29 hours after leaving the farm on a warm summer’s morning, we arrived, somewhat worse for wear, in the rather chilly and wet city of Washington DC. Our 19 hour flight was a direct one from Jo’burg to DC, with a one hour refueling stop in Dakar. We were fortunate to be seated in the row immediately behind 1st class which had plenty of leg room and, when quite a few people disembarked at Dakar, we were able to spread out even more. So the flight was fairly comfortable but the hospitality of South African Airways left a lot to be desired; the food was not good and the attendants were not very attentive. On the American side, our bags were the first on the carousel and we sailed through passport control and customs, eager to see Kiera and James again.
As we were meeting our American side of the family for the first time, we were a bit apprehensive. Of course we love James and really didn’t think that his folk could not be as likeable as him. But you never know. Our fears were however totally groundless as we found ourselves welcomed into a very warm and generous family. Our first few days were spent with Susannah and Mike (James’ aunt and uncle) in their gorgeous Arlington home.
We only had time to cruise a ginormous shopping mall, have the obligatory photo taken outside the White House, take in a National Geographic photographic exhibition (Birds of Paradise and Desert Air – both really good), check out Kiera and James’ apartment and celebrate Kiera’s birthday at a very nice downtown restaurant before we headed south for Christmas with the rest of the family.
We left a bitterly cold DC (it snowed the next day) and arrived in sunny Miami (Florida is not called the Sunshine State for nothing). And you don’t talk about “southern hospitality” for nothing either. James’ parents (Jim and Jodie) arranged for us to stay in a house belonging to friends of theirs, a few doors down from where they live, and we found ourselves living in the lap of luxury.
Every morning, while we were all still sleeping, the Pastry Fairy (aka Jim) would leave us a box of freshly baked pastries and fresh fruit on the kitchen counter for our breakfast. They even bought us a teapot and tea after hearing that I quite like a cuppa now and then. And every evening James’ parents treated us to splendid meals: genuine Mexican food in a vibrant part of downtown Miami, where the guacamole was made fresh at our table and Marqueritas were the order of the day; a restaurant in Coconut Grove where we ate dates stuffed with Manchego cheese and wrapped in unbelievably tasty Nueske’s bacon; and a wonderful seafood restaurant in Key Largo where we ate scallops (for the first time), fresh yellowtail and lobster, followed by Key lime pie. I have, I must add, become a great fan of American pies.
We arrived in Miami on Christmas Eve and were treated to a delicious meal, prepared by Jim, of shrimp (prawns) and stone crab claws, which are a local delicacy. Stone crabs are caught off the coast here, one of their large claws is removed, they are then thrown back in the water and the claw grows back. On Christmas morning we wandered over to Jim and Jodie’s for brunch. We enjoyed a traditional Christmas drink, made by Susannah, which consists of milk, sugar, bourbon and crushed ice, which was followed by scrumptious bacon, eggs and cheese grits (a Southern dish) which I am now hooked on. Brunch was followed by a marathon present opening session and later a splendid Christmas dinner on the patio under the full moon, with the champagne flowing. But we didn’t just spend all our time being wined and dined like kings, we were also shown around Miami, getting a view that I’m sure few tourists have had the privilege to experience.
James took us out into Biscayne Bay in their power boat where we had splendid views of Miami from the sea. We spent the day cruising around the islands behind Miami Beach, checking out the waterfront mansions of the rich and famous.
Another morning was spent rambling through the lovely Botanic Gardens, taking lots of photographs of plants and flowers. I stopped at one tree, commenting on how beautiful it was. On closer examination, it turned out to be a baobab. There was an exhibition of Shona (Zimbabwean) stone sculptures in the park and we found ourselves chatting to the curator, who was a Zimbawean living in Jo’burg. He was spending 6 months in Miami with the exhibition – not a bad way to earn a living I thought.
We also took a drive down to Key Largo and en route stopped at the Everglades National Park to stroll among the ‘gators. It was quite unnerving to get so close to these creatures as they look so similar to our African crocodile and I certainly would want more than a low slatted fence between me and a croc.
One evening we took a drive down Ocean Drive on South Beach; the art deco buildings are beautiful and the area is quite vibey with all the pavement restaurants and bars lit up with Christmas lights. James also drove us past the Love Hate Tattoo parlour, the scene of a favourite t.v. programme, Miami Ink, when the kids were younger. We thoroughly enjoyed Miami and our stay there passed far too quickly, as it does when one is having fun.
After Christmas in Miami we headed further south to spend New Year in the Bahamas.