Long Layovers: Miami, Florida
10 hours in Miami. That’s all we have. Or is it enough? The moment we land, it feels like a leisurely episode of The Amazing Race. A quick jaunt through the Fort Lauderdale airport toward the car rental garage, and we’re on our way to Little Havana. First on the agenda: Cafe Versailles. It sounds French, but it’s most definitely Cuban. Savory empanadas and croquettes? Or sweet pies and cakes? Perhaps a sampler of them all. Just remember to throw in a cafecito con leche. Oh, and bring your Spanish game. You can expect to be greeted and served in Spanish; English is available (albeit perhaps a bit begrudgingly) if you need it…but why interrupt the ambiance?
Next up, Calle Ocho. Where the abuelitos congregate to play a never-ending series of domino games in rapid succession. They know you want to take a picture, and will grant you permission before you even think to ask, so don’t be shy and make friends already. It’s the closest you’ll get to the dominoes anyway, as tourists aren’t always permitted to play – even though a sign says tourists are welcome. Perhaps it’s an unfinished sentence. Maybe the sign was meant to say: tourists are welcome…to watch and take photographs. A friendly tía might try to convince the unsmiling guardian of the dominoes to let you play, but the vigilant guardian might simply deflect her by saying it’s an incredibly busy day…and so, no rental for you. But you can eavesdrop and exchange smiles with the viejos, and that makes you feel more welcome.
Next, a stop into Azucar to sample ice cream flavors like Mantecado, Guava, and Abuelita Maria. Don’t overdo it though, because we need to discover why people rave about banacafé batido, or simply, banoffee – a banana-coffee-shake-type drink that many will say you should try. You can find it at a little counter (with a
little old very antique cash register) in a little shop with a name I unfortunately can’t recall. But I do remember the little shop’s very large plantains. And its very large aguacates, avocados.
The old men playing dominoes at the park, the amazingly large avocados at a local fruit stand, the Latin-inspired ice cream flavors, the art galleries, the banoffee, the music blaring from open-windowed restaurants: Little Havana is an explosion of color and flavor, and an interesting taste of Cuban culture.
A few photo ops and a Mexican-Venezuelan chocolaterie later, we’re headed toward downtown Miami. Driving past cruise ships snuggling beside each other in the Port of Miami, past small streets of shirtless runners and revealing dresses, we incidentally find ourselves cruising down Ocean Drive – an experience that simultaneously feels obligatory and yet not. But we find ourselves drawn to the strip, walking under tented sidewalks and spray mists, through passive-aggressive restaurant promoters and various colors of oversized margaritas, past flashy cars and silent electric fans. Or perhaps the hum of the ubiquitous fans is overpowered by the blaring music. It seems every 50 paces or so transitions you from one reggaeton beat into another, engulfing you in either a cacophony or a danceable rhythm, in a constant change that is both energizing and draining.
So we head to the quieter Miami Beach just across the street. With sea green waters that playfully crash onto the shore in an attempt to splash you, the beach is much less frenetic than it’s waterfront properties. Unless you count the overhead plane bearing a banner of “Tim + Jess today and forever.” And another plane shortly thereafter bearing a vastly different sign of “Live tonight Puff Daddy.”
Ok, that’s a sign it’s time to meander back in search of a late lunch/early dinner. Before long, it’s time to head back to the airport. And wouldn’t you know it, the layover is just long enough.