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DaedTech Digest: The Final Verdict on Slow Travel in the Lower Keys

We’re packing up to leave the Keys in about 36 hours.  It’s been a wonderful time down here, where we’ve hosted friends and family, done a good bit of work, and had a lot of fun throughout it all.

I started our time here by chronicling our first impressions.  I’d like to bookend those by revisiting them, contrasting my experience after a few days with the experience after almost 5 weeks.

To recap, we’re staying on Ramrod Key, which is about a 40 minute drive from Key West.  This puts us near the midway point between Marathon and Key West, both serious vacation destinations.  Here in the middle, it’s more snowbirds and locals.

Tramping around the mangroves at sunset.

The People

Early on, I talked about encountering some derelicts and few people besides.  Naturally, since we’d just gotten there and hadn’t ventured out much.

While we would periodically encounter other derelicts during our time here, the ratio was no higher than you might expect anywhere else.  But we did have occasion to form an actual informed opinion.

We went to local tourist spots and ranged around the Keys, but we also discovered where the locals hang out.  And we went to hang out there with them.  (I won’t go into specifics here, since multiple people expressed to me that they prefer to keep these quiet so as not to find themselves flooded with tourists.)

A number of people are quasi-locals in the form of snowbirds or recent retirees.  These folks come from kind of all over the place.

And then you have the transplants.  These are generally folks who took the admirable step of saying “life in _____ is no fun, so I’m packing up and moving to the Keys to orient my life around fishing/diving/boating/whatever.”

As you might expect, the unifying theme here is a love for all aquatic (and, to a lesser degree, laid back life and warmth).

Compared to people on average throughout the US, I’d say that the locals here tend to be slightly friendlier, slightly more focused on living in the moment, more committed to “working to live” and very into the sea.  We met a lot of great people here.

The Food and Beverage Situation

This is pretty simple.  Seafood and fresh catch.

Living somewhere for weeks on end, we do grocery shop and stock ourselves with the sorts of groceries that you find anywhere.  But we supplement this by trying to eat local fare at restaurants and from shops.

So during our time here, we went to several of the many available seafood markets.  From these, we bought locally caught fish to cook, as well as seafood.  And, we fished a lot, so we also had some of our own fresh catch.  Here’s a list, off the top:

  • Stone crab
  • Lobster
  • Yellowtail Snapper
  • Hogfish
  • Grouper
  • Mackerel
  • Mangrove Snapper

I’m probably forgetting some besides.

This haul from our deep sea fishing charter would go on to be dinner for several nights.

Down here they have a lot of restaurants that will cook your catch, and they have their own fresh catch besides.  That’s what you’ll find on all fronts.  It should come as no surprise that a place completely surrounded by the sea boasts excellent, fresh seafood.

There’s also a lot of Cuban food here.  And everywhere we went for it was excellent.

And, of course, for dessert, you’ve got the Key Lime pie, sometimes (but not always) made from local key limes.  You can also get key lime pie on a stick, dipped in chocolate and frozen.  That’s everywhere, along with tropical drinks.  For you craft beer enthusiasts, this is probably not your top destination.

Entertainment

I didn’t speak to this at all last time, since we’d basically just arrived and started working.

But, we’ve now had a “staycation” (kinda), a number of weekends, and many evenings to pursue local entertainment.

First and foremost, if you’re staying in the quieter lower Keys, entertainment will consist of sea-related outdoor activities.  We fished, kayaked, paddle-boarded, boated, swam, and just constantly hung around the water.  We have a canal in our back yard and a proper channel within a 3 minute kayak ride.

Kayaking the channel near our house.

For you to enjoy long term time here, you’d need to enjoy that stuff a lot because city-style entertainment is fairly sparse unless you go to Key West.  Within walking distance, we have 2 restaurant bars and a mini-golf course, and that’s it.  Everywhere, these 2 places included, tends to have live music most nights.  So that can be fun, but the bars close up shop no later than 11, so nightlife is quasi-non-existent.

Bigger ticket things to do include fishing charters, snorkeling, diving, and boat rentals.  We did that stuff as well and loved it.

