RTW stop 1

Miami Beach Travel Blog

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Actually 30/9/2000

After a tearful farewell to my parents at London Heathrow, I was soon high above the Atlantic Ocean on my way to New York, the city I had fallen in love with on my short stop a year earlier. It was the first stop on my 1-way ticket to Australia for an open-ended Working Holiday via the USA, Cook Islands and New Zealand.

On leaving the Arrivals lounge at JFK, I was confronted with an enormous queue for the taxis.
I had been stood in line just a few minutes when a well dressed man approached me and asked if I would like to get a stretch limo to Manhatten with some other passengers, for $45.
This was the start of my massive backpacking trip. On a budget. Why on earth would I fork out $45 on a limo? Because I'm a twat. As that's exactly what I did. The vodka on board was free and given it was rush hour traffic I was well on my way by the time the limo rocked up outside my hostel nearly 2 hours later.
I received a few funny looks from my fellow travellers as I jumped out of a stretch limo with a backpack, checking into a hostel. Somehow, pretty damn quick, I needed to change my mentality from flashpacker to backpacker. Or I'd be home penniless in a month.

I very quickly slipped into my new world, making friends with some guys from Australia and Scotland, some of which I'm still in touch with today, 15 years later. I hadn't experienced anything like it before, meeting people from all over the world so easily. My planned few days stay in the city became 2 weeks as we explored New York's streets and drank Budweiser.
I got a good taste of American customer service in a local greasy spoon. When I ordered my eggs on toast I got offered about 7 ways of cooking my egg. I only knew fried. I was then asked how cooked I wanted my toast! I couldn't imagine anyone being fussy over the shade of their toast. But this was America and sure enough the guy next to me started kicking off that his toast was the wrong shade of...well what do you call it..burntness!?

I did manage a 2-day trip, 8-hours north by train to Niagara Falls. I had woken early to catch my train. On packing my final belongings in the morning, I was curious to find my locker padlock fastened the opposite way round to what I usually locked it. I didn't think anything more of it as my passport, camera and travel document wallet were all inside. A few hours into the train ride, rummaging through my bag, I noticed that my travellers cheques were missing, all $2,000 of them. Turning my whole backpack inside out on the train revealed nothing. Then the padlock issue dawned on me. My lock had been picked. Whilst I couldn't prove it, there were some new Irish guys moved into my room the day before, aware I was leaving the next day, and saw me putting my travellers cheques into my wallet. The good news was that being travellers cheques, they were replaceable. The bad news was, Amex customer service were useless and it took 5 days.

Niagara Falls were spectacular. A short walk across the border into Canada gave more spectacular views than the US side, which despite being just a tiny town still had some 'no-go' areas in it's dimly lit streets.
I done the obligatory Maid in the Mist boat trip that takes you right up to the face of the falls and gets you soaked right through.

Next stop was Washington DC where my brother Barrie flew out to join me for the next couple of weeks of my trip down America's east coast.
We stopped in a hostel in the lively student area of Adams Morgan.
At the time, I was relatively new to hostels but now having stayed in well over 100, I can say I've never stayed in one like it. The bunk beds were triple beds. And there were 3 of them in a tiny shoebox room. And just my luck, I got the bloody top bunk. With it being so close to the ceiling, one couldn't help but whack ones head at every turn. The ladder was useless, the only way to get to the top bunk was to kick each of the other bunk sharers in the face as you stepped up with the whole thing wobbly like a game of jenga. And getting down was a leap of faith, like jumping off a garden shed roof.

It got worse when we woke in the morning. 2 additional travellers had joined the 9 of us crammed in and were just sleeping on the floor. I nearly killed one of them as my Olympic dive from my bunk was misdirected.
Out in the common room, there were more bodies, on the sofas and on the floors, even on the kitchen floor. It was carnage.

