Sunday, June 3, 2012

Va-cayman-tion 2012: The Cruisening Day 9: The Great Debarkation aka Land, Ho


We were up before sunrise because the world hates me, in order to leave the ship. Jill was chomping at the bit to get the hell out of there. I suspect she packed on Tuesday. As though if a crazy man on a raft came by she was ready to toss her luggage and join him while he rowed toward the main land on his wood slab.

Leaving was easy, too easy, but there were some physical elements that have stayed with me all day. For example, I have felt as though I am still on the ship. Everything is swaying gently back and forth, though I'm pretty sure the Starbucks I was in earlier and the Best Western were not afloat on gently rolling waves, but it sure as hell felt like it. It's like getting mini-vertigo every few seconds. If that is the price I have to pay in order to have avoided any serious motion-sickness, I'll take it.

The day started off nicely as we ran up to the buffet to grab a quick bite to eat. Then grabbed a hot chocolate and returned to the room to gather our things. As soon as they called our level, we were headed down the stairs.

After we got through customs, we waited what felt like several hours for the rental car shuttle. I was becoming part of the bench. After what felt like several more hours we arrived at said rental car office. The next step took forever as I waited in the line for the one guy to walk over, get in the car, and drive it 15 feet over to us. Finally it was my turn and instead he helped some other lady who just walked up; hadn't waited at all. I was getting mad. Dollar rental car, you're on notice.

So after getting our rental car, we decided to head toward Key Largo and a Jim-Thompson-recommended restaurant for some delicious key lime pie: Hobo's. It was going to take about an hour and a half to get there, so we decided to stop at a Dunkin Donuts on the way. I have mentioned before that I don't get the draw, but now I'm actually pissed off. First of all the place we went, none of the people spoke or understood any English at all, and we were not in an ethnic neighborhood, and most of the customers in the place were all conversing and ordering in English. Secondly, half the donuts Gregory and Jill wanted, they didn't make at that location, and the lady didn't understand that Gregory was asking which location had the donuts they were seeking. And the thing that was really annoying, Jill discovered they screwed up her order. And all of this wasn't the worst part of the experience, it was the attitude like it is somehow the customer's fault. I'm not expecting out of this world customer service, but I do expect the bare minimum, and if you can't do at least that, failure. As in zero-star Yelp review, and/or a strongly worded letter to some corporate sympathy bot. Every corporation has one, it's the one office where they allow feelings, which are administered to the outside world by a robot.

We tried once again at another location and they didn't have the donuts either. Does Dunkin Donuts, not actually make and sell donuts anymore? Apparently in South Florida, they don't. I was pretty whatever about Dunkin Donuts before, but I have to say that I actively hate them. I might actually have some T-Shirts made.

We made it to Hobo's just before lunch, and ordered conch fritters, a lime-shrimp thing that was delicious and rich, a lobster po'boy, and some fried clams. They were all good, but this journey was all about key lime pie. We each got our own slice. The verdict is that, I'm sorry Jim, but I have to put it as second best. It was really, really good, great even, but about nine months ago, we had key lime pie at Rutherford's Grill in Rutherford, near Napa, and it was ecstasy in a graham cracker crust.

We heard the traditional way to serve key lime pie is traditional pie crust with meringue, but no one down here seems to do it that way. It is graham cracker and whipped cream topping. So I'm not sure what gives. At Hobo's, it is the one dessert they make in house, and you could really taste the love. Then our waitress gave us a few ideas of things to do nearby and we took her suggestions.

First stop, they Key Largo Bird Sanctuary. This was really cool. They had all sorts of birds that had been injured and were being rehabilitated. We each donated money and it was well worth it. The habitats were made with the best of intentions. It wasn't a small place, but it wasn't enormous, and some of the dwellings were a little crude, but it literally ran on donations and volunteerism. They were temporary homes, anyway. They had owls, hawks, cormorants, cranes, pelicans, a couple of parrots, some song birds, mourning doves, and more pelicans. Some were in enclosures and some were just hanging around. The property was on a wetlands, which was also being cared for, and it was right on the gulf.

We walked over to the water and we saw a crab walking toward the open sea, all creepily sideways, and suddenly a second crab rushed it, and their claws came out and we thought they were going to spar, but they avoided each other very warily and went their separate ways.

I'm only going to mention this quickly that they have these strange spiders in Florida with a triangular body and there were lots of them in the trees near the crab, and I had to walk through this living nightmare twice. They weren't doing anything, just sitting on their webs spidering about, but the problem is they were EVERYWHERE. And cue the chill up the spine.

Our next stop was called Robbies and it was a water-sporting place where you could rent jet skis, or go out fishing in the bay. There was also a flea market with some interesting local arts and crafts. They had cool picture frames made from old lobster traps, and they had been varnished and some were covered with shells and barnacles. It was very cool, because the shell/barnacle growth was real, but we couldn't think of a way to get them home in one piece.

They also had a tarpon feeding place, where you could pay $1 to see them, or $3 to feed them. I just wanted to see them since feeding them involved throwing little feeder fish to them from a bucket. I didn't want my hands smelling like dead fishies, so I opted to just watch. Tarpon are big. There was one that had to be five and a half feet long, and about as big around as a size 4 soccer ball. And there were a lot of them in all sizes, but throwing a feeder fish results in quite a little frenzy. It was pretty exciting for a while. And there were a lot of kids and dads on the pier that were having a really good time, the dads probably more so.

We decided we better head back toward town, and for dinner, we made reservations to have sushi at Asia Bay in Ft. Lauderdale. To kill a little time until then, we went to Sawgrass Mills and walked around. I felt like I was going to go crazy because this place was insanely busy and I still felt as though I was on the ship. Add the crowds and the shopping for crap, it was like I was still there. Finally this third level of hell (busy mall, screaming children, and the occasional inconsiderate cretin) came to an end, and it was time to head to our restaurant. I was, for the first time in several days, starting to feel a little hungry.

The restaurant was in a beautiful part of town, just at the edge of the row of fancy restaurants. It was a combination Thai and Japanese restaurant, so we ordered Tom Kah soup in addition to a variety of rolls. For dessert, Thai donuts, which were a basic light dough, fried and served with sweetened condensed milk and chopped peanuts. Delightful! It was a lovely meal to officially end our vacation.

Tomorrow we return to Los Angeles a little crispier and a little wiser. Jill will have to leave at 4AM to catch her flight. Ours doesn't leave until 6PM, so we have some time to kill tomorrow, probably spent at the beach, mentally going through the list of all the reasons why I don't want to live in Florida. For now I'm just looking forward to a decent night's sleep.

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