02-26-2014 Key West, a Different Perspective…or Two

Current Location: NAS Key West Sigsbee Campground 78 Degrees F, 87 % humidity

hibiscus in bloom in the truman annexFirst, let me say that this is not a travel blog about Key West.  There are plenty of places to go to read all about the delights and attractions of this historic town.  I am writing about Key West and how I felt about being here.  The history and delights are well documented elsewhere.

I am relaxing in the MoHo this morning under high overcast skies and warm temperatures.  The generator is going again, but the air conditioner isn’t on.  The breezes are lovely, and sufficient for cooling the rig as I write.  I took a morning walk down to the water to check on conditions for a kayak to discover a surface smooth as glass.  Might have been nice to slip those boats in at just that moment, but those little details of living life now and then get in the way of recreating.

DSC_0039Today will be our last in Key West at Sigsbee Campground and we need to make a much needed shopping excursion at the Commissary and the Naval Exchange for some supplies.  In addition, we finally managed to snag an appointment for a haircut for Abby.  (Mo has yet to be successful in this endeavor and her hair is quite lovely with all that wild humidity contributing to her wild curly look)

When we first arrived last weekend, I attempted to find a groomer for Abby, leaving messages as directed.  So far not one groomer has returned my call.  I would imagine that they prefer repeat customers when appointments are at a premium.  Yesterday, however, on our route home from town, in an attempt to avoid the construction on Highway 1, we took a side route.  Lo and Behold!  A small local dog groomer was just closing his doors and we begged for an appointment and got one for 12 noon today.  Hence skipping the morning kayak in favor or an afternoon sojourn on the water.  Hopefully the weather will continue to cooperate.

DSC_0041It is a bit humid, but for me that isn’t intolerable, different for sure, but not intolerable.  We couldn’t be in a better place right now for balmy temperatures and no storms.  Looking at the national weather maps this morning, I saw all the rain hitting the southeast with the Floridian Peninsula completely out of the path of that bright green radar.  Southern Florida seems to be spared for the time being.  We have been sleeping with a very light cover and all the windows open, even the front door, and the Fantastic Fan running.  It is another nice thing about being in a military campground, it feels fairly safe.

I have learned an invaluable lesson on this trip to Key West.  Several lessons actually.  For one, sometimes returning to a location for the second time after an amazing first visit can be a bit of a disappointment.  The second big lesson is that there actually ARE some places that are less fun in motorhome with pets than they were at a delightful little B&B within walking distance to town.  We first spent a short vacation in Key West in 2010, (post here).  At the time, I couldn’t wait to get back with the ‘freedom’ of our own motorhome to enjoy the area and with our bikes and kayaks and snorkel gear along with us.

Key West 001Most people who stay here at Sigsbee ride their bikes to town rather than dealing with the traffic in a car.  For us, a ten mile round trip in the heat isn’t all that exciting, in addition to competing with the crazy traffic that includes all sorts of motor scooters, motor cycles, bicycles, and lots of cars and crowds of people.  We followed John Herr’s advice and found free parking down by the Coast Guard Cutter and walked the mile or so to downtown with Abby on the night we decided to watch the sunset at Mallory Square. 

DSC_0026Our walk was fun, and we took the back routes toward the square before negotiating our way through the heavy crowds toward the famous point for sunset watching.  Getting there an hour early was perfect, since we got a place to sit along the seawall where Abby could rest and be comfortable.  The sunset was interesting, quite lovely part of the time, and then a cloud obscured the horizon as the sun descended and no one seemed to know exactly when to cheer.  I missed that big group chorus to honor the setting sun, but loved watching the sky change and shift.

DSC_0020Our plan included trying to get into the Hog’s Breath Saloon for dinner, one of the few places we could find in town that had a patio for doggie dining.  Once we arrived, however, the crowds and the noise were completely overwhelming and we couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  We walked back toward Whitehead Street, past our favorite old haunt for happy hour, Kelly’s.  I asked if they allowed dogs on the patio, and nope, not an option. 

