Monday, November 29, 2010

Trail of the Pirates: Key West

Trail of the Pirates is a travel series exploring maritime history, culture and lore between Key West and St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida.

Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is a must-see for any Key West visitor.

My journey following the trail of pirates began on the island of Key West, the southernmost point in the continental U.S. at the tip of Florida. What brought me here was the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, which isn't exactly devoted to pirates, but that which pirates sought -- Spanish ships loaded with gold, silver, emeralds, pearls and other treasures from the New World that passed through Florida straits on their way to Spain.

In 1622, a Spanish fleet of galleons shipwrecked relatively near the Florida Keys because of a hurricane. One of the ships, the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, held incredible treasure. Mel Fisher, Florida's most famous treasure hunter, began looking for the Atocha in 1969; he found three silver bars in 1973 and struck the motherlode by 1985.

Today, you can see artifacts from the Atocha and her sister ship, the Santa Margarita, at the museum. These include not only jewels and coins, but also cannons, anchors, navigational tools and even everyday objects such as pewter plates and cups.

Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
A canon and weaponry inside the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum.

Is it any wonder why pirates would lust for treasure? Take a look at what was on board the Atocha:
For the 1622 return voyage, Atocha was loaded with a cargo that is, today, almost beyond belief -- 24 tons of silver bullion in 1038 ingots, 180,000 pesos of silver coins, 582 copper ingots, 125 gold bars and discs, 350 chests of indigo, 525 bales of tobacco, 20 bronze cannon and 1,200 pounds of worked silverware! To this can be added items being smuggled to avoid taxation, and unregistered jewelry and personal goods; all creating a treasure that could surely rival any other ever amassed.
In today's popular culture, we tend to think of pirates as fearless attackers, chasing galleons in the high seas. But pirates were also practical. They weren't interested in killing people. In fact, they'd raise the Jolly Roger flag in hopes that the captain would surrender the booty. And when they weren't sailing, they'd lie quietly waiting to ambush ships seeking safe refuge from storms in a harbor or inlet. Easier yet: they'd simply perform their own "salvage" operations on a shipwreck. It's hard to imagine, but back in the day, even before GPS and satellite phones, word would get around quite quickly when ships would wreck. Pirates were tuned in to that grapevine.

Although we have no proof that pirates plundered the 1622 fleet, keep that in mind as you tour museum. We know for certain such pirate activity happened further north on the east coast of Florida ... more on that later.

I had a chance to interview Corey Malcom, chief archeologist at the museum about the finds. Corey gave me a private tour of the lab upstairs; they are still cleaning up objects from wrecks. The process is painstaking.

The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is a non-profit organization devoted to conservation of underwater archeological artifacts and public education. Mel Fisher's salvage company did donate many of the items on exhibit, but technically, it's a separate business entity. However, there's a Mel Fisher Treasure Store in the museum where you can buy beautiful coin pendants from the Atocha if you have a few thousand to spare. More affordable reproductions, made from the wreck's silver, are also available.

Mel Fisher's Treasures (Store)
Wear a piece of history. Three grand and change will get you this pendant; it's less without the setting.

I also interviewed Mel Fisher's daughter, Taffi Fisher-Abt, on my Indian River County leg of the journey. More to come!


Porky's Bayside BBQ
Pirates and BBQ pork go hand in hand at this charming, rustic eatery.

If you go to Key West, stop at Porky's Bayside BBQ in Marathon. Not only is the BBQ delicious (try the North Carolina hot pepper pulled pork), but also the restaurant is filled with pirate-themed decor. Rocketman, a musician who "always wanted to be a pirate," plays at Porky's and Captain Pip's regularly every week. A source told me he claims to be Katy Perry's uncle.

Key West is home to a pirate festival each year. Check out Pirates in Paradise.


Special thanks to Annie's Costumes, the beautiful Westin Key West Resort, as well as the great folks at Florida Keys and Key West and Visit Florida, for supporting this portion of the trip.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Trail of the Pirates: Aren't We All Pirates?

Trail of the Pirates is a travel series exploring maritime history, culture and lore between Key West and St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida.

mel fisher treasures key westI found more than just pirates on this journey. (Photo taken in Key West.)

I'm taking a moment to breathe. My journey up the east coast of Florida far exceeded every expectation; it was more than anything I could have ever imagined. And you know it means something for me to say that -- being the jaded Miami Beach gal I used to be. I say used to be deliberately, because even though I still am that woman, traveling away from Miami has breathed new life into me.

I sit here writing today, with half (or possibly more) of my heart still lingering in St. Augustine. For some reason I haven't quite yet figured out, that city has brought out the best in me -- two visits in less than two months under my belt and the promise of more in the future.

