Keys Voices Main Archive

Whangamo-WHO? Conch Republic Copycat Discovered in New Zealand

Carol Shaughnessy | December 2011

Once upon a time (way back in 1982), the Florida Keys & Key West seceded from the union and formed the independent Conch Republic. This wasn’t a joke. In fact, it was a last-ditch attempt to get the U.S. Border Patrol to remove a blockade it had erected at the head of the Keys — where agents searched outgoing cars for unspecified contraband, tied up traffic interminably, and nearly annihilated the Keys’ fledgling tourist trade.

Even NBC "Today" weatherman Al Roker (left) and anchor Matt Lauer are fans of the Conch Republic! Here they display the republic's flag during a special broadcast from Key West. (Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau

Even NBC "Today" weatherman Al Roker (left) and anchor Matt Lauer are fans of the Conch Republic. Here they display the republic's flag during a special broadcast from Key West. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

So, like any intelligent population blessed with a creative mindset and lively sense of humor, some good citizens and friends of the Keys came up with an offbeat, attention-getting response: they staged the island chain’s secession from the mother country.

It was a stunningly effective solution to the problem. Following the international media hoopla generated by the gutsy action, the blockade was quietly dismantled, never to return.

The concept of the Conch Republic, however, has far outlived the incident that spawned it. While Keys citizens are technically still Americans, today Conch Republic flags and passports are common — and the secession’s anniversary is celebrated each year with a fun-filled festival.

The concept of the Conch Republic appeals to the independent, nonconformist spirit of Keys residents (and those who dream of becoming residents). And recently, one of the republic’s founding fathers discovered that it also appealed to a citizenry on the other side of the world.

Intrepid traveler Stuart Newman discovered a Conch Republic-like country in faraway New Zealand.

Intrepid traveler Stuart Newman discovered a Conch Republic-like country in faraway New Zealand.

While he was in New Zealand representing the Florida Keys & Key West at the annual Society of American Travel Writers convention, honorary Conch Republican Stuart Newman took time off to explore the countryside. Driving along the Lost World Highway, he encountered the “Republic of Whangamomona.”

Here, in Stuart’s own words, is the tale of his remarkable discovery.

Whangamomona, NZ — Halfway around the world from the Florida Keys, residents of tiny town on New Zealand’s North Island, arguably inspired by Key West’s 1982 Conch Republic rebellion, seven years later seceded and formed the “Republic of Whangamomona.”

In 1989, dissatisfied with a series of governmental redistricting changes, the elder gurus of the community of less than 180 gathered at the pub of the local six-room hotel/restaurant — and declared Whangamomona to be an independent republic.

The republic of Whamgamomona is governed from this unassuming hotel. (Photo by Stuart Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The republic of Whamgamomona is governed from this unassuming hotel. (Photo by Stuart Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Located in New Zealand’s Manawatu-Wanganui region, Whangamomona is accessible via the Lost World Highway (NZ 43) — not exactly the caliber of the Keys’ U.S. 1, since it boasts a 90-mile stretch without a service station.

Whangamomona’s first president, Ian Kjestrup, was elected after his name was placed on the ballot without his knowledge.

Kjestrup served from 1989 through 1999 and was succeeded by Billy Gumboot, a goat (!), who won by eating the ballots of the other candidates. Gumboot served 18 months before being succeeded by a poodle named Tai, who served from 2003 to 2004 and retired following a reported assassination attempt.

The present chief of state, garage owner Murt “Murtle the Turtle” Kennard, won out over founding father Kjestrup and a cross-dresser named Miriam (sound familiar?) by a single vote. He was overwhelmingly re-elected this year.

Like the Conch Republic, Whangamomona has a population of indigenous poultry.

Like the Conch Republic, Whangamomona has a population of indigenous poultry.

Today, the tiny “country” of Whangamomona is replete with Conch Republic-type passports and official T-shirts. Every other year in January (summer in New Zealand), the town celebrates Republic Day, which attracts thousands of visitors from throughout the North Island.

As Stuart discovered, clearly the citizens of Whangamomona share an irreverent mindset and good-spirited sense of fun with the denizens of the Conch Republic. Those attributes will take center stage in the Keys April 20-29, 2012, during the 30th annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration.

Why not come down for the festivities and declare your own independence?

Comments

Rhythms, Revels and Where to Go After Dark

Carol Shaughnessy | December 2011

Key West’s nightlife scene means the rhythms of reggae, salsa and island rock spilling from clubs’ open doorways … the whirr of a blender as a bartender concocts a perfect frozen margarita … the laughter and clink of glasses as friends toast the evening’s promise.

Rick's Bar, a favorite Key West establishment in the 200 block of Duval Street, offers patrons multiple settings for fun.

Rick's Bar, a favorite Key West establishment in the 200 block of Duval Street, offers patrons multiple settings for fun. (Photo courtesy of Rick's)

Party-minded people tend to favor lively Duval Street and the waterfront Historic Seaport. There you’ll find everything from icy imported beers to sophisticated martinis to frozen tropical libations in mind-boggling flavors.

The settings are as varied as the drink offerings. You might sip a cool concoction overlooking the colorful Duval panorama, wander into a sultry jazz club or wine bar, or choose a seaport tavern where patrons’ dogs enjoy their own “cocktails” — bowls of ice water.

