Florida Keys: Big Pine Key, Key Deer and Kayaking

When planning our trip to Florida, I did a lot of crowd-sourcing. I feel very grateful to have a diverse network of folks in my life who are generous with information. One of the best parts of Facebook for me is information sharing with folks I don’t see often but who I get to stay connected with! When I asked the internet where in Florida would be gay-friendly and have nature and beaches they overwhelmingly answered the Florida Keys. I also got lots of recommendations for things to do, which really helped me come up with a loose itinerary.

16741752216_310eda3c6a_z

The rental car (which I managed to get even cheaper by doing a night before we left search on Orbitz, saving an extra $100 on the reservation for a total of $134 for the week rental) and flights were cheap but lodging in the keys for the first week of March was really difficult to find and pricey! In January I scoured all the Air BNB listings and VRBO type places and had a hard time getting something with any availability. I got really attached to the idea of staying on a houseboat in Key Largo, but they were all booked. I think I reached out to ten different managing companies. I am so glad I had trouble finding a place because we ended up with a sparkling jewel of a place to stay! (Also, this was a great reminder to me of the spiritual idea to just kind of listen when the universe gives me road blocks, that sometimes something even better is around the corner.)

16579004899_f887b54221_z

This tiny one room cabin on Big Pine Key in the middle of a National Key Deer Refuge came up in a search, having just been added to Air BNB. It was only $100 a night and luckily three of the days we were going to stay in the Keys were available.

16579003199_2e3306685f_z

We had such a great time in this magical little cabin! I am glad we stayed somewhere unusual rather than in a motel or resort because I love having an adventure.

It was really a cross between glamping and a hotel room, as it is a room with walls, windows and a comfy queen size bed. But the sink, shower and toilet were all outside. The toilet is a fancy compost toilet in a screened in room. Dara was so skeptical about the toilet situations (I’ve had to sing to her to distract her from her hatred of a port-a-potty before).

16763957561_0f9e69f069_z

The Key Deer in the Florida Keys are an endangered species. The Overseas Highway slows down to 45 MPH during the day and 35 MPH at night through Big Pine Key to protect them. The population of the Key Deer dwindled to 27 in the 1950s and is now up to about 650-700. A few of them came up to us during our stay. Our Air BNB host (who shared a driveway with us, but otherwise our cabin was totally private and surrounded by Everglade forest) said that about seven will visit his house every evening and three come to the cabin, but we only saw one or two at a time. Our first morning I was up before Dara and our friend Doe came to visit.

16142825944_693e8a2330_z

Key Deer are about the size of a small big dog. Smaller than a Great Dane, taller than a Golden Retriever. But SO cute. The first one I met followed me around the cabin as I took photos. Another one (although hard to tell if they were the same Doe or a different Doe) licked Dara’s pajamas.

16560385387_cfeb75a4a9_z

When I tried to drink sun tea outside and continue visiting with the deer I realized we couldn’t share space and food with them as they were waaaay into trying to eat or drink whatever we had. But still really cute and sweet about their relentless desire for food.

16580274880_8b0e2f8447_z

Showering outdoors in a private paradise like this is such a luxury, and brushing my teeth with a deer hanging out next to me was wild. I also saw a tiny brown and white striped snake friend in the brush by the sink, several lizards and about 1,000 turkey vultures overhead. And one tiny spider that left Dara with 100 tiny bites she’s still recovering from on our last night in the cabin.

16579079020_7cf62a8a8d_z

We never pulled down the shades in the cabin and it was so wonderful to watch the sun go down and the moonlight shift through the little forest that surrounds the cabin. There was one night (after our catastrophic snorkeling trip that left both of us deeply nauseas) that we slept 13 hours and I remember waking up several times during the night noting different celestial positions based on the light coming through the windows. It was such an amazing form of natural intimacy, all from the comfort of a super deluxe queen size bed.

16580335539_1a76c2aa08_z

Dara was a little freaked out by the Poisonwood that was along the nature trail leading to the cabin, but I kind of just trusted it would be fine. The noseeums (tiny, biting mosquitos) were kind of obnoxious on the last night.

16145188253_be7c6e511a_z

Our Air BNB host also gave us a print out with points of interest to go to. We went to nearly all of them. The Blue Hole, a freshwater pond made from an old quarry that has a few alligators. In our ten minute stop we saw one alligator, a butterfly and a bright green iguana scamper into the forest.

16763985981_c21be6c22c_z

That was the only gator we saw on the whole trip, in spite our many pre-trip queries to Floridian friends about what to expect from glamping in Florida. Dara was certain we would run into a gator that was trying to hunt the Key Deer but apparently that’s really unlikely and you’re more likely to be struck by lightening twice than get attacked by an alligator.

16739273036_4b3374f945_zThe gator was sleeping and came up for air once while I watched it.

On our last day on Big Pine Key we rented kayaks ($42 for two single occupancy kayaks for 2 hours) to cruise across the channel to No Name Key, a key with no electricity (all of the houses on there run with generators or from solar power). We didn’t see much when we were kayaking except mangroves and some pelicans in the marina, in spite of a little map the marina gave us with our rental. (The map yielded not much from two points of interest we tried.) I kind of wished I had done better research about where to kayak because there are a lot of paddling guides on the internet about where to paddle through the Florida Keys.

16766519361_b543fc4120_z

16740608726_11cabfd888_zThe two photos above were from a secret, free, boat launch not far from our cabin.

Watching me and Dara approach kayaking was kind of hilarious, since I hadn’t done it in about two years and was a little nervous, and so was Dara. Luckily there was a couple who had their own kayaks simultaneously launching at the boat ramp (it costs $15 to launch from the marina we were at, but the little municipal boat ramp we saw earlier was free) and they gave us some quick pointers, which helped.

16741801016_d67e2415c3_z

As a fat person I am always mindful of my center of balance and new things, like a kayak, kind of freak me out. Having been in a kayak a handful of times has given me more faith in it as a vessel that’s not going to topple over when a wave hits it, but I’m still not at 100% confidence.

16578923938_7872648bc2_z

My arms were really sore from paddleboard yoga the day before, so I was glad we only did 2 hours. Next time we go on an adventure vacation like this I’ll add some serious arm work to my prep, as my 3 times weekly elliptical to fight seasonal depression didn’t cut it.

16589445037_4ef7a30efb_z

16740617196_38321a0466_zKayaking across the channel was daunting.

16559234107_e9399e5968_zThe mangroves, the trees that literally hold the land together, are so freaking cool.

Check out the rest of my Florida Keys adventure at this tag!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *