by Monica Lynne
That deep soul-itch, that anxious feeling of wanderlust -- you know it. I’ve been feeling hardcore urges to fly and explore for months! Matt and I were in deep in self-quarantine in Miami, FL, USA; an epicenter of this pandemic that has plagued and halted the whole world. Surrounded by the safety of our walls, we were feeling stuck here in the Magic City and it’s COVID-rampant airspace. Frozen from fear and lack of funds, we reevaluated our lifestyle. My roots are dug deeply at home, but I ached to wiggle free and skip around the world.
The truth is my illness is progressing: after 15 years with MS, I have a subtle gait in the heat, my fingers tingle and my feet drag. Planning is all-the-more-challenging with a chronic disease and an elderly dog; but carpe diem, “no day but today,” and YOLO feels more urgent than ever. We’re breaking the boundaries of what’s expected of us as a young couple, because we’ve never been interested in the white-picket fence when there are white-peaked mountains to explore.
Holding Matt’s hand along the way, I’m now in Quito, Ecuador living here throughout the extent of my tourist visa. We’re doubling up on that 3-month travel window, settling in here for a bit, and then to the next country and the next after that, telling my story around the world and living out my lifelong dream of global travel as a digital nomad; because MS may slow me down, but it isn’t going to stop me from moving.
Out of all the places you can travel to, why Ecuador!?
I’ve heard that over so many times, even from Ecuadorians themselves. So let me explain.
1. COST OF LIVING
The United States is expensive. There, I said it. Our household comfortably managed to afford U.S.-living with a steady income, only after years of expensive schooling and easily 50 hours per week of work for decades. But that’s all changed after our industries collapsed from the 2020 COVID pandemic. Now we’re counting American pennies in our savings account and asking ourselves: how do we stretch our money and pivot to a digitally nomadic lifestyle?
We chose Ecuador largely because of its cost of living. It’s wildly low as compared to the cost of the standard American way of life. We were excited to learn we could get around the city for just 25 cents, eat a huge meal for $5, and find a comfortable apartment in Quito, the bustling capital of Ecuador, for an easy $400 per month. Yes, dollars. They’re on the dollar system so there’s no need to calculate conversions. That’s a winner.
2. U.S. DOLLAR CURRENCY
Ecuador’s national currency is the U.S. dollar; so as U.S. Americans, we don’t have to deal with conversions. BAM.
#ProTip: Carry cash on you! Most businesses don’t even accept large bills (typically $50+). In fact, because cost of everything is lower, be prepared to collect a lot of coins here. Dolla dolla coins, ya’ll.
In Ecuador, they call it pagar en efectivo, or to pay in cash. With the instability of the Sucre threatening Ecuador’s economy, Ecuador’s government transitioned into use of the U.S. Dollar back in 2000. You can even find Ecuadorian minted coins in amounts lower than one US Dollar (used interchangeably with US coins here too).
3. CHEAP AND EASY TRANSPORTATION
We love using Uber here, and it makes us feel safe when we go from door-to-door, especially at night. The app functions the same in almost every country we’ve visited, including Ecuador. We typically spend about $1 per ride to nearby neighborhood spots (when we don’t feel like walking). Or we’ll spend $5 to go across town on a 30 minute ride. We spent less than $20 for an hour+ ride for long-distance driving out of Quito.
But heads up: Uber may not be available in smaller, rural towns nearby. Like for example, we went to the village of Papallacta and couldn’t return home in an Uber because the service wasn’t available in that location. So we went to a local hotel to request an expensive late-night taxi. Poor planning on our part, but lesson learned.
There are also plenty of local, private services that will exclusively chauffeur. They offer packages to go anywhere for any amount of time as a personal tour guide. This also offers an immense amount of security to ensure safety around the community (and to avoid exposure to too many people during COVID times). We had a private guide pick us up from the airport and also take us to small villages more than an hour away.
Alternatively, bus fares are only $ ,25 per ride and it’s another easy way of getting around the city. Buses and trains are also available to travel to different cities cross-country.
4. LOW RATE OF MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS (MS)
The prevalence of MS is extremely low in Ecuador! There are areas on Earth where MS is less frequently diagnosed, and Ecuador is one of the lowest on that list because it’s right on the equator line. That’s what Ecuador‘s name means, actually–it’s named after the Equator, the imaginary line around the Earth that divides North and South.
“Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is less frequent in areas near the Equator, while the incidence and prevalence rises with increasing distance from this particular area, determining a clear north to south gradient. During the last decade several published reports provide recent data on the prevalence in Latin America. The main objective of this article is to report prevalence data in the three largest cities of Ecuador, a South American Country located on Latitude zero North-South.”
—Prevalence of multiple sclerosis in Ecuador, 2010 study
Since the country is in the middle of Earth, or la mitad del mundo, on the widest point closest to the sun, I wonder if it’s a greater absorption of vitamin D that lowers the risk of contracting this neurological disease. Is it the cool climate, or geothermal activity, or the cultural lifestyle? I’m not sure, but I’m feeling good here.
Since I have MS, it’s a break from my temperature-intolerance that causes constant fatigue. Stepping outside is a slap on the face from the humid pang that lives in the air where I’m from in South Florida; that sticky sweat from the short voyage to the car, that constant squint from the blistering sun. I’m thrilled to spend a day outdoors in cool temperatures without a dragging foot to accompany the weather. Ecuador’s climate provides a constant homeostasis that ensures no relapse-inducing overheating. I can now walk a few neighborhood blocks outdoors without the dreaded foot drop, a drag of the foot when walking. I’m feeling fresh and I have a lot more energy here!
