It is always strange when you are planning something for a long time and it feels like it will never actually arrive and then all of a sudden the moment is here. For what seemed like years, Ethan and I planned this trip. It existed in our minds and on our google searches. For all we knew, it was only a fantasy. Nothing made it feel like a reality, even researching and booking flights and aspects of the trip. Until it all of sudden was here.
Of course, I was excited, but I almost felt unprepared even after two years of research and planning. It just didn’t feel like it was ever meant to happen. So, when we boarded the plane for Miami, I felt a bit of shock and anxiousness. Here we are, finally living out the dream and I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m happy don’t get me wrong, but it’s easier to go on fantasizing and planning than to actually go out and experience it firsthand. I just hoped that I didn’t put too much into my fantasy that I would be let down by the reality.
We arrived in Miami at 8am, picked up our rental car after navigating the insanely large Miami airport, and took off towards our hostel in Miami Beach. After a very mild summer in Portland and Philadelphia, Miami felt like walking a busy kitchen with no windows. We could barely breathe from the heat.
Luckily the city glistened from every white building to the azure sea. People drive like New Yorkers on crack here though, and we barely escaped with our lives every time behind the wheel. We finally traversed the city and reached Miami Beach. It was too early to check-in to our hostel, so we changed and hit the beach. Palm trees lined the promenade and umbrellas in blocks of color speckaled the course sand in front of each hotel. The sand was hot and coarse unlike the soft sands of the Jersey shore, but the water was transparent and turquouise like the Caribbean seas.
We spent two hours sunbathing in the hot oven of the sun and swam in the luke warm waters alongside hundreds of other tourists. Translucent blue pencil fish darted in the waves. Brittle seaweed and debris dirtied the water around us. Men walked down the beach shouting cold cerveza y agua (beer and water). We melted in the heat and our skin sweat off the sunscreen leaving us scorched and looking like freshly cooked lobsters.
We weren’t used to this southern sun. We ate tacos for lunch and showered off the sweat and sunscreen. I insisted on visiting Little Havana that evening. We had to drive over the bridge again and took in the sights of the high rises and the mini bridges to the multimillion dollar homes built on islands surrounded by yahts. Google Maps dropped us in a neighborhood of colorful plaster homes with rusted white gates. I was imagining more of a main street with Cuban restaurants, so we continued on.
We finally found Calle de Ocho, the Little Havana main street. Salsa music blared out the windows and open doors of restaurants. Cigar smoke twisted through the air. Hollywood stars adorned the cement blocks with the names of famous Cuban figures. We found a lively bar filled with locals. The happy hour deal of buy one get one free drinks enticed us. We ordered two mojitos and enjoyed some local cuisine. Sweet plantains and savory chicken with black beans and rice filled me happily to the brim. It also gave us the chance to practice our Spanish with the waiter. We felt like we were able to dip our toes in the waters of travel to South America.
While we were enjoying the start of our adventure, the people of Miami were preoccupied with the impending hurricane coming their way in a few days. Everyone watched the television intently for news of Irma’s arrival. We felt horrible knowing that our city of Portland is currently burning and Miami was experiencing the calm before the storm and the biggest hurricane yet threatened their shores. It is hard to get excited with you know your loved ones are in danger and the beautiful places you are visiting could soon be destroyed or under water.
We returned to our hostel to find a notice on the door that they would be evacuating Miami Beach the next day and everyone needed to check out in the morning and find other accomodations. Luckily, our flight was the following day. Our roommates were in a panic about their own travel plans.
The next day, we packed up and checked out. The whole city was buzzing with fear, as people prepared themselves for the worst. Gas stations had lines around the corner and a lot of pumps had run out of gas. We headed towards the airport early to be safe. We had time to visit the Wynwood district on our way out. This neighborhood allowed freedom of expression through street art. Every wall wore the protests, creativity, and talents of local and international street artists. We stopped every few feet to snap pictures of the grafiti. Eventually we reached the Wynwood Walls, an outdoor museum or more street art, but we found the streets surrounding the museum to be even more interesting.
You could spend a week checking out every single wall in the neighborhood, but we wanted to make it to the airport for our flight. We made it with plenty of time to spare and despite the two hour process of dropping off the rental, standing in line at check-in and going through security, we made it to our gate with plenty of time to spare. We felt relieved knowing we just barely escaped before the storm hit Miami. I felt bad for those not as lucky as us. We hope that everyone makes it out of this hurricane safely!