Alligator Spotting

On day 2 of our Miami trip, we were supposed to travel to Key West for water sports. Getting into the car, we swapped it with the activities for day 3 and drove on towards the Everglades.  Stopping at Ed’s Coral Castle on the way. After marveling Ed’s craziness and  sheer genius at his Coral Castle, we continued our drive to the Everglades.

The Everglades, is a wetland eco-system. We hoped to see alligators there.  Being the wet season, several of the trails at the Everglades were not recommended due to mosquito menace. Like the ranger at the reception put it, ” You could take the trail, but if you find a lot of mosquitoes, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES.”

The afternoon was pleasantly spent on various trials.

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Alligator hiding in the swamp

We spotted alligators in the marshes. Little Akash is thrilled to hear about this. “Were there SO MANY alligators?”, he asks. “Ammaaa, Chitti saw ALLIGATORS. Three Alligators. They were hiding in the water.” , he informs his mother.

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Crazy colourful insects go about their business, doing their best to ignore the clickety clatter of shutter happy tourists

We also saw turtles, heard frogs,  and saw and heard various insects and birds.

Our last activity for the day was a boat ride to the back country, where we hoped to see marsh crocodiles. Although we didn’t see them, the ride was pleasurable and informative. Discounting the annoying yellow flies, that is. The only thing that works on the pesky creatures is a fly swatter.  The flies were such a menace that tourists who would normally keep to their own groups were soon helpfully swatting flies off absolute strangers on the boat.

I was quite surprised to hear that there was a sizable population of Burmese Pythons in the Everglades.  An after effect of trade in exotic pets, they say.

As we headed for shore, it started to rain, bringing day 2 too to a wet and happy ending.

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Washing Dirty Linen in Public

The first time I noticed a shop with a Coin Laundry board, was in the Little Cuba area of Miami. I wondered why people would want to come and clean up their coins. Given, some coins are in a really bad shape, but do people really go clean them up? Are people really so particular about shiney coins? Collectors perhaps. So this was where numismatics went to get their collectables cleaned.

Then I saw another board proclaiming the same thing, and a new thought struck me. Maybe this is where you could go change your foreign money into local currency. Cuba is not too far from there. There were enough Cuban immigrants there for it to be called Little Cuba. So, This idea seemed highly plausible. Add some illegality to it and it was exciting enough for me to want to go in.

I didn’t. If I had, I would have realized much sooner that Coin Laundries were simply places where you could go do your laundry, operating the washer and dryer using coins.

Key West

DSC_0541The first thing we did on reaching Key West was stand in line, like all dutiful tourists for the obligatory photo with the 90 Miles from Cuba buoy. This buoy wrongly claims to be the southernmost point of contiguous 48 states. Ballast Key, a little further down the same coast is around a minute and a half more south.

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Our day in Key West, was dedicated to adventure sports. We signed up for what was advertised as a 5 hour long all in one adventure package. According to the brochure, we were to try our hands at kayaking, paddling, snorkeling, knee boarding, wind surfing, sailing, jet skiing, riding wave runners, banana boat rides, and for an additional fee, para-sailing.

We started with snorkeling. We expected a lot of people to be interested in snorkeling, but we were the only two who set out. All the better for us. We kayaked over to a little shipwreck, pulled on our snorkel masks and plunged into the ocean. Even though the visibility was a little low, the experience was   quite sublime. It was as though one was swimming in a fish tank. Schools of tiny tetra-like fish flitted past. Although it wasn’t like anything they show on discovery channel, we did see corals and some beautiful fish.Getting off the kayak was easy, but getting back in posed a problem. Instead of doing the sensible thing, which is pushing the kayak to a shallower part and climbing in, we decided to clamber over the slippery shipwreck and lower ourselves into it.

floridaNow when you say jet skis, the typical Indian mind pictures Sharmila Tagore being pulled behind a boat with Shammi Kapoor serenading her from a helicopter. Turns out what they meant was just scooterboats or waverunners.We got back  to base boat in time to take a banana boat ride to the wave runners.  A wave runner or a scooterboat is one of those little crafts you see Akshay Kumar do stunts on.  Now, I’ve ridden a wave runner before, but then the controls were secretly handled by a person riding behind. This gives the rider a  (false) sense of achievement but reduces the risk greatly. This time, it was different. We were given instructions on how to control the craft and set loose in the ocean. If you go really fast, the waves make the scooter jump. The salt spray hits your eyes, making it difficult to look ahead. It was thrilling!

