Mochilero in Miami
Miami Beach, United States
I've returned to the state of my birth—200 miles south and five days shy of the hospital I was born in 27 years ago.
I never expected to return to the continental United States so "soon." Although it's impossible to expect the unexpected, with regards to travel, I'm at least learning to not be surprised by unanticipated paths and destinations. To me, my presence in Miami is certainly one of those unexpected occurrences—or at least it was, until I started planning my South American exit strategy earlier this year.
I'm done with Latin America—burnt out and exhausted with much more than just the culture. I've been craving substantial change, which is part of the reason why I'm not writing this from Spain right now.
The path was clear—after finishing Carnival in Salvador, get to the airport offering the cheapest flights out of South America. Caracas, the crappy capital of Venezuela, fit the bill perfectly. Once in Caracas, I'd either take a "cheap" flight east to Madrid (possibly just a connection), or make my way west to SE Asia (via Miami/the continental U.S.); Asia won.
I decided I'd love to be in the United States in the company of familiar faces to celebrate my birthday, so I happily zoomed through the rest of (the wildly expensive) Brazil, and barely spent a week inside of Venezuela, the anus of South America.
After spending over four months in the Caribbean, four months in Central America, and over eight months in South America, I'm back on U.S. soil again.
An Extended Layover
I won't just be taking a connecting flight through Miami, though, I'll be staying here for a few days. I'm sticking around for two reasons, with the first being that I genuinely believe I need someplace to decompress and acclimatize from the Latin world for a few days (and I can think of no place better to do it than Miami). Keeping that in mind, my Afro-Peruvian friend Tatiana also lives here, and seeing how I haven't visited Miami during my adult years, I figured it was a good opportunity to take a peek at the place (with someone who lives here and knows it well).
After Miami I will be visiting a couple of cities in the U.S. to give hugs to a few friends and family members, and although my onward flight to Thailand has yet to be purchased, I would expect my combined layover to be for the majority (if not the rest) of April.
And What About Travelvice?
Although the frequency of posts to this site to be significantly reduced—dare I say, sporadic, at best—for the reminder of the month, expect to see reflective/observational writings from my experiences in Latin America, an illustrated dissection of the contents of my backpack, stories/impressions from my re-entry into the United States, and a slew of site improvements and upgrades.
It is easy for me to write, I do it offline where it only costs me time—it is not easy or cheap for me to create and integrate upgrades and improvements to this Web site from an Internet cafe in a foreign country. I've got a massive list of non-Web site tasks to do while I'm State-side, but I'll also be working hard on Travelvice while I've got access to good computers and free Internet.
Bienvenido a Miami!
I can't get that Will Smith song out of my head.
I'm not in culture shock, but I'm about as close to it as you can come without using the term. Part of me is struggling to adapt to a foreign environment, while another gets reacquainted some long forgotten familiarities and comforts.
I broke a dollar to use a pay phone, and stood and stared with prolonged interest at the commemorative quarters in my palm—three of the four were printed in 2006, and I had never seen the designs. I didn't want to spend them.
Bathroom life is throwing me for a twist. I turned on the faucet to wet my toothbrush and found the water on my bristles hot—I'm so use to turning on either valve and getting cold water. Likewise goes for the shower—wow, warm water out of the tap! I was also hunting around for a bathroom wastebasket to throw my used toilet paper in, when a few moments later I remembered that I could flush it! Crazy.
A car actually stopped to let me walk cross an intersection. The streets are silent compared to an average Latin American city—actual functional mufflers on vehicles!
This city is so clean. I'm having a hard time remembering to look for a trashcan, instead of just tossing my garbage into a street's gutter.
24-Hour convenience stores with cherry-flavored Coca-Cola Zero (awesome!), inline skaters on the sidewalks, tap water that I don't question, and service industry employees that speak to me in English. Hearing people speak to me in English is really throwing me off, especially when I'm in a store buying or looking at something.
Unfortunately, because of the English I'm also forced me to hear and understand the idiotic conversations that everyone around me seems to be having. Life was much better when I didn't understand the language well enough to listen in (or didn't care and just flipped the translation switch to OFF in my head), thus saving me from the conversations of others.
This is a wonderfully comfortable place for a bi-lingual English/Spanish speaker to live. Miami isn't saturated with Spanish to the extent that I had envisioned, but there is an amazingly high amount of it (both spoken and written). There are lots of Latins around me (from Cuba and Haiti, all the way south to Argentina), and Tatiana and I find ourselves occasionally speaking in Spanish to avoid confusion (such as ordering at the amazing all you can eat Argentine steak house I was treated to tonight—where I ate the best meat I've ever had in this country).
Miami is like no other city I've visited. Tatiana's place is dead smack in the middle of South Beach. She's got a fun little scooter that she uses to zip us around town (filling the gas tank for less than US$2).
Today we headed up the A1A and spent a few hours on Miami's clothing optional beach (at Haulover Park). I'm such a total sucker for blue water, and the color here is oh so nice (although rather chilly at this time of year). There are few things finer for a beach boy like myself than sun, sand, and surf without clothes to get in the way.
I've shaved my little beard off. The streets of Brazil and Venezuela were not places I wanted to look young or baby-faced—that need is now gone. The habit of looking over my shoulder as I walk is still there though.
I'm infinitely more impressed with this city than I was with Rio de Janeiro. In a title fight between Copacabana and South Beach, Brazil's prize fighter would get knocked out in the first round. I'm looking at a stimulating, balanced blending of Latin American flavor, with North American infrastructure.
I'm amazed that they're still building here. I figured that the whole of Miami would have been solidified years ago (from a construction standpoint), but there are huge high-rise condo buildings going up all along the coast. These suckers are massive too—I haven't seen anything even close to it, outside of Panama City and Manhattan.
As much as I'm a sucker for blue water, I'm likewise attracted to white buildings with blue-tinted windows. Seeing an entire skyscraper like this makes me feel like I'm looking at a giant, modern cloud of concrete.
I know that a lot of travelers pass through Miami, and I find myself wondering what their experiences are like in this city. As for me, I'm feeling comfortable and spoiled.