Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Friday, 29 April 2016


The Everglades

Chokoloskee is on the north end of Ten Thousand Islands in the Everglades. The Census has the population at 391. It is joined to Everglades City by a man made causeway.

Wiki includes the following history about Chokoloskee:
Edgar Watson showed up in the Chokoloskee Bay country in the early 1880s. He had supposedly gotten into trouble in Columbia County in northern Florida, to which his parents had migrated sometime after 1870, and had then gone out to the Indian territory (later known as the Oklahoma Territory) where he allegedly killed Belle Starr, herself allegedly an outlaw. He then returned to Florida and killed a man in Arcadia, apparently in self-defense. After that Ed Watson moved to the Ten Thousand Islands area, then part of Monroe County, where he bought a claim on the Chatham Bend River and began raising vegetables.

On a trip to Key West, Watson got into an argument with Adolphus Santini  (an early Chokoloskee settler) and tried to cut his throat. Santini survived, but the incident cost Watson $900. After that Watson bought a claim on the Lost Man's River, also in Monroe County. A man named Tucker soon squatted on the claim and would not leave. Eventually Tucker and his nephew were found murdered, and suspicion fell on Watson. After that Watson went back to Fort White, Columbia County. While there he again became involved with bad company, and came under suspicion in the deaths of two men.

There are dozens of air boats in Everglades City and Chokoloskee. They take tourists for noisy rides down mangrove tunnels and grass flats.

The business model here has changed from commercial fishing to rum smuggling to marijuana importation to tourism over the last 100 years. Our Captain, tells us that he is the 5th generation born here.

In the 1980s, these remote population centers became notorious as drug smuggling hubs. A local source admits that the towns have lots of "felons" who received a "higher education" at the federal penitentiary because of the war on drugs.

in 1983, more than 300 were arrested in Everglades City and nearby Chokoloskee.  That's probably close to the entire male population. It was also a center for rum smuggling during the prohibition era. "There are two expression that no one uses in this town anymore," the Miami News quoted an unidentified resident as saying. "One is that this town is going to pot. The second is that we are waiting for our ship to come in."

We spend two nights here and move on to Lake Griffin near Leesburg. The GPS routes us straight up US 27, a huge blunder involving seemingly endless traffic lights.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Higgs Beach

Key West, Florida

We like to swim at Higgs Beach when we visit Key West. There are unmarked graves here that have been located by ground penetrating radar.

In 1860 slave trade was illegal in the United States. Slave ships were considered pirates, subject to the death penalty. the American-owned vessels Wildfire, William, and Bogota sailed into the Caribbean attempting to deliver their human cargo to Cuba, they were seized, along with nearly 1500 African men, women, and children. The Africans were off loaded in Key West. Records indicate that 294 of them died as the result of the conditions suffered on the Atlantic crossing. They were buried here on Higgs Beach. The surviving Africans were shipped back to Liberia and hundreds more died  on the return trip.

In 1860 slaves were selling in Cuba and Brazil for as much as $1,200. That's roughly equivalent to $30,000 in 2016 money, so a ship with 500 slaves might have a value equal to $15,000,000 in current money. U.S. marshal at Key West, Fernando Moreno, erected housing and a hospital for the Africans using thousands of dollars of his own money.. The building was divided into nine large rooms so the sexes and children of different ages could be separated. Moreno petitioned Congress to be reimbursed but was unsuccessful.

In 2006 they fenced of this area where the ground penetrating radar found burial sites.\

It's hard to know what kind of truck this is under all the conch shells.

Mrs Phred on Stock Island.

The Hog's Breath Saloon on Duval Street.

People donate their old license plates to the local bars and pubs.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Grassy Key, Florida

Mile Marker 59

We spent three days on Grassy Key, just above Marathon, before moving on to Key West.

 One day we went to the Bahia Honda State Park. It's next to impossible to get a camping reservation there. There is a limit of 14 days, but some people game the system by making multiple reservations under different names. The State Auditor General says, in addition,  that some Internet operators make blanket reservations as they become available eleven months out and then resell them at a profit.

 In the 1970s, I took Ken and his cousin under the bridge and out to that island on a little Styrofoam sailboat with no life preservers. They were only 12 or 13 so I didn't tell them that I was worried about my ability to sail back against the wind.

 Our site is right on the Gulf of Mexico side.

 We're starting to see iguanas wherever we go.