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Due to weather conditions, a lot of the sports like paddling and knee boarding were cancelled. So,we grabbed our burgers waited for our turn to para-sail. Yes, I got a veggie burger, and it was surprisingly good.

parasailingOur last activity for the day was para-sailing. Given that it was sunset hour, it was just perfect timing. However, due to cloud cover, the sky stayed grey. The last time I went para-sailing, it was a very different experience. We were guinea pigs for Air force pilots training to be para-sailing instructors. On hot summer mornings in Nagpur, we would allow ourselves to be strapped into para-sailing gear and tied behind jeeps. We would run a short run behind the moving jeeps and running, get lifted off our feet.The air was so hot, that on one trip/flight, I stayed up in the sky even after the jeep had stopped, and had to be reeled in like a kite!

This time we took off from boats and had a bird’s eye view of the entire ocean.  The whole feeling was quite extraordinary. Although I still clung to the straps for my dear life, having somebody up there with me, in this case the Husband, made me feel a lot more confident.

The  all in one adventure package  had promised to exhaust, but at the end of the day, I felt rather rejuvenated.

Labour of Love

..Mumkin nahin har ek ke liye Taj Mahal banvana, 

par har dil main ek Mumtaz rahti hai*

On the way to the Everglades, we stopped by at the Coral Castle. The Coral Castle is a true labour of love. It was built by a man called Ed in memory of  his love- Sweet Sixteen. One can’t help comparing it with the Taj Mahal – the most renowned monument dedicated to love .

The great Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the Taj Mahal in memory of his 3rd wife. Ed, Latvian immigrant carved the coral castle, in memory of the girl who turned down his marriage proposal.

The Crescent of the East at the Coral Castle

The Crescent of the East at the Coral Castle

Architects, engineers and around 20,000 skilled and unskilled workers from India, Persia, the Ottoman Empire and Europe were engaged to build the Taj Mahal. The Coral Castle was carved by hand by  a 5 feet tall, 100 pound man, Ed. The  astronomical and engineering marvels of here are designed by Ed himself.

The Polaris Telescope at the Coral Castle

The Polaris Telescope at the Coral Castle

Both structures are built of porous stones. The Taj Mahal of marble and Ed’s castle out of coral.

The Taj Mahal took 22 years to completed. The coral castle was carved over a span of 30 years.

Both edifices are specimens are splendid architecture and engineering.

While the Taj Mahal is nothing short of magnificent, the Coral Castle is stupendous in its own way.

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*  Every man may not be an emperor, but every heart is ruled by a queen.

Miami

I’m a very difficult person to surprise,but the Husband pulled it off when he whisked me off to Miami for the 4th of July weekend. I did suspect it,  and tried baiting him but he managed to tenaciously hang on to his surprise till the very end.

Miami was warm and balmy.  We decided that first thing we wanted to do was to hit the famous South Beach. The full extent of it’s popularity hit us when we got there. There was absolutely NO PARKING available. Giving up, we decided to hit the Haulover beach.

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There were 2 things that struck us immediately at Haulover. One was the lovely, warm, clear, perfect for dipping waters. the second was the lack of light skinned people on the beach. The beach was populated almost entirely by dark/black skinned people. This lead me to research a little on this beach. Although I did not find any reason for the demographics, I came to know that the northern end is partitioned  off as a clothing optional beach. As chance would have it, this was not the end we visited.

DSC_0166Having had our fill of the beach, we moved on to Bayfront park at Biscayne Bvld for dinner and a spectacular display of fireworks. Just as the fireworks ended, as if on cue, there was a strong gust of wind, followed by a sudden shower. Wet and happy was how we ended the first, and as we realised, pretty much every day of our vacation.

DSC_0732-1Day 2 and 3 were reserved for Key West and the Everglades. On the last day, on our way back from Fort Lauderdale, we decided to take one more stab at South Beach.This time  we found parking. It took a while, but ultimately we found a spot really close to the beach. This beach is not popular for nothing. Clean white sands and clear green waters make it an easy favourite.  Looking around, it very soon became obvious that this beach was something of a hive for same sex lovers.  It seemed a little odd to me that there were so many men with other men, yet so few of the women seemed to be with other women.Perhaps women have a separate beach or a different section.

When we finally tore ourselves away from there, it hit us, that making it to the flight back is going to be a close call. Tearing through the airport, we managed to make to boarding with 7  odd mins to spare.