‘Wild’ Life Playgrounds Of Miami
By Jane Cassie
Photos By Brent Cassie
And compliments from Biscayne National Park
It’s just before midnight on South Beach and the energized pulse along Ocean Drive is starting to palpitate. This artery that bisects Miami’s famed art deco district is the happening place to be, especially after the sun goes and the neon glows. We meld with the masses that flock to the gridlocked thoroughfare where our adrenaline soars with the ongoing Latin beat. Enticing aromas waft from bustling sidewalk cafes offering us anything from Cuban cuisine to Floribbean fare. Backed by confetti coloured treasures and fronting the palm studded beach, this setting is a feast for our senses.
We mosey the interconnected Collins Avenue where a continued invitation for dusk to dawn delights is extended. Sophisticated high rises like The Delano, St Moritz, The National and The Hotel all have a retro flair with a New York feel. Epicureans revel in the many acclaimed culinary options en route, such as The Hotel’s Wish Restaurant where executive chef, E. Michael Reidt appeases the most discriminating palate with his French-Brazillian menu.
Although we love having this taste of urban wild life at our fingertips, by staying at The South Beach Hotel a few blocks away, we can easily escape the inevitable crowds. The 1939 art deco treasure, designed by renowned architect, Henry Hohauser, has been recently renovated with a Latin feel. Its sleek lines and contemporary interiors pay homage to the era while the pampering perks like the jetted tub provide us with modern day pleasantries.
During our stay in Miami, our travels also take us to Biscayne National Park where we discover an entire flip side to the meaning of ‘wild’ life.
The vast emerald Atlantic shimmers before us like a strand of precious gems, and while our vessel plies effortlessly through the water, I remain riveted to its bow rail, permitting the balmy breeze to toss my hair. From the ringside seat, I look forward to a different taste of entertainment. It’s not the same type of parade we experienced the night before but one that’s performed daily and naturally thanks to the gifts from Mother Nature.
Javier, one of the tour guides, shares his vast knowledge of this wilderness setting. “The park encompasses eighty thousand acres,” he explains, “and ninety-five percent is underwater.” The remaining five percent, we discover, is made up of the forty-four keys that span eighteen nautical miles.
We troll past a number of the evergreen mounds, enshrouded in a maze of mangroves and tropical hardwood hammocks. Rich with nourishment, these islets are a haven for waterfowl and sea life that swarm to the area. Pelicans that ride the sea breeze look like pterodactyls right out of Jurassic Park and white ibis that wade knee high in mud get their fill of crustaceans. Double-breasted cormorants, blue herons, and snowy egrets are a few other feathered friends that we see.
This glass bottom boat tour also provides us with a taste of the park’s underwater world without getting our feet wet and, while hovering over the surface, we can see the swaying sea grass that shimmers at the base of this tropical lagoon. The explosive growth of algae and plankton are gastronomic delights for sponges and sea urchins and, as well as starfish and spiny lobster, it is a popular spot for the gentle blubbery manatees. Weighing up to three thousand pounds, these beloved Floridian natives look more like whiskered whimsical sea cows, and because of their slow-poke maneuverability we are careful while making our way to the outer reefs.
When the wave action cooperates, there is a fanfare of productivity framed in the window of our hull including porous sponges, ancient shipwrecks, and dazzling coral gardens. And for those who like to take a dip, the snorkeling and diving promises an up-close and personal approach of the iridescent inhabitants.
“There are around two hundred and fifty different fish species,” Javier reveals, “as well as a number of types of coral.” Elkhorn, staghorn and brain coral are most common and parrotfish, tiggerfish, angelfish, blue tang, porkfish, and trunkfish are just a few sea-goers that bejewel the reefs. Although incidences are rare, there are others that pose a threat to humans. Portuguese man-of-war with its long tentacles, the razor-tooth barracuda, and the infamous bull shark are predators that underwater visitors shy away from.
Although there has always been the risk of hurricanes and tropical storms, the keys have hosted a cross section of travelers over the years. “From pirates to presidents,” Javier states, “the keys have seen them all.” Although legends reveal that the high seas and treacherous reefs have claimed many sailing ships, fortune hunters, bootleggers, gamblers and a number of presidents are still allured by these emerald waters.
Embraced in beauty and boasting so many natural wonders, it’s easy to understand why. And as we skim back over the bay we reflect on its tranquility and splendor. The remote setting is like a polar opposite to South Beach’s racy allure, yet both in their own right, are wonderful ‘wild’ life playgrounds of Miami.
About the photos:
Top: Miami’s South Beach at Night.
Next: On the glass bottom boat tour.
Next: An Angel Fish eyes the camerman.
Bottom: Exterior, South Beach Hotel.
Jane and Brent Cassie are a travel writer/photographer team. Follow their other adventures on their website – www.janecassie.com.