiny sink and a small cabinet.  The smaller rooms (given as punishment for minor infractions) had only two bunks and were barely large enough to swing the door in.

No part of the ship was off limits, so we saw the engine rooms and all the mechanical parts as well.  Drinking water is made from sea water by a desalination method and black waste water is dumped at sea.  Laundry is done by individuals in a small, RV style combination washer/dryer that takes 3 hours per load.  Showers are individual rooms but shared by all, with female personnel given a separate stall so "they don't have to deal with men's dirt."

As interesting as the tour of the ship was, even more fascinating was the education we received about what happens when a migrant vessel is encountered.  Until recently, the crew was not allowed to use any weapons against the migrants.  You can imagine, they are not very happy to be intercepted and many would fight being taken aboard the Coast Guard ship.  It was quite a dangerous undertaking for the crew.  Now, crews have been issued what was described as a cross between a paint ball gun and a pepper spray canister used by police in any large city.  It's very unpleasant to be shot by one of these things, and word has leaked back to Cuba that the Coast Guard is thus armed.  Resistance is limited now.  However, the whole "wet foot, dry foot" policy of the United States makes the migrants very inventive about getting to put a foot on any U.S. soil.  One man took a flying leap off the Coast Guard cutter when he spotted land, planning to swim the 12 miles they were still away.  Needless to say, he was recaptured!  Another delivered her baby at sea, all the while trying to convince the crew she needed to go to land to have the child.

Migrants are treated well on the boats, given food and water and examined by a doctor.  The boats return them to Cuba, basically to a single dock as they are not allowed to actually land in Cuba.  No one knows what changes will happen now that relations are being reestablished with the country.

This, to me, was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we were so happy we got to do this.  The boatswain's mate couldn't have been nicer and, all told, we were on the ship for about an hour.  It was an experience neither one of us will ever forget!

Until next time...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Botanical Garden in the Tropics

Fort Zachary Taylor was originally built on Key West for the purpose of manning guns to control the harbor. During the Civil War, the fort was held by Federal troops even though most citizens were Confederate sympathizers.  The West Martello Tower is a portion of the fort that was never fully completed.  In 1949, with the structure in decline, the Key West Garden Club took responsibility and developed the site into a beautiful tropical garden and event center.  In 1975, the site was declared a National Historic Site and today, people are welcome to tour the gardens for free.

The garden club attempts to grow any tropical plant, so there are specimens from many countries.  The gardens have meandering pathways through the vegetation and many of the plants are labeled.

The tunnel you see behind me is made of brick and part of the original structure.

This is the rest of the tree I'm standing by above.  It's called a Strangling Fig.

You can still see the gun portals in the walls of the structure

Unfinished walls
The tower was never finished, as you can see here.  The garden club has used the parts of the structure that are finished and preserves the rest as is.

The arched walkway was beautiful.

Interesting to see the interior of the structure walls.

Orchids and various tropical blooms

One thing really surpirsed me and that was the inclusion of so many succulIents and cacti in the gardens.  I've always associated cactus with desert climates, not tropical.

How much tequila could be made from this plant?

This giant could supply all the aloe you'd need in a lifetime, I think.

Brain Cactus
When you looked closely at this, it really does resemble brain matter.

Many of the trees, plants and bushes had edible parts.  

Baby Coconuts
They start out yellow, then turn green, then brown.

Not sure what the hanging down part is, but it was interesting to see.

Many of the recognizable (to me) plants were giant sized.  It makes our house plants that we try to grow seem puny! 

Look at the size of that palm frond!
Pothos is one plant I can't kill, but they never get to be this size!

Limes, anyone?
Even the garden art was super-sized.

Apparently, some trees are not designed to be climbed.  I thought only cactus had this type of protective parts.

Ruffle palm
Those spines are sharp!

Silk Floss Tree
I wouldn't want to try to climb this one, either.

Rain barrel
Being Key West, all the rain barrels were decorated like this one.

We had a great time wandering around the garden, being amazed at the variety and learning the names of some of the trees and plants we had seen on the island.  And since it's free, it's a great way to spend some off-the-beaten-path time in Key West.

Until next time...

Monday, September 21, 2015

Key West Cemetery

I know it weird, but as I think I've said before, I love to wander around cemeteries, particularly old ones, reading the headstones and photographing unusual monuments.  Key West Cemetery was much larger than I had expected - reportedly over 100,000 people are buried there.  Evidence of hurricane damage is everywhere, but people are still being buried there. 

Some areas look completely haphazard, while others are relatively neatly laid in rows.

Asleep, not dead - well, that's one way to look at it.