For example, check out the popular Rick’s/Durty Harry’s Entertainment Complex in the 200 block of  Duval Street. Its wide variety of venues and bars includes Rick’s Downstairs, featuring top-quality live music and cocktails; the casual Tree Bar with its laid-back bartenders, premium spirits and fresh-squeezed juices; and Durty Harry’s, known for its live rock and roll.

Jimmy Buffett waves to some 3,500 "Parrot Head" fans during his surprise concert on Key West's Duval Street. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Jimmy Buffett waves to some 3,500 "Parrot Head" fans during a surprise concert outside his Margaritaville emporium. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Jimmy Buffett fans flock to the renowned entertainer/author’s bar and restaurant at 500 Duval St. Jimmy drew inspiration for his “island rock” from living and performing in Key West, and his Margaritaville Café features tasty casual food, cocktails and an entertainment lineup that includes his musical friends, band members and occasionally the man himself.

Jimmy was a regular habitué of the Chart Room, a hole-in-the-wall at the Pier House Resort & Caribbean Spa, 1 Duval St., where Key West movers-and-shakers plotted and partied in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Venture inside today for what Chart Room bartenders still call “a sensible cocktail,” and you might hear the hint of their long-ago laughter.

Two local bars recall another of Key West’s favorite sons.

Legendary writer Ernest Hemingway spent the 1930s on the island, penning fiction that forever changed American literature — and consorting with friends like saloonkeeper Joe “Josie” Russell at his Sloppy Joe’s Bar.

Sloppy Joe's is thronged with look-alike fans each year during the internationally renowned contest. (Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)

Sloppy Joe's is thronged with look-alike fans each year during the internationally renowned contest. (Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)

The bar was located at 428 Greene St. until a rent dispute caused Josie to move it around the corner to 201 Duval St. — where it became a world-famous watering hole. Each July, Sloppy Joe’s hosts the “Papa” Hemingway Look-Alike Contest — but visitors crowd the place year-round for its quality entertainment, ample drinks and Hemingway heritage.

For many years, the original Sloppy Joe’s has been called Captain Tony’s Saloon. The colorful Tony was a gambler, gunrunner, charterboat captain and Key West’s one-time mayor. Stop in for live music and cold libations in an atmosphere filled with memorabilia.

Around the corner at 4 Charles St. stands the Smokin’ Tuna Saloon, a new emporium that’s already a local favorite. Its attractions include a funky and welcoming indoor-outdoor vibe, an eclectic menu and unbeatable live music.

The Smokin' Tuna is relatively new on the scene but already a local's favorite hotspot. (Photo courtesy of the Smokin' Tuna)

The Smokin' Tuna is relatively new on the scene but already a locals' favorite hotspot. (Photo courtesy of the Smokin' Tuna)

And don’t miss the ramshackle Green Parrot Bar at 601 Whitehead St., a Key West landmark since 1890. There you’ll find easygoing bartenders and an offbeat atmosphere (including signs that read “Sorry, We’re Open” and “No Snivelling”). The self-proclaimed home of great drinks and bad art, the Parrot offers a jazz-, funk- and blues-infused entertainment lineup.

Another hub of Key West’s lively nightlife is the Historic Seaport district along the Gulf of Mexico. Seaport bars and restaurants preserve the funky attitude, architecture and personality of the island’s past.

Prime among them is the Schooner Wharf Bar at 202 William St. The bar began its life on an actual schooner, but subsequently moved ashore to its open-air waterfront setting. Today it’s known for casual live music, rustic charm and events ranging from a goofy “minimal regatta” to a buccaneering New Year’s Eve celebration.

Whether you’re seeking seaport shenanigans, island rhythms or a chance to try the “Duval Crawl” of main-street establishments, Key West’s nightlife adds a vibrant excitement to the island city.

So what are you waiting for? Come on down and sample it for yourself.

Comments

Florida Keys Women Recall Riding Over-Sea Railroad in Early 1900s

Carol Shaughnessy | December 2011

Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad ceased operating in 1935, but two Keys women vividly remember childhood experiences riding the “railroad that went to sea.”

Two Keys women recall childhood journeys on Henry Flagler's Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad, shown here steaming across the Long Key Viaduct. (Photo courtesy of the Monroe County Librayr Collection)

Two Keys women recall childhood journeys on Henry Flagler's Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad. Here, a train steams across the Long Key Viaduct. (Photo courtesy of the Monroe County Library Collection)

Completed in 1912, it was called the Over-Sea Railroad because its track stretched more than 100 miles out into open water. For 23 years it carried passengers from mainland Florida to (and through) the Keys, giving them a breathtaking sense of steaming across the ocean.

Minnie Dameron, who spent much of her childhood on Plantation Key in the Upper Keys, remembers trips to visit family in Key West — and taking the train’s final journey just before portions of its track were severely damaged in a 1935 hurricane.

Marie Gasser, who spent childhood summers in Ohio and winters in Miami, recalled her family’s one-way train trip from Miami to Key West before her death in January 2012.

Dameron remembered her father flagging down the train at the Plantation Key freight station with a white handkerchief, and a lantern signaling the family had boarded.