Much has happened in the last two weeks to me and those I love, running the whole gamut of emotion from grief to joy. A dear friend of mine lost his mother after she fell into a coma; another friend remarried and is living happily ever now. (No sooner did I return from St. Augustine, I drove to the gulf coast to attend the wedding and explore Pine Island.) I've made new friends along the way, too, including one who is very special.

I drove 1,663 miles in a span of 10 days between Key West and St. Augustine. And another 350 miles or so between Miami and Pine Island. Mind you, not so long ago, I couldn't even get into a car.

sebastian inlet state park floridaThe beach at Sebastian Inlet State Park on the Treasure Coast.

The journey from quiet coastal mangroves in the Keys to the roaring surf of Anastasia Island, with all the beautiful beaches in between, gave me a glimpse of hope, love and joy that I've found hard to find in Miami. There really is something to be said about the road less traveled, especially in Florida. And let me add this: to be inspired by beaches, as I always have, has nothing to do with sex; the most romantic moment may be nothing more then a deeply genuine, lingering embrace.

Was I really looking for pirates? Or was I really searching for treasure in my own heart and in the hearts of those whom I would newly discover?

The line is blurry right now. I did learn a lot about pirates. I did learn a lot about maritime history. But as with every journey, I also learned a lot about myself.

Being next to someone I care about, not saying a word, sitting at the Castillo de San Marcos on a glorious day, gazing at a tall ship as it sailed around the Matanzas River -- all this combined made for a perfect moment of peace and fulfillment I shall not soon forget. I really think I prefer a simpler life.

lynx privateer st. augustineThe Lynx Privateer sailing on the Matanzas River in St. Augustine.

I also learned a lot about potential.

It has taken me over 15 years to get to the point where I am today. I don't regret one single step, even if I'm not exactly where I want to be. But being in this moment is as perfect as anything I would ever want, even if it's still imperfect. Travel writing is my passion and I'm finally living my dream, though it comes not without sacrifice. Realizing this was a humbling lesson.

Piracy, by definition, is the taking of something that isn't yours. But let's turn this around: what about seizing the things that are rightly yours? What about your dreams? What about your passions? What about love? Those things are your birthright.

I think that in some ways, we are all pirates. We are all trying to find some splendor that we think doesn't belong to us. But the truth is, the treasure is within, it's already part of us, shining brightly even when we can't see it, even when we're sailing in a tempest. What are you doing to salvage the gold you left behind in some personal shipwreck? What are you doing in your daily life to claim your treasure?

Anyway, now that I'm back, the complete pirate series will officially begin. Expect stories to start trickling in, including a few about pirate history right here in South Florida. Stay tuned ... I have much to share -- not only the fascinating history but also an itinerary you can follow if you, too, should decide to follow the trail of the pirates.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Trail of the Pirates: Everything That's Old Is New

Trail of the Pirates is a travel series exploring maritime history, culture and lore between Key West and St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida.

st. augustine pirate gatheringPirates didn't have iPhones or GPS ... how did they manage to spin such a notorious reputation and get around back in the day?

I finally made it to St. Augustine -- five days and approximately six hundred miles later! Yesterday, no sooner did I arrive than I had an exclusive interview with Pat Croce, founder of the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. The venue had a soft opening this weekend, and is still a bit under construction, but will have a grand opening to the public in December. I can't wait for you to see the video! (Upload speeds are terribly slow here, but you can see all my uploaded stuff so far on YouTube.)

Afterward, I headed over to the Pirate Gathering, where I had the opportunity to interview a lovely lass who's involved in the Ancient City Privateers. Last night's agenda ended up in a hilarious and incredibly fun pub crawl around the nation's oldest city, which I would now consider a mecca for all things pirate. And I gotta say, service and people are so friendly and smart in St. Augustine. Even the tourists are a several notches above the scum on a South Beach bathtub. Sorry, folks, but really I feel quite at home in this town, even though I'm a Miami native.

I won't be updating daily again until I start my "official" posts on this amazing adventure. There is so much information to gather and share, I may have to catch up with you after I return to Miami next Tuesday.

google robert stewart stevenson's birthday Today's Google logo is priceless. It's the 160th birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island.


In addition to all the pirate shenanigans, I do have some business here. I'll be guest lecturing at Flagler College on blogging and writing in Tracy Eaton's class. Eaton is a journalist whom I met by chance because he's writing a book about Harley Davidson in Cuba. (My great uncle, Luis Bretos, was a champion racer and owned the exclusive Harley franchise in Havana. Eaton came down to Miami earlier this year and interviewed my father, who is one of a few remaining old timers who can speak of Cuba's glorious pre-revolution Harley Davidson culture.) Small world, eh? Really ... that six degrees of separation thing is no joke.

