Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Gift from the Sea


lauderdale by the sea
The blog that brought you Trail of the Pirates now brings you Romancing Lauderdale by the Sea.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote a novel by the same title. Well, tomorrow I am going on a long-awaited for press trip designed just for me and Sex and the Beach by the magical and very savvy craft of Emily Taffel of Mugsy PR.

I get to experience Lauderdale By the Sea for TEN DAYS, exploring boutique hotels along a small strand. This comes at a PERFECT time for me to retreat, regain my strength as a writer and to really follow my heart along the shores, while I still share stories. The title of my journey is supposed to be "Romance Row," but I think I already know in my heart that this will be romancing quite more than the obvious, wink wink and isn't he a lucky guy?

How about love of the sea, sense of belonging somewhere or what that even means, a sense of place and most of all, a sense of LOVE.

This brings me back to my roots in travel writing and love of all stories related to oceans, which I remember fondly from years ago, sitting in St. Lucia, looking out at the ocean and saying "This is it. This is enough." I get to do that, right here, in my own backyard.

Please don't make jokes about sea level rise, because you know what? Maybe that is the gift from the sea, to humble everyone in to taking care of mother earth.

I am so grateful for this gift.

And besides, it will be fun! I need to pack! But you can follow the stories over at hashtag #LOVElbts on Twitter, Instagram and obviously here, dear readers.

Gosh, I wish I could take all of you with me on vacation or a writer's retreat. Maybe ... someday. :-)


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Look in the Mirror, Miami

I don't always write about politics or paradigm shifts or parasites or Miami traffic or human trafficking in Miami, but when I do, I go deep. 


STATE OF THE NON-UNION


As I sat on the bus last night, way past pumpkin time on my way back from the event I hosted, I thought long and hard about the faces I didn’t see. And I thought long and hard too, about the faces before me. A wizened black man looked exhausted. I offered him my seat. He politely refused.

There was very little turnout at my event last night. I’m not really bothered by that. In fact, I’m grateful. Many of you who planned to attend contacted me and apologized because of last-minute issues that held you back. I know you were there in spirit. And for those of you who did show up, I am glad we could share some great conversation.

But this isn’t really about my event. In fact, even the turn out at the restaurant was slow. It’s really about the state of the union, which isn’t a union by definition.

The glaring absence of people who were NOT interested in addressing the issue of transit in Miami in person just confirmed what I already knew in my heart. It’s really easy to complain and not be the change you want to be, isn’t it? It’s really easy to talk about these things without looking each other in the eye, simply embracing the reality that we have to do the best with what we have, which is precisely what best practices are all about – instead of playing victim, you play victor – the victorious, industrious, ingenuous, non-entitled leader of your own destiny.

And thank God we live in a country where we can still do that. My parents fled Communist Cuba where that shit didn’t fly.

Success Social Miami isn’t about wasting your energy on listening to the Republican debate or watching the basketball playoffs because at the end of the day, the only one who is going to give a shit about what happens in your life is you.

(Click on Success Social Miami to learn more about the event.)

BALLS TO THE WALL


Do you know what I think every time I see an angry post about politics? Do you know what I think about the parasites that are attempting to lead us as a collective called the United States – ‘cause there aint nothin’ united about us, folks – is that we are letting these people posing as leaders leech us inside and out when we ourselves could be the change we want to see.

Why does the word partisan even exist? Because politics seeks to divide and conquer, um, I mean control. The world is run by “testosterone-fueled animosity and aggression,” as one friend put it in conversation this morning. Yeah, I know, it’s obvious. So what are you doing in your daily life to deal with that?

The world as we know it – not the interior and infinite space of my interior, expansive, infinite being -- is run by everything that is not nurturing in favor of love and compassion. ISIS dudes raping women. Malala being shot because she just wants to go to school. African girls still getting cliterectomies. Historically, Mary Magdalene being called a whore. Orthodox Jewish women wearing wigs. Syrians being driven out of their homeland to survive. Muslim Afghan women being stoned to death. Oh, whatever! All humanity is just one “I’m better than you so I have to kill you and especially if you have a vagina” story. It’s the Hero of A Thousand Faces story.

On and on and on, where do I stop? Because it’s all about sex and power in the end. He who fucks an empty hole like a grunting, mindless animal rules.