Minnie Dameron made several Over-Sea Railroad journeys with her parents and younger sister. (Photo by Steve Panariello, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Minnie Dameron took several Keys train trips with her parents and sister. (Photo by Steve Panariello, Florida Keys News Bureau)

“We’d get so excited when we knew we were coming to get the train and go all the way to Key West — we put on our best clothes,” said Dameron, 87, who now lives in Key West.

“My sister and I used to love to ride the train and look out the window,” she recalled. “But when we’d come to the Seven Mile Bridge, it looked like you were riding on the water, so we’d get scared and hold one another’s hand.”

For Dameron, arriving at Key West was the trip’s highlight. On special occasions, she remembered, Cuban bands and dancers greeted arriving passengers.

Gasser recalled her family boarding the train in Miami when she was about 5 and walking back to the last seat — a seat that resembled a church pew. Her mother sat by the window and her father on the aisle, while she rode between them.

Marie Gasser, who was 5 years old when she rode the train with her parents, remembers her mother being quite unhappy about riding over water. (Photo by Steve Panariello, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Marie Gasser, who was 5 years old when she rode the train with her parents, remembered her mother being quite unhappy about riding over water. (Photo by Steve Panariello, Florida Keys News Bureau)

“Everybody was excited — take a train down to Key West,” said Gasser, who was an Islamorada resident when she died at age 95.

During the journey, they walked to the dining car.

“It seemed like a long ways to get to something to eat,” said Gasser, who remembered a waiter in a white shirt and black pants helping her. “He brought a highchair for me, lifted me up and put me in the highchair.”

The journey was pleasant, she said, until her mother looked out the open window as the train crossed a bridge so narrow it seemed she was sitting over water. After arriving in Key West, her mother refused to take the train back to Miami and insisted they return by boat.

“She said boats were made to go on water and trains were not!” Gasser chuckled.

Dameron and her family’s last ride was the train’s final journey to Key West — just before the Labor Day 1935 hurricane slammed into the Upper Keys, damaging that area’s railroad line. The trip wasn’t inspired by foreknowledge of the storm, but instead to get treatment for her sick sister.

A group awaits the Over-Sea Railroad train at the Islamorada station. (Photo courtesy of the Monroe County Public LIbrary)

A group awaits the Over-Sea Railroad train at the Islamorada station. (Photo courtesy of the Monroe County Library Collection)

“She had a temperature and my mother tried everything to get it down and couldn’t, so we got the train to Key West,” Dameron said. “We would have been in it (the hurricane), but I was on the last train in here (Key West) because of my sister being ill.”

Three years after the hurricane, the Overseas Highway debuted, built on a foundation that incorporated most of the original railway spans. Today, it contains 127 miles of roadway and 42 bridges over water connecting the Keys. The original train bridges were retired in 1982, but many became fishing piers.

A celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of the railway’s completion is to culminate Jan. 14-23, with Keyswide events marking the centennial of the first train’s journey.

“It changed the Keys forever, and what a blessing it was,” said Dameron. “I just wish it was still there — that’s how much we loved it.”

Comments

Something’s Fishy at Unique Islamorada Seminar

Carol Shaughnessy | November 2011

The annual Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing! seminar, at Islamorada’s Postcard Inn at Holiday Isle resort, gives beginning and intermediate female anglers a chance to learn saltwater fishing — or improve angling skills they already have.

Intrepid angler Maria Newman fights her lionfish prey under the direction of LLGF founder Betty Bauman. (Photos by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Intrepid angler Maria Newman, left, fights her "lionfish" prey under the direction of LLGF founder Betty Bauman. (Photos by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

It’s called the “No-Yelling School of Fishing,” and includes instruction on how to rig baits, tie knots, gaff fish and even boat handling. One session teaches effective and comfortable ways to battle gamefish.

For several years Larry Kahn, editor of the Florida Keys’ “Keynoter” newspaper, has played the role of the gamefish target. This year, swimming in a resort pool with a fishing line tied to his belt, he portrayed an invasive lionfish.

Selected students reel, while the fish tries to swim away. The process teaches students not to allow slack line, to follow the fish as it moves in the water and, ultimately, to wear out their quarry.

That’s what happened to Larry at the hands of a savvy Miami student (and middle school teacher) named Maria Newman. Here, in detail, are her thoughts and his on the experience.

Musings From Maria, the Angler

Larry the lionfish doesn’t know there’s a hook instead of the morsel of bait. He simply thinks opportunity just knocked, and he swallows.

On the surface, I wait to feel his slightest tug. I jerk the line to set the hook, and he takes me for a big run of line.

Larry the lionfish attempts to escape the tenacious angler.

Larry the lionfish attempts to escape the tenacious angler.

I smile and patiently let him take it. He wins this run.

Now it’s my turn. I pull my rod back and crank the reel faster and faster. I get back what I lost.

His turn. He takes a left turn and runs again — pulling, tugging, trying to survive. He thinks, “If I don’t pull harder, I’m a goner.”

All I know is, if I don’t get this fish up close to the surface, I lose. It’s him or me. Hook, line, rod, harness, fish-fighting belt … don’t fail me now!

I’ve got him now (I always assume the fish I catch are boys. Why is that?).

I’m tired. He’s tired and I can feel him struggling, trying to get free.

There he is close to me, at the surface. He’s mine.

I win! That’s my fish. That’s my Larry — my wonderful Larry the lionfish.

