Three months in the Amazon jungle. Nineteen ayahuasca ceremonies. One fried Mac Air brutally taken out by humidity in the prime of its life. Seven introspective days on a hammock laden passenger ferry on the Rio Solimoes in Brazil. The formation of deep bonds with incredible souls along the way. Next logical stop on the road of self development: Miami (of course).
The reasons that had me ending up in Miami after three months of travel in South America were mostly practical and partly finding myself in need of something familiar. I’d lost my trusty Mac to the humidity of the Amazon jungle only a couple of weeks after leaving South Africa which meant defaulting to written diary keeping and after two botched repair attempts – one in Iquitos and one in Lima – I was greedy for a guaranteed fix. I also had an urge to get to Los Angeles that had been building for a while and Miami offered the cheapest route from Peru at the time.
What made the timing of it all interesting was of course the tiny matter of the aggressive thunder storm which had slowly been approaching the western coastline of the United States in the recent days, but the non-refundable tickets (frugal much?) which had been booked in advance meant other than staying up to date with Avianca’s news alerts on the storm’s progress there was naught I could do but wait it out and hope for the best.
On the day of my arrival to the States unbeknownst to me – as I was in the air at the time – the Miami Dade authorities had issued patrol instructions to close all routes connecting South Beach where I was to stay for a few days with the ‘main land’ where the airport was situated. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport had begun shut down on account of the impending Hurricane Matthew and Floridians were on high alert. Lucky for me I landed just in the nick of time, I had two hours to clear customs and get myself to my ocean front hostel (ocean front, I know) but I was cautiously optimistic about the degree to which South Beach would be hit.
I was only planning on spending a few days or however long it would take to get my Mac properly looked at in the city before making plans to travel on to sunny LA. When I arrived at the hostel on Ocean View Drive the lobby was a hive of activity, many travellers upon hearing about the road closures and the 48-hour no-fly order at FLL stuck and clearly frustrated at the situation. A lucky few did manage to escape in a jam packed last-minute shuttle to a regional airport but many unhappy faces were left behind, the poor receptionist taking the hit for mother nature’s audacity in reminding some people that in fact, they were not as in control of their fates as the thought they were.
Typically you would find Miami – especially the strip on Ocean View Drive – bustling with tourists and locals alike, but for now South Beach was a ghost town. The approaching hurricane had already devastated the Haitian coastline and was now prompting local businesses to shut and water-proof their doors. Not knowing to which degree to believe the (seemingly) dramatized news forecasts, I erred on the side of caution stocking up on food for the next few days and settled in with a book I had bought from Jorge Chavez International airport in Lima. I happily waited out the storm in the common area amongst some less amused travellers.
At most South Beach had some rainy spells. Gale force winds were expected further up the coast but never arrived, the southern most part of the sunshine state thankfully having been spared the devastation others had not. Three days later the streets were alive again with big hair, fake tan and a rainbow of rental Mustangs lining the strip. Balance had been restored. Interested in restoring some balance of my own, I found myself checking in to a new hostel a few blocks away after being unceremoniously shoved in the back with a blunt object at three am in the morning, some poor girl had had her bed re-assigned to me after her assumed check-out and subsequent prolonged from the establishment and arrived back after what smelled like a two-day binge to find a stranger (me) sleeping in the bed she was expecting to crash in. The very much one-sided altercation carried on for what seemed like hours on end, so, bleary eyed and sufficiently verbally abused I checked out later that morning at seven am after unsuccessfully trying to obtain a refund from management for the rest of my stay. It wasn’t so much that I felt defeated by the incident, but more that it was that I had just spent the most incredible three months surrounded by the most gracious and evolved people in South America, this girl’s energy was so murky and catching it was threatening to throw me off my good vibes completely. To the analytical mind it may seem that there was something on avoiding conflict that needed to be worked on here, who knows, sometimes the universe nudges you out of your comfort zone. Maybe there is even something to be said for being able not to engage in conflict and just walking away from it. Either way, where I ended up going was absolutely fantastic.
The super friendly and helpful staff at HI Hostel Miami are volunteers who offer their time running the operational side of things in exchange for room and board and the location of the hostel perfectly central high up on Collins Avenue. There was excellent Wi-Fi and the rate included a fantastic complimentary breakfast at uber cool street-style restaurant Taquiza downstairs. I practically lived off of their menu when I wasn’t getting my face stuck in the delicious and incredibly filling acai bowls trending in this area, the new kid on the health-food block. Acai, typically found in the Amazon in South America, gets freeze blasted and blended with all sorts of delicious toppings in a Bircher style concoction of coconut shavings, honeyed strawberries and crisped kale or roasted nuts, and that’s just one of the many bowl combinations available. It couldn’t get healthier or yummier than that.
In the end I hit another dead end in the Mac saga – the logic board needed replacing and at a starting cost of $350 the reality of the situation was starting to look grim. There was no way I could justify the expense. It’s hard to let go, my most significant moments from my time in the Brazilian and Colombian Amazon now only retrievable from my own memory. I wallowed for a few seconds and headed out to Best Buy to buy myself a refurbished (read: dodgy crashes-sometimes-but-usable alternative) Lenovo Ideapad for $180 inc. VAT. What I needed didn’t have to be pretty, it just had to show up for work.
The to-do list taken care of, I booked my onward travel to the City of Angels. Just a tip, if you’re looking to west to east fly across the States try using Orlando International airport as your departure point instead of Miami – I saved $100 this way flying with Virgin Atlantic in stead of travelling directly from Miami to LA. To get to Orlando from South Beach I took a lazy-boy’ed Red Coach bus (with free shuttle pick-up from my hostel included) to the Orlando depot where Red Coach’s taxi service delivered me to the airport – a fifteen minute journey – safe and sound. Another tip, regardless of the Floridian heat do take a jacket for the bus ride as they crank up the air conditioning beyond any logical reasoning.
I was glad to be moving on. I’d done the Miami tourist thing back in 2014 and the ghosts of relationships past were starting to creep from behind each familiar corner. I decided to make one last stop before leaving, to create some new memories of the city I had explored happily coupled years before. And so I chose the thing that I had come to be drawn to most on my travels. I found it in Wynwood.