Everything was perfectly still as we silently glided through the narrow blue-green lagoon, mangroves tangled overhead. We didn’t even need to paddle the kayak; we just kept drifting, drifting ahead, only pausing to steer. Somewhere, we were told, there were two crocodiles lurking beneath the surface.
No, this isn’t a Disney movie (or even a ride at Disney World, for that matter). This is real life in Islamorada, Florida- the village of the islands, my new favorite destination in the Keys. You think lagoon kayaking is cool? That’s not even the start of the absolutely amazing day that I spent in Islamorada-adventure-land. I kayaked to a deserted island with Native American ruins, jumped off a pier into the ocean, drifted through the mangroves, made island friends, feasted on mahi-mahi in a tiki hut, all in a single day trip. AMAZING!
Islamorada is just short of a two-hour drive away from South Miami down the A1A- close enough to visit for a day, but far, far from the “real world.” Everything was beautiful: the sun was perfect, the breeze was perfect, the humidity was nonexistent. Everywhere, blue and green, happiness, and island life.
We spent the day at Robbie’s Marina (mm 77.5), THE coolest marina ever. Makeshift shack stands selling coconut heads and island art scattered the gravel parking lot, live music played in the background, people clustered around the restaurants and watersport vendors on the pier, giant monster fish circled at the end of the dock. It was so full of life!
Here, amongst this perfect waterfront village, we found the Kayak Shack- literally a shack. Literally awesome. I want the life of the equally awesome guy that works there. (Getting paid to live this life everyday? Sign me up, please!). Or at least the life of his dog, who just hangs out on the shack roof all day- can you say adorable?
Anyway, we had come to kayak, so after a brief rundown on the pier, my friend Lis and I finally climbed into our big, red double kayak to begin our day’s excursion. Lis and I, for the record, are the worst kayakers ever. But it didn’t matter, we had too much motivation to care. So we dove right in, paddling thirty minutes out, under US-1, and across the ocean to distant Indian Key, a now deserted island, brimming with all kinds wildlife. There were even cacti!
We tied the boat on the beach and explored for about an hour. Sand paths and old wooden “street signs” gave us a sense of direction, old concrete foundations served as the only reminder of a time long ago when settlers inhabited the island, and a short scaling of an old wooden look-out tower revealed breathtaking views of trees and ocean. We later discovered a modern pier, built so that visitors could tie up their boat, on one side of the key. Of course, we jumped off of it into the turquoise water. It was too beautiful of a day not to. And of course, the water was perfect too. It was BEYOND salty, though. Kayaking back from the island after drying in the sun, I could physically see thick white powder coating my entire body.
THAT’S how salty it was.
At this point, we were just going to tie up, rinse off, and grab something to eat on the pier (last meal: breakfast at 7:00am, not ok), but we decided to at least paddle around the corner to see what we could find. Next thing we knew, we’re drifting down a perfect island lagoon, barely grasping that this was reality. Remember, we’re both from up North; we still think it should be 50 degrees and sweater-weather right now. Instead, while the rest of our family and friends back home buttoned up their jackets, we were drinking in the sunshine, the air, the incredible picture in front of us. I couldn’t describe the full essence of what it was exactly like if I tried. You’ll just have to go and see for yourself what I mean.
Eventually, we did have to return. But as sad as we were to leave, we did welcome the chance to finally eat a good meal and change into salt-free clothing. After a quick shopping adventure around the marina, we drove north a few miles to Lorelei Cabana Bar and Restaurant (mm 82) to sit back, relax, and eat before beginning the drive back to reality. With more music, a lively crowd, and waterfront seating, Lorelei could not have been a more perfect place for us to end our day. Every detail screamed “Keys,” right up to the old, fat dog lying in the middle of it all. Literally, I kept questioning if the whole thing was even real.
By the time we finally made it back to South Miami around 7:00 that evening, I was exhausted, but the trip was entirely worth it! I would absolutely go back to Islamorada and Robbie’s in a heartbeat, and I plan to asap. And whenever possible. For any reason at all. It was that incredible, a sanctuary in the midst of crazy-wild-real-world stuff. The fact that I spent a day there is still mind boggling to me, but I guess that’s life in never-ending summer for you.
Make time for the village of the islands next time you’re in The Keys. Stop at Robbie’s, feed the tarpon, give the roof dog a high-five. Explore, adventure, sing Pocahontas songs as you drift around the river bend. Really, it’s not a Disney attraction.
I promise, it’s all real- and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever done before.