Reflections From Larry, “The Fish”

Sometimes the greats hang on too long.

There was Willie Mays in 1973, capping his baseball career with a sad six home runs and a .211 batting average with the Mets after a Hall of Fame career with the Giants.

Actual lionfish, unlike Larry, sport venomous spines instead of a wetsuit.

An actual lionfish, unlike Larry, sports venomous spines instead of a wetsuit.

Then there was Michael Jordan, closing out his basketball career in a Washington Wizards uniform in 2002-‘03 after redefining, as a Chicago Bull, how NBA basketball is played.

And there was me, at the end of a fishing line, being reeled in so easily that a minnow would have been more challenging for the angler.

This was my fourth year depicting “The Fish” at Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing!

I had retired after three years, having portrayed an acrobatic dolphin (mahi-mahi), tenacious tuna and powerful grouper. I came back for a fourth year as a lionfish, monofilament line tied my body, to swim away from student Maria Newman — while she tried to reel me to the side of the “classroom” pool.

After fishing, predator and prey might have stopped at the wonderful Fish House Encore for a tasty appetizer of ... lionfish.

After the epic battle, predator and prey might have stopped at Key Largo's Fish House Encore for a tasty appetizer of ... lionfish.

But like Mays and Jordan, I was past my prime. I thought I could coast as a lionfish, a relatively small fish with little fight, and wouldn’t need much spunk. Boy, was I wrong.

I was at the end of Maria’s line for only about five minutes as LLGF founder Betty Bauman instructed other students in what Maria was doing right and wrong. There was much right … little wrong.

I kept trying to swim away, but Maria kept hauling me in.

Finally, I gave up. I exited the pool gasping for air, a shell of my former fish self, and retired. Again.

Four years as “The Fish” was a pretty good run.

Just one year too many, that’s all.

Wait, is that Betty calling again for 2012?

Comments

Stephen Frink: Capturing the Underwater World

Christina Baez | November 2011

Twenty-five cents can buy a gumball, 15 minutes at a parking meter or a phone call on a pay phone. But for world-renowned underwater photographer Stephen Frink, a quarter led to a profession, a passion and a lifetime of success.

Stephen Frink is captured here on the other side of the lens -- off the coast of the Red Sea. (All photos courtesy of Stephen Frink)

Stephen Frink is captured here on the other side of the lens -- off the coast of the Red Sea. (All photos courtesy of Stephen Frink)

Stephen always wanted to be a scuba diver, but his ultimate motivation was the offer of a part-time job cleaning yacht hulls that required him to be dive certified.

“I always say I got certified as a scuba diver for 25 cents a linear foot, because that’s what I got paid for cleaning boats,” he joked.

Stephen grew up a landlocked Midwesterner, but constantly fantasized about what it would be like to scuba dive. He took his first and only photography class while getting his master’s degree in experimental psychology at California State University at Long Beach.

“Seeing the black-and-white darkroom and the alchemy coming up in the tray, I just knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he said.

Stephen bought his first underwater camera from a surfer, and initially enjoyed underwater photography as a hobby. Once he finished school he spent six months in Hawaii working as a tourism photographer, shooting what he described as “drunk people at luaus at night,” and diving and shooting underwater photos during the day.

Stephen's brilliant photo of Key Largo's iconic Christ of the Abyss statue was widely recognized during the recent 50th anniversary celebration of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

Stephen shot this brilliant photo of Key Largo's iconic Christ of the Abyss statue.

Subsequently he gave up the island life and scuba diving for “coat weather” and a darkroom job as a custom color printer in Colorado.

Competitive swimming had been a big part of Stephen’s youth, and coincidentally it’s what brought him to the Florida Keys. An old friend from his swimming days, who was living in Key Largo and working as a treasure hunter, invited him to visit.

He arrived in Key Largo in April 1978 and immediately realized he could make a living processing film and renting camera equipment.

He rented a small space in what was then the Ocean Divers building, eventually buying the building and creating what is now the Stephen Frink Gallery and his working office.

Surprisingly, he has never taken an underwater photography class. Instead, he perfected his craft by trial and error.

Underwater photography is so unique,” Stephen said. “Each day you dive is going to be a little different, and there’s always the challenge to photograph even a familiar subject in a better way.”

Stephen captured this manta ray and the remora fish tagging along with it.

Stephen captured this manta ray and the remora fish tagging along with it.

On a rainy winter day in 1979 — a day he remembers distinctly — he began his work as an educator.

“A guy drove up in a brand new Cadillac and asked me if I taught underwater photography,” Stephen said. “I thought the guy looked like he could pay for it, so I said, ‘Of course I do,’ and I’ve been teaching ever since.”

Today, he teaches master photographers through the Stephen Frink School of Photography, hosting two underwater photography seminars in Key Largo each summer.

His photojournalism career began in 1982 when a Miami–based magazine needed underwater photos of Marathon. Although Stephen had never used a wide–angle lens, he borrowed one from a friend, took a model down to Marathon and got the shots. Two weeks later, he was called to hit the road and travel to the Cayman Islands to shoot for the magazine.

Since then, Stephen Frink has traveled the globe as a photojournalist and worked with publications including Skin Diver magazine, Scuba Diving and Alert Diver magazine. He also authored a coffee-table book titled “Wonders of the Reef.”

