I had rented an apartment at The Decoplage on Miami Beach via the Internet and although the building is somewhat old, they have a great pool, new equipment in the gym, and a wonderful location in the heart of South Beach. I plan to use the next several months to continue preparations for my trips to Asia later this year. I have almost a dozen books on hiking and climbing in the Himalayas to read so will have plenty to do when not running on the beach.
I found a gym on Alton Road about a mile from my apartment where I signed up to work with a personal trainer three times a week. After my first few sessions, I learned that Matt, my trainer, is also the trainer for Mark Wylie who placed third on NBC’s ‘The Biggest Loser’ last season.
There is a 2-½ mile boardwalk, which runs along the beach between 15th and 48th Streets, just north of Ocean Drive. My apartment is on Lincoln Road which is between 16th and 17th Streets, so most mornings and occasional late afternoons I run the five mile round-trip along with dozens of other people. Sometimes I run on the sand, which is generally packed down by numerous official vehicles, which drive up and down the beach. This is the same course I ran when I was here a couple years ago and it seems that the beach has eroded in some places
There is usually a five or six queue of cargo ships anchored off Miami Beach waiting to get into the Port of Miami. On Saturday afternoons a parade of large cruise ships leaves the port on one-week cruises out into the Caribbean. Also on Saturday evenings the Boardwalk is crowded with Jewish couples, men in black suits and yamaka, women in long black dresses, strolling up and down in the 80-degree heat. I sometimes wonder if these are the same women who I see donning thong-bikinis during the week.
The Miami Marathon and Half Marathon was held on January 28th. The race starts and finishes near the American Airlines Arena in downtown Miami, but the course passes through Miami Beach. The race starts at 6:00 AM to avoid the heat of the day so I walked over to the five-mile marker on Ocean Drive at 6:15 AM, just in time to see the first wheelchair runner shoot by at 6:16 a 20-mile per hour pace. It had been pouring rain at the start, but by 7:00 AM the rain had stopped and 12,000 runners sloshed by in the humidity. There were only a handful of onlookers but I suppose most of the spectators wanted to see the start/finish and were back in the city.
A very powerful storm passed through Central Florida during the first week in February, killing 20 people in the middle of the night. The devastation shown on TV was very bad but authorities seemed to react quickly and did everything possible to help those left homeless.
The Superbowl was held here in Miami on February 4th but the party started a full week before. An estimated 120,000 visitors came for the event although only 70,000 had tickets for the actual game. Tickets, which have a face value of $500, are selling for $3-5,000 each. My trainer was given four tickets by two different clients, which he promptly sold for $16,000.
Ocean Drive was closed on Thursday, turned into a pedestrian walkway and named The Motorola Mile. All kinds of tents housing special events and celebrity appearances lined the street along with restaurants, which extended their seating out into the street. Tens of thousands of people crowded the beach every day and saw free performances by Prince and several other notable entertainers. Four hundred models from around the country were flown in to play a beach volleyball tournament. Parking was impossible, partly because every limousine, Hummer and Escalade on the eastern seaboard was here at the same time.
In the middle of it all, there was a memorial to US soldiers killed in Iraq consisting of 3,000+ individual names written on mock tombstones. I was able to find Harley’s name and decorated it with a picture of his son Ayden riding the wooden Harley motorcycle Carolyn & Fred had given him for Christmas.
It poured rain on the day of the game making the open-air stadium a very uncomfortable place to be. But it was exciting with an opening play TD and five turnovers in the first half. The Colts won and by Tuesday Miami was back to normal.
There are a couple of gaming venues in the area where I spend an occasional afternoon. One is the Gulfstream Race Track, which has a casino in addition to the horse track, and the other is the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood. The Hard Rock is in the news now because Anna Nicole Smith died there a couple days ago and I am sure we will be hearing about that for years to come.