Why do you think the porn industry is so successful and why women like Kim Kardashian laugh all the way to the bank playing off of the collective need for every guy to jerk off? Is this the real sexual power of womankind?

Nah. God if girlfriend only put her fake boobs and ass to good use but she’s fodder instead.
The sacred feminine nurturing spirit has been violated for centuries. What’s news?

Imagine if every woman in the world pulled a Lysistrata and decided to withhold sexual privilege until men stopped making war. You want pussy? Fighting each other aint the way to get it.
Think about it.

THE TRUMP WITHIN




Your body is also full of parasites, pathogens and microbial organisms that shouldn’t be in your body. There are literally real living things inside of you and here you are worried about the “ghosts” of your past, your Xanax-fueled anxieties and Prozac fantasies of wellness.

But chew on this, my darlings: Donald Trump, in the form of a worm, lives inside of YOU. Every time you even think of the Dumpster, he invades your consciousness. He represents the “mind dump” of America. You give him power. You feed on the culture of fear and lack.

This is what nourishes your soul? This is what you’re feeding yourself, believing in, taking it all in like a whore who’s being paid to give a deep throat blow job even though you know you’re just in it for the money?

Want to lose weight and look fabulous like I do? You need to cleanse yourself of the victim mentality, stop putting all your hopes and dreams on men (this includes Hillary with the symbolic phallus) who don’t really give a shit about your wellness or happiness. Politics is driven by ego. And you’re wasting your energy on that? We are literally being sucked dry.

In the end, the worms win and you will never look hot in Lulemon yoga pants because your gut is host to these critters AND your anger, frustration and hopelessness on which “they” feed -- voraciously. You’re an airbnb to everyone else’s drama – including the critters within – and the eons of DNA involved in these relationships. This is why my number one rule of weight loss is getting rid of toxic relationships in your life. It has nothing to do with the scale, or yoga pants, or wheatgrass juice cleansing regimens.

So, my friends, what toxic relationship do you have with politics and conversely, what little changes can you make in your life, day by day, to be the change you want to be? This was and always be the point of Success Social Miami.

I started Success Social Miami because I wanted to share this off-the-wall notion that you might find happiness even in the shittiest of circumstances. At the end of the day, you are at the helm of your own ship. You know, the pirate in me has to say that. Hoist the Jolly Roger when the going gets tough.

FUCK EVERTHING AND BE A PIRATE


Some dear friends told me that what I endured in the last years of caregiving could have driven others to suicide. Not me, folks. How could I worry about death when life was gifted to me? For better or worse, I chose this. Who the fuck am I to think money, mortgages, the “conventional life plan” and the diseases they foment are to define who I am? Was this the definition of me when the sperm met egg and I came to life?

Think about that. Who are you? What is your best practice being you?

Folks, all I could think of when I saw my mother dying of old age and Alzheimer’s in a hospice bed was not only the loss of her human body form in my life – the love we shared was never lost -- but also what illusions of fear were driving her reality. My reality.

What is at the helm of your heart, pirate? Who’s driving your ship?

You know what drives me? Me, the professional schlepper? The mantra from Course in Miracles. “Only love is real. Fear is an illusion.”

We – all of us – live in fear. Constantly. Even surrounded by material wealth, we are unhappy because we constantly “fear” the lack of things we think make us happy. Nothing makes you happy. You are already happiness manifest.

THE REAL TRAFFIC PROBLEM IN MIAMI


So yeah, as I sat on that South Dade Busway last night – which so many of you on #100greatideas complained “didn’t work” yet the bus was completely full and completely, seamlessly working past midnight, thank God, were you on that bus with me last night? – I thought about what someone told me that left me wrecked to the core.
My compassionate core.

Instead of talking about traffic, we talked about human trafficking. Did you know – don’t quote me on this as I need to fact check – there are over a dozen beds in Camillus House devoted to girls who are trafficked for sexual exploitation in Miami-Dade? That’s just the shelter, not the all-encompassing reality.

So, I’m going to talk about some shit no one wants to hear.

Yes, while you watched basketball and listened to the political parasites of the Republican party or whatever attempting to lead us as a collective, there were allegedly at least over a dozen young women in fear of their lives somehow breathing and getting by another day in hell in our own backyard.