Of the thousands of images Frink has shot, the one closest to his heart is this photo of his daughter Lexi swimming with a dolphin when she was only 3 years old.

Stephen's photo of his daughter Lexi, swimming with a dolphin when she was only 3 years old, remains close to his heart.

An active environmentalist, Stephen sits on the board of directors of the Sanctuary Friends Foundation of the Florida Keys — a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and sustainable use of the area’s coral reef ecosystem. He finds himself in constant awe of the world that lies just offshore in the Keys.

“Sometimes I’ll be out with my buddies and we just shake our heads with disbelief,” he said. “So many places I go just don’t have much marine life anymore, and we have this legacy of conservation here — it is such a big deal. I truly enjoy diving and living here.”

Comments

An Insider’s Taste of Key West … Yummm!

Steve Smith | November 2011

As the holidays approach at warp speed, we’re starting to hang icicles and colored lights in our palm trees and across our houses. Soon the Key West neighborhoods will look like a winter wonderland — without the snow!

Spotted at a recent Key West Business Guild mixer are blog author Steve Smith (right), guild executive director Rebecca Tomlinson (center) and guild office manager Patrick Shanks.

Spotted at a Key West Business Guild pre-holiday mixer are blog author Steve Smith (right), guild executive director Rebecca Tomlinson (center) and guild office manager Patrick Shanks.

Since many of you may be heading this way during the festive season, this week I’d like to stimulate your appetites with a tour of some of my favorite Key West eateries.

Mornings are always a treat with a variety of Keys twists on the breakfast experience — like the wide choice of Eggs Benedict served at Blue Heaven in the heart of Bahama Village. Choose from ham, vegetable, filet mignon, or their special lobster benedict. Add a slice of warm homemade banana bread, and you have a feast! Blue Heaven’s dining is outdoors with live music, wandering hens and “gypsy” roosters running around the courtyard. Their own Bloody Mary will kick-start your day.

If you’re longing for French cuisine, check out La Creperie just across the street from Blue Heaven. Serving savory and sweet crepes, this café will tantalize your senses with the aroma of strong French coffee, sizzling butter, and a mixture of accents from around the world. I find it hard to pass up their Croque Madame followed by a “Red Velvet” sweet crepe. Other favorite French cafés are Banana Café and Croissants de France, both located on Duval Street.

Yolande and Sylvia are the guiding spirits behind the great La Creperie. (Photo by Rob O'Neal)

Yolande and Sylvie are the guiding spirits behind the great La Creperie. (Photo by Rob O'Neal)

If I sleep in and feel “brunchie,” you’ll often find me at Harpoon Harry’s. This true 1950’s diner is located across from the Historic Seaport on Caroline Street, and owners Robert and Ron will greet you and offer you a “Bloody Harry.” In their diner you can try fish tacos, Blue Plate specials or half-pound burgers. You’ll dine with colorful local fishermen, politicians and pundits, drag queens and tourists.

If a quieter spot suits you better for brunch, try owner/chef Drew Wenzel’s Azur Restaurant. Azur offers al fresco lunch by a waterfall, or an intimate moment in their dining room surrounded by the works of local artists.

Around midday, stop by Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe on the corner of Elizabeth and Greene Streets. Pieman Kermit can be seen in the street offering a Key lime pie to the riders of our local trolleys as they make the turn beside his emporium. Kermit has been featured on the “Today Show” and the Food Network, decked out in his chef’s jacket and Key lime green chef’s hat. (For a real treat, try his frozen chocolate-dipped Key lime pie on a stick!)

Key lime pie guru Kermit Carpenter doesn't really throw pies at visitors -- or does he?

Key lime pie guru Kermit Carpenter doesn't really throw pies at visitors -- or does he?

Time for dinner? Discover El Siboney for an authentic Cuban meal where fresh pork, seafood, and chicken are cooked with olive oil, garlic, and secret spices. In true Cuban fashion, the meals are accompanied by black beans, yellow rice, and fried plantains. If you favor fresh seafood Paella Valenciana, call in advance and bring a couple of friends — I don’t think I’ve ever seen as large a dish of paella served anywhere.

A hidden treasure and favorite of mine is the Flaming Buoy Filet Company. Owners Fred Isch and Scot Forste are outrageously entertaining and their dinners are over the top. Steak with blue cheese sauce, black grouper, and scallops wrapped in bacon will tickle your palate. Their lip-smacking lobster mac & cheese is beyond amazing.

When it’s time for dessert, stop in to Flamingo Crossing. For many years this ice cream parlor has churned flavors that include mango, Cuban coffee, guava and passion fruit gelatos. Try the guanabana (soursop) for an interestingly unique Key West flavor. The place offers front-row seats on a busy Duval Street corner, where you’ll suddenly find you have become a part of the colorful fabric that makes up our community. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Till next time … bon appetit!

Comments

Jimmy Buffett Shows His “Key West Heart” at Surprise Concert

Carol Shaughnessy | November 2011

“I heard I was in town,” Jimmy Buffett quipped after strolling onstage on Key West’s Duval Street, referencing one of his well-known song titles and the rampant rumors that he would appear and perform.