Giving up on my fantasy of great gulf shrimp for supper, we wangled our way through the traffic and construction back to the base and slipped into Five Guys.  It was our first experience with this burger chain, and it was pretty darn good, although it wasn’t exactly my idea of the kind of food I was hoping for during our time in Key West.

Another lesson, is that number three? that I have learned is that Key West is not necessarily “The Keys”.  The middle keys and upper keys are much more quiet and quaint, with lots of wildlife, trails, secret kayaking coves and beautiful beaches.  Reading back over my own blog I was surprised that I hadn’t remembered that my best meal in the keys was not in Key West, but back on Islamorada.  Karen and Al and several other blogging couples are camping in RV parks at various locations along the Keys, and choose to come to Key West for a day or two of entertainment.

DSC_0038I do know that Randy and Pam and Carol and John love staying at Sigsbee, but maybe that is because they are here for extended stays rather than just a few short days.  Hence the title, two perspectives.  For a long term stay in Key West that is affordable, this is the very best option.  I probably will never return for a short term stay, but that in no way diminishes the excellent experience of other friends who love this place.

I also thought that perhaps our timing was a bit off, and that the folks who love staying here and spending more time are visiting in November, December, and possibly January.  We are here right after President’s Week (did you know that is now a week, not just a long weekend?) and right before Spring Break.  Might have something to do with it as well, so keep that in mind if you want to come to Key West.

DSC_0040A friend made a comment suggesting that perhaps they could change the policy for the campground and allow fewer people into the sites.  I would hate to see that happen.  If this park became a reservation park, it would end up like all the others in the Keys where it is nearly impossible to find a place to stay.  At least if you drive several thousand miles to experience Key West, it is a given that there will be a place to park at the end of the line, right here at Sigsbee.  That was so reassuring as we drove the long distance to get here.

Key West_050Another great treat was the Atlantic side beach for military personnel inside the gates at Truman Annex.  We drove there yesterday, having learned some side routes to avoid traffic, and settled in to a great shaded table overlooking the turquoise water.  The skies were a bit overcast so the photos didn’t catch the amazing color that I saw as I swam south toward the rocks.  I snorkeled a bit but didn’t see anything, but the water at 78 degrees or so felt fantastic.  The water was clear and clean and beautiful, with no sign of the dreaded Man-o-War jellyfish that could plague the beach later in the season. 

Key West_067Mo sat under the shade and read with Abby, since there was a sign proclaiming no dogs on the beach.  After a time she came down to take a photo of me swimming and took a chance and brought Abby down to cool off.  No one seemed to mind and Abby loved swimming in the warm water as much as I did.

We thought that around 2 would be a good time to once again try the Hog’s Breath Saloon, thinking it was before happy hour and after lunch.  What we didn’t realize was that Key West is a big cruise port, with 1 to 3 ships in port every single day.  Have I been under a rock somewhere to not know this?  Looking back at our photos from our last visit I was right, there were way fewer people on the streets last time than we found this time.  The place was a horror of crowds and weaving our way through the throngs with Abby on leash was not a bit fun.

Key West_074The Hog’s Breath was again jammed and loud and Mo said, “I’ll wait here on the bench while you go find your Key Lime stuff.” I had to get at least a slice of key lime pie and also bought one of those key lime pie slices on a stick covered in chocolate.  No clue if we would get dinner since I didn’t take anything out of the freezer expecting to eat a late afternoon lunch. 

We continued walking along Duval when suddenly a cool, shady path leading back to a quiet restaurant beckoned.  I left Mo on the street, walked back to talk to the waiter, and sure enough, dogs were completely welcome on his patio.  There wasn’t another soul in the place, the birds were singing, the trees shaded the table, and he brought water for Abby.  Our food turned out to be pretty darn good, and I got some nice pink gulf shrimp cooked Cuban style, with Cuban rice and a green salad with fresh fruits added to the classic tomato and cucumber.  We decided that Cuban food was excellent, especially in a shady patio with the dog.

