Why did you join? Was it to better yourself? Or better a community? Well yes and yes. Travel has always been a fantastic way to better yourself, and when you return you have stories that inspire and fascinate. Through some of these stories you encourage others to travel and the chain begins, each traveler shares their story and from that everyone benefits and everyone learns. Bettering the community? I can only hope I affect the whole community where I am stationed but I imagine that it will end up being one person or a small group that I inspire and that most certainly will be enough. I joined so that I could see through new and refreshed eyes, for though I love my home, both Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico, life was hitting a standstill and becoming routine. May I never go back to being the bitter bartender closing one restaurant and opening the other the next day. May I never be the server having to force out laughs, or repeating the same question 150 times a day, “Black beans or refried?” May the next time that I hear mariachi music be on the shore in Mexico, and god forbid I sing another franchise happy birthday song. When times are rough, and they will be. Think of the anticipation you had before coming to Thailand. Think of how you anxiously counted down the days before you left and eagerly stashed away the money hoping to eat every Thai dish imaginable. Think of how proud your family is and will be when you complete your service. Think of the next journey, but remember to enjoy the day. Count your blessings for they are so obviously in front of you and remember, it may be a bad day, but it’s a bad day in Thailand.
Miami fully represents the idea of life in color. Bright hotels paint the streets, flashy cars don the road like jewelry, sparkling lights and palm trees dress every corner. The people were (for lack of a better word) pretty, it can only be described as walking into the pages of a fashion magazine. If your searching for a land characterized by glamour, you would benefit from booking a one-way ticket to this trendy vacation spot. Despite the excitement, the lights, the beat of the club music reverberating through your bones, the pulse of the city lies in the most unsuspecting of places.
Place No. 1: The Front Row Seat of a City Bike
“Let’s rent bikes” she said. It was 90 degrees outside when this horrendous statement was uttered. I was about to sarcastically respond with a firm “no” but when I saw Shannon’s face, I realized she was serious. I begrudgingly went along with this plan. After three credit card swipes, numerous failed attempts at dislodging the bikes from their ports, and help from amused bystanders, we were finally riding in style on our city bikes. We decided to ride up and down ocean drive on a winding path. To our left, we saw the glowing row of restaurants, hotels, and shops. To our right, we were graced with a beautiful view of ocean for which this drive was named after. At times, it was impossible to decided where to look first. The wind, which was nonexistent when walking, suddenly swirled all around us as we weaved between throngs of people. Of course, there was some racing (when is the last time you raced someone on a bike?) and occasionally, I lagged behind (you would too if you couldn’t decide what to look at).
It gets better though, as we were riding the sun was going down, staining the sky with so many different colors. As the sky went dark, the street lamps came on and the ocean became a distant roar. By the time we returned the bikes, we were sticky, out of breath, and filled with newfound freedom. The crazy thing about this experience is that it left my heart feeling so full and light. Talk about a juxtaposition. I promise you that this is a feeling you all need to chase down, no matter what. I’m recommending you try a bike.
What doesn’t kill you makes you fatter and that will most likely happen in Little Havana. Between the cigar shops and chicken statues you’ll find easily some of the best blends of Cuban and American flavors. Taken from abuelita’s recipe book and reshaped and rebranded into something vaguely familiar.
Ball and Chain
Our first stop in Little Havana was Ball and Chain, with it’s lounge seats, center bar, unique rustic/Cuban décor, we felt quite at home and when the band started playing we knew we were on to something good. Our drinks quickly arrived, I had dessert first with a Pastelito Daquiri, light and refreshing with it’s namesake pastry on top. Delicious! Brings me back to PR and enjoying a small pastelito in the San Juan Streets. Megan had a drink called Call me a Cooler, while it was nice it is definitely meant for those with a serious sweet tooth. The menu is very basic but that doesn’t stop it from being easily the best food we had that day, Megan had an order of Cuban Style Quesadillas, covered with cilantro and a light avocado crema, it was given a little pop of spice with it’s Aji Amarillo. I had Chicharrones, for $9, which seemed like a lot for the meal but reasonable for Miami prices, they were well worth it. Each piece was crispy, and full of flavor that popped. Good food, good drinks, combined with the atmosphere Ball and Chain was perfect.
Pop out of Ball and Chain and directly on your right you are greeted with a comically large ice cream cone. This belongs to ¡Azucar! a small ice cream shop with 24 flavors (not including their seasonals) that will make you laugh and have a bit of curiosity as to what the flavors are. Thankfully you can get samples. Megan was already stuffed at this point so the ice cream was all mine. I chose a single scoop of Abuela Maria, their signature. Made with guava, cream cheese, galletas Maria, and their fresh vanilla ice cream. It’s absolutely delicious. It is a must see in Miami. Take the day and search for it, thankfully ¡Azucar! isn’t exactly hiding.
Well the coffee was. For my non-Spanish speakers the name means Exquisite. This is where we had our new favorite beverage, The Colada. It’s a small coffee served in a Styrofoam cup with 6-8 shot glasses, it’s meant to share as it is about 8 shots of Cuban-style espresso. It’s strong, wakes you up in a minute and I’m sure this is what gave Pitbull the energy to go from Mr.305 to Mr.WorldWide. We had a couple different coladas but El Exquisito’s topped them all, strong and sweet. We’d love the recipe if they’d be kind enough.
Little Havana’s cuisine is perfect for anyone who wants a real taste of latin flavor, the culture and vibes there are welcoming and complete the Miami trip. Don’t spend all your time in South Beach when Little Havana is right around the corner.