Jimmy Buffett waves to some 3,500 "Parrot Head" fans during his surprise concert on Key West's Duval Street. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Jimmy Buffett waves to some 3,500 "Parrot Head" fans during his surprise concert on Key West's Duval Street. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

And perform he did. The fabled singer/songwriter returned to his former Key West home to give a rare surprise concert that delighted some 3,500 “Parrot Head” fans during their 20th annual convention.

Jimmy, whose most successful songs include “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” with Alan Jackson and the iconic “Margaritaville,” rocked with his world-class Coral Reefer Band for more than 70 minutes — from a stage just steps from his Margaritaville Store and Café.

“This is pretty cool, playing on Duval Street,” Jimmy admitted with a grin at the start of the free concert, which was open to the public as well as Parrot Head conventioneers.

He then launched into a set of 15 songs, most of them inspired by his time in Key West during the 1970s and 80s or mentioning local people and places.

Barefooted and grinning, Jimmy played for more than 70 minutes, sharing songs and memories that recalled his days in Key West. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Barefooted and comfortably casual, Jimmy played for more than 70 minutes, sharing songs and memories that recalled his days in Key West. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

While he lived on the island, Jimmy absorbed its characters, ambiance and laid-back lifestyle, memorializing them in songs that feature Key West locales like Fausto’s Food Palace, the Blue Heaven restaurant, and the Chart Room Bar. He drew on the influence of his Key West home to create the near-addictive tropical mystique that permeates his music.

Among the songs he and the Reefers played during their Duval Street concert were favorites such as “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” “Tin Cup Chalice,” “Nautical Wheelers,” and “Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street.”

The entire performance was upbeat and lively, with intricate riffs from the Reefers and stellar vocals by Jimmy. Despite new instrumental flourishes, the songs were pure classic Buffett — and each one was greeted by exuberant applause from the Parrot Heads lining the street.

Every year, Jimmy’s Parrot Head fans “flock” to Key West to explore the island portrayed in their hero’s lyrics. At the concert, some attendees wore the offbeat tropical headgear that earned them their name, and many sang along as Jimmy performed.

Jimmy greets eager Parrot Head fans after his exuberant Duval Street concert. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Jimmy greets eager Parrot Head fans after his exuberant Duval Street concert. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

(Parrot Heads, by the way, are a remarkably caring group of people. Since 2002, members of the more than 200 national and international Parrot Head chapters have contributed $22.1 million and nearly 2.7 million volunteer hours to local and national charities.)

Like his tunes, Jimmy’s commentary between numbers was rich in references to his Key West memories and favorite spots.

“I’ve had great inspiration and great fun on the streets of this little rock,” he said, “and I appreciate it very much.”

Jimmy mentioned the late lamented Islander Drive-in and former gentleman smuggler Phil Clark, whose life is chronicled in “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” and dedicated “Last Mango in Paris” to Captain Tony Tarracino. The late captain, a bar owner who became one of Key West’s most colorful mayors, was a friend of Jimmy’s whose tales inspired “Mango.”

Jimmy was backed by the entire Coral Reefer band -- including Mac MacAnally (left) and Michael Utley (right). (Photo by Crystal Ruffo)

Jimmy was backed by the entire Coral Reefer Band -- including Mac McAnally (left) and Michael Utley (right). (Photo by Crystal Ruffo)

Jimmy’s deep affection for Key West and the Florida Keys was particularly apparent as he introduced and sang “Migration.”

“Some people fly down here and never go back,” he warned his Parrot Head audience in mock seriousness. “This happened to me, and it may happen to you.”

He then embarked on the song … changing the lyrics near the end to proclaim, “I’ve got a Caribbean soul I can barely control and some Key West always here in my heart.”

Comments

Marine Mammals Find Help and Healing in the Keys

Josie Gulliksen | November 2011

It’s not just human visitors who come to the Florida Keys for rest and relaxation — marine mammals in need come calling, too. Some arrive with health problems, while others are orphaned or lost.

Marine mammal rescuers tend to pilot whales at the Marine Mammal Conservancy in Key Largo after a 2011 stranding. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Marine mammal rescuers tend to pilot whales at the Marine Mammal Conservancy in Key Largo shortly after a May 2011 stranding. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Whatever brings them to the Keys, dolphins, whales and manatees that need help find a willing and dedicated group of rescuers. Caring professionals and volunteers try to provide whatever these creatures need, so eventually they can be returned to their pods or home territory.

One of the top rescue organizations grew out of Key Largo’s Dolphins Plus, which was founded in 1979 and offered the first dolphin swim program in America. Over the next 20 years, it expanded and opened Dolphin Cove just a mile away. Both centers support the activities of two nonprofit organizations — Island Dolphin Care, where the staff works with high-risk people, wounded veterans and special-needs children; and the Marine Mammal Conservancy.

Established in 1995, the conservancy operates under a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service as a response and rehabilitation center for stranded marine mammals. In fact, it often takes the lead in efforts to save their lives.

The conservancy is one of 12 teams in the U.S. authorized under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to rehabilitate dolphins and whales. MMC personnel have been involved since 1987 — when the first federally authorized attempts were made to rehabilitate marine mammals.

A Marine Mammal Conservancy expert attempts to help two stranded whales in May 2011. (Photo by Mariela Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

A Marine Mammal Conservancy expert attempts to help two stranded whales in May 2011. (Photo by Mariela Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

But that’s not all the organization does. The conservancy’s research program is working to develop a science-based model program for marine mammal rehabilitation and release. Plus, it provides important data to environmental researchers to help them understand the causes of strandings.

