“The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for” -Ernest Hemingway
In retrospect, seeing an unexpected manatee surface only ten feet in front of us was the most beautiful moment of the day. Sitting on a rock in Bayfront Park, Nick and I were simply staring at the lavish houses and yachts across the bay in South Beach when it happened. The unexpectedness of the situation is what really hit me. I had not expected to see a manatee. I have never expected to see a manatee. I had accepted my fate that life would never drop a manatee in front of me. And yet, a whiskered grey snout rose out of the water, followed by a rise and then a fan-like tail. Beautiful. Anything so surprising like that is beautiful.
Day 1 has never provided so many interesting moments. Most beautiful of those moments was sleeping in. After 12 hours of flying from Anchorage to Miami, sleep has never seemed so luxurious. And for that, I thank the Peace Corps for sending me early. Also deserving of their thanks is the “best ever Cuban sandwich” offered at the street-side cafe in Little Havana. If I had not had the day to explore Miami, I would not have enjoyed that sandwich so much. Nick had made the journey with me from Denver to Miami to start our Peace Corps journey and we ended up rooming together in Miami. We decided to venture out into the city with all the free time we had today and began for lunch in Little Havana. Along Calle Ocho, notable for its aromatic restaurants and even more pungent cigar shops, the neighborhood demonstrates Cuban culture and life at it’s best. Men play cut-throat dominoes at the park while conga drummers play on the sidewalk, forcing passersby to salsa and cha-cha along to the beat. For good reason, everything in Little Havana is advertised as “world famous”. The “World Famous Azucar Restaurante” across from the ” World Famous Cuban Antiques” next to the restaurant with its “World Famous Mojito”. I’m sure you’ve heard of them all. The taste of this “best ever Cuban sandwich” was an amazing greeting to the city of Miami and its strong Latin American culture, but the Cuban coffee was even better. I 100% recommend trying the syrupy espresso if you get the chance.
Miami is a beautiful city with so much color. I have never seen so many hues of blue, reminiscent of the Atlantic just beyond the skyline. Nor have I ever seen so many beautiful works of art painted simply on the side of a building with no real signature or frame. Not only are the buildings a spectrum of color, but the women dress in shades of neon and in patterns of floral that I have never even imagined before. The city is full of so much life, but the humidity and heat prevent me from loving it any further. I’ll take my Alaskan cold and snow before that any day.
After our colorful tour through the city, we returned back to the hotel in time to meet the rest of the arriving volunteers. In all, there are 51 volunteers serving in Paraguay in the environmental and agricultural sectors, which we found out is fondly called the “crunchy group” by the other sectors in South America. Remembering names is already difficult, but these volunteers have already grown on me immensely. I will never be more proud to call these people my friends. They are knowledgeable, they are brave, and they are the most welcoming people I have ever met. After quick appetizers, a brief staging session that mainly involved signing paperwork, it was effortless to break into groups and continue on to dinner and conversation. Hands were shaken, friendships were made, glasses were clanked. Beautiful.