[ed. This piece was written some time ago, but I found it recently while moving hard drives on a computer. I thought some folks may find it interesting. It wasn't written on an iPad, since the last edited date was 2002 - well before iPads, iPhones, and even iPods were part of our daily lives. But it's still a trip I remember fondly.]
Sitting amid patches of morning light filtering through palms, hibiscus, orchids, and other exotic plants, safe from the insects in my private screened porch, I savor a fresh cup of coffee and recap the events of the past few days. I have never been fond of Florida, and am, even now, stunned that I hold the kind of emotion that this trip has evoked. I am content, and would like to stay here a lot longer than the single night. Maybe a month? Nah, more like a season!
The Largo Lodge is hidden from view on US Highway 1 not only by a fence, but by a small rain forest of tropical vegetation. As soon as we pulled in out of the sun under the canopy of foliage, my wife and I sighed in awe at the variety and natural wonder of the short drive down the gravel path to the office. Coconuts were scattered everywhere in the underbrush. Blooming orchids peeked out from low-hanging vegetation. Exotic birds an d geckos played tag under the shelter of this oasis from the heat.
Although I dislike Florida, I had to make the trip, since my inlaws now live in Fort Lauderdale. Besides, my bride reasoned, a week of sun and surf in early May will get me ready for the summer. Not being a Summer person, I am not amused. My wife and I rarely get a night off without the kids, however, so we took the opportunity during the visit to drive down A1A into the land of Jimmy Buffett, just the two of us. My first trip to the Conch Republic and I was hooked! “You don’t think they’ll miss me at the office if I just don’t come back, do you?” But I digress....
Each cottage in this rustic enclave has two suites which include a bedroom area with two queen-sized beds, a bathroom, kitchenette, and a dining/sitting area. This is accessed across a screened porch that rivals the indoor sitting area for size. Upholstered and wicker chairs, ceiling fans, and rugs provide barefoot comfort throughout. Parking, while not always at the door, is adequate. Once settled, the problem is making yourself leave.
We had come for a snorkel trip out on the reef. I have never snorkeled, never been out of sight of land in such shallow water (the water is so clear, you can see the bottom!), or seen such wildlife before. Having grown up in the Carolinas, who would want to drive this far just to swim in the same ocean? But I truly enjoyed it, from the rusted cannon barrel on the ocean floor to the baraccuda sliding menacingly through the group. A quick rest in the whirlpool hot-tub once we got back to shore, and we’re ready to do some serious R&R.
Out behind the cabins, on the lee side of the island, one can sit in a lounge chair on the dock and watch the sun move across the sky toward the Gulf of Mexico. Although this looks inviting, the smaller wildlife in the area think my wife should be their dinn er, so we retreat to our cottage. After a shower and a nap, we decided dinner was in order. The manager proved to be a great source of information, both about eating establishments and about other sights we may want to see. During the meal, armed with this new information, we made plans for the next day. Afterwards, we decided a leisurely drive further down the highway should prove relaxing.
If you have never visited the Keys, you cannot appreciate the wonder of driving down this ribbon of concrete that sews these gemstones together. While the sun arched ever lower, we drove on, over bridges and through communities, across islands that had at different times housed native fisher-folk, soldiers, revolutionaries, pirates, and seekers of fortune. As the sun finally touched the water, we stopped to savor the moment. I thought of those previous visitors. The Spanish, who came in search of gold and legends of eternal youth. The Seminoles, who came from the north as Cherokee and made this new land their own. The ri ch, seeking money to add to their millions. The bored, seeking anything of interest. Those looking for adventure. Those looking for anonymity.
This place could give anyone what they seek, yet remains surprisingly rustic, natural, and unspoiled. We drove back in the dusk and the moonlight, our minds and bodies relaxed by the sun, the smell of salt air, and the happiness that comes from unscheduled time. At the entrance to the Lodge grounds, we paused again, looking into the cavern of the grotto in the darkness. We drove slowly, reverently, to our spot, gathered the groceries we’d stopped for, and snuggled into the cocoon of our cabin. Having “a little something” before bed, we sit in silence on the porch, listening to the sounds of the night. It’s good to be tired, good to have been outdoors with the water and the salt air, good to know that the sun will come back, but slowly. And maybe that’s the word for the whole experience: slowly. Reminds me of that Beach Boys song: “We’ll get there fast, and then we’ll take it slow.” Yeah. The hurry will always be there when we get home.