Working with other organizations, individual researchers and the National Marine Fisheries Service, MMC rehabilitates survivors of a stranding event — and, whenever possible, releases them back into their ocean home.

Another nonprofit, Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key, promotes peaceful coexistence, cooperation and communication between marine mammals, humans and the environment through research and education. A group of dolphins lives at DRC, including descendants of “Flipper” from the 1960s film.

DRC also is the Florida Keys’ licensed manatee rescue team, authorized by state and federal governments. Specially trained assessors, rescuers and medical personnel respond to sick, injured or orphaned manatees.

Dolphin Research Center's Mary Stella gets a kiss from one of the acclaimed center's resident dolphins. (Photo courtesy of Dolphin Research Center)

Mary Stella gets a kiss from one of Dolphin Research Center's resident dolphins. (Photo courtesy of DRC)

According to DRC’s Mary Stella, the response begins when a call comes in from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that a manatee is in trouble.

“DRC-trained personnel can perform an on-site assessment of the animal’s condition,” Mary explained. “Based on their report, if the decision is made that the manatee needs treatment, the DRC team can mobilize to help.”

One well-known manatee, Bonnie, is considered a “serial entangler” for her repeated encounters with monofilament fishing line. DRC’s first rescue, treatment and release of Bonnie occurred in April 1999. In 2003, she required a flipper amputation because of a deeply embedded and irreparable entanglement. She later recovered and was released.

Bonnie can navigate without a problem and has even raised manatee “kids,” but she has suffered additional entanglements over the years that led to more rescues and treatment.

Sea turtles too find help and healing in the Keys -- at the acclaimed Turtle Hospital. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Sea turtles too find help and healing in the Keys -- at the acclaimed Turtle Hospital. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

As well as getting tangled in improperly discarded monofilament line and other marine debris, manatees can be hurt in collisions with boats.

“It’s up to each of us out on the water to properly collect and dispose of any trash, and to slow down and look around for manatees when we’re on our boats,” said Mary Stella. “The public is the first line of defense — humans cause many of the problems encountered by manatees, so it’s incumbent on us to help them.”

FYI, marine mammals aren’t the only creatures that receive help in the caring Florida Keys. People and groups provide food, compassion and treatment for sea turtles, wild birds and even feral cats.

Comments

Fantasy Fest Glitters with Artistic Talent

Carol Shaughnessy | October 2011

The 10-day masking and costuming festival known as Fantasy Fest, running Oct. 21-30 this year, is internationally renowned for its outrageous, let-it-all-hang-out party atmosphere.

Artist Rick Worth paints part of the ocean-themed vessel he's creating for the elaborate Fantasy Fest parade. (Photo by Steve Panariello, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Artist Rick Worth paints part of the ocean-themed vessel he's creating for the elaborate Fantasy Fest parade. (Photo by Steve Panariello, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Yet it also offers a showcase for artists — primarily costume and float designers who devote their incredible talents to perfecting creations for costume contests, the Masquerade March and the grand parade.

Among them is Rick Worth, a soft-spoken and supremely creative man whose artistic triumphs range from small Key West-themed paintings to massive, over-the-top Fantasy Fest floats and festival facades for local emporiums.

Rick began his colorful career turning shabby cars into whimsical “art-o-mobiles” (like a shark car driven by a local attorney and a drivable coral reef).

Crafting one of Fantasy Fest's exotic, lavish float entries requires a LOT of glitter -- as Rick (right) and his fellow designer know!  (Photo by Steve Panariello, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Crafting one of Fantasy Fest's elaborate float entries requires a LOT of glitter -- as Rick (right) and his fellow designer know! (Photo by Steve Panariello, Florida Keys News Bureau)

He has also painted large-scale murals on the exteriors of local buildings, including an engaging vista outside Key West International Airport that features a rooftop view of the island’s historic Old Town architecture and greenery backed by the turquoise ocean.

And don’t miss Rick’s takeoff of the famed depiction of Washington crossing the Delaware, incorporating the Keys’ Seven Mile Bridge, outside a small bar at Simonton and Olivia streets.

Just before Fantasy Fest this year, Rick had projects galore on tap — and in keeping with the festival theme of “Aquatic Afrolic,” they had an oceanic flavor. For example, recently he was putting last-minute touches on a float and overseeing costume design for a glittering marine-themed entry in the spectacular Fantasy Fest parade. His workspace was filled with a “ship” nearing completion, beautiful shell-adorned headdresses and gauzy costumes. At the same time, he was completing weird-looking eels to be part of a building façade.

Susann D'Antonio, left, and her husband Bobby showcase their "Neptune's Reef" -- winner of the 2011 Pier House Pretenders in Paradise costume contest. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Susann D'Antonio, left, and her husband Bobby showcase their "Neptune's Reef" -- a winner of the 2011 Pier House Pretenders in Paradise costume contest. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Like Rick, Big Pine Key artists Susann and Bobby D’Antonio generally put enormous amounts of time and talent into Fantasy Fest endeavors. Since the early 1990s, the husband-and-wife team has become well known for crafting over-the-top entries for major costume competitions like Pretenders in Paradise and the Pet Masquerade — as well as the lavish parade.