As well, I'm planning a social media workshop for businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry. Whew ... and as if that wasn't enough, I'll be on the Social Media Club South Florida panel Tuesday night, which focuses on Tourism, Hospitality and Social Media. I suspect I might be a bit frazzled after the long haul from St. Augustine to Miami, but it's all good!

Life is rich ... who knew that I'd be driving so far after recovering from agoraphobia. Not long ago, I couldn't even get into a car. I dare say that the freedom of the road and the opportunity to follow my calling and passion might be (gasp!) better than sex. It's not without sacrifice, but it's all so worth it.

Seriously, I had an epiphany while staring out at the water in Jensen Beach. As with every journey, I have reaped some enlightenment along this path.

My life has come full circle. Years ago, I left academia after I took my doctoral exams. I was supposed to write a book about the literary and historical interpretations of the Caribbean and Florida, and instead I discovered travel writing, which changed my life. I didn't want to keep my knowledge enclosed within the ivory tower of academe. Why write a Ph.D. dissertation that would collect dust on a bookshelf when I could share everything I knew with the world? I ended up with the dreaded title "ABD: All But Dissertion" ... but what does it matter?

Real education was my goal but I didn't want to do it in the traditional stuffy classroom. And I always had the dream of publishing my own travel magazine. Blogging has made all the difference for me -- a dream come true. Now I find myself doing EXACTLY what I had set out to do, without even realizing it as I was doing it. I feel so blessed and am so grateful. So heed me folks -- follow your heart, even if it means living outside the white picket fence of those voices that hold you back. It's worth it!

Fair winds to all! And don't forget, in the meantime, you can follow the Trail of Pirates on Twitter.


Hands down, this travel writing series would not have been possible without the devotion and support of the friendly and generous folks at the Visitors and Convention Bureau of Florida's Historic Coast, which covers St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the beaches in the area. A little love goes out to Hidden Florida, too. Additional thanks go to Annie's Costumes, Visit Florida and the Hilton St. Augustine Historic Bayfront, which is the smallest Hilton property in the world -- utterly elegant and charming, serving amazing Spanish-inspired food at Avilés Restaurant. The vicequeen approves!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Trail of the Pirates: Treasure Coast Tease, Part 2

Trail of the Pirates is a travel series exploring maritime history, culture and lore between Key West and St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida.

mclarty museum vero beach A sign at the McLarty Treasure Museum explains the ill fortune of the 1715 Spanish fleet that shipwrecked on these shores.

Today I drove from Hutchinson Island all the way up to Sebastian Inlet State Park on A1A. The drive was simply beautiful! Afterward, I toured the McLarty Treasure Museum, where I learned all about the 1715 Spanish fleet that shipwrecked in these waters during a hurricane. Notorious British pirates from Jamaica took advantage of the fleet's misfortune. My next stop was Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum in Sebastian. Fisher's daughter, Taffi, gave me a private tour. That was a real treat!

A full post and video coming soon. I'm exhausted! Can't wait for the sunrise tomorrow so I can (hopefully) see some dolphins splashing about the Indian River; the water is literally lapping just just a few feet away from my room here at charming Captain Hiram's Resort.

Next stop: St. Augustine!

In the meantime, enjoy a Jonas Brother's rockin' and rather grown-up version of the Disney classic Yo Ho Ho Ho, A Pirate's Life for Me. The original was composed in 1967 as a theme song for Pirates of the Caribbean, a ride at Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando. (I remember loving that ride when I was a kid.) Eventually, the ride grew into a multi-billion dollar franchise ... talk about good treasure!


Special thanks to Annie's Costumes, Visit Florida, Indian River Chamber of Commerce and Captain Hiram's Resort for supporting this project today.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Trail of the Pirates: Treasure Coast Tease, Part 1

Trail of the Pirates is a travel series exploring maritime history, culture and lore between Key West and St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida.

anastasia formationA section of beach at Hutchinson Island, Martin County. The rock is called Anastasia formation and comes from ancient sea beds. It was once quarried off Anastasia Island to build the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, hence the name, aka coquina. Sound familiar?

So today I arrived in Martin County, where I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim, the keeper at The House of Refuge. More on that later ... but in the meantime, did you know the average Joe is still looking for treasure and finding it here? You don't have to be a Mel Fisher, let alone a pirate, to grab yourself some booty.

In the Vero Beach and Fort Pierce area, about an hour north of Martin County, a woman and her daughter recently found a perfectly preserved gold bird from the 1715 Spanish fleet that never made it back to the mother country. The intrepid ladies, who are subcontractors for a salvaging firm, discovered the treasure while diving at a wreck. The bird is no fowl -- it's appraised at $885,000. And the ladies aren't spring chickens either: daughter is 49 and mother is 87. You gotta admire their pluck! More on this story at TCPalm.

