Last week I went on a food and Art Deco tour in South Beach, Miami Beach, which was part of acting on my decision to “travel” where I live. The tour met my travel needs of learning new things, trying new foods, and meeting new people. But after the three-hour tour, rather than having to continue looking for places to eat and things to do, or return to the discomfort of a hotel room, I drove home. Even the traffic didn’t bother me (too much), because, until I reached the congested highway (the always-congested I95), I got to see more of Miami.
As I write this, I’m in a bakery (Aioli, WPB) that I recently read about in the paper. It’s about 20-minutes from my house and would count as a great find on a trip, but is an especially great find since I can return whenever I want. Even the fact that it doesn’t have wifi ended up being a benefit because rather than wasting time reading emails and news items, I got right to writing (which was one of the purposes of coming here in the first place).
On the food tour, we went to four restaurants. First a Colombian restaurant (Bolivar) where we tried the national drink, Aguardiente, which is a combination of beer and the Colombian version of cream soda. An acquired taste to be sure, but liking isn’t necessarily the point when trying new things. With that I had a cheese empanada (I asked for vegetarian and non-alcoholic drinks, but I was on “vacation,” so I let myself mix things up. I mean, how can you turn down trying a beer and cream soda cocktail?). There was also a tomato spread on a kind of cracker. The meat-eaters had a meat empanada and ceviche with passion fruit instead of lime.
Next, a Miami culinary requirement: Cuban food. After learning that the much-faded paint on the sidewalks had been red to make us tourists feel that we were celebs on the red carpet, we went to a Cuban restaurant on Ocean Drive (Havana 1957). After hearing that I would get a veggie alternative to ropa vieja, a traditional Cuban meat stew which, according to our guide, was based on a stew that Sephardic Jews made for Shabbat, I decided that I preferred to try that. I’m glad I did. The tostones that came with it were excellent, too: just the right blend of crispy and chewy.
The next stop was a Mexican restaurant (Naked Taco) for what were original tacos. I went back to being a non-drinking vegetarian and had a roasted pepper taco and a shot of pineapple juice sans tequila. The last stop, in the guide’s homage to Miami Beach’s mafia influence, was a bakery where I had a mini-cannoli. It was my first cannoli in years. Tasty, but too rich for what I have gotten used to.
But I left out the best part of the day: meeting Roz. She became my tour partner from the moment I sat down opposite her in the first restaurant. The two single ladies bonded. So, instead of feeling left out around the couples and families, I spent the day with a friend-for-the-day. We had lots of similarities: age, daughters’ ages, divorced since 2007, and teaching. It was non-stop talking, except when the guide was talking (usually). Turns out that life in Australia and here in the states can be pretty darn similar (which perhaps answers my question of what my life may have been like if I moved to Australia when I wanted to at 21).
She was at the end of her annual trip; this year she went to Mexico and Cuba, and was in Miami for a few days before heading home and working to save for next year’s trip.
As we walked down Ocean Drive, she saw an iguana and ran to take a picture of it. She was so excited by her sighting of this exotic creature. I told her that it’s an invasive animal here and that I see them all the time. Different perspectives. She made me realize that to really be a tourist at-home I need to leave aside assumptions and prejudices. It’s not just about being open to trying new things, it’s about seeing the things you’ve become accustomed to with new eyes.