Their trademark creations can best be described as crosses between gigantic costumes and small parade floats. Susann often comes up with the concept, and she and Bobby construct the pieces together — typically moving from sketches to a costume’s metal framework and fabric covering, and ending with embellishments and sequins. Challenges include keeping the piece light enough for Susann to wear and/or propel.

This year, they wowed crowds at the wonderful Pretenders in Paradise costume competition with “Neptune’s Reef,” featuring an alluring mermaid accompanied by vivid-hued, deliciously exotic denizens of the aquatic world.

Fantasy Fest's "aquatic" poster was creamed up by artist Brian Johnson. (Photo courtesy of Fantasy Fest)

Fantasy Fest's "aquatic" poster was dreamed up by artist Brian Johnson. (Photo courtesy of Fantasy Fest)

Artists in more traditional mediums contribute to Fantasy Fest too. Each year, festival organizers request design submissions for the official poster. The winning artist this year was frequent Key West visitor Brian Johnson.

Inspired by the festival’s aquatic theme, he dreamed up a blue-eyed King Neptune surrounded by imaginative undersea creatures, and elements suggesting the island’s Old Town — all depicted in the vibrant colors of the Keys’ ocean and sunset.

Whether you’re an art lover or simply a connoisseur of craziness, don’t miss any of the creativity and pageantry of Key West’s Fantasy Fest. In fact, start planning now to attend next year’s festival. According to organizers — and they should know — the 2012 dates are Oct. 19-28.

Comments

Kelly Speeds to Underwater Title — Wow!

Carol Shaughnessy | October 2011

The fastest woman in the underwater world lives in the Florida Keys. In fact, the fastest woman in the underwater world, Kelly Friend, is an exuberant blonde who’s proud to be a seventh-generation Keys resident.

Kelly Friend enjoys a victory lap after powering her DPV to an amazing underwater speed record. (Photo by David Sirak)

Kelly Friend enjoys a victory lap after powering her DPV to an amazing underwater speed record. (Photo by David Sirak)

Kelly’s roots run so deep in the island chain that her family dates back to 1820, just after Key West’s settlement.

“The romance of the ocean is genetically imprinted within me,” she says. “I remember swimming and boating all the time as a kid — my parents used to take me to Higgs Beach when I was barely even two years old. Snorkeling and exploring the reef was simply what we did back then.”

Kelly didn’t earn her speed title for swimming, boating or snorkeling. Instead, in early October at Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, she set the world’s first underwater speed record for driving a DPV — also known as a diver propulsion vehicle or underwater scooter — propelling it at a remarkable 2.58 mph.

But that’s not all. The day after setting the record, Kelly was forced to defend it against a challenger who temporarily bested her — and trounced the challenger by reclaiming the record with an amazing top speed of 4.55 mph.

Kelly earned her first racing triumphs on land. (Photo courtesy of Cope's Creations)

Kelly earned her first racing triumphs on land. (Photo courtesy of Cope's Creations)

Her first racing triumphs, however, were achieved on land. After high school in Key West and college in Texas, Kelly took up motorcycle road racing in the early 1990s. She finished the 1995 season with a regional championship and a twelfth-place ranking in the national finals.

In 2000 Kelly began working for Key West’s Audio Video In Paradise and eventually bought the business. She quickly rediscovered free diving and spearfishing as both competitive and contemplative sports.

Then, in May 2009, the 523-foot-long General Hoyt S. Vandenberg was sunk as an artificial reef about seven miles south of Key West in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Affectionately nicknamed the Vandy, the former Air Force missile tracking ship was the second-largest vessel in the world ever scuttled to become an artificial reef.

Kelly steers her DPV around the Vandenberg artificial reef. (Photo by Digital Island Media)

Kelly steers her DPV around the Vandenberg artificial reef. (Photo by Digital Island Media)

The Vandy is so huge that its hull rests on sand in about 150 feet of water, but its superstructure begins about 45 feet below the surface. And that’s where Kelly’s need for speed and love of the underwater world combined into a whole new adventure.

“I caught a segment on CNN about underwater scooter racing around the Vandenberg and immediately called the co-founder of the sanctioning body, the Wreck Racing League, who was my friend Joe Weatherby,” she explains. “I had finally found my true love — back on the race course and underwater!”

In May, Kelly participated in the Vandenberg Underwater Grand Prix, where divers using DPVs sped around the ship’s superstructure. Demonstrating both speed and style, she took top honors in the Wreck Racing League’s recreational class with two first-place victories and a third-place podium finish.

What's next for Kelly Friend? More underwater challenges and triumphs, she hopes! (Photo by Mike Hentz)

Now Kelly hopes for more underwater challenges and triumphs. (Photo by Mike Hentz)

Founded to inspire greater awareness about artificial reefs, the Wreck Racing League is the organization that recognized and recorded Kelly’s recent speed record in Weeki Wachee.

Despite earning the title of the fastest woman in the underwater world, she’s not planning to rest on her laurels any time soon. Instead, she’ll continue to compete in her chosen sport.

“The spirit of competition and camaraderie of racers is a great mix,” she says, “both above and below the water line.”

Chances are, as DPV racing gains fame among divers drawn to exhilarating adventures, you’ll be hearing plenty more about speedy Key Wester Kelly Friend.

Comments

Google

couk