As a freewheeling adventuress, I take any most offer of fun that comes my way. So when my friend Dr. Kildare invited my sister and I to go camping with him in Key West, FL the other week…of course I said yes!
Dr. Kildare is a friend I met through this very blog, a couple years ago — he’d been Googling Saline Valley hot springs, had
read my write-ups, and then hired me to guide him back there in 2014. He and my sister and I all ended up getting along like a house on fire, and we all ended up going back there again in 2015…and now, he invited both of us to join him for a week of camping in the Florida Keys — all expenses paid! Wa-hoo!!
If nothing else, I was curious to see how the experience of camping was different east of the Continental Divide; I’m West Coast to the core, but wanted to see how the other half of the country does it. Prior to this, the farthest east I’d camped was Colorado (not counting Europe, where I camped quite a bit as a child). So I packed up my gear, gathered up my sis, and flew to Miami, where Dr. Kildare picked us up at the airport.
Before heading down to Key West to guzzle margaritas, nibble spongecake and boil shrimp, Dr. Kildare had arranged for us to camp out in North Miami for a couple nights, so we could check out nearby Haulover Beach — one of the most famous nude beaches in the country. That’s right — I said camping, in Miami!! Come to find out, you can basically camp out at Oleta River State Park, right in the middle of a North Miami mangrove swamp — they don’t allow tent camping, but they have these crazy little cabins you can rent, with firepits and picnic tables, and nothing but very rustic bunk beds inside.
So even though we were staying in a cabin, it was basically like camping…in the middle of civilization!! It was totally surreal –if you faced east, toward the ocean, it looked like you were in the middle of the wilderness, with only the occasional siren or helicopter alerting you to the fact that all around you is the urban sprawl of the Miami metro area. Bizarre!!
The only downside was, because everything is so dank and damp back east, we had a hard time starting a campfire with the soggy mangrove wood. Also, the weather in Florida turned out to be unseasonably shitty that week — during our stay, it was actually warmer in Vegas :-/ But we still had a good time, and I even sacked up and went nude at Haulover Beach, which was actually a super-beautiful, amazing beach which I can’t wait to go back to at a warmer time.
Incidentally, while at Haulover I also made a really fun video of my experiences running around naked, doing yoga and whatnot….but alas, I can’t post it here, as I made it under exclusive contract to a nudist website that has hired me to make videos for them — TrueNudists.com; check it out!
Anyway, after hitting Haulover, we all headed down U.S. Hwy 1 to Key West, where the weather was a bit better, and where Dr. Kildare had booked us a campsite at one of the few tent campgrounds in the area. Key West is super-small, and a true tropical paradise, so real estate is at a premium down there…and the options for us broke-ass fools are few. But Boyd’s campground in Stock Key ended up being pretty cool — for the low, low price of $80, the three of us were able to jam in between two other 10′ x 10′ waterfront sites, lulled to sleep by the comforting hum of RV generators and woken by the early-morning F-14s screaming off from a nearby air base. Cozy!
Needless to say, I found camping back east to be MUCH different from camping out West — less open space, and much harder to run around naked! In all of Key West, in fact, it was close to impossible to find a nude beach…or anywhere at all where we could sun ourselves without fear of getting tan lines. The east coast is just not like the West, where you can hop in your truck, drive 20 minutes, and have the freedom to run around the vast, empty desert stark nakers as long as you want :-/
I don’t know how you easterners do it! I mean, I understand the tradeoff — you have beautiful, sugar-sand, palm-tree-lined tropical beaches…..while all I have is a parched dry lakebed. But, still — the freedom to run around naked in the sunshine under a vast sky goes a LONG way! Sure, the campground we stayed at had heated bathrooms with flush toilets and piping-hot showers….but I’ll take pissing behind a creosote bush ANY day, if it means wide-open spaces and F R E E D O M ! ! !
In any event, we did discover one place in Key West where we could drop trou and feel at home: the Garden of Eden clothing-optional rooftop bar!! This amazing little sanctuary sits on the third-floor rooftop of a downtown building, right on touristy Duval St…yet has somehow remained an unpretentious, fun little oasis of zany nekkidness amid all the pasty east-coast tourist families and rust-belt bachelorette parties crowding the bars below. It was fantastic!!
Dr. Kildare didn’t care to join, so my sis and I ventured up there alone on a Saturday afternoon….and were immediately welcomed into the leathery embrace of the local nudist scene. Wonderful people! We hadn’t been there more than 15 minutes when a hirsute, nude Burt Reynolds look-a-like showed up and offered us a hula-hoop; apparently, he’s THE naked hula hooper of the east coast, and has even given hula-hoop lessons to no less a personage than Kim Kardashian! We spent a pleasant hour or two hula hooping with him naked on the rooftop, chatting with other patrons and generally soaking up the vibe, and it was actually really cool.
