Key West Botanical Garden & the Mariel Boat Lift

Click here for a gallery of pix.

After a day on the water, we chilled on Saturday and visited the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden, the only “frost-free” botanical garden in the continental United States. In addition to this “one of a kind” tropical forest and garden filled with butterflies, birds, plants and beautiful flowers, a special section is reserved for a half-dozen dilapidated makeshift boats tucked away in a shady corner and dedicated to the bizarre exodus of refugees fleeing Cuba in the spring of 1980. Here’s an excerpt from Hunter S. Thompson’s essay, Songs of the Doomed, written while he was living in Key West during the Mariel Boat lift:

The Cuba-to-Key West Freedom Flotilla (AKA Mariel Boat-lift) began on April Fools Day, 1980, a bizarre and massively illegal “sea lift” that involved literally thousands of small private boats that brought more than 100,000 very volatile Cuban refugees to this country in less than three months and drastically altered the social, political, and economic realities of South Florida for the rest of this century.

In less than two weeks the Coast Guard had abandoned all hope of stopping the boat traffic; the port of Key West was overwhelmed, and any boat longer than fifteen feet was for sale or rent. Cubans from Miami roamed the bars and local docks with fistfuls of hundred dollar bills, and drug smugglers had already begun to take advantage of the general confusion and the helplessness of the Coast Guard. Not even the White House or the U.S. Marines could stop the tidal wave of Cubans pouring into South Florida.

Our eco-tour captain Victoria participated in the boat-lift and was responsible for saving a family of 8 from the treacherous 90-mile stretch of water from Cuba to Key West. The photos in this gallery (click the thumbnail) include a couple of the rickety boats that are displayed at the Key West Botanical Garden.

Sightings for Feb. 18

Key West Botanical Gardens

Mockingbirds! Eurasian Collard Doves, Rock Doves, Mourning Doves, Common Ground Doves, Royal Terns, Sandwich Terns, Palm Warblers! Great Crested Flycatcher, Domestic Muscovies, <Glossy Ibis>, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Common Yellow Throat, Peregrin Falcon

First time sightings: 1