Saturday, February 26, 2022
It turned out that this was not a good day to drive from Key West to Key Largo. Normally, this drive takes about 1.5 hours, and we had plenty of time to take a boat ride that was scheduled for 4:00 in Key Largo.
We stopped in Marathon to revisit a restaurant we had discovered 20 years ago. The Stuffed Pig serves breakfast and lunch, and the food is still excellent. We expected it to be packed, but our wait was short, and well worth it. We were visited by a couple of critters, a curly-tailed lizard and an iguana, but no chickens, for a change.
By the way, there are chickens everywhere in Key West, and they are protected. They were brought to the area hundreds of years ago, for food and cockfighting. Cockfighting was outlawed in 1986 in Florida, and most of the chickens were left to fend for themselves, which they’ve done quite well. A few years ago, the city hired a Chicken Catcher to capture and relocate the chickens, but that upset many of the locals, so he quit and was never replaced. You can hear them crowing at all hours of the day and night, and they do come begging for food at the outdoor cafes. It is illegal to feed them, though, so they must subsist on what accidentally falls to the ground.
Shortly after leaving The Stuffed Pig, we hit a traffic slowdown. After about an hour, during which we advanced less than 10 miles, Mark asked a passerby what was going on. It was a huge Nautical Flea Market, held on Islamorada this weekend. The passerby told us: “You picked the wrong weekend to try to go anywhere!” So true, it took 4 hours to drive 40 miles, as we watched the fuel gauge drop, and felt our bladders fill up. There were over 350 vendors, 13 food trucks, and 18,000 attendees over the two days. No wonder, traffic was at a standstill!
This reminded us of a story that we heard about when Key West “seceded” from the union in 1982, and named themselves The Conch Republic, all because of traffic congestion. Residents were protesting a US Border Patrol roadblock and checkpoint set up that year before entering the Keys. Vehicles were stopped and searched for narcotics and illegal immigrants, tying up traffic in and out of the Keys. The city tried to get the roadblock removed by legal means, and when that didn’t work, they used the argument that since they were being treated like a foreign nation, they might as well become one. The Mayor declared war against the United States, then immediately surrendered and applied for one billion dollars in foreign aid – all done facetiously, of course.
The roadblock was removed soon thereafter. Key West celebrates their “Independence” each year in April, with parades and activities like Royal Family elections, Raising the Colors, parades and more. When you fly into the Key West airport, you will be welcomed to The Conch Republic.
We missed our 4:00 boat ride, arriving at Key Largo 30 minutes after it was due to depart. It would have been on the “African Queen,” the boat used in the movie of the same name. Ownership of the boat has changed hands many times, and is now owned and operated by a local hotel. Oh well!