Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Posted by Rob Voodoo
(Posted very late due to tiredness/having fun)
Well, here I am in Panama Tocumen airport, two hours into the frankly insanely tedious ten hour wait for my connecting flight to San Jose. After discovering that there was not a sniff of a smoking area inside passport control, and reasoning that there would be more fun to be had actually in Panama City rather than hanging around the departure lounge for the entire day, I decided to temporarily immigrate. Then changed my mind in a hurry, confronted by my embarrassingly poor Spanish and complete and utter lack of any information whatsoever about Panama. That and it’s pushing thirty degrees C out there and the Miami security took my bottle of sunblock. I can still feel my skin protesting at the five minutes of exposure it took while I had a cigarette. Intense.
So, I’ve sat myself down next to a car rental desk in the airport lobby, laptop screen on its dimmest setting in an attempt to eek out every last minute of computing goodness. My main concern at this point is falling asleep involuntarily and being either robbed or more likely mocked by the slightly bemused looking Latinos lounging around looking tanned and chirpy. I had to leave for Miami International at 4am last night after a 2nd gig at the hostel and loads of Superbowl cheap drinks. I think I grabbed an hour on the first flight but the grand total in the last twenty four hours is substantially below the regulation eight. There’s also a mild hangover struggling to make itself known through the fog of fatigue and travel stress.
Time to do my write up of Miami.
As I stepped out of the arrivals area all my thoughts of shuttle services and buses flew out the window when confronted by the reality of how strange it all was. I did what I do best and hailed a cab. The drive to South Beach was everything you imagine it to be – villas, rugged looking areas with Hispanic architecture, vast marinas stocked with an armada of luxury yachts (I think my single most favourite thing I saw the whole time was a huge mirror-finished black pleasure craft with matching helicopter on deck) and more palm trees than you could shake Kew Gardens at. It was epic.
But before I talk about anything else we need to cover the 24th Superbowl. In case you don’t know, the Superbowl is the US equivalent of the FA cup final. The New Orleans Saints vs. the Minneapolis Colts in an epic sporting battle watched by a staggeringly large number of millions of Americans and syndicated viewers worldwide. I am informed BBC1 showed it, so it’s definitely a big deal! The first I knew of it was the US customs guy “you here for the Superbowl” ”Err...no...Can I still come in?”
(My brain is desperate to shut down and embrace sleeps sweet oblivion)
The city was crazy for the Superbowl – especially from Friday onwards when all the New Orleans fans, almost uniformly enormous, black and loud, started arriving en masse. The Saints theme goes “Who Dat, Who Dat something something something” but the main point is that if anyone shouts “Who Dat!” in a boisterous Southern accent half the street answers the rallying cry with a powerful reciprocal “Who Dat”. The fans call themselves the “Who Dat Nation” and the slogan is on shirts, body painted fan girls and echoing out of hotel windows down into the throng below.
As I was fairly firmly ensconced in the area known as South Beach the focal point for me was the (apparently) world famous Ocean Drive. The Drive runs parallel to the beach for a couple of miles and had been turned into a pedestrianised mini-festival for SBXXIV. The street is lined with bars and restaurants of the cheesy tourist variety, each of which has a sexy ‘hostess’ or three outside trying to get passers by to examine the days specials and come in for overpriced cocktails and people watching. There were various promo girls trying to force everything from detergent samples to Pepsi Max on the revellers. I eventually gave up wondering who was being exploited most – however, I did strike up a conversation with a restaurant hostess at one point – if you can call a dialogue where every other sentence is interrupted by “we’ve got a great menu today for you guys…” a conversation. The point is though that if you sit down and watch them it’s incredibly hard tedious work.
My living quarters was the charming South Beach Hostel on Washington Avenue, one of the three main north-south streets in South Beach, lined with restaurants, strip clubs, shopping and very fast cars. SB Hostel is run by a couple of charming Puerto Rican brothers, Jose and Jorge (pronounced ho-hey). They have just recently taken over and combine clean, cheap rooms with some delicious bar snacks (Jorge is a pro chef – we talked food a lot) and daily drink specials. The internet is reasonably fast too. I turned out that they both DJ drum and bass also and I managed to charm them into bringing down the 1210s on a couple of nights so we could “throw down”.
I have to say though that South Beach is a stupid place to go as a backpacker, even with my relatively princely £40 per diem. The average meal costs at least £10 meaning I could basically afford food, sunblock and the odd bottle of cheap ‘liquor’ (what we would call spirits). Still, I made friends with a Russian, a Canadian and a Fin and had a reasonably good time. The women made my eyes melt and the beach was incredible. Still, I have to say I was glad to check out at 4am on the 8th and start my Latin American adventure.
Time to embrace the Pura Vida!