Oh my, game changer. Traffic versus human trafficking. How’s that for an open mic roundtable night #100greatideas in Miami? Makes you feel like a dumb ass, doesn’t it? I certainly did.

Seriously. Miami-Dade government can’t even figure out how to handle toilet paper in the Metrorail stations and then there are women being whored, abused and tossed about like worthless garbage within miles of me. We are barbarians.

Oh, and we just celebrated International Women’s Day! What hypocrites we are to laude ourselves for our own vapid achievements (they seem vapid to me, sorry, I think you get my drift) – a point I brought up in my radio show with Tonya the other day – when somewhere already there is a baby girl born every minute in some Central American country who’s vagina is going to be the recipient of some man’s sperm even before her boobs perk up in puberty, spinning her into the cycle of unwanted, unplanned for pregnancy and poverty to produce yet another mouth to feed who’s going to end up repeating the same vicious cycle, only to risk her life in an epic schlep to America, and then only to be told by some political jackass that she’s a worthless piece of shit.

Nice job, humanity!

There are women in our own city living in terror and you are complaining about driving on the Palmetto? You are wasting your energy listening to politicians? Putting your faith in people who don’t even remotely resemble anything called a best practice?

Why are you voting for others when you can vote for yourself?

You can’t control what’s outside of you. But you can at least try to do something about what’s in you. Who you are in spite of everything. I had to type this out when I was talking to a friend this morning: “If everyone was more self-aware, the world would be a better place. Politics is a violation of you. When women are suppressed, society suffers. All the candidates are feeding off your fears.”

Shit is real. I tell it like it is. I always have.

No apologies.

Now for coffee and another schlep.

Believe.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Miami Backyard Traveler: Biscayne Bay to the Everglades

My beau and I spent a lazy Easter Sunday driving around South Miami-Dade County while enjoying the area's natural attractions and agricultural bounty. We covered Thalatta Estate in Palmetto Bay, Biscayne National Park, Card Sound Road, Florida City, the Redland and Chekika at Everglades National Park.

robert-is-here-milkshake

A HEAVENLY MILKSHAKE


Is it worth traveling an hour for a milkshake? For #vicequeenkitchen, it certainly is.

A highlight of any excursion to South Miami-Dade is a stop at Robert is Here, a fruit stand the now famous Robert began when he was just six years old in 1959 to sell his father's cucumber crop. The place is a cook's dream, filled with fresh produce, local handcrafted jams, dressings and more for the pantry. I stocked up on banana bread after the beau and I slurped on a luscious, creamy strawberry milkshake and munched on spicy boiled peanuts.

robert-is-here-fruitshake

I asked Robert for a smile as he was slicing mangoes for customers to sample. "Better yet, come behind the counter and have him take a photo of you with me," he said.

I hadn't been here in ages. There was a line 50 people deep this Easter Sunday waiting for his world renown milkshakes. I remenber stopping here in the 90s on the way back from day-long fishing trips in the Everglades. The lines were shorter then. Way shorter.

"Did you ever think it'd get like this?" I asked. He smiled again. "The computer exploded. I'm just a guy working."

Humble. Maybe that's why that damn shake is so good.

And worth the wait.

Love hyperlocal Miami stories and Florida travel? Got questions? Follow me on Twitter @vicequeenmaria.

Here are some #lovefl tweets from our South Dade excursion.


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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Miamians Fleeing to Homestead for Sexy, Sophisticated Entertainment


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Nicole Henry heating up the sand with her sultry vocals. A still from the video At This Moment.

Ah, spring time in Miami. Our days are longer and slightly hotter. Boob sweat becomes more noticeable, portending the rainy season. Hordes of filthy barbarians (a.k.a. spring breakers) trash our beaches. Ravers flock to Downtown to suck on mollies and have sex with trees at Ultra Electronic Dance Music Festival.

Yet somewhere not so far away, stands a little theater bringing world-class entertainment to Miami-Dade County. In about the same amount of time it takes you to cross the Brickell Bridge from 8th street to Bayside during rush hour, you can escape to Homestead's newly restored Seminole Theater, a gem in the district known more of its agriculture, authentic Mexican restaurants and other culinary delights like the key lime shakes at Robert Is Here and the cinnamon rolls at Knauss Berry Farm.