So the verdict here is that entertainment is going to be largely activity-oriented, wholesome, and low key.

The Local, Physical Area

We’ve lived on a tiny island for 5 weeks.  Ramrod, like all the keys down here, is connected to everything else by a single road: Route 1.

Along route 1, and in the keys in general, you refer to your location by “mile marker” with the markers starting at 0 in Key West and ranging up to 112 in Key Largo.  Here on Ramrod, we’re mile marker 27.

This arrangement creates an interesting dynamic.  Route 1, the main and only artery, has a constant flow of traffic that makes left turns lengthy waiting games and tire-squealing seizing of the moment.  If there’s ever an accident of any seriousness, traffic just stops, and you get out of your car and enjoy the Keys.

This never felt claustrophobic, however, at least for me.  Our island was tiny and easily traversed on foot, but walking or kayaking to neighboring islands is no problem at all.

As for the islands themselves, we’re surrounded by coral, steep drop-offs into the water, and mangroves.  This is not a beachy place.  Instead, you’ll swim or launch your boat by finding a drop-off and diving into the water.

And, because of the mangroves, bugs here are no joke.  No-see-ums and mosquitoes turned our arms and legs into a constant churn of itchy welts and bug spray doesn’t seem to help, particularly since there’s a lot of going in the water.

Oh, and it’s always pretty hot and humid here.  When breezes blow (which is frequently near the shore, sometimes not as much inland), it’s fine.  But if you don’t like sweltering weather, make sure to go somewhere with great AC.

Wildlife

Looking back at the intro post, we saw almost everything that we hoped to see (no crocodiles).  Here’s a quick rundown of interesting creatures of note.

  • We did see alligators at a local preserve where they’re known to hang out.
  • The Key Deer are everywhere, and if you spend a week here and walk around at dusk, you’ll definitely see them.  They’re like miniature regular deer.
  • We did see a single palmetto bug, but it was outside and half dead.  They’re really not prevalent, apparently.
  • Nurse sharks came to visit us frequently in the canal, and I saw a sea turtle while kayaking.  And we saw a LOT of sea turtles when we did a tour of the sea turtle hospital.
  • While snorkeling, we saw too many things to list, but here’s a quick greatest hits: Goliath grouper, reef shark, barracuda, spotted eagle ray, southern stingray, sea turtles, nurse sharks, and (mostly harmless) jellies.
  • And, of course, the ubiquitous iguanas and skinks, along with some stuff we saw less frequently, like geckos and tree frogs.  Also, fun fact, the iguanas are invasive, so the locals are encouraged to kill and eat them.  Iguana meat fetches $9 per pound.

And, that’s it!  A recap of our time in the Keys and impressions thereof.

Hanging out with some Goliath grouper before getting back on the boat.

Picks

  • I’ve probably picked this before, but, if I haven’t, you should check out calendly.  It’s a great way to let people book appointments with you when they’re external to your organization and you haven’t shared/won’t share your calendar with them.
  • I’ll throw a pick to the UPS store as a digital nomad’s best friend for all things pre-Web 1.0.  Whether it’s handling mail, printing out a document so that you can scribble on it, re-scan it, and send it somewhere, or probably faxes and carrier pigeons, they’re everywhere and a one stop shop for this stuff.  You can even pay $5 to have one-off things shipped to one.
  • Finally, a local pick.  If you’re ever in the lower Florida Keys, and you want to do some snorkeling or diving, I highly recommend the Looe Key Dive Center.  We went out twice with them to snorkel, and it was affordable, a lot of fun, and incredible ocean life viewing.

The Digest

Please note that I have not abandoned creating content!  I did a vacation, followed by 2 weeks where I was supplementing my full time Hit Subscribe work with some consulting.  This has created the impression that I’ve gone dark, but this is not the case.

  • On the Freelancers Show, Jeremy and I tackled the subject of dealing with job interviews as a freelancer, with the gist being that you should try to stop having to do them.
  • Burnout and work life balance.  Amanda and I discuss this subject from the perspective of business owners.
  • On a more personal note, I recorded a Facebook Live solo, talking about what it’s like to slow travel with cats.

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