Tomorrow's itinerary features the Sebastian Inlet area. I'll be visiting the McLarty Treasure Museum and other spots. And to get there, I'll be taking A1A northbound on Hutchinson Island instead of I-95, which is something I've been wanting to do for donkey's ages.

The beaches up here are absolutely gorgeous -- so natural and relatively untouched by the ravages of overdevelopment. I felt so at peace and very grounded today while hanging out on Hutchinson Island. Really, the more I travel outside of Miami, the less I like South Beach for its waterfront. Sorry, 305!

I'm a little frustrated with the technology aspect of this adventure -- wishing I had a more powerful laptop. Hopefully by the time I "settle down" in St. Augustine, I'll be able to share a proper story about each destination with you. Good things come to those who wait ... thanks for your patience!


Today's shout-outs go to Annie's Costumes, Visit Florida, Discover Martin and Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort and Marina. Thanks for supporting this leg of the trip!

Trail of the Pirates: Fort Lauderdale Birthday

Trail of the Pirates is a travel series exploring maritime history, culture and lore between Key West and St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida.

pirate bar fort lauderdale
I do know how to pull a trigger on a man, don't I?

So this is kind of a short and sweet, warm and fuzzy post, but I wanted to share with all of you the very wonderful awesomeness that is The Pirate Republic Seafood Grill and Bar on the New River in Fort Lauderdale. Tucked away eastward of the 4th avenue bridge on the south bank of the river, across from the Himmarshee district, the venue boasts pirate flags (copies of the originals), two blue and gold macaws (one is friendly, the other eyes you suspiciously), a pool, waterfront dining and drinks, all in a cozy rustic setting. It's the only place on the river that you will find plenty of dock space, similar to Monty's in South Beach. Yet another reason why I really love downtown Fort Lauderdale and how it respects the maritime lifestyle by providing plenty of public riverfront access.

I liked this place so much, I'm going to stop here on my way back to Miami.

Cheers and ahoy! Off to Martin County later today.

pirate bar fort lauderdaleMany thanks far and wide to friends and followers who wished me fair winds yesterday.

I can't believe I'm 43. When do I get Golden Girl status? Now more than ever I really believe age is but a number. I am jaded but yet wake up with wonder and amazement each day.

Two friends of mine shared some fun and goofy videos on Miami Beach 411 ... enjoy! Here's one that I can embed:


Good graces go to Broward-based Annie's Costumes, The Pirate Republic Seafood Grill and Bar, Hyatt Pier 66 and Visit Florida for making my Fort Lauderdale leg of the trip a total "trip" ... you rock!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Trail of the Pirates: Avast Me Techs is Broken

Trail of the Pirates is a travel series exploring maritime history, culture and lore between Key West and St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida.

Pirates of the Caribbean postcard
Illustration courtesy of Ste3ve on Flickr.

Ahoy maties! I began my journey yesterday in Key West where I interviewed the chief archeologist at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum.

I was all excited to have three fun and edumacating posts for you today, but wifi at the hotel was spotty. Also, you know I won't post anything unless it's fact checked. Unfortunately, there may be some lag time between each destination and interview, all of which deserve their own fully fleshed out post. There really truly is so much information about maritime history on the east coast of Florida -- I'm learning so much as I go along!

Alas, I will try my very best to write daily, but do not despair! Behold the twitter widget on the top right hand corner of the page where you can follow my microblogging via the hashtag #piratetrailfla.

As well, you can view posted videos on Youtube searching for the tag piratetrailfla. So far I have chatted with Sandra Riley, author of Sisters of the Sea, a novel based on the true story of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, history's most legendary female pirates. Riley is a Miami-based author. I also spent some time with Nathan Samuels, an educator at the History Miami Museum, discussing the subject of Black Ceasar, a pirate who is said to have roamed the waters of Biscayne Bay. And last but not least, I spoke with the archeologist I mentioned above while sitting in the lab where they clean and prep artifacts for display.

Not all is lost. Yesterday, while I left my laptop in the hotel room to do its thing -- it took over three hours to upload the video interview -- I enjoyed a stroll on Duval Street and brought myself a birthday gift:

my space to my face key west tshirt
The t-shirt, you fools, not the cute Russian clerk. Did you know you can haggle in tourist shops? I got this one 50% off because I batted my eyelashes and nice people are always a sucker for birthdays. Thank you, Russian dude!

I'm dashing off to celebrate turning 40 all over again in Fort Lauderdale later tonight. In between, a quick stop at Biscayne National Park where you can explore Elliot Key -- one of Black Ceaser's supposed haunts. On Wednesday: Martin County's House of Refuge.


Many thanks to Annie's Costumes, Florida Keys and Key West as well as The Westin Key West Resort and Visit Florida for supporting this leg of the trip.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Trail of the Pirates

Trail of the Pirates is a travel series exploring maritime history, culture and lore between Key West and St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida.