While all that madness takes place on the eastern corridor, University of Miami alumna Nicole Henry will offer frazzled locals a respite from the crowds. In 2013, she earned a Soul Train Award for "Best Traditional Jazz Performance." Her career highlights also has three Top 10 U.S. Billboard and HMV Japan jazz albums.

Nicole Henry will serenade audiences with her sweet and sultry jazz vocals on Friday, March 18 at 8 PM. Visit the Seminole Theater for ticket information.

THE SEMINOLE THEATER


The Seminole Theater dates back to the 1920s. It closed in 1979 and in 1992, Hurricane Andrew nearly wrecked the building. The theater re-opened, fully restored, in 2015, preserving some of South Florida's art deco theater history. Its doors are now open -- a welcome respite for Miamians looking to get away from it all without leaving the 305.

Tempted? Let this video of Nicole Henry seduce you further in her interpretation of Billy Vera's At This Moment: a soulful love song, featuring two very sexy lovers on the beach.




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Sunday, March 13, 2016

FoodSpark Miami Breathes New Life into Hialeah

FoodSpark Miami - Hialeah Edition


For any of you who’ve ever told me that Miami is full of fake posers who don’t give a shit about the city, kindly look past the bling and to grassroots movements that aren’t afraid of that road less traveled.

On March 12, 2016, FoodSpark Miami took over the abandoned Hialeah Tri-Rail Market train station, which to me seemed filled with ghosts of a world that never really existed. A would-be bustling center of transit and commerce lies lonely by the tracks, almost forlorn, sighing in anticipation of a better world that’s surrounded by a dynamic community of people instead of rickety warehouses.

Yesterday, the parcel of land came alive with fresh new energy as we gathered to talk about Hialeah over pastelitos and other local fare. Topics included stigmas about Hialeah, as well as recreation, arts and culture, transit, environment and more.

Some might say you had to see it to believe it: there are people who actually care about Miami in Miami, heck some are even born and raised in Miami. I was there because I’m one of them. Witness it yourself:



More photos on Flickr.

Kudos to Naomi Lauren Ross, the volunteers and participants who made it all happen. We're squashing that stereotype of Miami being a superficial fluffy town one event, one action and one smile at a time.

What is FoodSpark Miami?

FoodSpark Miami is an initiative of Celebrate Diversity Miami, a large-scale community engagement initiative founded in October 2014 that aims to promote a deepened sense of connectivity between the culturally and ethnically diverse neighborhoods of greater Miami. It’s made possible in part by the K880 Emerging City Champions fellowship, a program of 8 80 Cities with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as well as the 2015 Public Space Challenge, a program of The Miami Foundation with support from Baptist Health South Florida.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Irish Eyes Are Smiling in St. Augustine

Memories of last year's Celtic Music and Heritage Festival in my beloved St. Augustine make me yearn for a return visit. This year's festival takes place March 11-13 and celebrates Celtic culture in the nation's oldest city.

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Ready to get my Celtic on with some pirate garb. Later, I got me a kilt.


ST. AUGUSTINE'S CELTIC ROOTS


Celtic culture is dear to my heart and it's in my blood; my ancestors hailed from Northern Spain, one of seven Celtic nations. The Spanish Celts share many traditions with Scottish and Irish Celts, the most common being music, costume and dance, as evidenced in the gaita (bagpipe), falda escosesa (kilt) and jota (jig).

St. Augustine's Spanish roots are intertwined with Celtic connections and some historical ties began early on: Florida's first Spanish Colonial Governor Don Pedro Menendez and his 800 colonists were from Northern Spain. In 1784, 460 Irish soldiers were stationed in St. Augustine with the Hibernia Regiment. Father Miguel O'Reilly arrived in St. Augustine in 1777 to minister to the colony's Menorcan residents. He later became the Hibernian Regiment's chaplain and vicar of the entire colony.

St. Augustine, so rich in history, comes alive with Celtic culture during the festival. I attended last year with my friend Michelle Marcos, a Miami-based historical romance novelist whose trilogy Highland Knaves is set in Scotland. Her beautifully written novels serve up sexy romance, to be sure, with even more to love -- historically accurate storylines draw the reader into page-turning adventures.

It was only natural to talk about about sexy Celts and history all weekend long!

