Thursday, November 20, 2014
Two Wheels, One Key: Git Yer Mojo On
Err… so the wheels are unmotorized, and the key is an island, but I’m making the best of it. Marooned in Flastistan again, I am. So today, after deciding I might possibly manage to not get rained on, I tossed a stale arepa* in my pocket and headed south.
There is nothing pleasant about bicycling the Key Largo segment of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. I did not catch even a single glimpse of aquamarine waters as I pedaled next to the heavy traffic of US 1. Five miles, 10, 15… still nothing but dive shops, gas stations, and restaurants with names like "Tower of Pizza." By the time I reached Tavernier Creek and the little bridge leading to Plantation Key, I knew enough to give up on tropical island scenery. Next time, I’ll pick a better starting point. But for today, it was time to turn around. I’m only pretending to be a bicyclist, and 30 miles is plenty for these legs.
I could have easily ended up eating some “World Famous” Key Lime Pie, constructed from bottled lime juice and a tasteless hydrogenated oil crust, and gone home fully disappointed. But no. I wouldn't have it. The establishment I was looking for wouldn’t have a neon sign advertising its superlative status, or flags, or offer discounted snorkeling tours, or cater to tourists at all. It would be a little ratty, and no one inside would speak English, and…
BINGO: a Cuban grocery with a food counter.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is mostly under water, but if you are not equipped to snorkel or dive, don’t want to shell out the money for a glass bottom boat tour, and left your kayak at home, you can, instead, get your toes wet, walk some short nature trails, gaze upon the little aquarium, and watch a dated but fascinating movie about the coral reef. The last activity will give your legs the opportunity to cramp up marvelously. Plus, if you enter by bicycle, the fee is only $2.50!
On the drive back to Miami, I hobbled out of the car to stop at the Robert Is Here** Fruit Stand (discovered last spring) for a Mamey Sapote Batido (milkshake). Honestly, this thing was magically custardy-creamy good. Scrape the bottom of the cup even though you’re shivering violently from the cold in your belly good. Superlatively World Famous good.
If riding a bicycle 30 miles and change gives you an excuse to carbo-load the night before, boiled yuca with a Cuban Mojo will serve nicely. Get yourself a yuca root (sold in every grocery in Miami), peel it (more like chip off the thick rind with a knife), cut it into big chunks, pull out the thin string of a core, and boil it until tender and translucent***. Now get some mojo on it: a simple Cuban-via-the-Canary-Islands sauce of olive oil, bitter orange juice, garlic, salt, and perhaps some cilantro or cumin or... Sit down and eat the entire plateful. I did exactly that last night.
*Arepas should be eaten still hot, or not at all, so don’t follow my example here.
**So named because Robert’s father (also named Robert) had Robert sit on a street corner to sell some cucumbers. When it didn’t work, Robert Sr. constructed a large sign proclaiming “Robert is Here” to attract customers. It worked. More than 50 years later, Robert is still selling fruit (and shakes) on the same corner.
***Disclaimer: Don't eat it raw. They can have traces of cyanide if uncooked.