So just a quick 90 minute flight north of Cancun you find sunny Miami – seemingly the setting of every second movie and television show from the last 30 years. Similar to New York and Las Vegas it feels like you already know the place without actually setting foot there. Miami has had a re-birth of sorts over the last decade. Its party and music scene has exploded and with the help of NBA superstar Lebron James, a little bit of the focus has come off Los Angeles. A long way from my introduction to the place via Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach.
Leaving Mexico we were looking forward to a relaxing flight – and it was – but we were blissfully unaware that as we were crossing the Gulf of Mexico, bombs were exploding in the streets of Boston. As one of the key entry points from South America, passing Customs at Miami International Airport can be exhaustive at the best of times. When something of national significance is unfolding, it is even worse. It took more than three hours to reach the luggage carousels, and with no news channels and no Wi-Fi we still didn’t know what was going on. Probably for the best actually.
Our taxi hurtled east towards Miami Beach with some amazing storm clouds as the back-drop to the CBD high-rises. My immediate thought is this is like the Gold Coast only bigger, brighter and more expensive – and that doesn’t change three days later. Our accommodation is right in the thick of the famous South Beach stretch, one street back from Collins Avenue – a mix of Rodeo Drive and Cavill Avenue. The fashion hierarchy is in full swing here. All the high-end brands are strategically positioned, while you could blink and miss the Kardashian store down the end of the street. Interestingly you can’t see the beach from any of the main streets, so the parade of beautiful people and lapping cars happens several hundred metres from the water’s edge. Despite the city’s name, it feels like the beach is really just part of the background.
We spend a balmy day walking the length of South Beach down to the most southern point. Despite having a feel like the Gold Coast, the high-rises are kept to a minimum (concentrated across the water in the CBD area). Instead most of the hundreds of hotels are between three and ten storeys and have a more boutique feel to them. There is a lot of character to the buildings and art deco styling is prominent. For me, this is much better than having one shimmering glass monstrosity after another. When the sun goes down they all light up in a range of colours, looking more like giant jukeboxes from a 50’s diner.
In Cabo we had met a Canadian couple and typically they recommended we attend an ice hockey game in Miami, as it will be much cheaper than the NBA or MLB. Apparently the team is not very well supported, so $10 entry is a realistic proposition. As we had ticked off the basketball and baseball during our previous New York trip, we thought why not? After doing some research, we find out there is a reason for the lack of support – and it is not because they are currently second last. The local team is not based in Miami, but over an hour north-west out the back of Fort Lauderdale – with zero public transport connections. There are only two options for tourists – $150 each way in a taxi or rent a car and take on the Miami CBD traffic. Even as a sporting tragic, neither of those options appealed so instead we wander past the jaw-dropping Florida Marlins ballpark and take in a Miami Heat game.
One thing for the Americans – they certainly know how to put on a sporting event. It is non-stop entertainment. As soon as there is a stop in play, there is something happening straight away. Cheerleaders, crowd dancing competitions, shooting hoops for cash prizes and the highly anticipated parachute drops – the latter being when official team merchandise is taped to small parachutes and dropped from the roof into the crowd. It is a hell of a sight witnessing hundreds of these mini parachutes raining on the crowd. In the end it was a comfortable victory to the home team confirming first place in their division for the defending NBA champions. Or defending ‘World Champions’ as the Yanks always like to say.
For all the glitz and glamour associated with Miami, we do get a brief snapshot of the other side of life in the United States. Middle America has struggled in a big way since the global financial crisis. Just a few steps out of the CBD and there are laneways with as many as 30 homeless people set up against the fences. To my surprise these aren’t your lifetime ‘bums’ begging for change, but normal middle class people who’ve lost jobs and homes and now have no choice but to huddle together the remnants of their life in a couple of shopping trolleys. So much for the American dream.
After three weeks in the United States and Mexico, we had one last day in the beautiful sunshine before another almighty transit day getting to the United Kingdom. Since leaving Australia we’d had 30 days straight of 28C or more, so we were almost looking forward to cooling off. Despite feeling like we had been away for an eternity, we still had more than 100 days in 15 countries to go, so it was hard not to be excited. Little did I know the next stop would dish up one of the greatest experiences of my life.