The Conch Republic, USA


IMG_2321 katie kissing snowman for writing contestThe Conch Republic

At the southernmost end of US Route 1 and usually under sunny skies lies the enchanting isle of Key West. Known for its nearly perfect weather, Key West not only attracts artists, writers and vacationers, but especially those who want to live on the fringe of society, vagabonds and others with wanderlust. Among the many famous residents and presidents who resided there are Ernest Hemmingway, Shel Silverstein, Tennessee Williams, Jimmy Buffett, Kelly McGillis, Judy Bloom, Harry Truman, Mel Fisher, John James Audubon, Winslow Homer, Robert Frost and many others.

What is it about the end of the road that is so attractive? Perhaps it is the charming town, the bohemian architecture, the unspoiled beauty of the sparkling aqua sea, the authentic Cuban cuisine, or the lure of the laissez-faire attitude that is prevalent throughout the city that is so alluring. Whatever it is, it is so seductive that people either move there or keep coming back. My husband and I have visited six times and are always eager to return! We’ve been enamored with Key West since our first trip, for it is an experience that adds adventure and spice to our lives!

Called Cayo Hueso, or “bone island” in Spanish, because of the stacks of Indian skulls and the plethora of bones found littering the ground, Key West’s history is rich with vibrant stories of interesting people, pirates, triumphs, tragedies, traditions, and customs. You can learn much about the history of Key West by touring the cemetery, visiting the many museums, historical buildings and landmarks, taking a conch train ride, or if you dare, climbing aboard the Trolley of the Doomed for a haunted history tour.

There are plenty of natural treasures to explore by fishing, boating, snorkeling, scuba diving, getting a bird’s eye view in an ultralight or biplane, and hiking along the beaches and state parks. You can combine your love for history, activity, and nature by taking a sea plane to the Dry Tortugas National Park to explore Garden Key Light and Fort Jefferson, view the unspoiled beauty of the shore, watch birds, and snorkel along the undisturbed coral reefs.

Mallory Square is a popular place to gather nightly for Sunset Celebration and to appreciate the end of another day in paradise. Though there are artists, crafters, psychics, and food carts selling their wares, the main attractions are the street performers that woo the crowd with their latest tricks including jugglers of dangerous and flaming objects, tightrope walkers, sword swallowers, gymnasts, animal acts, and more.

If you’d prefer a quieter and more secluded spot to watch the sunset, the top of the La Concha hotel offers excellent views!

A sunset sail on a schooner is another fine way to relax at the end of a busy day. One of the best things we ever did was to take a sunset sail on the Schooner Wolf where we met Rich In Spirit McKay whom we befriended. Rich came to the keys decades ago and never left. He is a musician, songwriter and activist that inspires people to live more positive, joyful, sparkly lives and regularly plays on the Wolf. The Schooner Wolf is the flagship of the Conch Republic. It leads the battle in the reenactment of the secession of the self-declared Conch Republic from the United States. The secession occurred on April 23rd, 1982 in protest of the US Border Patrol’s roadblock along Route 1 which severely disrupted tourism. Captain Finbar Gittelman, owner of the Wolf, was the impetus behind the reenactment of the battle which now takes place annually and is part of a week long festival. Their slogan is “We seceded where others failed.”

No matter what you choose to do, you needn’t feel inhibited in Key West! Everyone is out for a good time and almost anything goes! Wear what you want, drink as much or as little as you want, eat some good food, hear great music, dance, explore, indulge, let loose and enjoy yourself! The motto of the city is “One Human Family,” the biggest vibes are pleasure and entertainment, and a tangible, creative energy abounds! Maybe that is why so many artists and diverse people congregate and celebrate in Key West.

To help keep joy first and foremost in my mind even after we left the Keys, I purchased an inspirational magnet from one of the artists at Sunset Celebration with a quote by Marcia Wieder that reminds me of this special place: “It is essential to our well-being, and to our lives, that we play and enjoy life. Every single day do something that makes your heart sing.”

About the author: Laurie Wolfrum is an unschooling parent who shares her life with her husband Jim and their four children in mid-coast Maine. She enjoys frequenting the shore, exploring new places and revisiting favorite haunts, especially if there is a lighthouse involved.

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