Miami Beach & Calle Ocho

Monday March 31, 2014

Dinner Club

That place that was on the top of Matt’s list of where he never wanted to visit? Yup, we’re back there. Again. Except today had a lot more in store for us than just a stroll down the boardwalk or some good old fashioned people watching. Our day started early and went all night long.

Just as ready as we were getting ready to leave the DeLaro household this morning, those cute little ankle biters that guard the door tore out of the house and led to an early morning Chasing of the Dogs. Luki must be some kind of animal whisperer and he was able to scoop up one of the unsuspecting fluff balls and used it to lure the other one back home, as if it were running with a sausage dangling in front of it’s nose. Once they were secured back in the house we piled all six of us into the family golf cart to bumble down to Alfredo’s sister’s house for breakfast.  Even though my late night of mixing beer, wine, and RumChada had me barely able to get down a muffin in the morning (apparently even just a little bit of each will do that to you), it was great getting to know Alfredo’s sister and brother in law a little better, and we even had the chance to meet his dad who was full of questions for Matt and Luki about what it was like to sail around the world.  More of those questions were aimed toward Luki since I don’t think we’ve covered near as much ground as they have, but we were still able to throw in a few Caribbean crossings here and there.  

On the way back the keys to the golf card were handed to me, and it didn’t even take 5 minutes for me to almost kill all of us while running a red light at a major intersection.  The braking was just a little bit different than I was used to, and trying to pump on them would have put me right at a stop in the middle of the intersection.  I did manage to keep us alive long enough to get to the marina where Kajaya is anchored, and then pass back the keys to someone who knew what they were doing while we toured the rest of Key Biscayne.  All I can say is this place has some money.  If I thought the McMansions on Lake Sylvia were big, I was blown away by what was going up here.  We toured all the ritzy neighborhoods and even saw the house where Scarface was filmed.

running of the dogs

group at marina

scarface house

Back at the house it was a quick energy burst with a fill up of pop (they had Coke, and Pepsi) before splitting into two actual cars to hit up Miami beach.  I’m sure the golf cart would have made it just fine, but only if I was at the helm.  It’s obvious I’m the only one who knows how to handle that thing.

We parked right in front of Ana Bianca & Alfredo’s old apartment which was just a few blocks from the beach.  Even though I live on a boat, I’m always on the water, and always near a beach, I envied the fact that they used to stroll down the street with a coffee in hand to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic, or with a cooler full of beers in the afternoon, ready to take in the scene.  Surf and turf.  That’s the way to do it.

The six of us searched about the same number of bike stands before we finally came across one that had enough for all of us to ride.  With 30 minutes purchased, we hopped on those bad boys and pedaled the boardwalk of Miami Beach, an area that I’m now becoming quite familiar with.  I’m tell you, there’s just something about this place that keeps drawing me back.

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bicycling in south beach

 

We found time in the afternoon to do a little strolling of the streets as well.  Apparently there’s a big shopping district that Matt and I missed the first time around and I had no problem this time running in and out of H&M and Forever 21, trying to find new bikinis or outfits at deeply discounted prices.  Matt wasn’t in the shops with me, I had the credit card, and everything was fair game.  Surprisingly I walked out of every store empty handed which is a sign that Matt’s just rubbing off on me too much.  It was slightly satisfying to walk up to him though and proudly say “I bought nothing“.

When everyone had gotten their shopping in and we enjoyed a sweet afternoon treat of custard, we piled back into the cars for a tour of Little Havana, or Calle Ocho as it’s also known.  It’s an area of Miami that’s full of Cuban restaurants, shops, and markets.  They even have a McDonald’s there that serves rice and beans as a side because it’s so popularly requested.

On the grand tour we walked by a park full of old men playing dominoes, and an area of statues and monuments with tribute to Cuba.  Since we were missing our great Cuban friend Luis, the last and only missing member of the Dinner Club, we thought it would be nice to get a group photo of all of us that we could send to him back in Guatemala.  Asking the first random guy we saw walking down the street, we soon found this was not a wise choice.  Because this man was a Cuban.  That wanted to give us all a lesson on Cuba.  Six people who had all actually been to Cuba, and one that was of Cuba heritage.  We humored him for a little bit and sang along to the songs he was trying to teach us while he simultaneously made a grasshopper from palm fronds.  20 minutes and no photo later, we finally pulled another guy off the street to take our picture, allowing our ‘Cuban Tour Guide’ to be in it with us.

