Welcome to Parrotdise
Story and photos by Aefa Mulholland
It seemed awfully early when five hung over drag queens, an off-duty conch shell (last seen serving flamboyant canapés at the previous evening’s cocktail party), and I slouched onto the shuttle in Miami, a noticeably more subdued crew than we had all been mere hours earlier.
The driver flicked on a DVD of Monster-in-Law, much to the conch’s delight, and we headed south down the Florida Keys. Marsh cotton, yellow lilies, and dolphin-shaped mailboxes dotted the sides of the highway. Fishermen cast lines into cartoon blue water and unwieldy pelicans flapped out of trees. “The scenery’s getting kinda purty, isn’t it?” said the driver.
We trundled past entertaining addresses such as Treasure Boulevard, Gumbo Limbo Avenue, Coco Plum Drive, Fish Supper Street and left intriguing options such as Mangrove Mama’s Restaurant, the Hungry Pelican Motel, and Curry Hammock State Park in our wake. Forty-two bridges, 100 islands, and 126 miles later we reached Key West and the end of the road. At least for the queens and the conch. I had a plane to catch.
My Key West Seaplanes flight roared off and was soon a hundred feet above the shimmering, turquoise Gulf of Mexico. It’s incredible how shallow the water is! I could actually see vast turtles swimming in slow-mo below. The eeriest moment of the flight was when we flew over a shipwreck – the ship’s mast protruding above the waves, the rest a rippling skeleton underwater.
The Dry Tortugas bask seventy miles off the tip of Key West, a sandy cluster of islands, atolls, and shoals in the Gulf. When I bounded off the bright yellow plane at Fort Jefferson, the island was almost deserted. There were just eight people, half a dozen ibis, and, as I soon found out, a number of particularly voracious mosquitoes on the island.
Fort Jefferson takes up the whole tiny island. Wandering through the crumbling old fort, I read the info boards. The fort’s population was much reduced in 1867 after pretty much everyone succumbed to yellow fever carried by, um, mosquitoes. Nervous expression.
Flippers in hand, I fled the cool of the fort for an
adjacent beach. I had the entire beach to myself. Dazzling white sand, a couple
of perfect shady palms, parrots squawking overhead, and water teeming with
fish. As a motel I spotted en route down the Keys proclaimed, this really is