The downside is that with fewer patients comes few treatment options. There are several local neurologists, but I created a preparedness plan with my own personal neurologist that gave me options for treatment while I’m away.
5. COMFORTABLE CLIMATE
Ecuador is known as the land of eternal springtime, eterna primavera; perfect, glorious weather year-round. The warmest it gets in Ecuador is a mere 80F (26C) during their dry season (June – September); but the highlands are hanging at a constant 40-60F (4-15C) range. They only have two seasons; wet and rainy (October – May), dry and warm (June – September).
It’s a change for those who are familiar with a four-season year, but I’m not at all. I originally come from a tropical state of scorching heat, a humid 90F (32C) degrees in Miami, FL, USA. I was raised in a city with one season of various degrees of hot. Suffice to say, I’d easily welcome this change of scenery if only for the pleasant weather. A warm day in Ecuador is a beautiful winter day where I’m from, so it’s very exciting for me.
Ecuador, the country that separates the northern and southern hemispheres of our planet; I’m starting my global romp in the middle—the center of the world, the equator. Ecuador sits cozily in the Central Valley between the Andean Mountains. It’s known as the most biodiverse country in the world featuring four distinct geographical areas—the Sierra mountains (the highlands), the Oriente (eastern rainforests), La Costa (Pacific coastal plains), and the Galapagos Islands. In this small country, there’s a little of everything for all kinds of travelers. There are so many natural wonders in Ecuador, like numerous cascading waterfalls, bustling cities, white-sand beaches and breathtaking landscapes; mountains to climb, nightlife to play, trails to hike, and delicious food to discover.
The people of Ecuador are warm and welcoming, and its history goes far back and runs deep as evident in the beautiful colonial architecture found in all of Ecuador’s main cities. And then, there’s the glorious Galapagos Islands; accessible only by cruise or plane, off the mainland, perched deep in the Pacific Ocean over 3000m (1000km) away. Here, our planet’s most exotic animals call it home. In fact, the Galapagos Islands are so dazzling in wildlife that it inspired Charles Darwin to develop his theory of evolution when he visited in 1835.
7. SAME TIME ZONE
Taking a big leap into this digital nomad lifestyle felt a lot less frightening because we weren’t THAT far from home. Ecuador sits in the same time zone as where I’m from, so there’s no jetlag and no time shift when settling in.
Being a digital nomad requires the location freedom that a remote job offers, but time freedom isn’t always available. Being in the same time zone also promises less scheduling conflicts with work or personal schedules. Ecuador seems like the right fit to jump into this new lifestyle.
8. RESPONSIBLE COVID PREVENTION
Truth is, I feel safer here. Because COVID numbers were desperately high in November 2020 when we moved (and still are), we fled to find a safer space. It’s not that Ecuador has immunity or zero cases of COVID–that’s not their status at all. But numbers are lower as compared to where we come from, and the practices here are more responsible.
Airline passengers to and from the U.S. (ages 2+) must provide a negative COVID-19 viral test taken within three calendar days of travel. Travelers to the U.S. must also provide documentation from a licensed health care provider of having recovered from COVID-19 in the 90 days preceding travel.
To start, wearing a mask in public is mandated by law and noncompliance is subject to hefty fines! As in, if you’re outside your house and you’re not wearing a mask, YOU get a fine; and YOU get a fine; and YOU get a fine–Oprah-style. And it’s not a low-cost-of-living fine either. For endangering public health, you’ll face repercussions.
When walking into any public building; be it a bank, store or restaurant; you’re greeted with a temperature check, alcohol for your hands, and a full-body spray of alcohol for your clothes. Oftentimes, one’s bags and coins are sprayed with disinfecting alcohol. Their safety practices can seem intense, but I feel a sense of security from these strict precautions.
Even traffic circulation for private automobiles are restricted nationwide. Depending on if driving with a license plate that ends in an even or odd number, you can drive on certain days of the week. For example, if a license plate number ends in an even number of 2, 4, 6 or 8, you may only drive on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays; and if your license plate ends in an odd number like 1, 3, 5, 7 or 9, you may only drive on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Everyone can drive their own cars on Sundays. Special permits are required in circumstances like for special services and events. Even with so much precaution, hospitals and clinics are full here. Numbers are lower than back home, but treatment centers are at capacity. Scary times.
9. EASY TO COMMUNICATE
Many people we’ve encountered in Ecuador’s bigger cities speak or understand English; although when you ultimately run into those that don’t, there are so many tools and resources to help. The Google Translate website and the app (available in the App Store and Google Play Store) helps immensely in the moment as a digital interpreter. When you can’t read a menu, point your device to the menu page and voila, an easy translation. When you don’t know how to ask a question, ask the app and it’ll repeat your question aloud in your desired language! It’s saved us in so many languages in various countries.
Duolingo supports learning a new language by providing practical lessons based on your personal experience and preference. What I love most about this app is that it provides basic language techniques based on how you’ll use the language most. Meaning, you can choose if you want to learn usage for restaurants, shopping, family, travel or common phrases. (Available in the App Store and Google Play Store)
Of course, being a Spanish speaker helps, although there are cultural differences between my form of Spanish and the Ecuadorian-style Spanish, like pacing, common slang and polite pleasantries.
10. THE RIGHT TIME IS NOW
We don’t have kids, we have remote jobs, and we decided we’re ready to live a little.
Whether you’re visiting here for travel or you’re looking for a long-term stay, we totally recommend Ecuador!