I moved out of my apartment at The Decoplage on February 16th, rented a car, and drove north to Orlando. Trish had a conference to attend for the weekend and I had arranged to take Rachel to Disney World while she was in meetings. I left early and was able to get to Orlando by 10:00 AM. Trish, Rachel and two other friends were just going into Universal so I met them at the gate and we spent the day before Trish’s meeting visiting Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. Although initially apprehensive, Rachel quickly gravitated to the big roller coasters and at one time or another, we rode them all. Late in the afternoon we drove over to Downtown Disney where we had front row tickets to La Nouba, Cirque du Soleil’s permanent premier show in Orlando. After the show we ate dinner at Fulton’s Crab House.
On Saturday I woke up early and drove over to The Peabody Hotel where Trish & Rachel were staying. We left Trish at the conference and Rachel and I headed over to Animal Kingdom, stopping at Perkins for breakfast on the way. There was a cold front moving through Florida and it seemed strange walking through the park with a leather jacket. Rachel was exited to go on the new Everest ride at Animal Kingdom and we ended up doing that twice. By 3:00 PM we had done all the exciting things at the park and decided to go back to The Peabody and get Trish and then head to The Magic Kingdom that night.
Trish’s conference broke up at 4:00 PM and as it turned out, the two-day meeting became a one-day meeting so she had Sunday off. We got to The Magic Kingdom around 5:00 PM and worked our way clockwise around the park. It was still very cold so we avoided any rides where we might get wet. We also missed Space Mountain, but had a great view of the fireworks and the electric light parade. At 10:00 PM we decided to call it a night and headed back to our hotels.
On Sunday we went to Denny’s for breakfast but were still sitting in our booth waiting to have our order taken thirty minutes later. We left in frustration and went back to Perkins, where we got served quickly, after waiting 20 minutes to be seated. We got to Epcot by 11:00 AM and hit the most popular attractions during the afternoon. All the restaurants were booked and we had to stand in long lines just to buy hot dogs. We were able to ride the Test Track at the GM pavilion just before the fireworks, which ends each day at Epcot.
Trish & Rachel flew back to Connecticut early Monday morning. I checked out of my hotel and continued driving north. I decided to stop in Daytona where the Daytona 500 had been run the day before. The track is huge and there were still dozens of TV trucks in the process of packing up and leaving. Bike Week, which attracts tens of thousands of bikers, is held here in early March. I drove out to the beach where I had lunch before heading up to St. Augustine.
I checked into a Comfort Suites at World Golf Village in St. Augustine. I had blown my diet during my stay in Orlando, but at least here I was able to chart out a jogging loop and got some exercise. I was in St. Augustine two nights then drove north again through Jacksonville to Amelia Island, the most northern town on Florida’s east coast. An ex-girlfriend, Kathy (Gotch) Gronager is a real estate agent here and I had arranged to meet her to see the town.
Amelia Island is a quaint town and I had decided to stay at a B&B rather than a regular hotel. I found The Amelia Island Williams Inn on the outskirts of the historic district and took a room for three nights. The Inn is a mile and a half from Main Beach, which gave me an easy 3-mile round-trip for jogging in the mornings. Kathy came by for breakfast Thursday morning, looking just like I remember her twenty-five years ago. We spent the day driving around the island and Fernandina Beach, breaking for lunch and an unsuccessful attempt to find shark teeth on the beautiful beach. The area is much quieter than Miami Beach but certainly has many advantages as a permanent home.
There are many B&B’s in this area and I found myself refreshing my thoughts of possibly running such a business. Friday I arranged for a massage in the morning and then visited Fort Clinch State Park, an old masonry fort built 100+ years ago to protect the natural deep-water port of Fernandina in the afternoon. Kathy and her husband, Holmer, took me to dinner Friday night at Joe’s Second Street Grill, where we had a great time trading travel stories.
I had planned to leave Saturday morning, but learned that Habitat for Humanity was building a house a few blocks from where I was staying so I decided to go over and spend a few hours painting. Kathy and Holmer, who had built their own home here, also came and helped out. Land values on Amelia Island have gone up so much that the local chapter of Habitat will have a problem acquiring land in the future. They currently own ten lots and are considering selling the high value lots to purchase less expensive land on the mainland.
