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Miami and the Keys, FL

Our Miami trip started out with a slight hiccup: our flights were canceled due to thunderstorms in the DC area and we had to catch the next day flight which was 6am (thanks to my ingenuity else we would catch the 4pm flight later that day). Ingmar and I arrived in Miami airport and the Will Smith's song "Welcome to Miami" was playing in my head. We exited the airport and I felt something familiar- a heat wave smacked on to my face reminiscent of Malaysia. After a bout of confusion, we caught the shuttles  to pick up our rental car at Fox. I asked the lady where to find good Cuban food and she directed us to a hole in the wall Cuban restaurant called El Farito. With my broken Spanish, I pointed, picked and crossed my fingers as the waitress scribbled down my order. The interior of the restaurant is simple and dark. Its customers were people of South American descent and we were probably the only non-Latino who stepped in the restaurant that day.
After waiting giddily, our food arrived. Fried whole (snapper?) fish and recommended pork cubes served with rice and beans and fried unsweet plantains charmed me completely. 

Ingmar was not too excited by the fish head but I think I calmed his nervousness by quoting my mum's favorite phrase "The fish cheeks is good for skin!".
We gobbled down our meals while waiting for my Cuban coffee. I was stuffed and packed my plantains away when the waitress served my drink which was really Cuban espresso shot.
Then off we went to the Florida Keys. Another 3 hours in the car on top of our 6 hours flight could really make someone grumpy. Our initial plan was to start bright and early, explore Fort Lauderdale (our initial destination), drive and stop at interesting keys on our way to Key West. Since our trip was delayed, we improvised and traveled south quickly so we could spend a decent 2 hours at the tip of the Keys. The 161 miles drive took us 3 hours from Miami airport. The speed limits were low as we drove through the townships. We arrived at the southern most buoy marker, stood in line and took pictures of the buoy. 

My research indicated the best snorkeling can be found in the Keys. It took us a while to find Fort Zachary Taylor (Ingmar thought this was the most southern tip) as I read it was a good place to snorkel. We were quite disappointed because the waves were choppy and visibility of the water was low. However, the sunset was amazing here. 

After the sun set, we witnessed a couple nearby proposed. So sweet. We were in search for a car charger when we stumbled on neat looking street that was flocked by tourists popping in and out restaurants and high-end stores. The area reminded me of Maine towns along the coast, touristy, colorful and bustling. We charged through the 2 hours drive to our hotel at Homestead and was stopped by the cops, checking that we were not drinking and driving. We were worried about not having the SunPass (similar to EZ Pass) and going through the tolls but the Sheriff ensured us that we would get the toll bill and it would not cost too much.
The next day, we left the hotel and proceeded to Key Largo, the first key of the Florida Keys. We boarded a guided glass-bottom boat (thanks to GroupOn, we got half off) which took approximately 2 hours round trip to the protected natural coral reefs smacked in the middle of the ocean. I thought it was a cool experience and wished I was diving there. One could see remnants of a rail cargo that passed through and almost collided and sunk by the reefs. A key note I learned during the boat tour is coral reef grows only inches annually and is a very fragile ecosystem.


After the tour, we had a seafood lunch consisting of stone crabs legs (Ingmar's first experience eating from a crab shell) and fried oyster, fried conch and fried shrimp sandwiches at Ballyhoo's

We checked in at John Pennekamp Coral State Park, hoping to see some corals while snorkeling. Swimming was enclosed and visibility was worse than our trip to Fort Zachary. The beach was rocky. We concluded the best snorkeling can be found if we took the boat out to the reef we saw earlier that day.
We drove to Fort Lauderdale to meet up with Ingmar's college friends who arrived from Germany. After catching up, we were hoping to return the vehicle only to realize that the Fox rental company was not open officially and we had to return the car back in Miami. The whole debacle took us 3 hours. 
We booked our stay for the next couple of nights at Miami International Hostel. We were warned by another group of German friends that they abandoned the plan to stay there and got a room in a hotel. When we arrived at the hostel, our tired German couple almost shied away when they saw the large crowd of party goers gathering in front of the hostel. We determined to at least check before we gave up and learned we got a whole apartment by ourselves, a sufficient distance from the hostel. We checked in, the German couple exhausted and called their first day in USA a night. Ingmar and I toured the shopping scene of the city before we wrapped up the night.
The next morning, after having a sad breakfast in the hostel, we met up with the group of friends and drove to the Coopertown Airboat company at the Everglades. We got onto the boat that fitted 25 of us and traversed through the protected land. We saw two large alligators very close to our boats, wildlife and a variety of grass. 

At the end of the tour, we got to hold a baby alligator and take pictures. I freaked out upon touching the alligator. After a quick lunch, we hung out in a mall to cool down and Ingmar and I shopped a little. We then headed to Bill Baggs Cape state park for a quick  swim and snorkeling. After the excursion, we headed back to our hotel, cleaned up and met up at the shopping area. We had a nice meal at Lime Fresh before we bade goodbye. 
On our last day, we had a hearty breakfast at good old Panera Bread and drove to South Beach. I thought it was the best beach for this trip but it was so hot. The waters were clear and the sand was fine. We ate in an expensive Italian restaurant and showered at our couple's hotel. They dropped us off at the Fort Lauderdale airport.
Overall the trip was good. I had the pleasure to travel with my partner and observed how Germans travel (they top for the most travels compared to other nationalities). I had some sun, met new people, tasted good food and observed the cultures. I would be back in a heart beat for leisure certainly, not business for sure.

Date Modified: June 11, 2012
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