After months in straight self-quarantine in Miami, we’re escaping into the biggest adventure of our lives thus far, despite my physical challenges and my fear. To be honest, I’m more fearful of the regret I’ll feel if I don’t do this now. If not now, when?
But my status quo, or my current condition, cannot be set in stillness, in waiting for opportunity to come to me. I’m setting my status quo to GO.
Autumn Romance in Saint Augustine
by Monica Lynne
For almost 500 years, historic Saint Augustine has seen its neighboring land expand into our country today. Playing an instrumental part in America’s early history, this bewitching little city has been there, watching America’s growth as its establishing flag first waved on September of 1565. Located on Florida’s northeastern coast, Saint Augustine is the oldest city in the United States. Both history enthusiasts and vacationers equally experience a cozy retreat as Saint Augustine seeps with history and sweet nostalgia. This historic city welcomes guests to its miles of beautiful beaches, historical landmarks, top-rated restaurants, museum explorations, boutique and antique shopping, and state parks; something for everyone looking for a serene escape.
We checked in at the colorful and contemporary Tryp by Wyndham Sebastian St. Augustine hotel, a refreshing contrast to the quaint city surrounding us. This coastal-chic retreat features comforting amenities like a heated outdoor pool, a glorious hot tub, free parking for car, bus and RV is available, Tesla charging stations, laundry services and same day dry-cleaning service, gift shop and shuttle service was also a wonderful convenience during our stay. Our room was sleek, but cozy; and we were grateful for the lovely view of the river from our balcony. Their staff was hospitable and prompt, securing us extra amenities like a microwave and extra coffee. Greeted with a warm welcome, we began our stay in Saint Augustine in a comforting, modern space in this romantic centenarian city.
Our exploration of Saint Augustine began aboard the St. Augustine Scenic Cruise at sunset. We arrived to check-in 20 minutes before departure at The Saint Augustine Municipal Marina, then walked around to tour the beautiful boats docked nearby. After we set sail, we toured Florida’s historic coast cruising by unique views and landmarks, like the Saint Augustine Lighthouse and the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest standing fortress in the continental US completed in 1695. Deeply breathing in the breeze, we wore a light jacket in October and celebrated Florida’s winter warmth against a beautiful sunset backdrop. It was a picturesque start to an enchanting vacation.
After dusk, we strolled hand-in-hand by the San Sebastian River and caught gorgeous sights and a skyline framed by beautiful colonial Spanish architecture. Regal horse-drawn carriages carried romantic couples and sweet families onboard, and they excitedly waved as they strutted on through the Old City District on St. George Street, or what is known as the “main drag”.
Just across the street at Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille, we found their charming courtyard patio and a table for two. Every local we asked confirmed Harry’s as their first recommendation of great dining in the area, so we knew this restaurant was to be part of our itinerary. Their Cajun-inspired menu was a happy feast to our taste buds as they focus on traditional New Orleans flavors, like Etouffee and Jambalaya. The attentive service was impressive and personal; our server offered her menu selections tailored to our liking. She got to know us and our preferred flavor-profiles to ensure an excellent experience. Besides the delicious dining, what made this stop so special was the ambiance. A lively instrumentalist covered acoustic fan-favorites adding to the cozy, quaint feel of our surroundings.
We finished the late evening with Ghost Tours of St. Augustine, a fun walking tour featuring animated storytelling and lore. Setting a spooky mood, we meandered through old, narrow brick streets at night in the dark to find notoriously haunted hubs. We listened to tales based on the history of the city, detailing the personalities that developed today’s St. Augustine, told by an eccentric actor named Gail who played her kooky character flawlessly throughout. We loved the theatrics and thrills, and it was a fun way to explore hidden alleys, passageways and even score a peek at a cemetery with gravestones dated centuries ago. This evening adventure set an exciting tone for a delightful time during the rest of our stay.
Bright and early, we awoke in our comfy abode the following morning at The Tryp by Wyndham ready for another excursion! After a warm breakfast at their cafe, we rolled into the world’s first-ever oceanarium, Marineland Dolphin Adventure, to check off another item on our bucket list. We spent the afternoon in the water with friendly dolphins and their trainers, interacting and communicating with them, and learning how to support their preservation and protection of marine life.
I am not a good swimmer, but they made me feel safe for my well-being and that of the animals, too. The whole experience was unforgettable, especially when we gave our new dolphin-friend a sweet kiss, shared a flipper shake and hitched a quick ride on its dorsal fin. They also feature meet-and-greets with their red-footed tortoises and even dockside interactions with them.
In search of a location where the locals hang, we came across Cafe Eleven, a lowkey cafe and bar with a pet-friendly patio & a killer live music lineup. Located just across the street from the beach, their popular brunch and happy hour features an adventurous selection of craft beers on tap. We grubbed on lunch and sipped on a cold, refreshing brew in this casual environment offering free Wi-Fi and a welcome to stay and relax. One usually sticks to a strict schedule when vacationing, but it was so nice to chill at a cool spot without being rushed. We reference this place all the time, “I wish we had a Cafe Eleven at home!”
St. Augustine is surrounded by beautiful water views. From our lakeside hotel balcony to the sunset cruise on the San Sebastian River to our fun aquatic excursion with dolphins - a major theme of our stay was water. We knew we wanted to end our trip with another beautiful, coastal view. For our final dinner feast, we found Cap’s on the Water. Voted as the “best outdoor dining” in the area, this waterside oyster bar and restaurant offers local seafood on their wooden, outdoor deck and garden canopy. A fresh catch paired with scenic views gave us the perfect dining experience to end our amazing vacation. Looking into the horizon, we sipped on cocktails and paired them with briny St. Augustine oysters. Their space was surprisingly large and busy, but their attentive service team offered a laid-back experience framed by their gorgeous riverscape.
