Posted By jayna on November 20, 2013
We’ve been home for three weeks now. My quick, sun-kissed glow of a tan has completely faded back to the uniform winter white complexion. There is no more sand randomly spotted in the hallways or next to the washing machine. But still. I don’t think I’ll stop finding myself staring out the kitchen window as I wash dishes and pretending the sun is setting over the clear blue ocean.
Way back in 2005, when the husband and I sprinted through our engagement and lept into marriage as poor college students, we pinched our pennies and spent the first week in January camping through the Florida Keys. It was the perfect, most fitting honeymoon we could have asked for at the time. Two young fools in love, waking up next to the ocean and smelling like campfires, making memories to last a lifetime.
This was the view from one of our campsites.
(the husband is going to kill me but, really, the version without him in it is too boring.)
Ever since then, the state parks along the Keys have held a special place in our hearts. So, when we managed to find bargain basement prices on flights to Miami AND a set of grandparents cheerfully wanting to watch the kids for a few days, we jumped on it. The rental car, hotel for the first night in the city and open campsites all fell into place as we became more and more giddy about all that freeeeeedom and sun and glorious kidlessness where we could stare into each others eyes until boredom kicked in. Despite all my reservations about leaving those three precious offspring of mine, and the solid six or so pages of handwritten instructions, that part went better than I could have hoped. An absentminded kiss goodbye or two and they were off with grandparents that were the most fun EVER, so mom leaving was rather meh. The husband and I lugged our enormous suitcase, stuffed with all our camping gear, off to the airport and it was on. Our first get-a-way as a married couple with three kids. Woooohooo!
Once we got to Miami, picked up the rental car and stuffed our suitcase into the trunk, it was off to our mildly swanky hotel. From there, it was out to dinner at a place we could never go with kids, eating dishes that I’m still thinking of and drinking all those drinks that never get ordered unless there’s a good reason. After that, we played tourists and drove out to South Beach, thanking our lucky stars we hadn’t tried to eat there and let our true country bumpkin natures show. A quick stop to admire the city skyline and it was back to the hotel where we happened upon a homecoming dance just beginning to come in (at 9pm!) which showcased some of the shortest skirts and highest heels I’ve ever seen, let alone on a high school girl. The husband and I, along with a few other adult couples in the lounge, vowed to never let our children out of the house in anything nearly resembling what would have passed for frumpy at that dance.
The next morning, our adventure through the Keys began with yet another meal that we couldn’t have taken the kids to, with brunch entrees so good we nearly licked the plates. I want to tell everyone in Miami to go and have breakfast there, but neither of us can remember the name nor find it again on Yelp. After that, there was the harrowing battle with Miami traffic, a few adventures in local stores as we picked up supplies and then it was off to a soothing drive along Highway 1. It was right as we left the city limits that there was a tragic discovery involving the rental car controls, which were set to limit the volume to 45% of the capabilities of the radio. With a planned playlist of songs we can never listen to while the kids are in the car, and quite a few of which involve cranking it up, we sulked about it for a good thirty miles. The husband valiantly tried to override the system, but wisely decided to call it quits when there was talk of wires and fuses. Once we pulled into the state park, and the noise of the highway faded away, both of us had the most gigantic grins that were impossible to wipe off. Within minutes we were down to bathing suits, soaking up the last few bits of sun and setting up camp for optimal ocean viewing. This was what we had been remembering for so long, these insane, oceanfront campsites with the palm trees arcing over them and the grapevines filling in everything underneath. When the tent was up, we crawled in the see what we would be waking up to for the next few mornings.
Before long, the campfire was roaring and we stood at the picnic table skewering our dinner to roast over the coals. Kayaks drifted by and birds paced along the beach, all tinted a bit purple by the setting sun. Sitting together, we talked and ate slowly, once more dining on things the kids would turn up their noses at. As the sea breeze rustled our paper diner ware, dusk firmly rolled in. Happily full and solidly tousled with camp smoke and a sea breeze, we set out for a walk. Strolling along handing in hand, and plastic tumbler of wine in hand, we meandered through the campground and rated all the other set ups along the way. A few Airstreams stole our hearts, but the tent was still a cozy sight to come back to. Settling in that night, we noticed that the roar of trucks along the highway next to the campground was going to make us wish to be inside one of those tin cans with the windows shut. Focusing on the rustling palm trees and gentle waves, we eventually drifted off to sleep. (I, ever the light sleeper, was up every hour after that thanks to those trucks. The husband? Not a bit bothered. Someone could land an airplane next to that man and he’d sleep right through it.)
The next day dawned bright and sunny, with wishes for the strongest coffee in all the land. Instead, it was cold and from a gas station and chugged during the 30 minute drive to our absolute favorite state park, Bahia Honda. We spent the majority of the day there, basking in the sun, exploring the different beaches and wishing the wind would die down so we could rent a set of kayaks. There were naps with waves touching our toes, endless opportunities for people watching (as it’s high season for Europeans), and an encounter with a three foot long iguana that neither of us were expecting. Eventually, we showered off the beach bum look and hit the road again towards Key West with high hopes for an evening that would rank as well as it always has for us. Unfortunately, the city was nearly deserted, with a dismal crowd for the sunset celebration and empty restaurants and bars everywhere we looked. Even so, we ate at one of our favorite restaurants, took the over-priced trolley tour for the sole sake of gawking at architecture while someone else drove, and wandered through the lush gated neighborhoods. There was our first sighting of a cruise ship leaving port, and quite a bit of learning as to the type of no-kid vacationers we’ve become (no stores, not even to browse, ever ever ever). We finished the night with what were the “best margaritas in town” according to the bartender, and a seat looking down on Duval Street.
Our last campsite morning was another that started with longing for that bit of oomph in the morning, thanks to more pesky trucks. But, a full day meandering around every last part of Bahia Honda managed to cure the sleepy haze. That and the extra long naps we squeezed in on the sand. We followed the shoreline all the way around, from one side to another, stopping to find the perfect purple shell for the girls or watch the boats on the water. Windblown and sun kissed, we ended that last night chasing the sunset through our campground, feeling like a couple of crazy, young kids in love without a care in the world. We had talked more than either of us remembered talking in a long time, holding hands that are usually never free to be held, and enjoying every moment where we could just be. Be there, be together, just be.
The kids survived and probably even thrived without us there, only beginning to miss us a little on the last day or so. As we walked in the door at bedtime there were squeals and shouts and quite a bit of “Mama! Mama! Mama!” coming from the littlest one. As we settled back into the routine, and emptied all the sand-laced laundry, we knew that taking this trip had been so needed. Sure, there were big dreams of saving up for that real vacation, the one to an exotic place where we could spend a week in solitude on a tropical oasis, but this was the here and now quick fix, don’t pass up those tickets, holy crap I miss talking to you like a real human being, let’s just get away that we both needed. And even though the tans are gone and we can’t smell the salty air on our clothes anymore, this will carry us through to that crazy dream vacation in the distant future.