Eight weeks, one driveway, two state parks, one epic snorkeling adventure, four paddling adventures, five Bocce nights, four trips to the flea market, and more bug bites then we could ever count. I think that about sums up our two months in the Keys. Oh…also lots of fresh seafood, amazing sunsets, cute Key Deer, an alligator sighting, meeting up with some great fellow RVers, and hanging with the locals. Am I forgetting anything? How about the turquoise water, the sandy beaches, the palm trees, the flowers, and the tropical foliage everywhere.
And of course, spending two months with my dad. If it wasn’t for him we would have never stayed down here so long. He gave us a free place to stay, access to everything people with stationary houses take for granted (hello washing machine), and cooked us some awesome meals. In turn we helped him with projects around the house and provided some shiny eye candy for his driveway. All the time we’ve spent out west has really distanced us from our families and it’s been great this fall and winter to have the chance to reconnect. Yup, I think we could say that our eight week stay in the Florida Keys was a success.
To be completely honest our last week in the Keys was not terribly exciting. But in the interesest of wrapping it all up I feel obligated to give you a quick summary anyway. The week began with a fun paddle in the kayaks. I was in charge of the GoPro this time, and after Tim mounted it on a long stick I had my very own GoPro selfie stick. Tim decided to take along his kite and see if he could have a successful kite/kayak ride. It was windy enough that we were sure he would be zipping through the water the second the kite went up. I was even worried about him flipping over in his kayak. Ummm…yeah, there was no need to worry. The kite went up, and he sloooowly glided through the water behind it. I took some video, but will spare you what is surely the most boring 5 minute video ever. So yes, a kite will pull a kayak, but you need a lot of wind to get up any speed.
It was a good thing we got out on the water when we did because in the middle of the week a cold snap came through. For a few days it was extremely windy with some downright cold temps. One night it dipped down into…wait for it…the upper 40s! That’s right, we suited up with long pants, and socks, and even closed all the windows at night. I know, I know, try not to feel to bad for us ;) Despite the cold we managed to get out for some social time. First we visited John and Nancy at their home on Sugarlaof Key (this was before the cold, hence the warm weather apparel). I’ve known these two for around 15 years. We were first introduced when I started working at a garden center in VT called Lang Farm. I spent 12 (or maybe 13 years) working there, and as parents of the owners John and Nancy were a constant presence. The last time I saw them was at our wedding in 2011. It was great to see them again at their beautiful home on the ocean. Thanks to their daughter Jennifer for putting us in touch!
Then we made one more trip down to Key West to have dinner out with Lauri & Jase.
We ended up at a small Caribbean restaurant called Paseo. I found it on a list of cheap places to eat in Key West. The online reviews raved about the large plates of food, the scrumptious sandwiches, and the street corn. It’s a tiny place that serves mostly take out customers with a few tables outside. Tim and I both passed over the sandwiches in favor of plates of slow roasted pork and chicken thighs with jasmine rice, caramelized onions & black beans. And an ear of corn of course. Needless to say, it was a TON of food and we brought home the leftovers for a delicious lunch the next day. (I told Lauri I would’t put that picture of her eating corn in the blog, but I couldn’t help myself. Look how cute she is! Forgive me Lauri.)
After dinner we walked around Key West for awhile. I think Key West might be my least favorite part of the Keys. It’s just too touristy. The entire town seems to be geared towards the cruise boat crowd with endless t-shirt shops, bars hawking cheap shots, and over priced restaurants. We had fun walking around anyway, and somehow found ourselves at Flamingo Crossings for some after dinner, mid-walk ice cream. I had the most mango-ish mango ice cream ever.
As usual the highlight of our week was Saturday bocce night. I promised a while ago that I would write an entire post on the Big Pine Bocce tradition. But then I never did (a reminder to never make blog post promises). At this point I’m going to skip the separate post in favor of a quick overview and a bunch of photos that I have been collecting over the weeks.
The origins of Bocce can be traced back to ancient Egypt. The first documentation of Bocce Ball in action is a painting that depicts two boys playing the game. The painting was discovered in an Egyptian Tomb. It dates back to 5200 B.C. Yeah, this game has been around for a while. Over the years Bocce spread around the Middle East and Europe. The game was brought to Italy by Greek colonists and quickly became a favorite pastime for all Italians. It was the Italian’s love for Bocce that turned the game into the modern version that we play today.
The basic premise behind Bocce Ball is to throw your balls closer to the small red ball (called a pallino) than the opposing team. Each team has four balls and you can play in teams of four or eight. There are a few simple rules including a minimum distance that the ball must be from the pallino to count as a point, a line you can’t cross over when throwing the ball, and a half court rule for the initial placement of the pallino. There’s also a simple yet genius way of measuring which ball is closer involving a metal cup, a string, and usually at least 5 people to observe and comment.
My dad built his first bocce court not long after he was introduced to the game. I guess he saw the potential right away. That was 15 years ago. At the time I had barley even heard of Bocce Ball, but it’s actually a pretty popular game in certain areas of the country (mostly those areas with year round warm temperatures). In our travels around the country we have seen courts everywhere from a winery in California to a public park in Key West. Most of those courts are boring compared to the one here in Big Pine though. What makes this court special are the details. The vine covered arbor, the custom ball racks, the aquatic themed decorative cut outs, the fun lighting, the buoy score keepers, and of course the Italian opera music that seeps across the court during every game.
Bocce night is about so much more than just throwing around heavy balls on a clay court though. Over the years the tradition has turned into a weekly gathering with a regular group of locals mixing with the always present warm weather seeking visitors. Food is a huge part of Bocce night. Everyone brining appetizers, drinks, and large plates of food to share. At some point there is break in the action and everyone gathers around the table for a sit down meal followed by a decadent desert. Birthday celebrations are abundant and over eating is practically a requirement.
Bocce night is also a great time for socializing. With the average night attracting about 12-16 people, and the game having a max of 8 players, there’s always some down time to chat with the other players. For us this was a great opportunity to get to know all the Bocce regulars and chat up the visitors.
We will definitely miss the weekly Bocce gatherings. I guess we’ll have to be on the look out for a court or two as we travel around the country. Or we could just wait until we get to VT in the fall where my dad also has a court at his house up there (what can I say, he really likes the game).
And with that our extended stay in the Florida Keys has come to and end. Hopefully we’ll be back again someday. I leave you with one last picture of our friends the Key Deer.