We celebrated the beauty and easy pace of this city, a relaxing paradise perfect for lovers.
We returned home already nostalgic for our romantic getaway, looking forward to our next visit to the charming, historic St. Augustine, a place to visit any time of year: winter, spring, summer, or fall.
But little did we know that only a few months later our lives would change so much and our return to St. Augustine would take us an entire year before planning a come back. But we are thrilled that finally we can plan a visit again. Welcome Fall 2020. It's time to revisit beautiful St. Augustine, Florida!
333 S Ponce De Leon Blvd, St. Augustine, FL 32084
By Jorge A. Barriere-Mendez
If I would have closed my eyes fifteen, or twenty years ago and I had glanced into my most idealistic sense of the future just to try and imagine a stretch of road, or a thoroughfare, with the most incredible resorts and condominium properties, it would have been something like Sunny Isles Beach Miami what I would have imagined. Granted, it would have been difficult to envision the pristine landscapes manicured to perfection, the clean and well-kept parks and shopping centers, the endless row of uniquely and beautifully designed and constructed resort hotels and condominiums, that like sentinels, guard this precious city that sits proudly with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west.
As you drive through the city, you marvel at the preciseness in the details, the way in which well managed private and governmental capital can present a pleasant and appealing sense of belonging to every tourist, independently of budget. Sunny Isles Beach Miami is for everyone, and the city managers, makers and shakers need to be commended, for this is one of the most difficult tasks to achieve – make all and everyone feel welcome. But they have managed to do it here, and as a guest at one of their fantastic restaurants, an occupant in one of their luxurious resorts, or one of their more budget conscience hotels, one can really enjoy a piece of lovely life and a well-deserved appeasement to our hectic daily-ness, whether with a vacation, a short get-away, or even a short visit to enjoy the culinary options available.
Acqualina Resort & Spa
Days Hotel by Wyndham
DoubleTree by Hilton
JW Marriott Turnberry Resort & Spa
Marenas Beach Resort
Newport Beachside Hotel & Resort
Ramada Marco Polo Beach Resort
Residence Inn Miami Sunny Isles Beach
Trump International Beach Resort
And of course, all cities have their history, because it’s precisely its history what creates the inimitable sense of distinctiveness. In 1920, it was known as ‘Sunny Isles, the America Riviera’. Once the Haulover Bridge was completed in 1925, the city grew in importance. The Fulford-Miami Speedway, an all-wooden racetrack was built in 1920 and it was the forerunner to auto races at Sebring and Daytona. It was here that the first two-story motel in the United States was built. The Sunny Isles Pier, now the Newport Fishing Pier, was designated as a Historic Site in 1982.
And yes, let’s talk about that Pier.
Flawless blue was created underneath that structure. The ocean breeze likes it there, you can tell, because a person can just stand at that pier, open those nostrils and wonder how can salt smell so sweet. One can hear the unmistakable fisherman’s noises as they tend to their lines. The domesticated pelicans at their feet waiting for leftovers. The whispering of a consenting ocean as it looks back at people. There should be a place like this in heaven, or there should be a heaven for a place like this... As you walk towards the Pier, vacationers and residents enjoy a beach view that extends for miles on each side of it. There are public and private areas to give privacy to the condominium residents and resort guests.
Sunny Isles Beach Miami has well attended to public parks – Heritage Park with its Memorial Wall and beautiful stage, where free concerts are offered to anyone in need of soothing hours with the sounds of classical music, or excitement with upbeat rhythms. And there’s Samsun Oceanfront Park and other great landscaped, seating areas and playgrounds for families to enjoy. You also have Haulover Beach Park & Marina and Oleta River State Park very near by, among others.
If one is hungry and ready for a great meal, your hotel or resort sure offers great dining options, but Sunny Isles Beach can certainly take care of your appetite with a variety of dining options throughout the city.
Shopping anyone? Shopping Centers with a great variety of boutiques and gourmet stores are waiting with a friendly welcoming disposition. This city offers a palate of colors for every inquisitive brush, for every imaginable taste. I was pleasantly surprised by its appeal, its unconventional good taste, its placid ways of going about its business. Sunny Isles Beach Miami is located minutes from Bal Harbour Shops and Aventura Mall, and right in the center between Miami-Dade and Broward counties, which offers easy access to and from a myriad of shopping and entertainment opportunities.
Bal Harbour Shops
The Village at Gulfstream Park
After many years I decided to visit, I have since re-visited a few times, and I have to say, it gets better every time. I have found new places of interest with every visit. It’s a pretty place, and it knows how to make you feel good, and leave you wanting to come back for more. If you haven't been to Sunny Isles Beach Miami, or if you haven't been for a long time, believe me when I say - It is worth a return visit.
About the Author
Jorge A Barriere-Mendez is a published author with several short stories published in magazines and periodicals. He has published four books with the last one being a novel – Papi’s Lover, a crime-drama love story. Visit BarriereMendez.com to learn more about this versatile, controversial, and creative writer.
By Jorge A Barriere-Mendez
The decision to visit Key West for this month’s travel article was the easiest one to make because man needs appeasement of the soul on a regular basis - Key West is one of those magical places where such endeavor could be had and in any needed quantity. The only dilemma here is where to start, how to truly do justice to a city like Key West?
