New Years in the Keys

My typical New Years as an adult has consisted of a nice dinner out and party with friends. Growing up, I usually traveled with my family to the mountains. This year, I really wanted something different. I’ve always wanted to spend NYE in Key West or some place warm, and thus materialized a trip to Florida.

Being on a budget and planning rather last minute in early December, we decided to make it a road trip, spending most of our days camping. Our whole week trip was under $600 a person. We left early morning on December 27th, after a Christmas celebration that precluded me from having a long night of sleep. But there’s nothing like a trip (and four cups of coffee) to stir up the adrenaline and keep me awake! After a three hour delay on I-95, we eventually arrived at Salt Springs Recreation Area. We set up our tent and enjoyed a good night's rest. We awoke early to the beautiful moon shining through the trees.

Our next destination was the Everglades, but of course not without stopping in Miami for a delicious Cuban sandwich.

Camping in the Everglades for three days was an adventure. With no cell service, it was a good time to just focus on nature, to think, write and appreciate the beauty surrounding. The skies were clear at night and the stars shone brightly. There is nothing quite like looking up into unending shining stars filling the dark sky, with a slight wind blowing and the sound of small waves lapping against the shore. 

It was much hotter than usual for that time of year (as it was for most states in the US the week of New Years). With humidity and 90 degrees, I was thankful our camping spot was in an open field on the water. It allowed the breeze to blow which helped to cool us somewhat and chase away some of the mosquitos. The mosquito level was moderate, but I’ve never experienced so many bites in my life. No amount of spray seemed to help and had we camped there more than three days, I would have had to invest in mosquito proof clothing. 

The Everglades was a beautiful place, full of unique birds, animals and vegetation. I also enjoyed seeing manatees and crocodiles swim in the wild for the first time in my life. We stayed at the Flamingo Campground, which is at the edge of the park on the gulf side. We checked out some of the trails and saw a beautiful sunrise and a few sunsets. We brought all of our food and cooked delicious concoctions like cheesy potatoes for breakfast and cabbage rolls and sausage grilled cheeses over the fire.

One morning we were hanging out by the docks, waiting for crocodiles. I went to sit down and clumsily swiped my camera off the table. The lens came off and a couple plastic pieces broke. I did shed a few tears on the spot because I was concerned it might be permanently broken (which would mean not only the large cost of a new lens, but I couldn’t take some of the pictures I would like to). Thankfully, none of the internal pieces were destroyed and it was salvageable with some super glue. 

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On the same day as the camera almost-catastrophe, my camping chair, which I’ve had for about ten years now, finally gave in. It was a peaceful afternoon, overlooking the sparkling waters, birds flying and enjoying the shade of a tree next to the water. I was journaling when suddenly it just ripped through. I'm taking donations for a new chair. Joking... kind of.

After our three nights in the Everglades, we left at 7 am on New Years Eve to travel to the Keys. It was a nice reprieve to spend a couple days inside. We stayed at an AirBNB home in Summerland Key, about 20 minutes from Key West. $150 a night was definitely worth it for a private room, bathroom, kitchen access, free coffee, a deck over-looking the bright channel waters and kayaks that we were allowed to use at our leisure.

On our way to Summerland, we stopped at beautiful overlooks. We enjoyed a key lime muffin and coffee from Midway Café (a very friendly, must-go-to place if traveling the Keys) while overlooking some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen. This was really my first trip seeing bright blue and clear water. We drove the iconic 7 mile bridge. We visited Bahia State Park, had a picnic overlooking the beach and explored a flourishing nature trail.

Photo credit to Tadas Rimkevicius

New Years Eve we spent in Key West. We saw a sunset from the marina and strolled around town. We enjoyed scallops, shrimp and lobster for dinner, and then popped into a couple bars for drinks. Around 11pm, we gathered with the crowd to watch musical performances. The iconic Sushi was lowered in a large shoe from the top of a roof at midnight. It was hot, almost like being at a concert, stuck against people with groups coming through pushing and shoving. But it was fun and exciting too. I loved being in 80 degrees and wearing flip flops on New Years Eve.

New Years Day we took the house kayaks into the ocean. It was a perfect day. The sun was shining in the bright blue sky, sparkling on the clear waters.  It was so clear that we could easily see jellyfish, coral and other unique, colorful sea plants. The birds were singing to one another and fish were darting about. I felt inspired and on top of the world. I was taking pictures and videos of the wildlife with my iphone. I had purchased a waterproof bag in the Everglades so thought I would be safe. But unfortunately the bag tipped in the kayak toward the end of the trip and immediately filled with water. I noticed it after a couple seconds, but it was too late. I felt sad, mainly about losing my pictures. But I was hopeful that a bag of rice would save it (spoiler: it didn’t).

Roast pork, pickled onions, yuca, tamale and conch soup at El Siboney's.

The rest of the day was spent exploring more of Key West. We visited southernmost point, enjoyed Cuban sandwiches at Lagerhead’s on the beach, swam at Southernmost beach and saw the sun set at Fort Zachary State Park. We also ate the most delicious Cuban meal at El Siboney. Friendly service, large plates of flavorful food and a colorful, fun atmosphere, I would highly recommend this place if you ever get the chance to visit! 

Going home, we decided to leave early in the morning again. We took our time driving, stopping wherever our hearts desired. We drove through Miami beach. We stayed at Gamble Rogers Memorial State Park the last night. We had an awesome campsite, with plenty of room and unique foliage surrounding. Our site was across the road from Flagler beach. Unfortunately, our one night there it rained. But we will definitely go back! Despite packing up in the rain, we felt happy because it was such a beautiful place. We checked out the beach and enjoyed some time with the birds while the rain let up to a drizzle.

On the drive home, we decided instead of taking the fastest route, to drive along the coast. We saw beautiful houses and shoreline. We were surprised by Anastasia lighthouse and stopped for quick pictures. We drove through St Augustine, which is now on my list to go back to.

It was a beautiful, inspiring trip. Ushering in the New Year in such a carefree, happy, warm place, I felt incredibly joyful. I wish I could wear flip flops (or no shoes) every day for the rest of my life. I made goals that consisted of making a new food once a week that I’ve never made before, journaling daily and being healthier by exercising, less drinking and adjusting my diet. I also decided to focus on saving the money I do have for more excursions and trips. I want to spend on experiences and not material items. I look forward to many adventures to come!