Miami and Shark Valley

January 11 – 18, 2017

Miami

After a one night stop at Shawn and Victoria’s place in Jupiter (thanks again for the recharge with showers and laundry!) we continued south toward Miami. Neither of us had been there before, though we knew from TV shows like CSI Miami that it had towering condo buildings along the ocean. We knew better than to try to take our rig anywhere near the city itself. Fortunately the Miccosukee Casino located just west of Miami allows RVs free overnight parking. Done! We parked but remained hitched, lowering the jack post on blocks at the tongue of the trailer to level Nellie up. Late afternoon that first day, we piled on to the motorcycle with Sadie to explore Miami for the evening.

Margot enjoys Miami’s skyline with Sadie. Note: Sadie is secured with a proper dog harness that is strapped to Margot and sits on Margot’s lap during rides. She seems to like it and either sits or stands comfortably.
Margot enjoys Miami’s skyline with Sadie. Note: Sadie is secured with a proper dog harness that is strapped to Margot and sits on Margot’s lap during rides. She seems to like it and either sits or stands comfortably.

Unfortunately we left later than we should’ve and got snarled up in Miami’s rush hour traffic. It took a full hour to reach Wynwood, only 36 km (or 22 miles) away! Wynwood is Miami’s famous street art district and once we got there, all our frustrations with traffic melted away! Wow, amazing, high quality street art (James is sure not to call it graffiti) on the sides of the buildings with proper art galleries and shops lining the streets. The area was busy, with a contrasting blend of local artisans, tourists and resident homeless people.

There are walls and entire buildings that have been painted with street art!
There are walls and entire buildings that have been painted with street art!

We then rode across one of the bridges to Miami Beach, a large key (barrier island parallel to the mainland) which appears to be the wealthiest part of town. We were wowed by yachts of all sizes lining marinas everywhere, waterfront mansions with manicured lawns and yes, towering condo buildings!

Over the next several days we made daily trips into Miami. We explored Calle Ocho (8th street) in Little Havana.

Margot getting her hair cut by a Hispanic woman named Milady in Little Havana
Margot getting her hair cut by a Hispanic woman named Milady in Little Havana
Margot getting splashed by waves as we walk along Miami Beach
Margot getting splashed by waves as we walk along Miami Beach

Saturday, walking with Sadie along South Pointe Park we were amazed by the huge cruise ships sailing back out to sea. As they go by, they are like a giant floating city, a passing wall that people would whoop at just to hear the echo and get a response from the passengers! Fun fun!

A cruise ship floats by like a floating city at South Pointe Park Pier in Miami
A cruise ship floats by like a floating city at South Pointe Park Pier in Miami

That evening, we lucked into the Art Deco street festival where they shut down Ocean Drive celebrating the historic Art Deco style hotels built on Miami Beach in from the 1920s to the 1940s. We indulged in arepas – hot sweet corn patties with melted cheese inside, while Sadie stole pieces of dropped street meat. Among other things, we were treated to a full-on musical drag show right on the street outside one of the many local gay bars. So many handsome, men walking together here: I tell you, if you are single and gay, Miami Beach is the place to be! The city buzzes with a vibrant energy and people are more friendly than you would expect from a metropolis of this size.

Margot and Sadie in front of some of the art deco hotels and restaurants. Sadie may or may not have just had some fallen street food.
Margot and Sadie in front of some of the art deco hotels and restaurants. Sadie may or may not have just had some fallen street food.

However, Miami’s traffic was oppressive. The light cycles were very long, often with cycles for turns only resulting in long lineups at lights. If you need to cross or turn left at an uncontrolled intersection, you have to wait a long time for the train of cars to pass by. The Miami drivers therefore are fairly aggressive. For a motorcyclist from out of town, it can be dangerous, stressful, and very frustrating, especially riding on a motorcycle wearing gear in the heat with a passenger. Having said that, taking the motorcycle into Miami was still the better way. We were more nimble through traffic (James used to commute during rush hour), and we never had to pay for parking. We even tried once in South Beach but the machine didn’t accept our license plate # “WOBLY” so Margot just left a note on the bike.

Another example of a beautiful mural. Incidentally, this artist, Clandestinos, @clandestinosart on Instagram, has street art in Toronto as well!
Another example of a beautiful mural. Incidentally, this artist, Clandestinos, @clandestinosart on Instagram, has street art in Toronto as well!