The city lies at the southernmost end of the United States. It’s about four miles long and about one mile wide with a total land mass of 4.2 square miles. And that’s the empirical side of it. But the Keys demand that you imagine, that you conjure up and look beyond commonness. It’s like a small wonderland where tourists go to escape the dailiness; it’s a charming place where the past looks back at you authentically. It’s what you find when you open the door to your time machine and suddenly you are surrounded by pristine structures and houses that date back to the 1800’s – one to two and a half-story wooden framed structures set on foundation piers with horizontal wood siding gingerbread trim, covered porches, or balconies, or verandas. Amazingly kept, maintained, preserved by what must be the most zealot of preservation committees on earth. There’s no place like Key West, I want to attest. One visit and the next thing you do is to imagine a life in this place, as a wish, as a hope.
It’s history? Well, this is a town of story-tellers and story-telling. In Pre-colonial times Key West was inhabited by the Calusa people. Visited by the first European in 1521 when Florida became a Spanish Territory. The Island was ‘littered’ with the remains (bones) of prior native inhabitants who used the island as a communal graveyard – hence the Spanish name Cayo Hueso (Cay Bone). The Spanish Governor of Cuba in Havana deeded the island of Key West to one Juan Pablo Salas who promptly sold it twice, to a general for $575 and to a businessman over drinks in a Havana café. That last time for two thousand pesos. But on March 22, 1822, the Keys became United States property. By 1830, Key West was the richest city per capita in the United States. In 1982, Key West declared its independence and called itself The Conch Republic in response to the Border Patrol blockade of the Overseas Highway and still today, some of the natives will ‘raise their conch’ when it comes time to salute the flag.
There’s a bohemian feel to all of it, a rebellious something in the salty wind, and individualism that’s concentrated in every person that calls this place home. There’s no pattern to follow, no specific way to be, but your own. This is a place of non-prototypes. Every human being here is an invention of its own. Let me just say that the city motto is ‘One Human family’. My God, it’s DNA-impossible to be more accommodating than the people down here in The Keys. But let’s get down to business: KEY WEST, 2019.
The one thing we all must do once we get to Key West and reach the end of US 1, is to turn right on Roosevelt Blvd and make a stop somewhere to replenish after the long drive. We did, and our choice was Half Shell Raw Bar where Bobby K, the Operations Manager, welcomed us with a courteous smile. Manager Rick next to him leading the way to our table. We sat with the ocean under us. Wooden pier and the marina to our left, and a perfectly laid out restaurant to our right. Angela, our server, did all that she could do to make the time memorable. And it was. A must-stop if one wants to experience Key West casual dining at its best.
Next stop on our journey was a place called Ocean Key Resort and Spa and its Sunset Pier. We timed and coordinated the trip just so that we could be sitting down by six in the afternoon on that pier to watch the most amazing show – Key West’s sunset. Or maybe I should say America’s sunset since it’s arguably the preferred place to watch sundown in the United States. The moistness of a glass of wine on your fingertips. The ocean breeze tenderly slapping at your face. Sunglasses perched on your nose. You’d gladly pay for this, but of course, it’s free. And what can I say about Key West’s sunset? I don’t know where red comes from when it settles in the sky like that. I have no idea how different hues of blue can lay one on top of the other with such harmony. So different and yet – all blue! You want to applaud the spectacle, then you wonder how it manages to repeat itself every day. Gloriously so. And then the whispering from the tables next to you. The lost seagulls and pelicans that fly by in the midst of almost darkness.
If you want to feel yourself in the moment, this is it. If you want to explode in happiness just because you are alive – Yeah, here in the Keys, in Sunset Pier at sunset and beyond, or Mallory Square for that matter, just fifty yards away. A place for romance, for the lover of nature, the closeness to the ocean, the beautiful skies you wish you could only touch, but instead it touches you.
The Ocean Key Resort and Spa was the perfect choice for our stay. The One-Bedroom Suite had window panes to the ocean and balconies to heaven. The spaciousness of the place was impressive; the king bed was high and mighty, the bathroom had a whirlpool tub big enough for two, with windows that would allow you to see into your room and through the room's window into the ocean. Morning came suddenly. The idea that Key West was out there for the taking didn’t allow sleep passed 7am, as I felt the vibrancy leaning against the windows. I stepped outside and into the balcony wanting to hear the murmur of the waving ocean whistling its ancient sign language. Awesome! Ocean Key Resort and Spa and the view from my suite was breathtaking. As we walked toward the elevator, we saw the most incredible sea of flowering vines creating a natural rooftop to the parking area. The cleanliness, the hospitality offered by all the employees was always on display. Breakfast at the Hot Tin Roof Restaurant followed. Cozy, with the blueness of the sea almost at touching distance. Dmitri, our server, made sure all was well. Breakfast hit all the right spots and away we went.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum was the obligatory first stop for me. Muses are so mystifying and scarce and to be able to visit the place where one famous writer found many of his, proved to be irresistible. Lush tropical gardens, fifty-five cats that live like kings and queens, Hemingway’s writing studio carefully preserved, and a tour guide that told stories about his adventures, experiences, his foolish drinking, and a whole wall that celebrated his womanizing ways. I saw his path to suicide clearly outlined throughout that house. History has these sad tinges sometimes, that’s exactly what makes it real.