I gave Kathy a cookbook to thank her for the time she spent showing me the area and was able to leave the island in the early afternoon without causing too much trouble. I will spend the next week driving down Florida’s east coast, returning to Miami on March 1st when my new apartment becomes available.
I only drove 100 miles on Saturday, returning to the hotel in St. Augustine where I had stayed on the drive north. After running on Sunday, though, I checked out and continued another couple hours to The Kennedy Space Center. I had been here twenty years ago, but the exhibits now include the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs both of which are very interesting. The Shuttle Atlantis was on the launch pad waiting a mid-March liftoff. I spent almost five hours touring the facilities which are surrounded by a wildlife preserve. I was able to see several alligators, manatees, bald eagles and gopher tortoises, which made the day even more interesting.
A half hour south on A1A I passed through Cape Canaveral to reach Cocoa Beach where I checked into a Hampton Inn for two nights. The weather is deteriorating and rain is forecast during parts of the next couple days. Monday morning I ran on the beautiful broad beach, dodging tourists who were seeking elusive shark teeth. Unfortunately the weather produced a hailstorm up at the Kennedy Space Center, which pummeled the space shuttle, and NASA postponed the launch to make repairs.
Tuesday I drove down to Palm Beach and found a Best Western on the beach, which turned out to be a dump. The sand at the beach is too soft for running and it angles down steeply at high tide so I had to run on the sidewalks. On the last day of the month I went on to Ft. Lauderdale where I spent the night at The Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort. The name makes it sound much better than it is, and the beach here is also too soft for running.
On March 1st, I headed back to Miami Beach. I dropped off my rental car and was able to get into my new apartment in same building before noon. This apartment is the same size as my previous unit, but it overlooks the ocean and gets more sun. It is also a little nicer, but lacks a DVD. I quickly settled back into my old routine, running each morning and going to the gym three days a week.
My trip to Bhutan, which was suppose to happen next month, has been canceled because the outfitter, MT Sobek, could not get enough people to go. I am naturally disappointed but am very excited about the trip to Nepal, also next month, when I will hike to Everest Base Camp. I learned that there may be a chance for Americans to visit North Korea this summer in conjunction with the Mass Games, so I’ll have to investigate if that is something I might want to consider.
Spring Break occurred during March and Miami Beach was overrun with college students. I can’t imagine where all the people who lay out on the beach each day are staying for there are thousands of them. On several nights there are 10-15 minute fireworks displays on the beach and I have a great view from my balcony.
I spent a couple days with a local real estate agent shopping for a place I could buy and call home. We looked at various condominium communities on the beach, but the prices struck me as astronomical, especially in a market, which many people think is loosing value. The taxes in Florida are also very high and although the legislature is pledging to reform the tax situation, I’ll believe it when I see it. I am anxious to see what the market is like when I return to Miami Beach next winter.
It is truly amazing the number and diversity of world class events which always seem to be happening in this area. The Winter Music Conference attracted thousands of electronic musicians and DJ’s. While jogging one day I found myself at the Miami Beach Marina, which was hosting the Miami Billfish Tournament that was won by an angler who caught a 3,000 lb sailfish. And in mid April, the Fedex Polo World Cup will be held on the beach in front of the Setai, one of the most luxurious condominiums on the beach.
I learned that the massage therapist I have been going to twice a week for the last couple months is quite a renowned artist. Many of his works are displayed at his place of business, but I also started to see his work hanging in other galleries around town. He has a very unique style and maintains a website of his works www.MarianoPicos.com.
On Easter, I took Mat out to brunch at Lowes, and then went home to start packing. I fly back to San Francisco on April 10th and plan to spend a couple weeks visiting family and working in my parents’ garden. On April 23rd I fly to Beijing where I’ll visit Cindy for a few days before heading on to Nepal.