Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Not All Who Wander make it to Key West - but they should!

I’m biting my lip as the drilling noise whirs angrily, Grover the blue muppet flies reassuringly overhead, his matted blue fur and superhero cape a reminder not to take anything too seriously. The streets outside are crawling with strange parcel laden pink pudgy creatures who have been corraled off a monstrous ship. 

This is Duval Street, Key West, the cruise ships have arrived and I am lying on a black leather couch in Southernmost Tattoo, voluntarily being subjected to skin piercing needles.
I’ve succumbed to the Key West Fever. This is the land of body ink. And live bands. And happy holiday makers in various stages of drunkenness, doing the ‘Duval crawl’. This place is alive, it hums. The locals are hippies and vagabonds and beautiful square pegs that gloriously don’t fit anywhere else.
In Key West even basic transportation has flair. From the pink taxi service to the three wheel motorcycles and the throngs and throngs of decorated bicycles. Key Westers get around in style. And economically.

This place can be expensive. A basic one bedroom apartment rents for over $2000 a month. Holiday rentals cost that per week. The houses, between the palms, bouganvilla and massive Banyan trees that line the old town streets, can run between $700k and $6 million to buy. 

Yet the jobs around here are all of the minimum wage variety. There are also gravel parking lots and derelict boats where you can live for free. And they do. Key West has the largest per capita homeless population in the states. But it’s also got great soup kitchens and a great climate.
So it’s a mix of the eccentric with money and tattoos, homeless squatters with tattoos, Harley gangs with tattoos, musicians and bartenders with tattoos, boaters with tattoos and of course the tourists. Even they have a lot of tattoos. This place is inked.
There are pirates and transvestites and too many dogs in strollers to count. Only in Key West could you find a cat, chilled enough to ride the town in a baby carriage as well.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any weirder, there are the chickens. Hundreds of thousands of chickens. Red roosters crowing at all hours on every street corner, chickens causing traffic jams, pet chickens and chicken art. Everywhere. It’s just a thing here and you gotta love it or Key West just ain’t for you.

And these are the ‘normal’ days. Key Westers really like to let their 'love lights shine' through on special occasions. They host an annual Pet Masquerade where animals are dyed many colours and dressed up like pirates and sharks and transvestite pirate sharks and anything else you could imagine and far beyond that.
Their Fantasy Fest each October is apparently something you have to witness to believe. Everyone parades the streets dressed in not much more than body paint and the usual drinking and debauchery gets way way way out of hand. Sounds like such fun!!!
We were here for New Years Eve, where a massive sparkling stiletto shoe, housing an equally sparkling drag queen is ceremoniously lowered into the crowds at midnight. 

Anything goes. And I can’t get enough of it. 

Every day, we head off the boats, leaving them bobbing out in the anchorage, to discover a new corner of this quirky place. From the street performer in tall yellow cat socks who trains cats to jump through hoops, to the ‘warrior of the streets’, a wiry leather skinned man on a bicycle with all his worldly belongings and signature face paint, on every block you see something. You will never be bored here.

Key West is Mile Zero, the southernmost point of America, the beginning of the US1. Depending on how you view it, Key West is the very bottom or the pinnacle of what America can be. It’s the Conch Republic. Laid back, accepting, fun centric, open minded, artistically inspiring. Here, you can paint a chicken on a coconut or paint a naked body or get a tattoo. And we do!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Years and warm tears

This morning when I woke, there was a magical transition going on between night and day. A handover from darkness to light. The full moon, weary from his long night shift, sat at the water’s edge, sagging ever so slightly, ready to slip in. And when he slipped away so quietly, the sun called my attention to the other side of the sky, bringing up the new day. I felt a tingle, the privilege of the early riser, to witness something grand and divine that happens every day.

Of course I was not awake of my own accord, in normal circumstances I think it’s obscene and unnatural to be up before the sun! But this morning my mother left the building. Or the boat to be more accurate. We barreled along to shore in the dinghy with her luggage in tow, and handed her over into a pink car, and a tired looking cabbie who was getting off night shift. She has begun the day long journey on buses and planes, back to the bitter cold of home.
A few days ago I stood by a shuttle bus, choking back the inevitable hot tears as we also said goodbye to my son.
These are the realities of living ‘somewhere else’. We live hundreds and at times thousands of miles from family, but the moments we have together are special. They are held together in a finite number of days, a holiday, a visit. They can be calculated on a calendar but not in our hearts. There is no earthly definition for that kind of love. 

And love it, we did. Great holiday. We’ve been living on Shiloh for three years and finally at least some of the family have seen our home and experienced a snapshot of our lifestyle. I really hope it was fun. I know we’re not going to create any converts in my land lubbing family, but at least they had fun. No seasickness, no problems with the quirks of boat life (limited water supply, must dinghy to shore, wakes from boats, side on swells). Go family! 
We’ve made it down to Key West and it’s the kind of place everyone loves. You just gotta. It’s a milestone as the Southernmost (is that even a word?) point in America. Of course as we cycled around the town yesterday we saw the Southernmost café, the Southernmost bar, the Southernmost hotel and even the Southernmost beach hotel. So everyone is milking that for what it’s worth. Key West has a million restaurants, bars, café’s, drag shows, beaches, busker shows, and people. It’s the people. Weird and wonderful sums it up. Everyone should come here at least once. Preferably during their FantasyFest!

It’s the end of a season, of a lot of bucket list visits under our keels, and a finale with family. Couldn’t have asked for a more amazing 2014.
And 2015 is a blank canvas with so many adventures to be written. We have graduations and new babies in the family and in the meantime, sailing adventures to places and countries new and old.
So my tears today are joyful though sad. We’ve chosen a life far away, a life of new and scary and exciting and fun, but a life without mom and boy nearby. A life where my niece and nephew grow in leaps and bounds in our absence. Where babies are born and life goes on ‘at home’.
We’ve untied the bow lines and left the sight of our shores and I don’t regret it for a second, but when I have the chance to see my Mom’s green eyes light up, hold my boy tight, hear their laughter, those precious memories fill me up and I cherish them, I see them in every sunset and sunrise we are away.