Then, a rush of adrenaline was to be had on board Classic Harbor Line's ‘Schooner America 2.0’. A sailboat that big and pretty is a sight to behold, but to be in it is an occurrence that would linger. To transverse the open sea under gigantic outstretched sails is an exhilarating experience that brings forth all the hidden emotions as one reconnects with what’s primal and authentic. Dolphins joyfully keeping pace next to the vessel making you wonder at the vastness and the unknown under those bustling blue sheets we call oceans. Captain Heather and her two professional sailors, Aaron and Jim, made it all possible. The skipper keeping it steady, although at times the going got a bit tremulous over rough waters and we were treated to a display of dexterity with those two men next, above and on those sails, expertly guiding the sailboat through perilous moments and then safety. Splendid is the one word that comes to mind to summarize the event.
Then we boarded the ‘Conch Train’: A trolley with four stops along the way. A person could disembark in any one of these stops and marvel and wonder about Old Town and the Historic District for as long as he or she wants and then, just take the next train and continue the adventure. Many, many stories along the way, expertly told by the conductor. Tidbits, curiosities, amazing historical facts. From that trolley, one could hear the constant crowing of the world famous Key West roosters. One can see remarkable almond trees and gigantic old banyan trees. We were mesmerized by the easiness in which Key West can transport you to gone-years, how it accesses memories and grabs at felt-emotions and at rusted feelings, bringing them back with a fascinating luster. The scent of the ocean accentuating the experience. The lushness of the place. The history to behold with every glance.
Then hunger stroke and we felt we needed a special place to slay the creature and we settled on Tavern N Town located at The Marriot Beachside Hotel. It’s an exquisite cuisine experience as well as the right place for a romantic dinner, or to bring family and friends to enjoy fine dining. It seems that Chef Rodrigo Alvarez prepares every one of those dishes for self-consumption. Our server, Roy Svenningsen was gracious and managed to show his expertise and years of experience with every word and gesture. Aaron Yeoman, the Restaurant Manager, dropped by for a quick gracious chat.
We tried to be discreet, but our professional camera gave us away while taking pictures of the food and the well-organized open kitchen concept of the restaurant and we were able to meet the hotel’s Director of Food & Beverage Operations, Dave Talpasz, who oversees the entire Food & Beverage outlets of the hotel. We were able to chat with him and learn more about him and his operation as we were leaving, and learned enough to want to highlight them and their amazing food, service, and elegant, but not overbearing décor. All in all, Tavern N Town was a perfect choice.
Then we headed back to the Resort. Next day we walked Duval Street for a while and agreed we had to soon return and be part of Duval Street night extravaganza. Its music. Its inimitable bohemian feel. The artists in this place, the many, many other attractions, lures, and charms that Key West offers.
Days, if not weeks are needed because Key West has a unique asset, a marvelous thing as a possession –It has the power to ignite a self-conversation; it opens up a space within the person to be inhabited by owner. Abstract and conjectural, almost ontological in nature. In Key West, one wants to close one’s eyes, grab a hold of one’s heart, and take a deep breath.
And one irremediably does–
About the Author
Jorge A Barriere-Mendez is a published author with several short stories published
in magazines and periodicals. He has published four books with the last one being a
novel – Papi’s Lover, a crime-drama love story. Visit BarriereMendez.com to learn more about this versatile, controversial, and creative writer.
Click below for other Barriere-Mendez's articles.
Featured artist: Lynne Fischer
Lynne's art depicts many of the beautiful Key West sceneries. Her style is representational, incorporating peaceful themes of landscapes, seascapes, botanicals and vignettes with architectural elements. With many layers of colorful glazes, her work captures light and shadow. Fischer’s work often includes Interesting perspective and angles.
Ocean Key Resort . Key West, Florida . Oceanfront, One Bedroom Suite
Classic Harbor Line
A tribute to the 1851 America's Cup winner, America 2.0 is Classic Harbor Line's largest, fastest, and most elegant sailboat.
202 Williams Street
Key West, Florida
The Florida Keys & Key West We are bringing you bits and pieces about Key West as we are experiencing it with our every visit. But to learn all about Key West and the Florida Keys, this is your best resource for information.
Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum
Home to one of America’s most honored and respected authors. He lived and wrote here for more than ten years, calling Key West home.
907 Whitehead Street
Key West, Florida
Conch Tour Train
No Key West vacation is complete without The World Famous
Conch Tour Train.
201 Front Street
Key West, Florida
A fantastic place to spend the afternoon and watch the sunset with daily entertainment during the
400 Wall Street
Key West, Florida
Guild Hall Gallery
Established since 1976 and the oldest Duval Street art gallery located in its original location.
614 Duval Street
By Jorge A Barriere-Mendez
The mystic, the attraction, the soul of any city is to be found in its history. The uniqueness of places is established by its trajectory through time, how it reacted and adapted to a reality that many a time was given by chance, proximity to events, the immigration of humanity due to capricious whims of others in neighboring places. All of the above are the variants that made Little Havana what it is today, and what a wonderful place to visit, wonder and wander it has become.
When we transverse the streets of Little Havana, we cannot not feel the ghosts of the past telling us their little stories; the walls with the dents of history, the ambiance so full of energy and excitement. A city that awaits to be rediscovered after each sundown. A neighborhood that yearns to be understood with every crack of dawn.
When we delve in its history, the first thing that must be mentioned is that in 2015 it was included in the National Trust for Historic Preservation Annual List of the Endangered Places and in 2017, The Trust declared it a National Treasure. . . So there, a National Treasure. And for those who had visited, and for those that have lived it – a treasure it is.