Having lost most of the afternoon now and still needing to get back to Key Biscayne for dinner at Alfredo’s sister’s, we took in just a little bit more of Little Havana, stopping at one of the restaurants for real Cuban coffee, super strong and super delicious, and ham and cheese croquetas.  Mmmm, just like I remembered them.  Since we were in the area we popped into a market to pick up some meat and veggies for dinner and then made our way back to the island for a costume change before dinner since the clouds had come in bringing a huge temperature drop with them.

Calle Ocho memorial

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Our night was rounded out with another family dinner, although not quite as big or with as many family members as the night before.  It was great though, sitting pool side of the complex where Alfredo’s sister Ivonne and husband Vance live where Luki got the brie (BBQ) ready, and Mimi (his mother) showed up with some freshly made peach daiquiris.  We sampled the mahi that Kajaya caught on their Gulf Stream passage from Isla Mujeres, and talked about the whens on where we’ll see each other next since we know that this can’t be it for our group.  I’m so happy that Matt and I decided to stay another night and can’t even imagine all that we would have missed had we gone home early.

It’s going to be a hard thing to leave tomorrow morning and go back to the boat where it will just be the two of us again for the foreseeable future as we move along to the Bahamas.  I am really, really going to miss these people as they truly have become family to us.  Long live the Guatemalan Dinner Club, you will always have a special place in our hearts.

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Matt & Jessica & Luki

Ana Bianca & Alfredo

 

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A Dinner Club Reunion

Sunday March 30, 2014

dinner club reunion

Back when Matt and I were in Guatemala we had a great thing going. I mean a great thing. We managed to sneak into one of the last open slips at the same beautiful marina our friends Luki & Elmari of s/v Skebenga were staying in, and made friends with the members of two other boats that were some of the very few to actually stay through hurricane season. Between the four boats, consisting of the four of us as well as Luis of m/v Hydromax and Ana Bianca of s/v Kajaya, we found ourselves getting together for dinner every single night. With each of the other boats consisting of at least one great cook, and then Matt and I to do the dishes, it was a perfect set up. I even dubbed us the Dinner Club.

For months we had a routine of going about boat work or daily upkeep and errands during the afternoons, always gathering just as the sun was setting to enjoy a fantastic meal and great conversation. We grew as close as family, and when the cruising season began and we all started to break away from the marina one by one, it was very hard to let our group disspiate and resume the lonely positions we had started with months before. Somehow though, through waiting weeks for weather windows or potential boat buyers, we all found ourselves spread out through Florida at the same time. Luki and Elmari up in Melbourne trying to sell Skebenga now that their eight year journey was over, Matt and I in Ft. Lauderdale, prepping for our jump to the Bahamas, and Ana Bianca and Alfredo in Miami, visiting family and taking care of personal business. Though we weren’t within a stone’s reach of each other we had no idea if or when we’d all be this close again and planned a get together. Ana Bianca and Alfredo, although still living on their boat in Biscayne Bay, were situated very close to Alfredo’s family on Key Biscayne with the option to stay whenever they liked, and even better for us, the ability to have guests over.

A plan was formed for Luki and Elmari to rent a car for a few days and swing by to get Matt and I on their way to Key Biscayne. When they pulled up in front of the Hyatt to retrieve us, even though we hadn’t seen them in over two months, it was like no time had passed at all. Nitoriously bad at emailing though, on my part, we used the drive south to catch up on all that had been going on with each other, the impending sale of Skebenga, and us trying to talk them into keeping her for just one more season, just long enough to buddy with us to the Med. We’ll have to see how things work out, but I think we at least planted a seed in their mind.

Arriving at the door of Alfredo’s mother’s house, it was a bit shocking to see these two again as we’d gone quite a bit longer since seeing them, not since August regularly, and just a quick visit in November as they came back to check on their boat. Yet somehow the fates had alligned, and here we were together again. The six of us took to the beautiful patio area behind the house, enclosed by wooden fences and tropical greenery, complete with a pool to finish the idealic scene. Over chilled beers and glasses of wine, our old group fell right back into step, although we had to admit that we were missing one of the best members, Luis, who was still back with his boat in Guatemala. Even with the lack of our favorite stories from The Most Interesting Man in the World, we found ourselves deep in speech of the transformation of our lives over the past few months.

Before we could all get too carried away though, it was the traditional part of our evening, the dinner. What was even better was that instead of enclosing the meal to only the six of us, it was a family affair with the rest of Alfredo’s family that lived near by. Before we knew it, this household was full of his Cuban siblings, cousins, and nieces. It was a fun and lively group that enveloped you immediately upon introduction. We weren’t Ana Bianca and Alfredo’s visiting boat friends, we were now just an extension of the family. A few more spots to add to the dinner table and new stories to be tossed into the conversation.

