Trip Start Sep 17, 2006
Trip End Dec 23, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Florida
Monday, September 22, 2008

Today I awaken with the optimistic plan to travel down to Miami and soak up some rays on South Beach. Since arriving in Florida most of the people I’ve spoken to have suggested that Miami Beach, and South Beach in particular is the home of the rich, famous and attractive. Being the avid traveller I decided to check this out. 

Miami is about thirty miles south of where I’m staying, which in any reasonable car should take less than an hour, including delays for traffic. Clearly I don’t have access to a car so public transport was my only option. Patrick, a new roommate since last night had told me that the tri-rail would be the most sensible option. I made the decision to follow his advice.

First up I took the number 11 bus from outside the hostel to the centre of Fort Lauderdale. This took a few minutes to arrive but whisked me past the main beach, and over a bridge from which I could see multi-million dollar houses with boats moored in the back yard. All of a sudden the heavens opened and dashing rain attacked the bus. Here I think when it rains it rains, none of this gradual ‘spitting’ rain that we get in the UK.

Fort Lauderdale central bus station is nothing special, just a series of about 16 stops in a four by four combination, with roofs to cover the waiting areas. As we arrive I see the bus behind mentions the railway station, so without further ado I jump on and swipe my day card. This day card gives me a complete day of travel on the local buses for about 2.30.

On the way to the train station I have a bizarre incident where a young African-American girl tries to buy my sunglasses off me. I am sat towards the back of the bus where there are quite a few school age children. Without jumping to conclusions I presume she was planning to steal them, as the promised $10 wasn’t anywhere to be seen. I decline her request to hold my shades and politely make my way off the bus at the train station. As I leave she tells me that her geography teacher is English.

The day is further delayed when I discover the next train to Miami doesn’t depart for 55 minutes. I relax in an overly air-conditioned waiting room, and glance at a map of the USA, showing the Amtrak train network. Finally the train arrives and I’m on my way to Miami.

On the outskirts of Miami I have to leave the tri-rail train and get on a local shuttle train which will take me to the city centre. This delays me by another fifteen minutes, and it’s now early afternoon. Both the tri-rail train and the local shuttle train are clean and well run.

In downtown Miami I wander around and ponder how best I can get to Miami Beach. Miami Beach is a town suburb a couple of miles east on the coast. The land protrudes from the mainland similar to the way a leaf is connected to a tree. After considering giving up I discover a bus terminal and decide upon a bus to take. This is a bus that I presume is heading towards a beach, as people wearing beach clothing are in the queue.

I get on and sit down near the front. We don’t travel more than a few stops before an old lady moves across and sits next to me. I’m confident she isn’t a knife yielding psychopath and so smile back at her. She then talks to me in what I guess to be Spanish, I smile back and nod. She laughs and I have a new friend.

The bus journey is spent trying to understand this old woman, her English though is about a billion times better than my Spanish! This is the sort of experience I came here for. I’m on a bus with dozens of local Miamians; with an 85-year Spanish speaking woman chatting me up, going towards a beach that I only hope exists. Rosevita (the elderly woman) tells me that her husband died of cancer from smoking too much, hand gestures to the sky confirm to me that he is indeed deceased. I try to ask her where she was born but fail to get the message across.

In Miami Beach I get off the bus and follow some teenagers dressed in beach wear. The sand is soft and easy to walk on. Oddly the first part of the beach is practically a road, hard enough for most cars to drive down I would imagine. South Beach is sparsely populated; I don’t spot any famous people. I take off my shoes and socks and paddle, all the time being careful not to lose any shoes to the sea!

Away from the beach I see dozens of restaurants desperately trying to take in early afternoon custom, most offering free drinks and other incentives. The area is pretty, but nothing too impressive. The main shopping street in Miami Beach is lined with expensive designer stores. It reminds me a little of the streets of Surfers Paradise in Australia. If I had to choose I would say Surfers Paradise is better, the part of Miami Beach I see isn’t overly exciting. There are however palm trees a plenty, just like in the movies.

After yet another long wait (the main peril of public transport in my opinion), I’m back in downtown Miami and racing towards the shuttle train station with several others. This local Miami train seems to run down just one route, with perhaps two trains on track at once in each direction. At the tri-rail transfer station I have a decision to make instantly. A train is leaving northbound and I have about half a second to decide whether I need to jump on board. I jump on thinking to myself that if it’s not going to Fort Lauderdale then I can just use the dumb foreigner excuse. Thankfully my intuition serves me correctly and the train is the north bound version of what I caught in the morning. It is painted in entirely different colours and has nothing to suggest its destination inside. 

Back in Fort Lauderdale I catch a bus to the city centre without any issues. Then I spot a number 11, now the number 11 is most definitely the bus that goes past the hostel. This I am sure of as I board it confidently.

Suburbs that I don’t recognise pass by, don’t panic I say to myself, this is probably a loop bus. An hour later I am still confident, but slightly confused! Every bus stop we pass has the number 11 on it, but I haven’t a clue where I am. Moments later the driver looks round and says ‘end of the line, please get off!’ I ask why he hasn’t passed my stop and get a blank look. I get off the bus next to a large road, it’s getting dark.

Feeling both bemused and also slightly annoyed I cross the mammoth highway and go into a petrol station. My brain calculated that I could ask the attendant here where I was, and then make a plan from that. She turns out to be fairly clueless, although is friendly and tells me that there is another bus stop across the road where I can get a bus back into Fort Lauderdale.

Filled with adrenaline I re-cross the highway and proceed to this bus stop. For some reason three people have appeared and are waiting for the bus. The bus stop doesn’t seem important enough to warrant three passengers late on a Monday evening, I glance skyward and wonder whether the big man is looking out for me. I then decide that he definitely isn’t as why would he have let me get into this situation in the first place?! Still a huge majority of intelligent Americans would see this as godly intervention!

One of the waiting passengers is a young friendly looking girl. I decide to ask her where I am and explain my situation. To my surprise she is very forthcoming, and tells me that I can catch the next bus and get close to where I need to be. We chat on the bus and she says that she will walk me to my road. I put this down to my Englishness. We get off the bus and I relax as I recognise where I am, my saviour who happens to be Russian mentions showing me the Fort Lauderdale nightlife. I don’t have a phone however and so I give her my email address.

Back at the Deauville Inn I describe my day to Patrick the fisherman. He is here with a damaged shoulder, struggling as his boss didn’t pay him. I know my luck has turned when after relaying my story Patrick gives me his old mobile phone. This saves me $40 and will allow me to communicate with the locals far easier.

Downtown Miami was hot and sticky as expected, very Spanishy in terms of language, and actually not hugely appealing. Miami Beach was prettier, and the pace of life was more relaxed, it wasn’t anything special though. Perhaps the place comes into its own when you’re rich and famous, I don’t know.
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