Being an armchair history buff, I’m always fascinated about the backstory of the places we visit while on vacation.
Oftentimes I get overruled by my road trip crew when I suggest that we veer off track to take in the local culture, or stop and savor the stories of a city’s past. But when I temped my family with a history tour that would include a kayak experience across the open water, I knew I had them hooked.
We discovered one of South Florida’s best kept secrets that combined adventurous water sports with a rich cultural experience by spending a glorious day on the Historic Upper Keys Walking Tours.
This unique activity is for both first-time and experienced kayakers and includes a 20 to 30-minute paddle to Indian Key Historic State Park.
Click here to see my interview with Brad Bertelli
We met up with tour guide, local historian and author Brad Bertelli in the Kayak Shack at Robbie’s Marina of Islamorada where our adventure began. I was particularly honored to have Brad take us on a personal tour because he’s such an authority on the region.
Brad’s written four books about Florida and the Florida Keys and his column, Notes on Keys History, appears bi-weekly in The Reporter. He also happens to be the curator at the Keys History and Discovery Center, so rest assured this guy knows his stuff.
But with all of those credentials, you might assume that this journey was going to be led by a stuffy academician. On the contrary. Brad was not only knowledgeable, but also witty, fun, engaging and extremely entertaining. His descriptions really brought the area’s history to life, which made my family and I feel as if we had just stepped in time.
After making our way across to the island, we began to explore the remnants of the old wrecking colony. We learned that Indian Key was home to a bustling community of wrecking inhabitants in the 1830’s.
As Brad walked us along the old streets, he shared the colorful history of what was once one of the largest communities outside of Key West. We were captivated by the fascinating tales of the ruins that were still visible on this deserted outpost that even had its own hotel, bar, billiards table and 9-pin bowling alley.
One of most compelling stories was about the notorious wrecker Jacob Housman and the surprise Indian attack of August 7, 1840. It’s like a major motion picture with more intrigue than Game of Thrones.
Kayaking the Keys and taking this incredible historic walking tour was definitely one of the biggest highlights of our trip.
And when you combine the adventure of paddling in the ocean with a special tour that features a vibrant past, it just might turn your family into fellow history buffs without even trying.
Disclaimer: Indian Key Walking Tours provided admission and Robbie’s Marina provided equipment rentals. The thoughts and opinions are my own.