I really wanted to sneak in and post about our wonderful adventures on New Year's Eve, but we were so busy having fun that I didn't have a minute!
We woke up early on December 31st. WineGuy turned to me and said, "What do you think about driving over to Miami for some dim sum this morning?" It was a great idea, so we quickly packed up the boys and headed across Alligator Alley. We had all the time in the world, so we took the back way into Miami, heading down the old Okeechobee Road. This used to be primarily a truck route from Miami to Lake Okeechobee. Twenty years ago, when I lived in Miami, this area was populated with a couple of rock mines and little else. Now, this corridor is filled with more rock mines, heavy industry, and amazingly enough, loads of residential housing built right to the edge of the Everglades. It was an interesting yet depressing ride.
Our destination was Tropical Chinese restaurant. It serves surprisingly good dim sum, nearly equal to the best we had in Boston. Kind of odd that there would be good, authentic Chinese food in Miami, but there is. We arrived just as the restaurant opened, so we got a good table. The carts started rolling immediately, and there were lots of great choices: shrimp balls (fried and in noodle wrapper), shrimp and scallops in rice paper, shrimp cakes, stuffed crab claws, eggplant with shrimp, green pepper with shrimp, mushrooms stuffed with shrimp, leek dumplings, leek spring rolls, steamed Chinese broccoli, and the most delicately steamed bok choy. I ate nearly the entire plate of bok choy myself; it was so delectable. Did you notice the shrimp theme? Moose proclaimed that he would eat anything as long as it had shrimp in it, and he ate every shrimp thing. Wild Thing ate so much, I thought he would explode. He even snarfed down three egg custard tarts and two steamed coconut buns for dessert. WineGuy knows how much I love those buns, so he ordered a few extra to go.
WineGuy wanted to take the scenic route back to the Gulf Coast, so we quickly picked up Tamiami Trail (US 41) westbound. The Trail is most popularly known as Calle Ocho in Miami. It is the heart of the Cuban exile community, from its origin downtown all the way out to the suburban fringe. True to WineGuy's restaurant radar, we found Palacio de los Jugos, a little Cuban juice bar right at the edge of town. It serves all sorts of freshly squeezed juices from tropical fruits: guava, mango, papaya, passionfruit, pineapple, coconut, guanabana (soursop or custard apple), mamey (sapote). Each cup of juice was a burst of tropical sunshine. I had passionfruit, which was sweet and tart and a great thirst-quencher. It felt like a good digestif.
Completely sated, we continued our drive westward into the Everglades. We passed through the Miccosukee Indian Reservation, complete with its alligator wresting joints, chickee huts and casino gambling.
Before long, we reached Everglades National Park. The park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the USA and is the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River. The heart of the Everglades is Shark Valley, the lowest point on the Florida plateau between the ridges upon which Miami and Naples are built. The park was first designated in 1939 but was not established then. In the intervening years, Humble Oil Co. explored for oil in this area, but its efforts were thankfully thwarted with the dedication of the park in 1947. Humble did build an access road, which is still in use today. It is a 15-mile paved loop road on which you can bicycle or take a tram ride. We first took a tram ride about 2-3 years ago and enjoyed it so much that we were itching to get back.
We quickly parked the car and bought tickets for the next tram ride. Veterans that we were, we sidled our way up to the front of the tram, so we could chat with the ranger along the way. Wild Thing and Wizard got outside seats. WineGuy and I kept Moose between us so he wouldn't fall out and become 'gator bait. The weather was glorious: low 80s, mostly cloudy, a warm breeze, and no bugs. Neither the tram nor the road were crowded so there was plenty of room to stretch out and explore. Vistas spanned sawgrass prairies stretching for miles in every direction. Hardwood hammocks and small islands of other trees dotted the landscape. Migratory birds of every shape and size colored the nature's painting with their varied plumage. We saw dozens of great blue herons, white egrets, and anhingas. We spotted a couple of green herons and one purple gallinule, with its candy-corn beak. There were many woodstorks and vultures around, too. Of course, there were alligators, lots and lots of alligators. Our last time through Shark Valley, Wizard counted 83 alligators. He told this to our ranger and driver, who made a special effort for us to tie and ultimately break our record. Our 'gator tally for the day was 88! Mamas, daddies, babies, and every snaggle-toothed size in between. One day I'd like take a bike ride through Shark Valley and get a closer look at the flora and fauna.
Alas, our tram tour ended, and we needed to head back home. We traveled further west on Tamiami Trail until we reached our area. I tried to convince WineGuy to stop on the way at the studio of reknowned nature photographer, Clyde Butcher, but he wasn't interested. We finally arrived home with just enough time to get cleaned up and changed for the evening.
For the first time in ten years, we had a babysitter on New Year's Eve. WG left the planning to me, so I kept it low-key. We drove down to the beach and watched the fireworks display gulfside. The night was clear and mild, with just enough breeze to blow away one incendiary bloom after another. We could see each fiery "blossom" reflected in the gulf's calm, clear waters. Afterwards, we waited for the crowds to subside, then we walked over to our favorite café for a late dinner. We dined al fresco. The food was fair, but the evening was lovely. We came home around 10:00 p.m. and barely kept our eyes open until midnight. We watched the ball drop in Times Square, kissed each other Happy New Year, and crawled into bed.
It was a magical day, a treasured way to end an otherwise ugly year.