Mrs. Phred with the ocean in the windshield. On the dock, we see schools of parrot fish  feeding on algae and a large shark swims past in the shallow water. At night parrot fish exude great quantities of bad tasting snot and sleep within a cocoon of it to protect them from predators.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Old Bahia Honda Bridge

Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Bahia Honda Key is one of the best preserved keys in the chain of Islands leading 110 miles to Key West, 90 miles from Cuba. The large key is now a State park with miles of white sand beaches and camping facilities. Bahia Honda starts at mile marker 50 just below the Seven Mile bridge leading south from Marathon Key toward Key West.

Billionaire Henry Flagler was a partner in Standard Oil with John D. Rockerfeller. After a visit to Saint Augustine he became interested in developing the west coast of Florida and built a railroad to Miami and a string of magnificent hotels, including the "Breakers" in Palm Beach.

His least successful commercial venture was the overseas railroad from Miami to Key West. This was a stupendous labor and engineering challenge and included the seven-mile bridge below Marathon Key as well as the mile long Bahia Honda bridge.

The workers who built the bridge battled sand fleas, mosquitoes and hurricanes. Thousands of them were killed in the storms that periodically swept the Keys during the construction period from 1905 to 1912.

Flagler's bridges and pilings, now unused, still stand and appear as solid as the Pyramids. I have snorkled for, and eaten, Florida lobsters that live beneath the old arched pilings and the sturdy oval pilings used on the various bridges that extend for miles between the various keys.

On Labor Day, in 1935, one of the strongest hurricanes on record severed a number of the bridges and killed hundreds of WWI veterans working on a WPA bridge project. The bodies were lodged in mangrove roots and spoiled quickly in the tropical heat. The bodies, in wooden coffins, were ordered stacked and burned. An evacuation train, which backed down from Homestead to make a quick getaway was washed away. Ernest Hemingway wrote a scathing condemnation of the government at the time. He wondered who killed the veterans and left them exposed in flimsy barracks. The overseas railroad came to an end. It is interesting to see that four of the ten most powerful hurricanes of thee last hundred years have occured within the last three hurricane seasons. Could it be global warming?

Most intense Atlantic hurricanes: Intensity is measured solely by central pressure
Rank Hurricane Season Min. pressure
1 Wilma 2005 882 mbar
2 Gilbert 1988 888 mbar
3 "Labor Day" 1935 892 mbar
4 Rita 2005 895 mbar
5 Allen 1980 899 mbar
6 Katrina 2005 902 mbar
7 Camille 1969 905 mbar
8 Mitch 1998 905 mbar
9 Ivan 2004 910 mbar
10 Janet 1955 914 mbar

The Bahia Honda section of the railroad bridge had a rickety two lane highway built over its top. That section of the highway to Key West opened for traffic in 1938 and lasted until a more modern bridge was finished in 1972. I've driven over the old bridge many times, but now it's just nostalgia and a photo op. 

Friday, 22 April 2016

Key Largo

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

We manage to score two nights at John Pennekamp. The State Parks in the Keys tend to get snapped up when the come available eleven months out. We are parked deep in the mangroves. The parks have amenities like great swim beaches, snorkel trips, kayaks, etc. If you are over 65 and a Floridian, camping is 1/2 price (about $16)...the RV parks are closer to $100 a night or more, so it's no mystery why the State Park campgrounds are hard to get into.

John Pennekamp even has a 30,000 gallon salt water aquarium. Off the swim beach some 130 feet is a Spanish Galleon shipwreck reproduction with rusted cannon and anchors.

We have dinner and drinks at a place in Key Largo called the Big Chill.

The sunset is just so-so, but the music and company are very fine..

The park operates a dive boat that goes out twice daily.

They rent kayaks and offer kayak tours.

The Christ of the Abyss is anchored in 25 feet of water in the park. It weighs about 600 pounds and is anchored to a nine ton concrete base. There are duplicate statues in Grenada and Italy. The original statue was placed in Italy near the spot where Dario Gonzatti, the first Italian to use SCUBA gear, died in 1947.

The Keys had spectacular coral formations in the early 1960s when we first came here to dive.. Unfortunately, most of the reefs have been loved to death by divers and snorkelers who trample and break the fragile Elkhorn and touch the other corals to introduce bacteria and disease .Often now you just see a gray coral boneyard like the one below which was once vibrant and beautiful..

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The Conch Republic

 Grassy Key, Florida 

The Conch Republic celebrates Independence Day every April 23 as part of a week-long festival of activities involving numerous businesses in Key West. The organization — a "Sovereign State of Mind", seeks only to bring more "Humor, Warmth and Respect" to a world in sore need of all three.

You can usually find conch in grassy sea beds in warm tropical waters. A Cayman Islander taught me to cook them chemically by soaking them overnight in lemon juice. Conch fritters and conch chowder are widely available in Key West as is Key lime pie. In case you wondered "what's a conch fritter?" please see my blog.

