Échale Sal

I landed in Miami on a Wednesday afternoon, the leggings, tank top and hooded sweatshirt that had barely kept me warm in San Diego now slowly dampening with sweat. A fine layer of dew settled on my skin in the thick, humid heat and my quickly frizzing hair stuck to the back of my neck. This was vacation weather. I welcomed it with open arms. 

I met my friend K at our South Beach hotel and we immediately went out in search of food. Only just  slightly put together in baseball caps and large sunglasses, we walked less than a block away to a spot called Bacon Bitch because how could we not? We gorged on delicious croissant sandwiches - a rich lobster confection dripping with heavenly butter for K and a salty, tangy Cuban for me. We washed them down with frozen concoctions from the attached bar, aptly named Drunk Bitch. The red neon lettering above the joint read, "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe." There it was: instant trip motto.

And then we napped. Bliss. K is one of those people who can sleep until the cows come home, leave and then come back again wanting to know what's for dinner. This is one of the reasons why I love travelling with her - in her presence, I allow myself that beautiful mid-afternoon sleep, the kind that feels downright delicious and naughty-feeling. We sunk deeply into one of these naps that day, the sounds of the city lulling us into slumber. This is how I know I'm relaxed, when I can shut my brain off long enough to indulge in a little casual restoration, guilt-free.

We awoke in the evening and prettied ourselves up just enough to walk to Puerto Sagua, one of those casual spots that's always poppin' and where the food tastes like a Cuban Abuela is cooking it up in the back. We devoured piping hot papas rellenas and salty tostones dipped in the buttery, garlic elixir that is mojo sauce. We shared plates of juicy ropa vieja and savory picadillo with black beans and both white and yellow rice porque #YOLO. We ended the evening and early morning at a speak-easy bar where we sipped on finely crafted potions: Old Fashion style drinks for K, signature floral concoctions for me. 

The next four days were spent aboard a cruise ship bound for Key West and the Bahamas. Our days blended into nights as we soaked up the sun by beach or by pool, drink in one hand and a book in the other. We napped and then rallied for comedy shows and dance performances, late dinners and nights spent dancing to salsa, cumbia and merengue. We snorkeled in the aquamarine waters of Key West and marveled at reefs in the Gulf of Mexico; we took photos at the Southernmost Point, ate fresh conch fritters and fish tacos, cooled down with frosty paletas de coco from a street cart and just barely fit in slices of sweet and sour key lime pie from an adorable shop. We drank in the beauty of Bahamian shores on a private island near Nassau where the only items on the agenda were to eat more conch fritters, drink some cold beer and float in those same teal, blue and impossibly clear waters. Sunshine, sun block, sun tan (ehhem, and a little sunburn that looks like tiger stripes on my boobs thanks to my lace-up bathing suit). Lather, rinse, refill, repeat. 

We disembarked the boat on Monday morning, craving cafe con leche, another round of Cuban food and as much of Miami as we could soak up with what hours we had left. We went straight to Little Havana and hauled our bags up and down Calle Ocho in our own little spontaneous food tour: desayuno at El Exquisito complete with eqqs, hash browns, croquetas, tostada and the most perfect little cup of cafe con leche for less than $6.00 apiece; flaky, buttery pastelitos de guayaba con queso at Yisell Bakery; scoops of decadent ice cream at Azucar unlike anything I've ever tasted: the famous Abuela Maria flavor was rich with guava, cream cheese and crispy, sweet Maria cookies, the creamy mamey flavor a tropical burst of decadence. We stopped at a Cuban market and a couple of shops where I nabbed a fedora, some Cuban cigars and two packets of $1 guava paste to take home. These and the $10 handmade seaglass ring I bought in Nassau were the recuerdos I just couldn't leave without. 

As we awaited a Lyft to our next destination, a woman approached us and asked in Spanish if we were looking to cross the street. She was older, short with long, unkempt black hair, a little chubbs and wearing a bright yellow t-shirt as a very short dress. What she's actually asked was, "Van a cruzar la calle, chicas? Porque yo les paro el trafico con el culo!" I chuckled and replied in my Mexican Spanish that no, we would not be crossing and she lit up immediately - "Oye! Tu eres Mexicana!" She then proceeded to stroll right into oncoming traffic and lift up that t-shirt to reveal her dimpled, downward-sloping derriere in a black thong, scream-singing Mexico, Lindo & Querido at me in the middle of Calle Ocho giving not one smooth, solid fuck about no honking cars. K said something like, "Oh, she meant literally!" as we both stared in giggly shock. She wouldn't let us leave until I promised to take her to Jalisco and K consented to take a picture of her and our Lyft driver. Our driver thought we knew the lady and we thought she did. Nope. Just a stranger stopping traffic con el culo.

The rest of our day was spent strolling around the absolutely stunning grounds of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, amazed at this gem of natural beauty nestled in this bustling city. We also marveled at just how many Quinceañera photo shoots appeared to be going down on a Monday afternoon, wondering later if maybe some of those were actually some Prom Dress/Fashion Nova sessions instead. Still, the place was gorgeous. A picture-perfect ending to a picture-perfect trip. 

Now is when I confess that I came to Miami with baggage and a mood, things of a personal nature that I'll perhaps explore on this blog at a later time. I'm learning slowly that it is not only possible but perfectly acceptable to still feel sadness when you're quite happy with your life in general. I am also beginning to see how important it is to discuss the things that ail us, especially as women, perhaps not in intimate detail, but in whatever way makes us most comfortable. There really is a profound relief in knowing that we aren't alone in our feelings, in our struggle. Our pain may feel sharp and completely unique in our hearts but odds are, a very similar hurt has been shared by one or more (much more) of the women we know.

Travel never ceases to do wondrous things for me. It always, always makes the baggage feel lighter. I keep waiting for the effect to wear off but it never does, and it only makes me want to see more of so many parts unknown. I haven't completely shaken the heaviness but it did in part dissolve slowly in the sun. Isak Dinesin once said that the cure for anything is salt: sweat, tears or the sea. There's also the salt in a perfect meal, on the rim of a cold beverage. Seriously. Échale sal.

I want to pack my bags again. I want more sun. Snow is cool too. I want to see places I've never been to as well as those that I know and love. I want to experience new and fascinating cultures, and also surround myself with the majesty of my vibrant, colorful, Latinos. I want to dance, to laugh, to float, to fly, to drink and to savor. Quiero gozar. These are the things that heal me, that brighten my shadows and inject whimsical melodies into my melancholy. This is what travel does for me. So travel I must, and will.