Our dinner club had now more than doubled, and we were all loving every minute of it. The night wore on so late that even after the non resident family members took their leave for the evening, us remaining members stayed out until well after midnight, not quite ready to end the reunion. With a planned departure early the next afternoon for Matt and I, by taking the Metro back to Ft. Lauderdale, we realized that chances like this don’t come up very often, and extended ourselves for one more nights stay. I’m sure the cat can make it one more night on her own. We have some exploring of Miami to do and at least one more meeting of the dinner club before we can all go our separate ways.

Ana & Elmari

Jessica & Matt

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Alfredo by pool

Luki & Elmari

grandkids making memories

adult slumber party

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View from the Bridge

Thursday November 7, 2013

11.7.13

One of the most distinguishing things about Rio Dulce is the large bridge at the edge of town that crosses over the river.  It’s long and fairly high, I think just over 70 feet at the center, and has a nice little arch that actually makes it quite pretty instead of something plain and boring.  It’s so dominant in anyone’s mind that has been there that you could show a photo to a person that only captures the bridge and the water, and it wouldn’t take them two seconds to reply “Oh, that’s Rio Dulce!”.

One other thing about this bridge that is very noticeable is how many locals will sit at the top of it and sometimes spend hours watching the world pass below them.  It’s not uncommon to see 2-3 cars or tuk-tuks pulled off to the side, even though there is no shoulder and everyone must now move around them, as they enjoy their lunch, dinner, or just a cold beer with the views that surround them from the top.  Although we’ve gone over this bridge a few times on buses we’ve only been able to get a quick glimpse of what made it so special before we were already at the other side.  We, actually meaning Elmari and I, decided this needed to change.

One afternoon when all of us had finished our boat projects for the day and we were now entering the golden hour just before sunset, we dragged our men along as we all piled into t/t Skebenga and motored over to the local marina where everyone leaves their dinghies, before hitting the main street and turning left to get to the bridge instead of going right towards town.  Walking up the incline, we stopped ourselves at the center and were shown why it was such a popular place for the locals.  The views were genuinely beautiful, and the sun making it’s descent made it even more so.  Having packed a very small cooler, I offered everyone a beer and we stood there, among young lovers and families with small children, and took it all the splendor around us.  I’m just sad it took us four months to do so.

bridge in Rio Dulce

 

Backpackers Hostel, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Elmari and Matt on bridge, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

passenger truck, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

view from bridge, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

birds flying under bridge, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

sun sets behind power lines, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

main street, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

dinghy dock at Bruno's, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

 When the four of us arrived back to the marina we found out that we had enjoyed out time atop the bridge so much that we were running late for the dinner club!  It only took us a few moments to gather necessary items off our boat and were soon enjoying great food with great company.  I love this arrangement.  I have no idea what’s going to happen when we leave here.  It will be back to orange spaghetti and cans of soup.  I think I have picked up a few things from the great chefs at our table though, and I hope they stick once we’re left to our own devices again.

And as usual, our night wasn’t complete without a visit from a dog that lives across the bay and occasionally likes to trot over for scraps or to lick our plates clean.  He’s gone though a few names since we’ve ‘adopted’ him at the ranchito, but for now we just call him Foxy, due to his foxy looking appearance.  Matt is actually so smitten with him that part of me thinks we might have a new dog aboard once we leave Guatemala.

flan by Luis

Luis made us flan!

Elmari talking to a marina guest

Foxy coming to visit

Foxy, our soon to be skebenga’ed dog.

after dinner cigars

Enjoying an after dinner cigar.

Ana Bianca and Luis Ana Bianca and Luis

 

 

 

 

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The Dinner Club Reunites

Saturday October 12, 2013

Matt, Elmari, & Luki at the ranchito

We’ve been back at the boat for a couple weeks now, and things have been, well, rather quiet of late. For the first week of our return we didn’t have the company of Luki and Elmari because they were still tooling around on their own vacation around the United States, and Luis has been rather phantom lately, popping up for a moment here or there, but mostly buried under a new pile of projects in his boat. Things around the marina became pretty quiet, and actually a little lonely. There was however a new neighbor that we came back to, but he’s unfortunately the kind of guy that will talk and talk and not get the clue that there are periods in the day that you actually want a little quiet time. We’ve actually been isolating ourselves to the boat much more now so we can get away from his constant yabbering. The guy just never shuts.up.