Before the world paid attention to this city, before the fingers of olden times and history pointed at its premises and made it special, Little Havana was known as Shenandoah and Riverside. Two sprawling communities lying immediately west of Downtown Miami. Dirt roads, horses and carts, men hustling their ways to a living. Home to a thriving Jewish community way back when signs of ‘Only Gentiles’ dis-adorned public walls and businesses. In 1904, Isidor Cohen, the first documented Jewish resident in Miami, declared Shenandoah as his place of residency.
The sobriquet of Little Havana was bestowed upon this city back in the early 60’s when thousands and thousands of Cubans arrived from the nearby island and immediately became a hotbed of counter-revolutionary activities aimed at the communist government of Fidel Castro back in Cuba. Those early residents believed they were temporary transients waiting out Castro’s demise but nonetheless, Cubans thrived in Little Havana and by 1962, 28 businesses between SW 5th and 15th Avenue on Eighth Street switched ownership from Anglos to Cubans. And this brings us to world-renown Eighth Street – Calle Ocho.
And let’s just think about that for a minute: any town that numbers its streets has an eighth - an obscure block that sits between seventh and ninth street. One like all the others. Not here in Little Havana. Eighth Street, Calle Ocho is a one-way, four lane, eastbound thoroughfare and it’s an ongoing party where locals dance their ways to a happy dailiness and tourists marvel at a vitality and a way of life that includes joy, music and dance steps in its everyday occurrence. Calle Ocho summons all that’s festive in a person and brings it forth with an impetus and energy that few places on Earth can muster. You walk Eighth Street in the daytime and you can close your eyes and feel like a child in Disney World with music as a constant companion, and the bustling sounds of people as they nervously want to see it all, immersing themselves in a massive party. And then of course, here, nighttime and the night life is a breathtaking world to behold and cherish. . . . But before we discuss the nightlife with all of its possibilities, let’s converse about daytime first.
Here, under the balmy sun, you can see police patrol the streets atop their horses, saluting tourists and locals with a wave of their hands from above their handsome animals. Here, you have a park dedicated to the game of dominoes and old and new generations of Cubans, elbows hovering over tables, will have friendly arguments about who’s the best player at the table. Dominoes – a game invented in China and brought to Italy in the 18th century and appropriated by Calle Ocho players. Here, beneath the breezy blue sky, your sense of hearing will be serenated by live music coming out of restaurants and bars as you walk and wander. Here, the most wonderful wall murals will look down on you and you will return the favor only because the force of their artistry and colors will force you to. You’ll wonder at the artist resourcefulness and talent. A more refined art connoisseur will find plenty of galleries here, to drench his or her appetite as well. Theaters stand close to each other with serious plays and comedic offerings. Here, you can actually see craftsmen at their tables rolling their next masterpiece – a just made Cuban Cigar. Here, as you look down, you’ll realize that you have been stepping on a Walk of Fame and the ‘stars’ of Celia Cruz, Charytin, Maria Conchita Alonso and many, many others that have been absentmindedly trampled and how not to, as you were entertained by the next curious, or awesome spectacle. . . . Daytime runs away from you as you follow others in an almost daze and soon the darkness of the tropical night is upon you with its exciting premises and promises. ‘Hoy Como Ayer’, ‘Ball and Chain’, Cubaocho, Alfaro's, Casa Juancho and a few other venues for fun and sinful possibilities await, because to singles and adventurous couples, a night in Little Havana could and should be a night to remember.
Jorge A Barriere-Mendez, writer and Tony Mendoza, artist
Featured artist, Cuban-American Tony Mendoza was born in Newburgh, New York. Tony and his family moved to MIami's Little Havana where he was raised.
Much of Tony's art is inspired in the neighborhood of Little Havana, colorful, happy and whimsical in nature with a fantastic sense of humor and uniqueness all his own. The best memorabilia from your trip to Miami, or anywhere you visit, is an art piece from a local artist to display in your home or office. Check out Tony Mendoza's calendar of events and meet the artist in person, or purchase your art piece through his website.
"As a Cuban-American living in Miami almost my entire life, I can relate with Tony's work. With more than just a stare of admiration towards his art, Tony puts a smile on my face and a happy stride in my walk as I strut away with one of his pieces. Tony Mendoza's art depicts a great part of what Miami is all about. A perfect take-home work-of-art for visitors and residents."
Bertha Morales, CouplesBest.com
Continue reading 'Miami's Little Havana' article . . .
Let’s start with the music. Cuban music is legendary in its quantitative as well as its qualitative nature. Any casual Google search will tell you that ‘Due to the syncretic nature of most of its genres, Cuban music is often considered one of the richest and most influential regional music of the world’.
Little Havana is one of the few places on earth, outside of Cuba, of course, that can attest to that. Many true and authentic Cuban musicians make Little Havana and South Florida their homes. Many great musicians from other nationalities had settled in and have dedicated their artistic lives to promulgate and indulge in all Cuban musical genres. From that very first note, the genuineness of that Cuban beat here in Little Havana will lift you, embrace you, and will take you back to its roots – The Cuban nights of Old Havana, or Manzanillo Oriente and its ‘Son Montuno’, or the bustling nights of Matanzas and its ‘Guaguancos’. That first intention will be to lean back and enjoy, until you realize that you are no longer sitting and instead you are dancing and sweating and passionately engaged like seldom before. That’s part of the magic of a Little Havana night.