This 2004 marker belongs to Captain Outrageous, aka Norm Taylor from Columbus, OH.  His friends are obviously still partying without him.

I'm guessing single old maid with a houseful of cats. 

Loved this one!  Take a closer look...
He had fun.

Some crypts look like houses.

Here's a fenced Cuban enclave, complete with benches

This one made me a little nervous - did he escape already or are we waiting?
They're going to have to buy another carport pretty soon!

Iguanas heavily populated the cemetery, retreating into holes under the monument when you approached.

And this bird was standing sentinel on one person's grave.

This bird stood sentinel on one grave. 

I truly mean no disrespect when I write these posts about cemeteries and graves and I hope no one is offended reading this.  I quietly and respectfully visit and like to wonder about the people that were so full of life and personality that it spilled over to their headstones when they were gone.  I mean, how great is it that, no matter what other things he'd done in his life, a man would want his descendants to know that "He had fun?!"

Until next time...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Virgin No More!

A Margaritaville virgin, that is!  In all my travels, I have avoided going to any Margaritaville restaurant, preferring to wait to go to the original one in Key West.  Well, I finally made it!

The margarita was made with fresh lime juice, lots of tequila and tasted fantastic!  I'd have like to have had more than one, but, as some of you know, I pretty much a lightweight in the drinking department and I wouldn't have been able to walk if I'd had another.

And I had...a Cheeseburger in Paradise, of course!
Pretty mediocre for a burger, though.

The interior was quite laid back, only a small amount of tables.  We went for lunch, so missed the live music, but the screen above the stage played music videos of Buffet concerts.

The waitresses wore this tshirt.

One more item crossed off the bucket list! Oh, and I did find my lost shaker of salt!  :-)

Until next time...

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Florida Riviera

I've never been to the French Riviera, but Miami Beach's South Beach area touts itself as the Florida Riviera. The reason I wanted to visit was because I love anything and everything Art Deco.  And the Art Deco District is the country's first 20th century neighborhood to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.

We first drove down Ocean Ave (Hwy A1A) to get a feel for the area and find a place to park.  All the hotels and buildings had either retail shops or restaurants on the ground floor.

Ocean Ave looking south

Ocean Ave looking north

On the eastern side of Ocean Ave, the park has access to the beach, volleyball courts, bathrooms and lots of shade.

We finally found a place to park a couple of blocks away and started walking and gawking at all the Art Deco buildings on the west side.

I liked the tower on this one.

Curved walls made appearances frequently.

The detail is hard to see in pictures, but spectacular in person.

This looks pretty plain in the daylight, but if  you look closely, you'll see the neon tubes on the front.  I imagine the whole street is breathtaking at night!

This hotel has been  renting rooms since 1935.

Another building with a "lighthouse" look.

These hotel rooms have all the modern amenities.

 Park Central hotel was the first hotel to be returned to its original splendor.  The hotel was a hangout for Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and Rita Hayworth, to name a few.

More rounded corners

Once the home of Versace and the location of his death on its front steps, Casa Casaurina is now an upscale restaurant.

It was crazy hot on the boardwalk (it's actually a brick lined sidewalk, but they call it a boardwalk) and way past lunch time, so I told Sid he had to chose where to have lunch.  This place looked happy from the outside and had great salsa music wafting out...


Imagine our surprise when these guys hopped up on the bar and started their routine!

A feast for the female eye!

A little later, the guys got their desserts.  The girl on the left could really shake her booty!

We had a great lunch, but Sid will never live down his choice!  Then it was back out to check out the beach itself.

The beach was very deep and the sand is getting whiter and softer the further south we go.

The lifeguard shacks were colorful.

Beach Patrol headquarters and, more importantly, bathrooms!

Vendors on the beach

Driving through the rest of the area, there were plenty of unusual architecture everywhere.  I don't know where they come up with all the designs, because every single building was different in some way.

Loved the "wings" on top.

Oval shaped buildings

Hotels, condos must have amazing views

I wonder if there are rooms at the top?

Reminds me of a 50s type of building

Great street art

All four corners of this street had differently painted turtles.

Even Walgreen's is into the Deco look!

Home of the first tattoo reality show...

Miami Ink!

Just a fraction of some of the smaller yachts on the intracoastal.

Of course, I can't just show the good - there's also the bad and the ugly...

The bad - homeless sleeping in the park.  We saw quite a few.

The ugly - even South Beach has alleys.

The day was a total feast for our eyes.  Everywhere we looked was something interesting, beautiful or unusual to see.  What a great day!

Tomorrow, we pick up stakes and head to Key West!  I'm so excited, I know I'll have a hard time sleeping tonight!

Until next time...