Even with the past week where Luki and Elmari have been back, everyone has been so focused on returning to their boat and diving into all remaining projects, that we hadn’t had any social time. Just when we were making plans to finally do something about that with Luki and Elmari, checking out a restaurant that proclaims they have the best burger in the Rio, we received a dinner invite from Luis. He was having another couple of cruisers from just down the river over for dinner and wanted to know if we’d like to join. I was ecstatic, the dinner club was finally reuniting. It was such a tradition our first few months in Guatemala that I’d begun to crave them while we were away, the good food and close friends ready to greet you at the end of a day.

As usual, the destitute kids (us) were told not to bring anything, that it was all taken care of. Determined to bring something to the table, literally, I spent the late afternoon making chocolate chip cookies for the group to enjoy as a dessert. When the sun had gone down our group gathered once more in the ranchito, and to add to my already excitement there was another treat waiting for me. Luki had used this as an occasion to whip up his world famous mojitos. World famous because I’m telling you about them now and I have a feeling there’s a few of you scattered about around the globe.

Instantly we all fell back into step as if we hadn’t all just been separated for the past two months.  Conversation flowed, delicious food was served, and that sense of family that we’d been missing since we left Michigan has finally been restored.

Luki's special mojito

grill at ranchito

Luki tending grill

pork chops and rice & beans

Foxy waiting for scraps

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The Breakfast Club

Sunday July 14, 2013

breakfast on Hydromax

During our few weeks here in the Rio Dulce, we’ve developed a bit of a breakfast club.  But to tell you how that came about, I’d have to back-up a little bit, and tell you about our dinner club.  Ever since the crews of Serendipity and Skebenga threw a dinner party for Luis at the ranchito last week, Matt and I have not had a chance to prepare a dinner on our own.  First it was ordering a pizza at the marina with Luis, where he told us more about his restaurants and all the special dishes he used to cook.  Then it turned into Luis wanting to fix us one of those dishes the next night.  While raving to him about his cooking skills, he’d tell us about the his next favorite dish he wanted to prepare for us the next night.  Throw that in with the weekly Friday pizza and movie special here at the marina, and we haven’t done more in our galley than heat up some top Ramen for lunch every day.

Through the dinners on Hydromax, we’d try to offer bringing sides or even money to cover at least our portion of the groceries.  Each time we were turned down for those but did turn into the official dishwashers afterward.  Our dinners saw us through the departure of Elmari as she left to spend the summer with family in South Africa, and the addition of a new friend at the marina, Ana Bianca.  It seems like everyone in our group, Luis, Luki, and even Ana Bianca have a special dish they like to prepare, and Matt and I have been basking in the fruits of their labor.  Work on the boat during the day, gather for dinner and drinks in the evening.  It’s been absolutely perfect.

After only a few nights of this dinner routine though, we realized there was a problem.  Between the five of us eating, there’d always be just enough food leftover to have no reason to throw it away, but no way to incorporate it into the next night’s meal.  This is how the breakfast club came about.  After one night of dinner, Luis started talking about how he could turn some of our leftover dinner into a delicious breakfast the next day and invited us to come over the next morning to enjoy it with some fresh Cuban coffee.  We thought it was a one time deal, Matt even dragged himself out of bed by 8 am for it, but that same night over dinner Luis began talking about what would be for breakfast the next day.  The tradition has been continuing and now we’ve all been meeting twice a day for good food and company.  Matt and I have finally been able to contribute something by brewing our Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee inside our Thermos brand French Press and bringing it over to Hydromax every morning.

eggs and bacon on Hydromax

 While eating one of our meals the other day, Ana Bianca mentioned she had a juicer on board and wanted to break it out sometime.  After a trip into town and a bag full of fruits and veggies later, we were ready to try it out this morning.  We made two different juices.  The first one was simple, but really tasty.  We cut up a pineapple and added some mint leaves.  It sounds like an odd combination, but it worked out great.  The end product was frothy and sweet, with just a little kick from the mint.

Our next glass was a combination of everything else we bought.  You name it.  Carrots, oranges, beets, apples, they all went in.  To me it didn’t seem like these should mix in any kind of way, but Ana Bianca promised that it would come out very sweet tasting and all the flavors would blend together.  We watched the liquid turn a bright red when the beets were added and after all the ingredients went in, filled four glassed and topped them off with ice.  Our apple, orange, carrot, beet juice was…not quite as sweet as I thought, but not too bad either.  I can see why people do this for it’s health value, but it still seems like a lot of work to me unless you’re on a real big health kick or trying to lose weight fast.  Just give me my morning coffee and omelette.  Or a pineapple mint juice.  I’ll still take that one.

Matt washing veggies

bowl of beets

oranges and carrots, ready to be juiced

pineapple juice

the non juice parts

beet juice

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