We were torn, therefore between the commute and enjoying the city. So we figured our best chance of of getting into the city without traffic was on Sunday morning. In the afternoon, James dropped Margot off at the local HistoryMiami museum, while he continued exploring on 2 wheels, making his way back to the Wynwood district.
Miami overall was very pretty with its palm trees, beaches, waterfront mansions and beautiful people. We can see why people would want to live here and why there are TV shows based here like CSI: Miami, and (formerly) Miami Vice.

Welcome to Little Havana. We could only get this photo when the traffic was light on a Sunday morning!
Welcome to Little Havana. We could only get this photo when the traffic was light on a Sunday morning!
James stops for a photo op by the palm trees on the causeway to Biscayne Key
James stops for a photo op by the palm trees on the causeway to Biscayne Key
Exploring the beautiful gardens at the eclectic Villa Vizcaya
Exploring the beautiful gardens at the eclectic Villa Vizcaya

Shark Valley in the Everglades

By Monday, we were ready to take a break from Miami and do something more nature-oriented. We discovered that a section of the Everglades, Shark Valley, was actually just down the road from our spot at the casino. Shark Valley has a 15 mile (24km) round trip paved road with an observation tower, accessible only by bicycle or on their tram. We brought our bicycles and rode the loop, amazed by the alligators lounging idly in the sun – in all about 100! Our favorite was when we spotted baby alligators, they were so cute sometimes making little grunting noises, but of course we were extra cautious as mamma was always right there!

Baby alligators are so cute. Wouldn’t you want to pick one up and pet it?
Baby alligators are so cute. Wouldn’t you want to pick one up and pet it?
Except mama who has lots of teeth and isn’t as cute is always nearby!
Except mama who has lots of teeth and isn’t as cute is always nearby!

Canoe

In Ontario, one of our favourite outdoor summer activities is canoeing – it gets you places you can’t go otherwise, is very peaceful, and provides exercise. We’ve been traveling mainly along the coast where there are lots of rivers and waterways, so we’ve been missing it. When we were back at Jekyll Island in Georgia, we looked into renting a canoe, but could only rent expensive kayaks to access the estuaries.

Margot had been keeping her eye on Craigslist for a used canoe since Jekyll Island, and we finally picked one up in Miami – a 12’ fiberglass canoe by Indian River weighing 48 lbs. Margot did all the arrangements in Spanish by email and text, and then in person. We got a good deal, taking a chance on the crack that we were assured did not leak. Based on the rental price at Faver-Dykes $25/day, we figured it would pay for itself if we used it 4x. We tested the canoe in the Everglades sawgrass along trails cut by the airboats at a spot, less than a 10 minute from the casino. It was a warm sunny day and it turned out to be a beautiful place to paddle the shallow waters where we spotted turtles and fish.  Unfortunately, the crack was a slow leak; we ended up buying a fiberglass repair kit from Home Depot that slowed the leak sufficiently so it really wasn’t a problem: we were happy to finally be able to get out on the water again!

Our new-to-us canoe, thanks to Craigslist Miami and Margot’s Spanish skills! You can see there’s only a small leak. Actually, we filled it with water so we could wash off the years of dirt.
Our new-to-us canoe, thanks to Craigslist Miami and Margot’s Spanish skills! You can see there’s only a small leak. Actually, we filled it with water so we could wash off the years of dirt as it sat in someone’s backyard.

Miccosukee Casino was an amazing place to overnight for the week as it provided a launching point to Miami and the north end of the Everglades. And it was free! But there were other intangible costs. As mentioned earlier, the traffic to get into Miami was punitive. Also, the RV parking was shared with 18 wheel trucks which could come and go 24 hours a day. Their engines are loud! One day, a truck parked beside us and idled for 14 hours straight! In order to “stretch” our tanks, we minimized the use of the bathroom in our trailer. We “conducted our business” in washrooms while we were out as well as in the casino’s washrooms (pro-tip: the washrooms on the 2nd floor are much nicer!). The RV and truck parking is in the far lot, so it was a long walk to the building, and another long walk inside to get to the washrooms (smoking is permitted inside, and the smoke was thick, making Margot’s eyes water — casinos are designed for customers to walk through the gaming areas to get anywhere). Finally, somewhere nearby, there was an outdoor gun range so there was regular pop-pop-pop of gunshots that started in the morning. Sadie is afraid of that sound and it would often cause her to shiver in fear; on the plus side, her fear slowly subsided by the end of our stay.

A loggerhead shrike we spotted behind the RV parking lot at Miccosukee casino.
A loggerhead shrike we spotted behind the RV parking lot at Miccosukee casino.

Video recap of our time at Miami and Shark Valley

We enjoyed Miami, South Beach and the Everglades while we stayed at the Miccosukee casino, but after a almost week, we were ready to move on.

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