Pirates of the Caribbean postcard
Illustration courtesy of ste3ve's Flickr.

On a recent trip to St. Augustine, I had the opportunity to visit a super secret warehouse where staff, artists and craftsmen were working on displays for the opening of Pat Croce's St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. This experience was special for me, because the museum used to be located in Key West and the last time I visited the island, Pirate Soul, as it was then called, had already closed.

"If you reveal the location of the warehouse," joked a staff member, "we'll have to kill you." But it was no joke that behind the scenes, surrounded by murals, canons, artifacts and paintings, I came up with this crazy idea to drive from Key West to St. Augustine, following the trail of the pirates.

About one month later and after much logistical planning involving hundreds of emails and phone calls, that's exactly what I'm going to do! Join me as I explore maritime culture and lore from Key West to St. Augustine, starting Monday November 8 and ending Tuesday, November 16. I'll be stopping at points in between -- Miami-Dade, Broward, Martin and Indian River counties -- and provided I have a decent internet connection, I should be able to post each day here on Sex and the Beach. No guarantees on what will happen if I get swept away by a sexy pirate!

Pirate lore and legend has fascinated many a curious artist before me, with many an interesting interpretative twist, including the genre of the romance novel. This one by Emily Bryan.

Honestly, I've never really been that much into pirates. I haven't even seen the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series with Johnny Depp. But I am passionate about Florida history and all things having to do with Florida's connection to the Caribbean. It's safe to say that most of Florida's history is underwater in the form of shipwrecks -- so many ships passed by Florida, their holds laden with precious cargo, on the way back to Europe. Florida was all about the booty hundreds of years before Kim Kardashian set foot on the peninsula!

So I'm learning as I go along and will immerse myself completely in east coast maritime culture as it relates to the world of pirates. I've even got costumes for Pirate Gathering weekend, which coincides with the soft opening of the museum on November 12. (The official grand opening is December 3.)

I will be concluding my journey in a rather conventional way, speaking at a Social Media Club South Florida panel on Tourism, Hospitality and Social Media on November 16.

Follow me on Twitter! By the grace of God and AT & T's 3G network, I will be barraging my Twitter stream with road trip commentary. Find me tweeting as @vicequeenmaria and microblogging with the hashtag #piratetrailfla.


I'd like to take a moment to thank all the businesses and organizations that have supported this fun, educational travel writing project with donations of goods or services, as well as the investment of time and collaboration in helping me organize my itinerary. Behold, in alphabetical order:

Annie's Costumes, Captain Hiram's Resort, Discover Martin County, Florida’s Historic Coast Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Florida Keys and Key West, Hilton St. Augustine, History Miami Museum, Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort and Marina, Hyatt Pier 66, Indian River Chamber of Commerce, Pirate Republic Seafood Grill and Bar, Visit Florida, and Westin Key West Resort.

Additional gratitude goes to a handful of individuals -- family and friends who indirectly contributed and made this possible.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Travel: Romancing the Florida Keys: Key West

Part 3 of a three-part series about romantic travel in the Florida Keys.

Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa
Love is in the air in Key West. Photo taken at the Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa.

If you've been following this series, you know I wended my way down to Key West via Pierre's in Islamorada and Hawks Cay. But ah, a big exhale ... a big lung-filled "ahhhhh" ... as wonderful as those two stops were, I can only sigh when I say Key West. I can only sigh because whenever I think Key West, "I can't wait to go back" creeps up into my conscious mind.

Key West is that ultimate destination for Miamians -- ultimate because if you drive any further, you'll end up in the water and ultimate because, unlike South Beach, it's so NOT South Beach. In Key West, you'll find no high-rise condos and most importantly, no bullshit.

But you have to bite the bullet and go the distance.

Once you cross the Seven Mile Bridge on the overseas highway, you enter the Bermuda Triangle of South Florida. A part of you disappears, only to reappear later, upon your return, with your hair ruffled out of some whirlpool gurgling forth at that first Florida turnpike toll booth. An instant lobotomy is performed at mile marker 47 when there's nothing but crystal clear Caribbean blue water on either side of your speeding vehicle. Suddenly, you're humming Jimmy Buffet and just like the first few seconds of twilight anesthesia, when the happy chemicals enter your veins, you forget about that thing, (what was it?), that gave you hives and an anxiety attack yesterday at the office.

I'm not kidding. These are the waters of Lethe. Weird wonderful things happen on the way to Key West. Hey, not long ago, a woman idiot shaved her punani while driving on the overseas highway. Well, that's another story. (Seriously, that was ridiculous. Don't shave and drive.)

