We spent the past week ninety miles from Cuba, the farthest we could go from Seattle in the continental United States. It was our first trip to Miami. We went to vacation with my sister, her husband and daughter; they like to go to Fisher Island. I knew next to nothing about Florida before this trip. For the most part, people from the West Coast don’t travel east in search of the sun. Images from Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Orchid Thief and To Have and To Have Not filled my thoughts and my dreams as we prepared for the trip.
The water was the green of the Caribbean. The rhythm of our days was determined by the heat. The stagnant, sweltering midday temperatures gave rise to the listlessness of summer and confused my sense of seasonality. Humidity permeated everything, making my hair crazily unruly and curling the pages of our books. I took particular pleasure in the sun’s warmth on the soles of my feet when I walked with the sun to my back.
Until Friday, the eve of the weekend, the island was almost completely empty.
A small percentage of people drive cars on the island, but generally, transportation is by foot and by golf cart. Signage in the marina alerts boaters: “Manatee Zone.”
Sandpipers at the water’s edge scurried away at my approach whenever I walked the beaches. What I think were some sort of heron flew overhead at regular intervals, occasionally in formation, never alone. At home, I’ve only ever seen herons solo, except for the time I saw one attempt to steal a fish from another.
We ate our share of plantains, and fish such as grouper, in tacos and with rice and beans. I ate key lime pie at every opportunity, imagining the limes must be locally grown and therefore something not to miss.
One afternoon in the pool, a baseball game took shape with the boys and my niece, my brother-in-law and Alexi, and a man and his two daughters from Connecticut. They used a beach ball that was constantly blown off-course by the wind, but that didn’t seem to diminish anyone’s enjoyment of the game, the negotiations of who would get to pitch next, or the attempts at stealing bases.
One night we arranged for a sitter to stay with the kids, and went in to Miami. We ate at a place called Ola that serves all manner of Latin foods: empanadas filled with lobster and with short ribs, Peruvian style Ceviche, Cuban pork belly. We drank mojitos and caipirinhas. Our server picked up on the fact that my sister and I are sisters. Our husbands talked ceaselessly while we caught up on the past few months of life. We ate and drank and laughed and shared stories until, finally, we ended the night with cappuccinos to give us the energy to take the ferry back to our sleeping children.
Someday I’d like to visit an orange grove. I’d like to see the Everglades and the Florida I’ve read about. For now, I carry with me the memory of the sun on my soles and the languid time with family.