BRINGING OUT YOUR INNER CELT


Throughout the weekend, we also enjoyed observing men in kilts ... oh pardon me, I meant men playing Highland games in kilts. There was still occasion to blush a little; the athletes mustered up quite a bit of strength and dexterity to impress the ladies, for sure, especially in the caber toss.

For musical pleasure, we heard many acts, but none so rousing for me as the bagpipes and drums of Albannach and the sound of bagpipes in the morning as I sipped coffee on the balcony of the St. George Inn facing St. Augustine's old city gates. We had the best view of the parade and the vibration from the instruments stirred the cool, crisp air that morning.

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Bagpipes everywhere! 


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The best view of the parade is from the balcony at The St. George Inn.


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With the friendly musicians from Albannach.


Many clans were present to represent their lineages proudly. They paraded with bagpipes and drums throughout the day.

I stepped out in my pirate garb with makeshift Celtic variations. If fashion is your thing, the festival's vendors offer beautiful merchandise.

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Several clans were representing at the festival.


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Because beer wenches.


I asked Michelle, who traveled to Scotland to research her novels, to join me on this trip because I knew she'd enjoy traveling back to another century in St. Augustine. That's my usual modus operandi for heading up north: "I'd like to spend some time in the 18th century this weekend, how about you?"

That's how beautifully St. Augustine captures its rich history and even more so during the spring time when the Celts invade the city. My eyes may not be exactly Irish, but the Spanish Celtic heart in me shines when I think about this memorable trip.

The St. Augustine Celtic Music and Heritage Festival takes place March 11-13, 2016 and features a whiskey tasting, Celtic performers, Highland games, Celtic clans, food, merchandise and children's entertainment. For more information, visit Celtic St. Augustine.

More photos on Flickr.



Disclosure: this historical travel experience was supported in part by Florida's Historic Coast, The St. George Inn and GM Southeast. All opinions my own.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Traveling in Florida with Red Coach USA

Red Coach USA is a comfortable and convenient bus service for tourists, commuters and locals who want to staycation in the Sunshine State. I love traveling in Florida and finally found a nice alternative to driving or flying. 

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Yours truly traveling on Red Coach USA.

THE BIG RED BUS MAKES MAKES SCHLEPPING EASY

Remember my Greyhound adventure from 2009 during which I flew to Atlanta only to wend my way back to Miami on buses and trains? That was the beginning of my journey as a professional schlepper, which in my book of life, is someone who manages to get everywhere and do just about everything without a car. A few years later, I would master the skill of schlepping in Miami as #miamischlep. Today, I can confidently add #floridaschlep to my list of schlepping accomplishments.

“Where have you been all my schlepping life?” is the only question I can ask of Red Coach USA, a transportation service connecting major Florida cities. If I had known about Red Coach USA sooner, I would've taken advantage of it to hit some of my favorite Florida destination hubs like Naples, Jacksonville and Tallahassee -- easy departure points from which to find adventure: fishing on the gulf coast, enjoying St. Augustine's historical charm and exploring north Florida's nature trails, to name a few.

Heck, with the right fare, I’d even consider Red Coach as an alternative to Uber or Tri-Rail for tri-county schlepping from Miami to Broward or Palm Beach and would recommend it to travelers considering transportation options between airports.

#FLORIDASCHLEP


redcoach-usa-tallahassee
The Red Coach USA stop in Tallahassee.


On the afternoon I started writing this post, I had been sitting on a Red Coach USA bus since 7:30 A.M. It was a tremendously productive work day for this writer; so much so that I wondered why I didn't use Red Coach more often as a mobile office just to get work done, see friends who live in other cities and fulfill my insatiable Florida wanderlust.

"I don't care how long it takes to get from Kendall to Brickell," my friend Bohemian Babushka said. "Get your ass on the bus and meet me in Tallahassee for happy hour." Babushka, who schleps often between Tallahassee and Miami, was serious.

“It’s an upgrade from Greyhound,” she told me. "You'll love it."

I was incredulous and the schlepper in me was curious, so I gave Red Coach USA a try.

First, sped off to the Naples area (about two and half hours) where I spent a week writing while visiting some of those friends I rarely see because of distance; soon after the gulf coast sojourn, I headed to Tallahassee (about eight hours) where I spent a few days covering a cultural event, tooling around Wakulla County and enjoying the aforementioned happy hour with my friend.