I’ve been to Key West many times yet on this particular visit, even as a jaded Miamian, I enjoyed a whole new perspective. The southernmost continental U.S. city is a three-hour drive from Miami and it’s not called the Conch Republic for nothing -- surely a place like this should have its own governance. Life is different here, luring tired souls from points elsewhere to settle down on a island four miles wide and two miles long.

Strike up a conversation with a bartender or waiter who looks a little weathered and you’ll invariably hear something along the lines of “I came here to visit twenty years ago and never left.” And it really is easy to strike up conversation here -- some of the friendliest service in South Florida I've ever had, completely lacking in the signature South Beach snobbery. As one local put it: “We don’t care where you’re from, who you are, rich or poor, famous or not," the business owner said while sipping her rum drink. "We treat everyone like equals here. We treat people like we would like to be treated.”


Last August, I spent two days in Key West doing absolutely nothing and yet as much of everything as I could. I walked a lot, taking in the sights and sounds of Duval Street and other roads less traveled on the island. Here are personally tried and true romantic things to enjoy.

The Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa is a quiet, secluded oasis that's a stone's throw from busy Duval Street, Mallory Square and the Historic Seaport. Stay in a gulf view room, where you’d be silly not to have “sex with a view” on that comfortable king size bed -- with complete privacy, of course. Just don't squeal like a pig because you might scare the tarpon schooling in the gulf just outside your terrace.

Don't be fooled by the title of resort; it's not some mega property. The place is cozy and because it's associated with a spa, it just smells really good. Beautiful pandanus trees, orchids and a fountain full of turtles greet guests by the pool and courtyard.

Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa
The entrance to the Hyatt. It really does smell good here. So relaxing.

Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa
Sex with a view. Or rather, your Gulf of Mexico view.

Key West is famous for its sunsets and most people go to Mallory Square, a waterfront promenade where street performers and vendors abound. It's fun, to be sure, and just right for those "we're holding hands but don't want to talk to each other" moments. However, if you're in the mood for something more personal, here are three alternatives.

Talk to the concierge and arrange a hands and feet reflexology massage for couples at the Hyatt's small man-made beach. The massage package comes with champagne and the promise of relaxation as the sun goes down. If you're not in the mood for a rub, take a sunset cruise with Floridays, a laid-back, casual two-hour trip on a beautiful 60-foot monohull, drinks included. You can board the vessel right from the Hyatt's dock. And if you're not feeling sea worthy, have dinner at SHOR, the resort’s restaurant, for a gourmet meal and direct view of the golden orb making its exit on the horizon.

Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa
A cocktail anthem: Oh say can you see the sun setting from my martini? Drinks at SHOR.

Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa
The lobster appetizer special at SHOR.

Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa
The view from SHOR. Sunset cruises coming in to dock at port. I didn't retouch this photo, promise.

Further afield, there are other dining options. No one can be affectionate on an empty stomach, so hungry lovers might find themselves at Café Solé, which was recommended to me by Captain Robert of Floridays (always ask the locals). Café Solé is an utterly charming and unpretentious restaurant about one mile from the Hyatt. French trained but Key West toughened, Chef Correa prepares sumptuous fare, inspired by Provence.

The affable chef told me he’s only one of two chefs on the island who personally catches the lobster on your plate (during legal season) and snags the snapper for his signature hogfish dish. “I get up very early in the morning, “ he said. “But it’s worth it.”

Correa’s hogfish -- a delicate filet served over a roasted bell pepper hollandaise -- certainly delighted my palate, as well as the lobster fennel orange salad, and the unbelievably tender conch carpaccio. By the way, raw conch is known as an aphrodisiac in Caribbean lore. Some market women in Antigua once told me it was nature’s Viagra. Feel free to test it out.

And speaking of food that makes you horny, no couple should skip Better Than Sex, where you might die la petite mort (a little death -- that’s what those fancy French literary people call an orgasm) and go to dessert heaven. Open the door of this dark, intimate restaurant and the heady scent of chocolate and baking will penetrate your nostrils in ways that should be illegal. To call this place decadent would be an understatement and yet it's classy and understated, as all sensual things should be.

Desserts and drinks all have hilariously sexy descriptions. Try the "Caramel All Over Me" -- fragrant, floral moscato wine with the glass dipped in caramel. Yes, you have to lick the glass and if you don’t relish the sensuality of that, you have no business doing this love thing! Pair that with the Grilled Cheese Sandwich -- a heavenly melted brie and chocolate mix -- and if you’re willing to work it off later in the bedroom, the Kinky Key Lime -- quite possibly the best version of this Florida Keys staple I’ve ever tasted (besides my own, of course).

For shopping, stop at the Mel Fisher's Treasures where you’ll find reproductions from original artifacts displayed in the museum just down the street, also named after the famous treasure hunter.

