Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA IN VOA SPECIAL ENGLISH. I'm Steve Ember. Today,
Mary Tillotson and I welcome you to a group of islands that extends into the
Atlantic Ocean from the southern state of Florida. These islands are called the
Florida Keys. In Key West, a sign on
a monument says "America Begins Here."
The first European to see the Florida Keys was Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon
in the year 1513. He was searching for special water that would keep people
young forever. But he did not find that special water, or any other water that
people could drink. Later, other Spanish explorers mapped the area as an aid to
help their treasure ships return to Spain.
Many of the Keys still have Spanish names, like Islamorada, Bahia Honda and
Key Vaca. The word “Keys” comes from the Spanish word “cayos” meaning “little
island.” And many of the Florida Keys are little. Hundreds of the islands are
only pieces of sand that extend a few feet out of the water. Many are only
visited by sea birds.
Yet some of the Keys are big enough to support large numbers of people. One
of the most popular is Key West. It is the farthest south of the Keys that can
be reached by car.
A road extends southwest into the Florida Keys. It is called Highway One. It
starts into the Keys from the state of Florida at a bridge that crosses the
water to the island of Key Largo.
The road is narrow and the traffic is often slow as it travels through
each of the small towns of the Keys. Highway One is about 157
kilometers from Key Largo to its end in Key West. It extends across many bridges
between the islands. The longest of these bridges is eleven kilometers long. It
is called Seven Mile Bridge and was completed in 1911. At the time, it was
considered one of the wonders of the world. No bridge crossed as much open
It was a strong bridge, too. Seven Mile Bridge survived many storms,
including one huge ocean storm that damaged the Keys in 1935. The first Seven
Mile Bridge was replaced in 1982, but you can still see the old bridge, close to
the new one.
Today, the Florida Keys are a popular holiday area. Many of
the islands have beautiful white sand beaches. Swimming and boating are major
sports. Visitors can pay to go on a boat for a fishing trip. They can catch many
different kinds of fish including huge fish called sailfish or marlin. People
come from all over the world to fish in the Florida Keys. In fact, the people
who live on Islamorada Key claim their island is the “Sports Fishing Capital of
However, the people of other Keys say the fishing is just as good off their
Visitors can ride on other kinds of boats in the Florida Keys. Some are
special party boats. These go out for the day or during the night. There are
food and drinks on these boats. They might also have bands or recorded music for
The music heard in the Florida Keys is unusual. You can hear Cuban music. You
can hear music of the Caribbean islands, old calypso music from deep in the
Caribbean and reggae from Jamaica. You can also hear a lot of music by American
songwriter and singer Jimmy Buffet. His music is a mix of American country and
western, rock and the sounds of the Caribbean islands. People who really like
his music call themselves “Parrot Heads.”
It is now time to take a little trip. Let us pretend we are traveling across
the last bridge on Highway One to the island of Key West. Our car radio is
playing one of Jimmy Buffet’s most famous songs, “Margaritaville.”
As we cross the bridge to Key West, we can see many boats. Some are fishing
boats you can use for the day. Others belong to people who have sailed their
boats here from many different places.
In the city, the houses are almost all painted white. A few are pink or light
blue. Many houses are very old and very small. Key West is a very old city. Many
of the buildings are more than one-hundred years old.
Many palm trees grow here. Colorful flowers grow in front of many of the
little houses. You can stay in a room in one of these houses for the night. You
can smell the ocean on the soft warm wind that blows across the island.
We drive past several streets and then come to Whitehead Street. We turn
left. Very soon we come to the end of the street. There is a monument here. The
sign says this is the southernmost part of the United States. The sign says
“American Begins Here.” Beyond the sign is the ocean.
After taking a few photographs of the sign, we turn the car around and follow
Whitehead Street to number nine-oh-seven. This house belonged to the famous
American writer Ernest Hemingway. For a few dollars, you can see the inside of
the house. Hemingway had many cats when he lived here. He is gone, but the cats
remain. Many are asleep on the beds or chairs. They are used to seeing people
walking through the old house.
After we leave the Hemingway house, we travel a little way to Green Street.
There is a private museum here we want to visit. It is the Mel Fisher Maritime
Heritage Society Museum. The museum is named after treasure hunter Mel Fisher.
He discovered an old sunken Spanish treasure ship near Key West more than twenty
That ship was the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. Visitors can see some of the
ship’s treasure at the museum. You can hold a huge, solid bar of gold worth many
thousands of dollars. You can put your hands through a hole in a clear, plastic
box and hold the huge piece of gold. But the box is built so you can not turn
the bar toward the hole. You can not take the gold with you!
However, the museum store will sell you real Spanish coins that were found on
the famous ship. They are very costly. Or you can buy a copy of a coin for much
From Mel Fisher’s Museum, we walk the short distance to Mallory Square, the
center of Key West’s historic area. The square is famous for the Key West sunset
celebration that is held each night if the weather is good. It is really more
famous for the unusual people and animals you can see here. For example, you can
see people sing or play music. You can see cats perform tricks. You can watch
trained birds. You can buy a hat. Or just watch the beautiful sunset.
From Mallory Square we walk to Duval Street. This is where we find many good
eating and drinking places. You can buy very good Cuban food. Cuba is only about
140 kilometers from Key West. The Cuban influence can be strongly felt in the
Or maybe you want to eat seafood instead. There are many good seafood
restaurants. Singer Jimmy Buffet owns an eating place here, too. It is the
Margaritaville Café where you can get a good American cheeseburger.
You can also find drinking places that have bands. Some bands play rock
music. Some play music of the Caribbean. Still others play country and western
music. There seems to be a kind of music for everyone.
There are many other businesses along Duval Street. Many stores sell
clothing. Some stores sell the works of local Key West artists. Duval Street is
a lively area. There seems to be a party here until very late into the night.
There is much more to do and see in Key West. You can take a high-speed boat
trip for about an hour to the Dry Tortugas National Park. A huge military fort
was built there before the American Civil War.
You can rent an aircraft and take photographs of the beautiful Keys from the
air. You can learn to breathe under water using special equipment. And, when
your holiday is finished, you can drive slowly up Highway One, through the many
other Florida Keys, stopping to enjoy each one on the way home.
This program was written by Paul Thompson and produced by Cynthia Kirk and
Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember with Mary Tillotson. Please join us again next week
for another THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.
Keys : 佛罗里达礁岛群