In 1982, the US Border Patrol set up a checkpoint at the choke point on the north end of the Keys and began to randomly search motorists’ cars for drugs and illegal aliens. This is not an unusual tactic for the border patrol. If you drive in Texas, New Mexico or Arizona today you will be stopped and interrogated somewhere on a road north of the Mexican border and subjected to similar scrutiny.

Once, coming out of Laredo, Texas at night, I was directed off the interstate and stopped in front of a blinding searchlight. The uniformed officers questioned me about smuggling parrots and waved me on. As I pulled past the searchlight, I saw several officers with assault rifles pointed at me and I was very glad that for once I had no parrots.

When the Border Patrol tried the same tactic in the Keys in 1982, the citizens resented both the inconvenience to themselves and the impact on tourism. After their protests went unheeded, the mayor of Key West decided that if Key West was to be treated as a foreign country, then it might as well be one.

The city announced its independence from the United States of America on April 23, 1982 and declared itself to be the Conch Republic. The Mayor visited the Admiral in charge of the Key West Naval Air Station and broke a loaf of stale Cuban bread over his head. After that, Key West immediately ceased hostilities and applied for a billion dollars in foreign aid from its giant neighbor to the north.

The Conch Republic still sells passports to tourists. The 9/11 hijacker, Mohammed Atta, bought a set of these online in early 2001, demonstrating both an abysmal lack of understanding of the American culture and a missing sense of humor.

 The Republic later annexed the old abandoned “seven-mile bridge” after a boatload of Cubans landed on it a few years later. The Coast Guard sent them back to Cuba after stating that since the bridge was severed on both ends, the refugees had to be returned under the "wet feet/dry feet" policy. Under that policy, refugees who make it to dry land can stay. Those intercepted at sea are returned to their country of origin. The courts overturned that theory but the Cubans were already back in Cuba.

In a place where invasive species like iguanas abound, the most common of all, the chicken, draws a lot of ire. They crow at all hours of the day and night and they strut the streets like they own it. While they don’t get any special protections in the Keys, residents cannot shoot them, and cruelty laws are enforced. In case anyone is wondering—these are wild, feral chickens and don’t make a good dinner. The chickens don’t have many natural predators..they do eat anything you drop on the restaurant floor.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Trapper Nelson

Loxahatchee River

 We spend three nights in Jonathan Dickinson State Park near Hobe Sound. The first night we get heavy hail, lightning and sideways blowing rain. An alarm on the refrigerator meant to detect excess heat while operating in propane mode gets wet and shuts down the refrigerator completely. I do a jumper wire around the alarm in the morning to restore normal operation.

We find a tennis court on US 1 near Hobe Sound. My tennis coach in England (who is also my blind spiritual advisor) sent me a message in a dream state to serve only to her back hand. I try that and run the score up to 4-2 my favor. She adopts the counter-strategy of moving me around the court to tire me out. The next four games are very long with lots of ad-in-and-outs. However, she wins 6-4 in the end.  I found more public courts on Key Largo to try again.

The park is notable for extensive dirt bike trails and the Loxahatchee River, one of two rivers in Florida  with a "wild and scenic" designation. Loxahatchee means "turtle river".

Trapper Nelson (Vincent Nostokovich) was born around 1909 and established a camp on the Loxahatchee in 1932. He sold hides and accumulated over 1,000 acres along the river by paying back taxes for pennies an acre. He ate gator, possum, coon and turtle as well as exotic fruits such as pineapple from his garden.

He was 6' 4" and weighed about 250. Socialites from Palm Beach would come up river on excursions to watch him wrestle his pet gator, Stumpy. Property values exploded in the 1960s and he was forced to borrow $100,000 to pay real estate taxes. He attempted to negotiate the sale of his land to developers for a million dollars, but was in great pain from stomach issues. He didn't trust doctors and was convinced that he had the cancer. He also self-catheterized to deal with prostate issues.

Trapper Nelson was found dead in his hammock with a wound from his shotgun in the stomach. He had been dead over a week. The death was ruled a suicide but there was much speculation about darker causes. The stomach seemed to some to be an odd place for a self-inflicted shotgun suicide. After his death in 1967, shrewd developers bought the property for $1,000,000 from his sister and immediately swapped the 1,000 acres of worthless swampland with the State of Florida for 300 acres of beachfront property in Hobe Sound.

The governor of Florida at that time was Claude Kirk, the first Republican since Reconstruction. After the publication of the photograph showing Mary Ann Vecchio of Florida kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller at the Kent State University shootings on May 4, 1970, Governor Kirk publicly labeled 14 year old Vecchio a dissident "communist".