Well what a 5 days! 3 countries, 2 flights, one “long ass” immigration queue and a lot of fun times (or “kicks” as its more commonly described in Jack Kouracs On The Road that I have just finished reading.) We are currently 3 and a half hours in to our 7 hour train ride from Miami to Orlando, racing across the flat Florida swamp lands the palm trees that were regular and plentiful in Miami are starting to be replaced with shrubs that we are more accustomed to coming from the Northern Hemisphere. We spent 2 nights in Miami and couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised by the city, its people and particularly our Airbnb host, Freddy and his Family.
We landed at Miami International Airport at about 7pm two nights ago, we weren’t through immigration for another 2 and half hours. The sheer number of people streaming off planes and trying to enter the land of the free and the home of the brave was crazy. At times our queue didn’t seem to get any smaller for hours but after finally clearing some of the backlog we got our latest stamp in our passports and headed into the United States of America. As we were so late arriving (nearly 11pm by the time we rolled out of the airport train station) Freddy came and met us closer into town that we had agreed and drove us back to our bed for the next few nights, its was very helpful and so well received after spending 5 times as long in airports that day as we had on actual planes! The next day it was time to start our American adventure proper, Freddy joked that really the USA doesn’t begin until north of Miami and that Florida’s biggest city was actually still Latin America. It’s easy to see why, Spanish is on all the road signs and public information messages (and isn’t there just for show like in Wales) it’s almost the native language, everyone was speaking it fluently. We were dropped at the metro system and left to our own devices with a few expert recommendations from Freddy. First up was Miami’s free monorail system to get a birds eye view of downtown, similar to London Docklands its an area that has been redeveloped into offices, shops and restaurants. Here we were able to walk along the Miami river, checkout the Bay Area and all the huge cruise and cargo ships starting and ending their journeys and the lovely museum park that overlooks the water. The palm trees dotted around the city look amazing when in stark contrast to the city architecture particularly the Art Deco buildings for which Miami Beach is famous. This is where we headed to next, walking up ocean drive was typically American, people rollerblading down the pedestrianised street, people eating and drinking in front of bars. The city to one side the beach to the other, we flicked between both enjoying the sites and sound of the USA.
After a looped walk around the southern beach area we headed back on the bus to down town and then to an area called Coconut Grove, lined with lovely cafes and restaurants its was a lovely area to walk around away from the busy central city areas. As evening approached we decided to start looking for somewhere to eat. Hopping on the Miami Trolly (more free transport: a series of bus routes that take you round the nicer part of town) we found a great little taco restaurant for some Mexican food. Freddy reappeared after work intent on showing us some more sites. We’re so glad he did! First stop was the Cuban restaurant, bakery and coffee house, Versailles, that is a common stop for US presidents when they visit Miami: Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama they have apparently all enjoyed the sweet coffee and pastries on offer. I can see why, it was lovely, enhanced by the frenzied atmosphere that came with the mix of local Cuban exiles and American tourists who (until recently) have been unable to visit one of the closest Caribbean island to the USA. Freddy told us that in its early days in the 1960’s recent Cuban immigrants would meet up there to discuss Cuban politics and the potential opposition to the Castro government. It was interesting, given where we have been recently, to get an understanding of how many people have left Cuba since the revolution and how divided the Castros’ regime has left people from all over Latin America. After our strong 9pm Cuban espressos we headed off to the new and still growing hard rock casino and resort. Feeling energised we drove north out of Miami county to a huge complex that houses restaurants, shops, bars, casinos and a massive hotel. Monday is a public holiday for Martin Luther King Jr so it was the start of a long weekend and the place was buzzing with people. There was a live band playing in the main square who we watched rattle through an eclectic mix of covers. They were great, the two lead singers could really belt out notes and the backing band were equally as good. After this we walked round the hard rock casino, although we didn’t gamble, we had just as much fun using it as a museum to popular culture with outfits and instruments from multiple past and present artists on display. It was a great way to end an action packed 14 hours exploring Miami, which had offered perhaps more than we were expecting when we arrived.
Prior to arriving in the states we had spent a couple of days on Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands after spending one more night in Havana. Our plan to hop on the open top bus on our last morning in Havana didn’t materialise as the weather was a bit colder and cloudier than we had hoped and so an extra hour in bed seemed more appealing than the 30 min walk to the bus stop. Instead we spent more time walking up and down the sea front taking our last opportunity to watch the cars roll by as well as visiting “Hotel Nacional” which is a grand hotel overlooking the water once a naval base that was used to protect the Havana shore, the huge cannon are still there and are a UNESCO world heritage site. A successful morning before jetting off to Cayman for a few chilled days by the beach. It almost ended before it had begun though. We didn’t have anywhere booked to stay for the two night we were there, partly thanks to the rare Cuban internet, and so immigration wouldn’t let us out of the airport, luckily they had free wifi and we were able to fire up Airbnb and find somewhere to stay quite easily and half the price of the holiday inn resort we were offered. We actually ended up landing on our feet a bit. A lovely guest house with air conditioning a huge bed, last shower and large windows on the north of the island close to a park where we could run and just about close enough to beaches that we could walk to. We spent two days sunbathing and snorkelling, the sea was perfectly clear and the plentiful sea life made it very spectacular. In the end a good idea to prolong our connection from Havana to Miami. Although I have to say when we landed under grey sky’s and had our passports confiscated and told to spend nearly $450 on a holiday inn I was questioning our judgement!
So there you have it, the end of a brilliant opening fortnight, the end of our Caribbean adventure, the start of our American dream and the start of a 45 day, 16 leg train ride up and down the east coast. Today we have travelled north from Miami on the east coast and are currently sat on the train in Tampa on the west coast loading passengers. This train will continue north for another day or so, but we should be alighting in just under two hours in Orlando. Ahead of us are colossal international cities like Washington DC, Boston and of course New York City. But perhaps more excitingly miles and miles of rural America, small town America and the American people. I. Can’t. Wait!