Relax on remote island of Cabbage Key
A boat pulls into the sleepy dock at the Cabbage Key marina. (Photo by Peter Bernard / August 9, 2003)
Local sport fishermen, who'd rather be swilling beers on their skiffs offshore, mill around under the eves of a charming, white wooden boathouse, staring at the gray sky and wondering when they can get back to catching tarpon.
As they murmur a subdued hello, we walk past them and climb the hill to the Cabbage Key Inn.
The inviting lodge features an outdoor patio for dining in more temperate seasons and a yellow and green awning over a screened porch that boasts Key West-style gingerbread woodwork. The Beach Boys and other oldies spill from outdoor speakers as we open double screen doors and step into the dining room.
"Are you here for lunch?" asks a hostess.
"No, we're here to check in," we say disconcertedly. Isn't this an inn?
A waiter, looking a bit bewildered, directs us to a small hallway off the dining room and shows us our room. As we open the door to the wood-paneled room, we wonder if Cabbage Key Inn should be called "Cabbage Key Restaurant and Bar -- and Oh, you can stay here, too."
The main house was built in the 1930s as a vacation hideaway for playwright and novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart, and is currently frequented by Florida novelist and tarpon fishing guide Randy Wayne White.
We opted to stay in one of the six rooms attached to the restaurant. If you want more privacy, you can also stay in one of the few cottages on the premesis, some of which have their own docks. The whole place is as authentic and rustic as it must have been 50 years ago, with the added convenience of air conditioning.
The restaurant is split between the front and back screen porches. The front porch has a summer camp feel with long tables, weathered wooden chairs and the smell of hamburgers in the air. Families come in straight from their boats, with kids still taking off their life vests.
The back dining room is also a screened-in deck, but this dining room is in the money. Thousands of autographed dollar bills plaster the walls, ceiling and windowsills, each one a leftover memory from a Cabbage Key visitor. At night, the tree out back is lit with Christmas lights, adding a romantic air to the masculine room.
But the bar, located smack in the middle of the house, is the biggest draw. The dark wood paneling is also covered in dollar bills, even engulfing the piano, and a lone television broadcasts the Weather Channel or ESPN as people order up Coronas and Budweisers.
The earthy bar is the perfect place to while away a few hours before heading back to your boat, assuming you have one. But if you plan on staying here overnight, be prepared to while away many, many hours on your own.
We were looking forward to a weekend far away from South Florida traffic, where cell phones wouldn't get signals and we could actually see the stars.
You won't see a single car here. Not even any paved roads. Instead of prissy manicured lawns and exotic flowers, you see lush, green vegetation, as wild and unspoiled as it was when the Calusa Indians made their home here. If you explore a little, you'll find a mound of shells discarded by the Calusas.
If you climb to the top of the water tower, you can see the lumps of islands all around that buffer the mainland from the Gulf of Mexico. Breathe in and smell the bougenvillia and the mud and the tide.
We planned on renting a small skiff for $55 a day to putter over to Cayo Costa, a state park popular with campers and beachgoers. The Inn even says they'll pack you a boxed lunch to take along for your journey.
But the clouds are thick and dark and the dock master cautions that the weather will get worse.
We sit on two white Adirondack chairs overlooking the marina. Fat ants crawl near our feat. The sky starts rumbling. The raindrops pelt us, and we realize the dock master is right.
We go back to the Old Florida-style room with no TV or radio. To pass the time, we read on the porch attached to our room while rain splatters on the large, flat leaves of the sea grape tree.
Later, we put on ponchos and traipse along the islands nature trail, marveling at the size of a banana spider waiting for his next kill. We sit on the dock watching pelicans dive bomb for fish. We make friends with a flock of ducks who swim over for our snacks of pretzels and saltines. We wish we could go swimming, but there is no beach or pool.
Mostly, we wait for the next meal. Breakfast and lunch is relatively inexpensive -- a huge plate of pancakes is only $3 -- but dinners are pricey. Meals are simple, yet satisfying, and lean towards seafood.
By the time Sunday rolls around, we start wondering how Florida pioneers had survived without late night TV and an Internet connection, not to mention bug spray.
We are ready to go home. But if you're looking for some rest and relaxation, you won't find a prettier, or more peaceful place than Cabbage Key.
Peter Bernard can be reached at 954-356-4525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.