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On the road again Canada and the US Dec 2011-Feb 2012 - Observations, musings and random thoughts jotted down mostly during loooong train and bus trips.

A FLORIDA SOJOURN

USA | Wednesday, 21 March 2012 | Views [748] | Comments [1]

South Beach, Miami, Florida

South Beach, Miami, Florida

A FLORIDA SOJOURN

The train line from New Orleans to Miami is out of service and no decision has yet been made to rebuild it, so I had to once again take a deep breath and board a Greyhound bus for Miami.

The bus station in New Orleans was hosting a motley collection of local men taking advantage of the television showing a Super Bowl semi-final.

Other than that there was the usual collection of junk-food outlets, a tired “souvenir” shop which probably seldom saw a customer, and the curious but usual line of people guarding their place in the bus queue for well over an hour before the departure time, rather than sitting and relaxing. For an extra $5 it was also possible to by-pass this line and purchase “priority boarding”, a questionable concept at the best of times.

The bus was crowded and uncomfortable and the journey long and uninteresting.

It also became increasingly claustrophobic – no more than usual inside the bus, but rather the view on the outside – it soon became clear that Florida was basically one long and overcrowded highway, and it seemed we were being sucked relentlessly into its belly.

The greyhound makes two stops in Miami: the first, a deserted office on the perimeter of the city and the second a small building across the highway from the airport. I chose the latter because it seemed somewhat more user-friendly, and managed to grab a taxi to take me to South Beach, which turned out to be a $40 journey.

Of all the money-grubbing people in the US, taxi drivers seem to be the worst – they turn off the meters whenever they can, or hide them under a paper flap so that they can charge a “whichever is greater” fare, add questionable charges for baggage (even when they say their trunks are full, refuse to budge from their seats, and require you to stow and un-stow your bags yourself), and refuse to give you change unless you demand it. It often seems better to negotiate a flat rate before you start your journey.

South Beach itself is quite interesting – some good Cuban and Mexican restaurants, blocks of art deco hotels and apartment buildings and a (largely man-made I learnt) wide white-sand beach. What spoils it however is the brazen soliciting by prostitutes on the main strips and the many “no-go” zones. The one hostel is also sub-standard, and some of the otherwise reasonable hotels seemingly can’t resist renting rooms by the hour.

On my second day I booked a tour to Key West, anticipating a string of sandy atolls with Caribbean-influenced restaurants and swimming and snorkelling off the beaches. I was to be disappointed – the keys are so built up that they are nothing more than a continuation of what had come before. The famous Highway 1 is no more than that: a straight road bordered by junkfood outlets and every imaginable attempt to grab the tourist dollar. The beaches too are pretty much non-existent. Marlin fishing seems to be the mainstay of the first few islets.

The highway tantalisingly bisects a section of the Everglades and the bridges linking the keys are interesting, particularly when they are put in context by visiting the Key West museum.

It was not until we reached the very end of Key West, with its colonial buildings and gardens, its sense of history and quirkiness, that the journey seemed worthwhile. Hemingway’s house may now be overrun with the descendents of his famous six-toed cats, and the beacon marking the “most southern point of the US” may be in the wrong place, but it all adds to the unique charm of the place. There are decent cafes and restaurants, bars trading on their links to famous and infamous past patrons and art and craft galleries. Some of the lovely old homes are now boutique hotels.

There are no beaches here, and so no pleasant swimming – snorkelling takes place offshore from a boat.

The waterfront has a worthwhile little market that springs up at sunset, with buskers and a spectacular view of sailing ships against the golden sky.

However, unless your idea of a holiday is shopping, eating and more shopping, or you are particularly interested in bridges, spend the day in the Everglades instead: I met (a day too late!) three young German travellers who had rented kayaks and spent the day paddling through this iconic area, sighting many alligators, birds and fascinating flora and loving every adventurous minute of it – much more my style!

Tags: everglades, florida, greyhound, key west, south beach, usa

Comments

1

Glad to see that taxi-drivers are bastards in the US too! Sounds like you should hire a car next time you go - more stopping, less bus stations and fewer ugly highways. I always fancied driving a car around the US for one year - exactly one state in one week, with extra time to get to Alaska, Hawaii and maybe Puerto Rico for something different

  Paul Greenway Apr 25, 2012 12:09 PM

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