‘Welcome to the USA’, the sign was just visible above a sea of people crammed into the arrivals terminal at Fort Lauderdale Airport. It was nearly midnight and after a nine-hour flight from London, we’d now been stuck in immigration queues for almost four hours. The perfect start to our two-day layover in Miami, right?
Avoid Fort Lauderdale Airport like the Plague!
We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for when we booked cheap flights to Fort Lauderdale en-route to Colombia. Take my advice, avoid that shitstorm of an airport like the Plague. Since posting about our experience on Facebook, we’ve heard many similar stories, so it wasn’t just a one-off either. Trouble started brewing when, upon landing, our pilot informed us that we couldn’t disembark because of a backlog at immigration. An hour later we were released into the terminal, where our troubles really began.
Where do I start? Perhaps it was the new immigration machines they’d just had installed (less than 50 for all the thousands of passengers that pass through the airport), the fact that the staff didn’t seem to have a clue what was going on, or that immigration officers were meticulous with their questions, but we ended up queuing for three hours just to get out of that airport. Old people, those with babies and young kids, we all queued relentlessly with no apology or explanation, getting yelled at if we dared to use our phones.
Worse still, when we finally got through immigration and went to pick up our bags, we witnessed a member of airport staff verbally abusing a woman who didn’t speak English and couldn’t understand his instructions. I can’t bring myself to type the horrible things he was saying, but it was all wrapped up in layers of misogyny, racism and xenophobia, a blatant abuse of power. Yes, that was just one person, but it was hard not to see it as a reflection of Trumpian views, particularly in light of the president’s recent comments about ‘shithole’ countries.
I want to note that this episode, and the unfriendly airport welcome we received, was bafflingly at odds with our experiences of visiting the US, where we find people are so warm, open and welcoming. We love travelling in America and are determined not be put off by this experience.
Two days in Miami
After renting a car and checking in very late to our Airbnb, we awoke the next morning to blue skies and sunshine. This was the perfect antidote to our nightmare arrival and a welcome change from the drab UK winter weather we’d just fled. With just two days to explore Miami before flying on to Colombia, we got cracking immediately.
First stop, breakfast at a nearby vegan cafe, where we enjoyed fluffy pancakes laden with fruit. I have fond memories of the many blueberry pancakes I ate during our trip to New England in 2015, and was worried that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy this slice of American goodness now that we’re vegan. I needn’t have worried though, as it turns out these were just as great, if a little smaller than the Maine version.
As we headed to the city’s tourist heart, Miami Beach, we drove through downtown, a sprawl of glitzy, high-rise office blocks bordered by a harbour where boats bobbed on aquamarine water. Ocean Drive felt just like a movie set, all palm trees, colourful Art-Deco buildings and street-front restaurants where people sat sipping huge cocktails.
We wandered across the boardwalk, which was busy with cyclists, roller bladers and dog walkers, emerging on iconic Miami Beach. Picture white sands lapped by calm, turquoise waters set against a backdrop of modern towers and swanky hotels. There were brightly-coloured lifeguard towers, sunbathers and cheeky seagulls who tried to snatch crisps from Andrew’s hand. We even spotted an iguana chilling in the sun.
Next up was Miami’s Cuban Quarter, Little Havana. Here, the streets are painted with bright murals and lined with historic buildings like the Tower Theater, as well as cigar shops, Cuban restaurants and bars where live bands with maraca-shaking men play. At Domino Park, people crowd around tables, playing with staunch concentration for hours on end.
Back on Miami Beach, we lounged on the sand, listening to the waves, feeling the January sun on our jet-lagged bodies. After some extreme cold weather in Europe, it felt so good to be back in a sunny, tropical environment and even better to be at the start of a new adventure. Months of travel in South America stretch ahead of us, filled with the promise of sunshine and avocados, the Amazon and the Andes, salt flats and Inca ruins, historic cities and golden beaches.
Pin Me For Later!
Despite the travel dramas and long hours we spend working to fund our journey, I try never to forget just how fortunate we are to have been able to choose this life for ourselves. Next stop: Cartagena, Colombia!