Our main purpose in going to Florida was the Wylie Family Vacation - with my entire immediate family - in Key Largo. We flew into Miami early, rented a car and drove north to Palm Beach Gardens so I could also use this trip to meet Dennis' mother and stepfather, and his ex-stepfather, all for the first time. They were all very gracious and I greatly appreciated their hospitality and finally meeting them. In Palm Beach Gardens, I was struck by the magnificent Banyan trees with their intertwined roots and thick trunks. I loved seeing them everywhere we turned; they felt safe to me. I took many photos and I even climbed one of them.
In addition to my family vacation, my mom was turning 80 years old, an important milestone worthy of a grand celebration. While Key Largo was nice, the real attraction there was hanging out with my family. In what turned out to be my favorite part of the trip, a group of us took a day and drove down to Key West. One day was not enough and I vowed to go back and spend a week there.
After almost three hours of driving south over many bridges, and surrounded by water with swirls of sage and turquoise color, it was apparent to me that we had reached the end of the world indeed. We posed for a photo at the end of the Highway 1 sign (or was it the beginning?) to mark the achievement.
Key West is Gone With The Wind meets Old Man And The Sea with weather that was humid and almost equatorial even in January. The neat clapboard homes and businesses were surrounded by palms that promised shade but didn't come through on their promise like a bad set of parents. Chickens roamed around the dirt floor of our lunch restaurant, picking at imaginary grains as we sipped on authentic mojitos stuffed with fresh mint leaves. The food was a mixture of Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Creole. The architecture antebellum southern, Caribbean island with a smattering of Spanish colonial. Surrounded by ocean everywhere we looked, the turquoise expanse beat at the shores on both sides and threatened to envelope the city. I wondered vaguely how it had stayed intact over the years of weathering hurricanes and now rising sea levels. I felt an urgency to return to this magical place.
A good friend of Dennis owns a wine store. We found it and stopped in for a visit unannounced which seemed to be quite acceptable in Key West. We had a great afternoon as he uncorked $100 bottles of wine, drinking, laughing, talking and reminiscing. The only problem was that we got a little tipsy and missed touring the Ernest Hemingway house by only a few minutes. We tried to bribe the gatekeeper to no avail. Another reason as to why I have to return. After a dinner of rice and bean soft tacos and fried plantains, we reluctantly made our way back to the car. The drive back to Key Largo was dark and lonely and missing a view of the sea to placate us, but the effort of traveling to Key West was well worth it.
The Wylie Family Vacation was a big hit. Dennis had the idea to take pictures of everyone in the family and paste them in an album along with a hand-written note to my mom. She didn't get through the first two pages without breaking down in tears. We played many games of beer pong, watched football, sang karaoke, cooked and ate wonderful food, talked and played with the great-grandkids - all my favorite things. It was a wonderful trip. I have to acknowledge my family as we all got along amazingly well and there was little drama, which I realize is probably a rare thing in a family of over 20.
We left in the morning, drove two hours north and spent the afternoon walking through the art-filled streets of Wynwood, Miami, with Sophia, Meghan and Camilla. If you love art, as I do, visit Wynwood! It was a movable feast for the eyes. We made our way back to Dennis' mother's house and spent another couple nights before leaving Florida.
What I learned: Florida is a national treasure that we must do everything in our power to protect.