Ambiance is another magical nocturnal variant here. Abandonment comes to mind. This sense of freedom from old restrains. A pass has been given – a pass to uncharted territories. It comes from within, this need to explode, to explore, to be part of the peculiar surroundings. Then at some point in the night you’ll be introduced to a ‘Cuban Mojito’, arguably, Little Havana drink of choice and definitely, part of its folklore. The drink is conjured up as alchemy; it goes down your throat as a magical potion; and it’s the perfect scapegoat to point at and blame the next day when normality assumes its repetitive role, because you will suddenly be part of a ‘conga line’. You will be conversing in an alien language and sweltering and jumping and you’ll be far from tired. You don’t want it to end, the vitality in you will be awesome. And then you’ll realize that the night is just getting started and the options are all laid bare right in front of you, like an awe inspiring buffet.
And then there’s the vibrancy and the exhilarating pace. Dancers, professionals if they so desired, displaying their abilities right next to you and you touch them hoping that by some miraculous act of osmosis, their abilities would rub on you. And somehow it happens, or you think it does, and you find yourself in a circle and all are clapping for you.
It is all part of an ongoing fascination for you too have become an annex, an intrinsic part of Little Havana . . .
About the Author
Jorge A Barriere-Mendez is a published author with several short stories published
in magazines and periodicals. He has published four books with the last one being
a novel – Papi’s Lover, a crime-drama love story. Visit BarriereMendez.com to learn more about this controversial, creative and talented writer.
Click below for other Barriere-Mendez's articles.
By Ada Ramos
The Poconos has been a world renown vacation destination for couples for many years, but nowadays it is filled with more fun and entertainment than ever before.
The Pocono Mountains are located on the northeast region of Pennsylvania covering Carbon, Pike, Monroe and Wayne counties, with breathtaking waterfalls, rivers, and woodlands.
The area known as a honeymoon destination for its lodging with famous champagne-glass and heart-shaped tubs, also offers steamy whirlpools, saunas, log burning fireplaces and spas as part of their romantic features. Add to all of that its romantic surroundings, with lush vegetation, snowed mountains and the breathtaking beauty of the scenery just about everywhere you look and it will all make for a great honeymoon, anniversary, vacation or a romantic getaway.
Cuddling up with your significant other in a horse drawn sleigh, snuggling in front of a fire place zipping hot cocoa, or enjoying a romantic dinner, are some of the experiences couples can explore in this mountain paradise.
With over 150 slopes and trails for beginners, intermediates and experts, you will be able to get your adrenaline going in whatever winter sport may be of interest to you. Skiing, snowboarding, tubing, ice skating and dogsleds are just part of the fun experience you can enjoy in this magical place for couples or the entire family and there is something to do in every season of the year.
For a romantic stay, a rustic mountain retreat would be ideal as you cozy up by the fire place in a cottage or a cabin. That may certainly keep that loving feeling burning. There are inns and hotels available as an option that also have a peaceful, serene ambiance and adults-only properties certainly offer that stimulating tranquil feel that will fancy intimate and romantic conversations.
Campgrounds ranging from tents and RVs to cabins and glamping sites are a favorite during the warmer months, for the natural beauty, landscape and beautiful views all around them. Most tent sites provide fire pits, picnic tables, water, electricity, restrooms and showers. RV campsites may offer pools, stores equipped with ice and snacks. Cottages are a home away from home with kitchens, fireplaces and BBQ grills. Glamping, the ultimate experience to camping, offer the luxury of a bed, coffee maker, breakfast and more.
There are great options for both couples and families. Many of these family options truly serve to connect families creating beautiful memories through the adventures of outdoor experiences. Imagine your family enjoying the views of the Delaware River, the excitement found on a mountain bike ride, a game of paintball, splashing at one of four indoor waterparks, visiting Claws 'N' Paws Wild Animal Park, sightseeing on a horseback ride, train ride, fishing, boating, jet skiing or simply watching the sunset are all great activities for couples and families. For the adrenaline junkie there is zip lining courses from Camelback Mountain or a skydiving adventure from Sky’s the Limit Skydiving Center. And don't forget the hayrides, chairlift rides and historic reenactments during local festivals.
An array of dining experiences and great cuisine is available. Wineries and Breweries are also found throughout the region.
Winters are majestic, springs are blooming and fragrant, summers are warm and exciting, falls are bright and colorful. Whether winter, spring, summer of fall, there is always something exciting to do in the Poconos.
Visiting The Poconos can truly be one of the best experiences for romance, or the best family outdoor vacation of your life.
Visit Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau for more information on visiting this fantastic destination.
Photography courtesy of Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau.
For more information about this fantastic destination, visit the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau by clicking the link below.
Bushkill Falls . The Poconos
If they don't have good reviews on Yelp, I yell... Yes, I yell, "No way Jose."
Everyone's experiences can be different, and even your own from one dinner outing to the next, or one hotel stay to the next. In that same restaurant you always went to and service was always fantastic, it may be completely different the next time you visit.
And so right before I make a decision to stay somewhere or dine somewhere, particularly if I have not been there for a while, or most importantly if I have never been, I check Yelp, OpenTable, TripAdvisor, or Google Reviews. While these are my go-to sites (at least for now), there are many others you can check before you make a decision.
I strongly recommend you do the same. Right here, in our website, we talk about places to go to, hotels to stay in, restaurants to enjoy dinner at. For the most part, these are places we have visited and had great experiences in, but everywhere you go there may be employee turnover, change in management, wrong person hired, and this may change the overall experience of someone's visit. So checking the latest reviews is what we like to do.
We always recommend you do your own research right before you set out to make your reservation for that next trip, dinner or stay.