Red Coach’s parent company Grupo Plaza began as a service in South America 57 years ago and came to Florida’s roads in 2010. In South America, it’s quite common to schlepear using coach services to travel long distances between countries or to destinations where flights are either cost-prohibitive or simply unavailable.

Until I heard about Red Coach, I had only considered Greyhound, which gets a bad rap as a po' folks travel option. But not everyone who uses it lives in a slum or just got out of prison. Never mind the irony that flying these days feels like prison.

Call me crazy, but unless you're flying baller style in a private jet, bus travel is, in many ways, more zen than traveling in the airline passenger cattle call. There's schlepping to the airport and then there's schlepping to the gate from check-in to boarding time. Let's call a schlep a schlep. Flying, while faster, is still a schlep.

Red Coach USA is more like a shared ride service; you schlep to the bus, then chill until you arrive at your destination in about the same amount of time it’d take to drive.

And then there's the comfort. Both business class and first class feature leagues of leg room, leg rests and wide, leather seats that recline 140 degrees. While business class seats 38, first class transports 28 passengers with wider seats and detachable seat trays. Wi-fi, electric outlets and a clean toilet make the ride practical.

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Wired-in while traveling on Red Coach USA.

While a little pricier than economical Greyhound, it's definitely worth a few more clams to travel in a swankier bus.

The company claims to be a luxury bus service, but Paris Hilton types will miss the champagne and cashmere blankets. For the rest of us budget-conscious folks with good taste, Red Coach is just fine. They say health is wealth. Here's something luxurious to me: I didn't feel like a frazzled mess by the time I arrived at any of my destinations.

My rides were so comfortable, I even slept on the way to Naples. For me, sleeping while schlepping never happens. And on my way back from Tallahassee, I scratched a few writing assignments off my to-do list.

The wi-fi was spotty at times in the more remote areas of my Florida routes. Ask the driver to reset the router if logging in becomes an issue.

The only drawback to Red Coach, if we can call it that, is that it doesn’t have its own central terminals, save for Orlando. In Orlando, however, you can arrange for a shuttle to local drop-off points.



COMMUTING WITH RED COACH


redcoachusa-leather-seat
This lady, a snowbird and part-time Florida resident from Maine, traveled from Palm Beach to Orlando to meet other friends vacationing in Florida.

On one of the Tallahassee legs of my trip, I met two folks who actually use Red Coach USA to commute between the state capitol and other cities in South Florida -- not on a daily basis, but on a week-on, weekend-off rotation. They both told me that the amount of money they save on gas is worth the investment, not to mention the enormous advantage of being able to sleep during the ride in a reclinable seat.


Another passenger told me she was visiting her grandchildren in the Naples area and that the service was ideal for her to relax without having to worry about driving at night.



THE MIAMI PUBLIC TRANSPORATION CONNECTION


miami intermodal center
The Miami Intermodal Center connects Miami-Dade buses, Metrorail, Tri-Rail and Miami International Airport.

In Miami, Red Coach can also pick up at area hotels but all buses make their final departure from the airport.

 So yes, you still have to schlep to the airport. Here's how I did it avoiding all manner of Miami traffic using Miami-Dade buses and Metrorail.

For my Tallahassee trip, I took the dedicated South Dade busway from Palmetto Bay to Dadeland South station and then hopped on the orange line Metrorail to the Miami Intermodal Center, where an electric rail delivers passengers to the airport terminals. A walk to the H gate at the departure level was all I needed to find the Red Coach bus.

For my Naples trip, I took the Metrorail from Palmetto station to Earlington Heights station, where I switched to the orange line train. Both rides were seamless, fast and enjoyable. Total time for each schlep: a little less than an hour. Cost: $4.50. Stress: zero.


TRAVEL TIPS


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Find this North Florida delicacy at the gas station by the Orlando stop. 


If you try Red Coach USA, make sure to check their web fares, which are lower. (On the day I traveled to Naples, a one-way ticket was priced at an unbelievable $16.) Regular users of the service can join a free membership program for incentive points.

To make your experience even more comfortable, bring a neck pillow, a blanket, hand wipes, snacks or light fare. Food is not available on the bus and if there are any pauses at rest stops, they are very brief. The Orlando stop usually lasts 15 to 30 minutes but there's only a snack machine in the terminal and one food truck parked in the lot. A gas station within walking distance offers snacks and light fare (including the North Florida's ubiquitous boiled peanuts).

