Monday, December 27, 2010

Miami: A Tropical Paradise

Miami is an easy city to drive in, and I quickly became adept at finding places. I have done quite a bit of walking in the area surrounding my hotel, but there isn’t that much to see because I’m in the major financial district. There are quite a few banks and other businesses related to economics. But that hasn’t stopped me from seeing the sights.

In two days I’ve seen and done quite a bit. Yesterday, I took a city tour to get an overview of the entire area. I also visited a tourist attraction that was home to a multitude of animals. It was a bit sad, though, as almost all of the animals were from other parts of the world and were caged. The one exception were the huge colorful parrots from South America. They weren't caged, but their feathers were clipped so that they could not fly away. That would be a bit like putting a ball and chain on your ankle. While it was interesting to see all of these creatures, it made me a bit sad. I kept thinking that they should all be free in their own habitats, not kept in captivity in Southern Florida. I know that these animals are all well taken care of considering they are in captivity. However, a bird is meant to fly. It is not meant to have its wings clipped so that it just sits around for visitors to photograph. The following pictures show animals in captivity.

 Parrots from South America. They don't fly away because their wings have been clipped.

 A gibbon swinging 

 This is a rare white albino alligator, born without any pigment in his skin.

 A giant tortoise

 A tabby tiger

 Flamingos (They are native to Florida but it is rare to see them in the wild.)

 This poor fellow was brought to Miami from Thailand in 2003. He didn't live long once he got here. He was a massive beast, now stuffed and preserved, who weighed 2000 pounds (one ton).

A camel
I never found the penguin exhibit. If you were a penguin, would you want to live in Miami? Why or why not?

This is late December, yet the pictures below might make you think of a summer’s day. The thing to remember about Southern Florida is that everything stays green all year long. No matter what day of the year you come here, this is what you will see …

 This is a casava.


 In Florida, these poinsettias grow right in the ground.

 Can you find the coconuts growing on this coconut palm tree?

This banyan tree has air roots. They were common in old Tarzan movies.

Today I rode along US 41, otherwise known as the Tamiami Trail, a two-lane blacktop highway. This east-west road extends from Tampa to Miami, thus the name: Tam(pa)Miami, pronounced Tammyammy. The road was begun about 1915, but it took many years to finish. Money was an issue, but so was building a road across a huge river of grass, The Everglades, which is a subtropical wetlands. The Everglades contain one of the world’s slowest moving rivers. It flows one mile every 24-36 hours; you can walk much faster than that. The United States government realized that this area of Florida is of global significance, and created a national park in order to protect it. Everglades National Park is comprised of 1.5 million acres and is home to a variety of interesting animals: wild boars, Florida panthers, white-tailed deer, black bears, alligators, turtles, bobtails, raccoons, skunks, opossums, great blue herons, and great white egrets. The Florida panther is now so rare that there are less than 100 left. 

 The Tamiami Trail (US 41) as it crosses The Everglades

Today’s goal was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. I’ve always wanted to ride on an airboat through the Everglades seeing animals in their natural habitats. I can now say that I’ve done it. At first the boat went slowly so that we could see the plant and animal life that we passed. After a while, it went really fast and we spun around. It was a bit cold for Southern Florida, and many of the animals weren’t visible. But I did see several beautiful birds, a couple of alligators, and many interesting plants. I learned more about alligators than I already knew. There are 1.5 million of them in The Everglades, and these reptiles must keep their body temperature above 84 degrees in order to digest food. They sit in the sun all day soaking up the warmth and then hunt at night. Here’s another interesting fact. The gender of an alligator is not determined by chromosomes like humans. Instead, the temperature of the eggs while they incubate decides whether the baby will be male or female. Eggs incubated at 89 degrees or above develop into males, and eggs incubated at 84 degrees develop into females. The pictures that follow show animals in the wild.

 The Spanish called him "El Legarto" and this evolved into the English word, alligator.

 While most of The Everglades is covered with saw grass, there are some cypress trees.

A Great White Egret in the wild
 An airboat skims across the water and saw grass

 Can you find the alligator in this picture?

 Great blue herons abound in The Everglades.

 The bougainvillea, a favorite tropical flower

Cuban food is distinctive, and I grew up eating it. But it is not spicy, so nothing will burn your tongue. It is easy to find good Cuban food in Florida, and in Miami authentic Cuban food prepared by Cubans can be had for relatively low prices. When I think of this cuisine, the first thing that springs to mind is black beans and rice, a dish delicately flavored with bay leaves and other spices. When Cubans cook black beans and rice they taste like no other black bean and rice you will ever have. When I went to have my meal, as recommended by Brendan one of my trip co-planners, I planned to have a luscious dessert. However, as you can see from the pictures below, there was so much food that not only could I not eat it all, I couldn’t even consider ordering desert.

 I forgot to take a picture of this Cuban coffee until I had drunk about one-third of it. See how it is covered with whipped cream and cinnamon? It is sweet and yummy.

 I think you can see why I didn't have room for dessert. This traditional Cuban meal consist of yellow rice, black beans, shredded beef in Creole sauce, fried pork chunks, ham croquettes, sweet plantains, tamale, and yucca

My friend's meal was similar: white rice, black beans, picadillo, ground beef, roast pork, sweet plantains, ham croquette, yuca, and tamale.
 The dessert menu with traditional Cuban desserts. I was too full to order one.

Some of you might think I’ve saved the best for last. When I was a child growing up in Florida, we used to laugh at tourists who would go to the beach in December. For the tourists the weather was warm, but for us Floridians, it was winter. I’ll let you guess what you might see on Miami Beach in December. The picture below tells the rest of the story.


Rach said...

What wonderful adventures through the Everglades! I too have always wanted to ride an airboat through them. I'm delighted I got to live vicariously through you.

The food. :drool: Oh, that food looks DIVINE! :o)

Be safe on your trip to your next destination! :o)

joy said...

How I wish I were with you!
I cannot decide which part seems like the most fun!