DC turned out to be alright. We had a tour of the Pentagon, pretty much a year to the day before it was to be blown up by the CIA, sorry, hit by an invisible terrorist plane.
We went to the White House, at first finding it looking nothing like it did on TV. Before realising that we were round the back!
We also went on an FBI building tour where some cop took us around and ended the tour by firing a live gun at target while smiling and reminding us 'remember, guns are not for fun'.
Fucked up America.

From DC, we spent several days travelling by Amtrak train down the East Coast stopping at Richmond in Virginia before passing through North and South Carolina before stopping again in the lovely historic cobbled streeted town of Savannah, Georgia.
Established in 1773 it was a British colonial capital as well as being a strategic port in the American Revolution and the Civil War.
Today, it's packed with tourists, students and dolphin sighting trips.
We took a trip out to nearby Tybee island to see some dolphins but that was about the limit of our adventures outside of drinking frozen cocktails at Wet Willies legendary bar.

And so onto Florida.
The sunshine state.
Or should that be called 'The 100% humidity state'.
Man, it was hot.
Our first stop was Fort Lauderdale where, in order to save a few bucks, we walked from the station in the sweltering heat for a few miles with our heavy backpacks to a hostel. Only to find it now closed and converted to a motel.
But absolutely shattered, we stayed anyway.
That afternoon, we mulled over whether to go out and meet Edward or not.
We had met Edward Hanna a few hours earlier on the train. An ageing guy, casually dressed, confidently spoken, he approached us at our seats and made general chit chat. He told us he had invented the photo booth machine and waffled on a bit but was incredibly friendly and by the end of our half hour chat, he gave us his number and said he would like to take us out to dinner that evening.

And so, sat in our motel room late afternoon, as inexperienced travellers, we chewed the fat as to whether we were going to be bummed by a man in his late 70's, or whether he was a genuinely nice guy offering to take 2 stinky travellers out.

And so with our best clobber on (jeans and t-shirt), we were picked up an hour later by Edward and his wife in his brand new Jaguar.

He took us to a fancy restaurant and treated us to a fantastic meal and drinks. We couldn't believe his hospitality. He told us he had just bought a holiday home in town and didn't know anyone and enjoyed meeting new people.
At the end of the night, he even gave us $20 each to spend at the next bar.

I recently thought of Edward and so googled 'the guy who invented the photo booth'. I found that Edward had died in 2009, aged 87, that he had in fact invented the photobooth, had led a colourful controversial life in politics and was mayor of a town named Utica. At the time we met him, it turns out he had a $54m lawsuit against for sexual harassment against 4 male employees.
Maybe he did want to bum us after all.

After a brief stop in the Disney town of Kissimee, it was onto Florida's glamorous playground for the rich and beautiful, the two things we weren't, Miami. 'Bouncin in the club where the heat is on, all night on the beach till the break of dawn' sang Will Smith about SoBe, or South Beach to give it it's full name. Bronzed slim plastic people lined the beach by day and partied to the wee hours at night. Hundred thousand dollar cars rolled 'the strip' with it's Art Deco hotels and bars. Clubs charged extortionate cover charges and the boutiques had no price tags they were so expensive.
We did pop into a few boutiques every now and again. Only to get a blast from their freezing aircon just to escape the dripping humidity outside from melting our sanity.

From Miami we bussed it to Key West, Florida's island outpost connected to the mainland by some impressively engineered bridges.
The trip was stunning. Crystal clear waters glistening in the clear blue sky. Palm trees and beaches mile after mile.
If Miami had felt like we were in an oven, Key West was like being in the oven trapped with one of my dad's farts. Our skin felt singed.

Key West was awesome. A million miles an hour slower than Miami, stunning beaches and great bars, many frequented by Hemmingway, all located just a stones throw from America's 'enemy', Cuba. It was also home to one America's largest gay communities.
We stopped for four days, partied up and just chilled out before it was time to head back to the mainland and say our goodbyes.

For Barrie, it was back to work, for me, the start of an epic solo adventure to the other side of the world. First stop, Hawaii.

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Miami Beach
photo by: B-Town