Talk about romance: during my visit, I had a chance to inspect a limited edition $10,000 gold and emerald cross necklace; the original was once a gift from a New World colonizer who was engaged to the daughter of Spanish king. The vessel carrying the jewels shipwrecked and the marriage went bust. Oh well.

Key West - Duval Street
I want this for my birthday. Just kidding!

Of course, that’s a pricey gift, but nonetheless, a sight to behold.

 Less expensive are the lovely bracelets by Loukas Kongos, a Greek jeweler who moved to Key West shortly after Mel Fisher found the Atocha treasure. Kongos is a fourth generation jeweler and claims he is responsible for the original Key West love bracelet (you'll find imitations in other shops, but the story goes that Kongos simply didn't apply for the trademark in time to stop the copy cats). Each piece of jewelry in his stores are hand cast in his studio on Duval Street. The namesake bracelet is made in gold and sterling silver variations, relatively affordable at under $200.

Key West - Duval Street
Loukas Kongos working on his jewelry. He was very kind to let me into the studio.

Key West - Duval Street
Kongos also designs variations on the Key West love bracelet. I love me the fishes and the mermaids.

You know I had to ask the locals about romantic places for enjoying cocktails. Louie's Backyard was a unanimous choice in my unscientific survey of four discriminating beverage experts. The waterfront spot is rustic but elegant. I found myself surrounded by loyal locals late in the afternoon before sunset.

Louie's Backyard
Louie's is a long-standing gourmet restaurant as well. I didn't have a chance to try the food here.

Louie's Backyard
Drinks with a view at Louie's.

Louie's Backyard
The only thing missing here was the chance to clink glasses with my friend Ines the mojito queen from Miamism.

On the south end of Duval Street, you'll also come across The Rum Bar at the Speakeasy Inn. Hopefully you'll quench your thirst some afternoon when Bahama Bob is around -- he makes the best and meanest Dark and Stormy I've ever tasted in South Florida. That's Bermudan Gosling's dark rum mixed with Gosling's ginger beer, served over ice. Real ginger beer, my friends, yes, that spunky stuff with bite, not that spineless piss water Americans know as ginger ale. If rum is your thing, and drinking it at an original rum runner's den rocks your world, then don't miss this authentic watering hole, where you're also bound to meet some locals.

Key West - Duval Street
There are more varieties of rums here than there are hookers in South Beach. You do the math.

Key West - Duval Street
Bahama Bob, Californian transplant and rum bartender extraordinaire. Tell him Sex and the Beach sent you.

The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory won't take but an hour or so of your time but is well worth a visit. Stroll through the atrium, where small finches and butterflies may alight on your shoulder if you're lucky. It's simply beautiful.

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
A little tropical paradise on Duval Street.

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Beauties like these flit about in the conservatory.

Another alternative to get in touch with all things au naturel is the clothing optional bar, Garden of Eden, where you probably don't want anything of a microbial character to alight on any part of your body. I went there during the day and saw no flesh. Blah. I moved on and didn't bother going back. Maybe you'll have better luck. Personally, I'd rather be staring at my lover's body in that great Hyatt room I mentioned above.

Key West - Duval Street
Uh-oh. The sign at the entrance of Garden of Eden. All I know is that I'm not bringing my friend and colleague Carlos Miller to this joint, unless handcuffs are a fashion accessory.

And speaking of bodies, maybe drag doesn't seem like heterosexual romantic, but hey, it's a barrel of fun in this crazy town. Stroll by 801 Bourbon and you'll see what I mean. I found myself lulled by the siren call of the queens and at $10 cover, who could resist? The show is hysterical and of course, fabulously campy from beginning to end. I saw plenty of breeders enjoying it, so don't be shy. It's a great way to round out an experience of Key West. Hopefully you'll catch Ms. Gassy Winds as MC. She/he had me in stitches and was a better woman on stage than I'll ever be.

Key West - Duval Street
She ... he ... is something else. This isn't Gassy Winds but one of the other performers.

Just about everything I've described above was done in a span of two days in a stress-free, relaxed schedule. But there's much more to see and do on the island. Activities abound. Visit the official Key West destination site for myriad tips and suggestions. And of course, there's always Visit Florida.

You can also take advantage of comfortable bus rides to Key West daily with Miami Tour Company, but no matter how you get there (flying on a puddle jumper into a regional airport is another option), I recommend at least one overnight stay.

Get back to me if you experience that "aha" moment on the Seven Mile Bridge ...

Below, a full set of photos from my journey.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Steelclit: Breaking Up Over Text

frog sexFrogs don't have to look each other in the eye; people do!

