Mike and I drove to the Keys this week to tour wedding venues.
It’s the first time I’d visited since Hurricane Irma demolished her way through the middle in September of 2017. With the excitement of venue shopping, I didn’t give much thought as to how they were holding up nearly five months later.
Damage is still apparent in many places, but being managed quickly. Trees and debris are stacked along roadsides, some buildings are more damaged than others, but overall, the Keys are on the fast track to recovery.
Businesses are up and running; many even fully recovered. The sun is shining, people are smiling and the aquamarine water is just as beautiful as ever.
Despite the remaining signs that a hurricane had left her mark yet again, there was a feeling of unity among the people of the Keys. The sounds of construction were constant, but rang as a reminder of their promise to the world, "We will rebuild." Their anthem #ConchStrong is a firm expression of the strength, unity and resilience of this island community.
We visited the iconic Key Largo bar, Snappers, which had been devastated by Irma's ocean-side storm surge, flooding the restaurant and leveling one of the waterfront bars. The tiki bar stood strong and is packed with patrons daily. The onsite food truck offers a temporary "Irmageddon" menu until the kitchen reopens. The beer is ice cold and the quintessential spirit of the Keys is alive and well.
Like many businesses along U.S. 1, Snappers came back with a mighty force, determined to open in any capacity possible for the sake of the locals, during a time when the entire community was relying solely on each other.
We saw examples of this everywhere we went. Bruised, but not broken. Rebuilding, but beautiful. Optimistic and moving full speed ahead. While we didn't venture further south to where the devastation was more severe, I'm sure the scenario is amplified. More damage means a longer recovery time, but they aren't down for the count.
We bumped into our friend and local fishing guide while out to breakfast. As I optimistically asked him, “How is business?”, his almost somber expression gave me his answer before he even spoke.
“Business is terrible. People aren’t booking charters. They aren’t coming down to the Keys.”
I felt foolish for even asking. I assume people don't know what to expect post-Irma. Or maybe they think the Keys have been wiped off the map. But I assure you, the time to visit is now.
This is my neighborly message to the world who is debating a trip to the Conch Republic: Go to the Keys! Take the vacation! Book a fishing charter. Buy a local beer. Load up your family, soak up the sunshine and support local businesses.
Hurricane Irma’s devastation is old news to much of the world, but in a place like the Florida Keys, they are still feeling the impact and continuing to put the pieces of their lives back together.
As the crown jewel of Florida’s fishing and tourism industry, this chain of islands relies on visitors as their source of income. Your patronage will help the forward progress of rebuilding and help contribute to the health of the Florida Keys economy. They share their slice of paradise with travelers from all over the world, it's time that we show support and give back to our southernmost neighbors in their time of need.
Here are some local fishing guides, marinas and resources to help you start planning:
Are there any fishing guides you would recommend? Will you be planning a trip to the Florida Keys this year? I've got three trips on the 2018 calendar and I can't wait!