Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Miami Beach Florida - USA

We arrived in Miami International at around half past seven in the evening, tired and travelled out having spent the previous night on the overnight bus, as comfortable as it was it was still a bus.  The flight wasn’t much more than five hours but we spent enough time hanging around airports and needed to find our hostel.  We had booked a place within spitting distance of South Beach but needed to take public transport to get there so we powered up the laptop and reviewed the directions.  It was really humid outside even at this time as we waited for the airport bus.  When it arrived we didn’t have the correct change as we didn’t realise that we would be feeding the money into a machine and not the driver but she was decent enough to let us and others off a few cents and learn the lesson rather than having to wait for the next one.  After driving an half hour or so we got off the airport bus and walked to the point where we would need to take our connection for the local bus network. 

We tried a few nearby restaurants trying to change a ten dollar note for the correct money that we would need for the bus and eventually got some dollar notes.  There was a crackhead in the bus shelter that we were waiting in who was rambling expletives at me until I moved out of his sight to the side of the bus shelter; I was too tired to make any points to the homeless.  I’m sure a couple of people laughed at us in our big backpacks but it could have just been me being tired and perhaps we were a strange sight here.  It was very rapidly becoming apparent that this was a place of extreme wealth and poverty, more so than anywhere else we had been.  Even so there was a definite buzz in the air, there were big city lights, modern buildings and I was extremely excited to be here.  After chatting to a friendlier homeless man on the local bus (we paid for him and another as we couldn’t split a dollar and it was only 25 cents to ride) we found the hostel from the directions easily enough and checked into our six bed dorm which cost about forty five dollars for the two of us per night when you included the taxes and surcharges.  We made our way to the supermarket for dinner and we ate sandwiches before having much needed showers and went to bed, it was weird going from being relatively rich to quite poor indeed. 

We awoke to a gloriously sunny day so we slapped on as much sun cream as our pasty skin could absorb and headed out to South Beach.  There were gorgeous-looking people everywhere, tanned and toned bodies making their way along the beachside path on roller-skates, Segway’s or simply jogging.  I had never seen so many luxury cars in my life.  Almost every car that peacocked its way along Ocean Drive was a Ferrari, Lexus or similar model and at the very least a Porsche or high end Chevrolet.  I would describe the beach as long and flat but I found it beautiful in its own industrial way with the skyscrapers forming the backdrop to the endless stretch of sea, sand, lifeguard huts and beach dwellers lounging around like the iguanas of the Galapagos Islands.  Kate had a swim in the sea and we absorbed as much sun as we could assume was safe for people with our complexions before hitting an outdoor gym that was unoccupied so we tried out the equipment which was fun although I really wish I could have stayed on the beach all day, the best things in life are free after all!

Beach bums
Kate enjoying the sunshine on South Beach

Pumping iron in the outdoor gym

The next item on our agenda was meeting up with Gaelle who we had travelled with for a month or so throughout Bolivia and some of Peru.  She also happened to be in Miami at the same time and was currently Couchsurfing in the beautiful district of Coconut Grove having been organised enough to arrange this in advance, benefitting from the generosity of her absent but amazingly generous hostess Diane.  We had already paid for the hostel accommodation that night, but Diane mentioned that it would be possible for us to pick up from where Gaelle left off after she left.  We spent the afternoon walking along Ocean Drive and South Beach.  It was necessary to part with a bit of cash and have a cocktail in one of the bars along the stretch where it was possible to do the best people watching ever.  Individuals and groups of eccentric people bounced past us wearing all styles of clothes and talking about lots of funny things.  I’m sure I heard a woman talking about how well-endowed somebody was at one point.  We also got to see this fine specimen propping up the bar…

People watching was fun but sometimes scary!

Looking like a complete tourist on Ocean Drive

Prize for guessing where and when this was taken

Enjoying our cocktail on the strip

We decided to move our bags over to Diane’s apartment that night and share a taxi but the hostel unfortunately wouldn’t give us any of the money back.  The apartment overlooked the harbour at Coconut grove and the surrounding area was full of palm trees and great stuff to do, not that you ever needed go outside because there is a communal gym/ sauna, a restaurant, pool and even squash courts if you got bored.  By the time we arrived it was dark and we celebrated that we were reunited and in Miami by having a few drinks on the balcony listening to Will Smith’s ‘Miami’ and other songs whilst the wind battered us.
Taken on the balcony at Diane's

It was great to make the most of everything that Diane had access to in the building and we spent the next day in the gym (the sauna counts as the gym still right?) and relaxing in the apartment.  The weather had taken a turn for the worst and it was raining heavily throughout the day.  We were in the mood for some sushi and managed to find somewhere online that did all you can eat for $9.99 which was great.  Although we had planned on walking there, the rain meant a taxi was required and so we flagged one down outside the apartments and made our way to our cheap sushi.  The fish wasn’t the most amazing ever but what do you expect for less than ten dollars? The staff were really friendly, all of them South American and we both had refillable cokes and contemplated how they made any money.

All you can eat sushi at a crazy low price!

After grabbing our plates we shamelessly made our way down the sushi aisle choosing anything we wanted from the trays, there was even tuna and salmon which were great!  When we were as full of sushi as was physically possible we helped ourselves to the ice creams available before walking it off back to the apartment now the rain seemed to have stopped.  We got caught in a downpour when we were only about five minutes away from the apartment and ducked into a nearby hotel for shelter.  It seriously knows how to rain here and although it isn’t cold you end up feeling and looking like a drowned rat very quickly!  Finally we made it back to the comfort of the condo.

Lightning storm over Miami Beach taken from the balcony

The rain was heavy and continuous, it didn’t stop from this point and we saw out our final days in Miami within the pleasant confines of the condominium, often in the gym (sauna) or in the apartment planning the rest of our time in the States.  Our next stop was Orlando, Florida to visit Universal Studios.  We had purchased a four day ticket each and we were really looking forward to enjoying what the theme parks had to offer.  Miami had been a really great experience, full of cool people and as flash as it gets.  South Beach and Ocean Drive had been excellent, it was great seeing Gaelle and although we didn’t get to see as much of Coconut Grove as we had liked, the condo had not only been a great help financially but it felt like real luxury with our harbour views and amazing facilities.  I really felt like I could have shouted ‘I’m in Miami B*tch!” to the world! 

The beautiful bedroom that we stayed in

Diane's living room with the view of the harbour

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