Jungle cafe and barAs I was writing this blog, I had no idea of the name of the place, and had to hunt and hunt using Google Street View to find it.  It is called the Jungle Café, but there are other reviews for another place called Jungle Café that is NOT this place.  Then I did find a review or two, very outdated, that said it was closed.  In case you want to find it, it is right next to the Diamond International just a door or two down from the Smallest Bar on Duval Street.

Key West_073Something else I should comment on: Several people have suggested that we do some of the wonderful things to do here.  The Dry Tortugas are beautiful and remote, and we loved taking that all day boat trip the last time we were here.  We also climbed the charming Key West lighthouse and loved the museum there, and visited the Hemingway House, another great treat.  Didn’t feel we needed to do those things again on this visit.  On this trip, we found the great Higgs Beach Dog Park, a bit of a misnomer because it is a dog park near Higgs Beach, not a beach dog park, but still quite nice for a morning playtime for Abby.  The dog park here at Sigsbee is quite nice as well, although not as shaded.

Key West_062We had parked the car a couple of blocks north of Duval, in front of a lovely old church, no charge and no signs prohibiting parking except for Sunday and Wednesday afternoon. On the way back to the car, I stopped in at my favorite place from the previous visit Pelican Poop Shop to purchase something I had daydreamed about since the last time I was here.  The brilliant turquoise fish sculpture is all wrapped up in bubble wrap so there won’t be a photo till I get back to Rocky Point and hang it in my tropical themed bathroom.  Last time I refused to pay shipping to buy it, so this time I didn’t have to since we had the MoHo along.  Another one of the good things about having our rig along on this visit.

I also found a nice little shop, a bit less crazy than the tourist shops on Duval, that had some nice pastel visors that I wanted.  I found a perfect one for Mo’s birthday, coming up shortly.  She had been looking at my Hell’s Canyon visor with a bit of envy so it was a good present.

sigsbee 004We kayaked from the rocky shore here at the base on our first day, and plan to do so again this afternoon.  That is the other good thing about having our rig, bikes, and kayaks along.  The water is beautiful and clear, but there is a lot of boat traffic that requires vigilance to avoid.  We heard there was a manatee hanging out in the channel we explored the other day but we didn’t see him.  Today we will know what to look for and maybe we will find him.

This has been a difficult post to write, trying to capture the good parts of being here and not let the disappointments overwhelm overshadow the delights.  I am so glad we made it here, and glad we experienced Sigsbee camping, glad we were in the keys when the weather was so awful elsewhere.  Still, I will have a better idea when we get back to Northern Florida and the fresh water springs if my disappointment is directly related to Key West, or if I am possibly just a bit worn down from moving too quickly across the landscape.  However, moving out of Key West tomorrow may not come quickly enough.  I am ready.


02-22-2014 to 02-26-2014 Days in Key West

Current temperature at Sigsbee NAS Campground 83F Humidity 74% Partly Cloudy

Key West_049At the moment, we are holed up in the MoHo with the generator on and the air conditioning running full blast.  Being in the dry camping area at the NAS Key West (what used to be called Sigsbee Field) the air conditioner is imperative, even with our lacy shade trees overhead.  At the moment Mo is trying to get our CO2 sensor to quit beeping.  We don’t have a special stack for the generator as suggested, however even if we did, all the other generators going at the moment in these tight quarters might set that sensor off anyway.

Key West_033Jeremy decided to add to the humid, quite warm ambience of the MoHo by adding something of his own.  Albeit in the cat box, still requiring a nice kitty bath to make it all ok again.  Very indignantly, he is trying to lick himself dry now.  Nice to be able to not worry about him catching a cold.  The last few times I have given him a bath in Mo’s collapsible bucket he seems to enjoy it, at least for the most part.  I think his favorite part is getting all swaddled up in the bath towel and cuddled until he is at least partially dry.  He doesn’t complain.

the Overseas HighwayThis is our second full day in the campground, having arrived in late afternoon on Saturday.  The campground office was closed, but after reading several accounts of the procedure, and an emergency call to John (our recent new friends at “Our Trip Around the Sun”, we had an idea where to go and how to proceed.