For those considering a visit to the G of E, this was a Saturday afternoon in mid-February, and there were probably 5 nude women and maybe 7 nude men — a good mix! Not that it should (or DOES, to me) matter, but the other nude patrons were between the ages of maybe 30-60. Incidentally, my PET PEEVE is when people bitch about a nudist spot being “all naked old men.” If you’re a TRUE NUDIST, you’re not there to perv on anyone, anyway…so why would you care how old/what gender the other patrons are?!?!? Just get naked and be happy, for Dog’s sake!!!!
Anyway, after a few rum & Cokes, my sis and I got dressed and headed back down to join Dr. Kildare for the whole tourist shtick on Duval St — the dive bars, the souvenir shops, the treasure hunting museum….and the holy grail of mid-life-crisis-escapism, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville!! (We have a Margaritaville here in Vegas, but it simply can’t compare to the Key West outpost; an even more heartbreakingly dull crowd of desperate, sunburned suburbanites drinking away their existential despair. Salud!)
But the most interesting interactions I had in Key West were with the locals: one night, taking the bus back from Duval St. to our campground, we encountered a group of local yokels who filled us in on the true Key West lifestyle: a sky-high cost of living based on a lucrative tourism-centric job market, where the biggest risk was contracting “Keys Disease…” which is an inability to/disinterest in work, due to the seductive allure of 11am margaritas and the classic Jimmy Buffett beach bum lifestyle. Apparently, Keys Disease affects MANY on the island….and if you can only avoid contracting it, you just might do OK.
Meanwhile, we were hearing all of this from a local ne’er’do’well on the 11pm bus back to Stock Key, which was full of down-at-heels unsavory types (people who can’t afford to live in Key West live on Stock Key). One of them asked what I did for a living, and when I answered “model,” the bearded bum seated in front of me slowly swiveled his head à la Linda Blair, affixing me with the most baleful, judgmental eye this side of Plymouth Rock!!! It was AMAZING — he put me in my place like no other, before or since.
In any event, however, even a hardworking sort can have a hard time making it in Key West — take this amazing biker couple we hung out with one day on one of the beaches. The woman was an acquaintance of mine from back in Vegas who had recently moved out to the Keys to enjoy a more unfettered lifestyle with her boyfriend — a burly, tough-guy-type biker who had traded in his Harley and given up the hardcore badass lifestyle of the West for a more laid-back, island approach.
But the islands aren’t always as mellow as they seem — his first rented room had turned out to be a partitioned cubby in a dilapidated trailer shared by a colorful lot of transsexuals and grifters, all presided over by a hard-nosed Taiwanese landlady who demanded $800 in rent for what amounted to a glorified plywood broom closet! He’d been “Key Wested,” he admitted ruefully…but now, older and wiser, he and his honey had found their own, private trailer in a gritty part of Stock Key known as Little Haiti, right down the street from Jolly’s Liquor shop, where my sister and I had sought refuge a few nights prior when temperatures dipped into the 50s and we needed some peppermint schnapps to fortify our convenience store hot cocoa around the campfire.
But for some, being “Key Wested” is apparently an adorably humbling experience; either way, our formidably tattooed, former badass-biker friend admitted to his honey having turned him into a “marshmallow…” and as we said goodbye to them after our conversation on the beach, and watched them pedal off down the sidewalk side-by-side on puffy-seated beach cruisers, it was hard to disagree. They told us they were saving up their wages to buy a sailboat, and sail away into the sunset together, forever. Awwwwwww!!!! <3 <3 <3
Anyway, I found the people of Key West to be absolutely fascinating — from the naked hula-hooper to the bums on the bus to the marshmallow biker, every person I met was genuine, friendly and wonderful, and I declare boldly and without reservation that I will definitely return at some point….I’m just not sure when. Everyone keeps telling me I need to go back for Fantasy Fest — a huge pre-Halloween carnival when something like 100,000 scantily-clad revelers descend on the island for a week of booze-soaked hijinks and merriment. It sounds absolutely fantastic, and it’s something I will definitely consider doing this fall….if I can find a free place to stay!!! If you have any leads or hookups, let me know…..I’m definitely interested!!! 😀
At the end of it all, Key West reminded me in a weird way of Vegas — both are escapist destinations fueled by drunken tourists dollars and the wholesale selling of baldfaced lies. One is surrounded by ocean, the other by desert….but both are basically islands, where a refugee can find safe harbor, so long as he has drinking money — or an entertaining enough shtick (ahem). Both have a way of getting the better of the down-and-out — you can bake to death on a beach, with a cirrhosed liver and an advanced case of melanoma…..or you can wither up on a barstool in front of a video poker machine in a dimly-lit casino; choose your poison!
As for me, I’ll just keep skating along…just out of reach of greedy landlords and emasculating girlfriends. I’ll take the west coast, though — I’ll never be truly Key Wested. But I’ll be honest; I might have already picked up a slight case of Keys Disease. I feel it in my bones….
I’ll be back 🙂