The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
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Florida Keys

If you haven't made camping reservations in the Florida Keys state parks 11 months in advance, you can probably still score a site by checking regularly online for cancellations. That's how I managed to get 12 days at John Pennekamp, and that's why I decided to go to the Keys.

John Pennekamp State Park
This campground was a pretty big disappointment. Sites were close together and the ground was rocky. They say these sites are RV and TENT sites, but woe is the tent camper who comes here looking for a soft place to pitch a tent. There's nothing soft or nice here except the mulch that they put in between sites where the sewer connections are. I stayed for a few days before finding a better site at Curry Hammock State Park. The nice thing about Florida, is that if you change your reservation after you have arrived, there is no fee for cancelling.

Even though I didn't love John Pennekamp's campground, there is still some nice kayaking here. If you want to get off the marked kayak trail and paddle the twisty narrow mangrove tunnels, it's a good idea to bring your smart phone or other GPS to help navigate your way home. But the major attraction here is the coral reef that is a few miles offshore. And the best way to experience that is to snorkel or dive it, which requires a boat to take you there. I decided not take the park's cattle boat which ferries countless tourists to a reef area that would be all but dead from careless and frequent human contact. Instead, I joined a group of four others on a 50' sailboat which purported to take us to the best, most un-destroyed, part of the reef. I was really looking forward to the sail, but there was no wind that morning, so we had to motor. Bummer. Sailboats motor very slowly and this was especially noticeable when *another* snorkel boat - a power boat - zoomed by and got there in half the time - to the spot where our captain said nobody else goes. Yeah. But it was still a nice day with sightings of Spotted Eagle Rays, a Nurse Shark and lots of colorful fish and coral.

john pennekamp state park

Key Largo sailboat

john pennekamp coral reef snorkel

Not far from the park, a great place to eat where dogs are also welcome is Key Largo Conch House. They served the best conch fritters I've ever had. Great fish tacos too and awesome iced mocha.

Middle Keys
I was only able to get two nights at Curry Hammock, but loved every minute of it. It's probably my favorite campground in the Keys. When my time was up, I nabbed a few nights at Long Key. All the sites at Long Key are waterfront, and it's more rustic than Curry Hammock. Your backyard is the picture of tropical perfection - blue, sparkly and crystaline. It's also very shallow and to get to that good sparkly water, you have to wade through a deep mass of sea gunk - mostly organic, with an occasional piece of trash. The Keys are not the islands to go to if you're looking for beautiful, clean, white sandy beaches (Sarasota's better for that). These waterfront sites are really very nice, but be aware that Route 1 is very close, with some trees in between. You can't really see it but you can hear it. It's not a big deal at all. Just wanted you to know.

Curry Hammock State Park
Curry Hammock State Park

islamorada, florida
Islamorada, Florida

bahia honda state park, florida
Bahia Honda State Park, Florida

So it looks like paradise and awesomeness here, but the whole time I was miserable. I got a stomach bug which made me nauseous for days. It was probably the Mahi Mahi that I got at the Marathon Publix. I tried to pretend it didn't matter, but it did and it hung around for days. It didn't help that it was in the high 90s outside. And miserably humid. With no shade. So my time in paradise actually felt a little more like hell.

Brown anole, long key state park, florida
Brown Anole Lizard

Long Key State Park, FLorida
Long Key State Park campsite

Long Key State Park campsite
Long Key State Park campsite

Long Key state park campsite
Long Key State Park campground

Long Key state Park sand crab
Sand crab

Key West
The west end of Duvall Street, near Mallory Square (where the famous sunsets happen) is packed with bars competing to be the LOUDest. All of Duvall Street is, in fact, really crowded and touristy. Drive around to the beaches and it's also really crowded. Drive through the narrow neighborhood roads packed tightly with bungalows and parked cars, and it feels crowded there too, even without the people. The days of Hemingway's laid back Key West are long gone. I wish I could go back in time and visit when Hemingway was here. Maybe smoke a fat cuban cigar with him on his balcony. At the very least, let's all enjoy a mojito in honor of him and what once was: Papa's Mojito.


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