Within minutes of calling the phone number posted on the office door, a campground host showed up in his little cart and went over the process of signing up officially on Monday morning and led us to what was to be our site for the weekend.  We were tucked back in a circular area with several rigs around us, all running their Honda 2000i’s to ward off the heat.  I guess one of these generators will power a 30 amp rig, but it takes two to power up the big guys with 50 amps.  Only planning on dry camping for 5 nights, we were content to use the generator on board the MoHo.

Key West_065Camping here is an experience at what is most definitely an inside culture of folks who know how to do it, how it works, and those who don’t.  Lucky for us, most of the folks know how to do it, and we have communicated enough with blog friends who have camped here that we had a basic understanding of the rotation system and didn’t give our host too much trouble.  He wasn’t so lucky with some folks arriving just before we did, with a lady waving her arms and looking disgusted trying to wangle a better site on their first night here.  We did know better than that, and Walter, the host, told us that the rotation at the moment is about 4 weeks with more than 200 rigs signed up on the rotation list.

Trumbo Annex, at the Coast Guard facility down the road, is completely full with long time sites that have been filled since Christmas.  We were told there is no chance of getting into that part of the family camp.  Dry camp in this part of camp is mandatory rotation, but with only five nights here, that isn’t an issue for us.  Tired from our journey across the keys, and the traffic and surprising heat and humidity, we settled in with the air conditioner and the generator going full blast. 

Key West_058We had a bit of a hiccup with the generator, being set for high elevation, and no doubt a bit moist from all the humidity, it coughed a bit and died.  Unsure what the problem was and with darkness falling, Mo decided to wait until morning to check the oil and the altitude adjustment.  All was fine after that, but our first night here was a bit of an adjustment for us as well.  With normally balmy temperatures in Key West, we weren’t expecting mid 80’s and little breeze.  From what I have learned, it happens sometimes, but not usually this time of year. 

During our evening walk around the campground, we ran into the camp host and asked what exactly you had to do to draw one of those primo waterfront sites.  He said, “Well, I have one coming in tomorrow that is too big for the site, so you could move in there after ten AM”.  OK then!

Key West_055We went to sleep pretty tickled, got up early to go explore town and get our bearings in the car before our scheduled move.  Back at ten sharp, we checked the site as instructed, and with it empty, we made our move.  No sooner had we dropped the jacks and opened the slide that another camp host arrived to tell us, “Sorry to tell you this, but you have to move.  This site has come up in rotation and you can’t be here.”

Key West_064Instead of staying in our very hot, very fume filled site however, Buzz led me to a shady site that was a bit smaller and was right by the garbage cans.  Oh thank you for a small rig.  Garbage cans or not, this site is shaded with two lovely, lacy trees that are actually nasty invasive species that are overtaking the Keys.  At the moment, with the shade from those trees, we can sit outside in our site and enjoy the cooling breezes, and the MoHo doesn’t get all that hot during the day with just the Fantastic Fan running and the windows open. 

sigsbee 002There are several hundred RVs on site at this moment, and as I said 200 or so are waiting to rotate into a full hookup site.  Generators are allowed to run between 7am and 11pm, and there is a dump and water station.  We learned that if you try to dump during the dark there is a $15,000. fine.  Yup, you read that right.

With all the complexity, it might seem easier to just go to a regular RV park, but at the current rate of $147 per night at the local KOA, and no other parks around, we decided that paying $13.00 per night to camp here was worth it.  Thus far, after about half our five day stay, we have used about 1/4 tank of gasoline to run the generator.  Pretty inexpensive digs to stay in Key West.sigsbee 004

Next post:  Some of the more delightful aspects of staying and visiting in Key West and why we decided it was worth it.