Dear Dr. Annie Steelclit:

I'm well into my thirties, and my boyfriend of several months, who was older than I, broke up with me over text. I understand high school brats acting this way, but I can't believe a well-educated person with a white collar job would do something like this. Do you think this was ok?" -- Dumbfounded

Dear Dumbfounded,

Breaking up over text is one of the most undignified, disrespectful and unkind things a person can do to a lover. He didn't text his way into your heart and pussy, did he? He didn't text over flowers and text lavish dinners to get you into the sack did he? He didn't text you when he was lying on top of you, looking you in the eye and saying he wanted to spend the rest of his life with you, did he? He didn't text blow job instructions to you when you were going down on him, did he?

Anyone who breaks up over text is a fucking coward. I mean, how convenient is that? How convenient is it to sweep your heart right under the rug. No, worse: take it out to the street and dump it unceremoniously in the gutter without any accountability whatsoever.

The right honest thing to do in a break up is to look someone in the eye and treat them with compassion. This may be hard for the person leaving the relationship, but anyone with enough cojones will muster up the strength and get it over with. Breaking up over text means he's afraid of confrontation and most likely had intimacy issues to begin with. He didn't even have the courage to confront you over the phone, because he didn't want to deal with what you might have had to say. But look at it this way: he did you a favor. Why would you want to be with such an inconsiderate, spineless asshole? Be grateful for that!

Texting in a romantic relationship should exist solely for two reasons: exchange of information ("Publix ran out of lamb, should we grill chicken instead?") or for sweet nothings ("good morning my love!"). Anything else should be done in person.

Post-it notes don't count either ...

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Travel: Romancing the Florida Keys: Hawks Cay

Part 2 of a three-part series about romantic travel in the Florida Keys.

Hawk's Cay Resort and Marina
Many roads lead to paradise but this one ends at mile marker 61 on the overseas highway.

I stayed at upscale Hawks Cay Resort in August and wondered what the heck I was doing there when the main pool was full of kids and a table full of folded disposable diapers was set up next to the pool towels. How could this possibly be romantic? Screaming rug rats at the pool? No way!

But after I became familiar with the property, I had an "aha" moment: Hawks Cay is actually very romantic for parents, because the resort offers what I can only describe as a mega babysitting menu. You can keep them busy while you get busy together.

And, if you haven't had babies, you may be inspired to make one here.

One such spot for romantic inspiration may be the adults only pool and jacuzzi. Surrounded by palm trees, lush vegetation and crisp, blue Florida Keys skies, I let my imagination wander as I relaxed in the pool. My lanai room was just behind me with a luxurious bed waiting inside.

Hawk's Cay Resort and Marina
Rambunctious and loud adults should stay out of here, too.

Hawk's Cay Resort and Marina
Next best thing to an infinity pool.

Hawk's Cay Resort and Marina
Each lanai room has its own wooden deck that leads to the pool. Sorry, but no kids allowed on the ground floor.

Hawk's Cay Resort and Marina
Plush pillows, waiting to be tossed off in a moment of heated passion.

But Hawks Cay isn't just about catching up on sex. There's plenty of recreational, water sport and spa activities for adults, too, which is another reason to take advantage of their kid programs. For parents who want a break and more "me" time -- either for intimacy or fun -- the resort offers a Kids Night Out and Teen Night on selected nights. There's also a daytime Toddler Program and a daily Camp Hawk for children ages 5-12.

Offspring even have their own facilities: The Indies Club features a splash park in the form of a pirate ship with ropes and slides. The Cove caters to tweens and teens. All childcare activities are supervised, of course, so leave the nanny at home. (I actually met a 20-something nanny; she was having drinks at the bar while her charge was enjoying popcorn and movies elsewhere.) Hawks Cay was exceptionally busy with families in August as the school year had not yet started, but kid's activities are available year-round.

Hawk's Cay Resort and Marina
Hawks Cay doesn't have a proper beach, but the saltwater tidal lagoon is a great spot for adults to relax, especially with lounge chair drink service. Note a namesake hawk perched on top of the tiki.

Another thing that'll take me back to Hawks Cay, even just to stop for dinner: Alma, a restaurant inside the main resort, had me at first bite with a unique Caribbean influenced menu. Try the classic Caribbean style seafood stew with lobster, shrimp, local fish, ground provision root vegetables, coconut and lemongrass over steamed jasmine rice. Or go all Jamaican with curried lamb stew served with West Indian aromatic rice, plantain tostones, cilantro and scotch bonnet oil. Mix it up with a little Italian: risotto is made with creamy calabaza and Florida lobster. If weather permits, dine outside by candlelight on the veranda.

Hawks Cay Resort and Marina is located right off the overseas highway on 60-acre Duck Key, a quiet, residential area surrounded by crystal clear turquoise water. Accommodations range from lanai rooms to villas located elsewhere on the island. The resort is about one and a half hours away from Miami. Spend at least two nights here; by the second morning you'll have forgotten about your Miami rush hour commute.

For more information visit Hawks Cay. Make sure to check their special offers page for seasonal romance packages.