Naples

The Naples arrival point is at a McDonald’s at a major crossroads off I-75 and Collier Boulevard. There’s a Dunkin Donuts next door where I waited for my friend to fetch me. Several chain hotels surround the stop, including the closest, a La Quinta Inn. To get to the city of Naples proper, you have several options.

Call ahead to rent a car, place a taxi pick-up request or use Uber. Enterprise Rent-A-Car offers pick-up and drop-off service for travelers who make advanced reservations at 239-643-3332. Arkway Taxi offers a flat rate $25 trip to downtown Naples. Call 239-777-0777.

For more information about the Naples area, visit Paradise Coast.

Tallahassee

The drop-off and pick-up point for my trip to Tallahassee was a Comfort Suites surrounded by many conveniences and restaurants. Comfort Suites is true to its namesake and was the ideal place to stay before my 7:30 A.M. departure. The hotel offers 15% off to Red Coach USA customers who book a room. Even if you don't stay at the hotel, you can sit in the comfortable lobby as you wait for a ride. The front desk is happy to help you call a local taxi service. Passengers who arrive during the day can call local car rental companies to arrange a pickup. Enterprise Rent-A-Car is a nearby option at 850-877-8929.

For more information about this destination, see Visit Tallahassee.

To reserve a trip, visit Red Coach USA.

Disclosure: Red Coach USA provided me with complimentary fare in support of my travel writing projects. All opinions about the service are my own.

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Saturday, February 06, 2016

Celebrate Valentine's Day in Miami For Under $50

Seven tips from local expert Manola Blablablanik for celebrating Valentine’s Day in Miami without breaking the bank.

Kisses on the Beach

Filled with love but not with cash? No worries, you’re good. Love’s the important thing that money can’t buy. Love should be celebrated every day, even if your ass is broke.

Remember: you’re just broke, not broken-hearted.

LOW BROW ROMP
Even if you can afford rent in Miami, get off your Downton Abbey high horse and have sex like the rest of working-class Miami, bro. Take your sex life down a notch in class but not in fun and experience the glory of Miami’s world-renown motel rows, where the elite meet to cheat! Whether it’s Okeechobee Road or Calle Ocho, Miami’s skankalicious motels range from church-mouse modest ($25) to ultra tacky luxe ($50 +) with everything you need to bump uglies for two hours. You haven’t screwed like a proper porn star until you’ve done the deed surrounded by mirrored ceilings, disco lights and cheap porn in your sacred, Lysol-scented sex cave.

BEST MAKE-OUT SPOTS
Miami boasts beautiful outdoor spaces that are especially enjoyable in the cooler month of February. Yet playboy ballers spend a big wad for a room with an ocean view when the average parejita can see the same shit and swap spit for free in the city's loveliest playgrounds. Do the world a favor, if you've got those Benjamins, donate them to charity and smooch at these cheap not-so-secret spots instead: South Pointe Park, Matheson Hammock Park, Thalatta Estate Park or anywhere along the entire freakin’ east coast of Florida with a beach. Vete pa la playa y ya!

Access to Matheson Hammock and Thalatta Estate is through gorgeous, lush and dreamy Old Cutler Drive, where you’ll never find Miami’s iconic billboards advertising butt implants. If gawking at a gigantic culo is your idea of romantic, stick to the Palmetto Expressway and thank the board of plastic surgeons for providing every Miami come pinga with cheap thrills during rush hour.

HUNGRY AND HEARTFELT
Ever wonder why restaurants raise their prices on Valentine’s Day? Because fools rush in … not just to love, but to the same damn eats at higher prices. How about a picnic at one of the smooch-friendly parks or on the beach instead? Skip Sedano’s or El Presidente for stocking up the picnic basket. I’ll bet you a set of 5 thongs for $5 from Valsan that you’ll walk out of The Fresh Market with delicious food and a bottle of wine to make your heart sing for under $50. You can call it a “bespoke gourmet experience” but don’t say that within earshot of your Hialeah cousins because they’ll call you a come mierda.

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Image: Cartoonstock

STAYCATION IN YOUR OWN CASA
Why spend hundreds of dollars on a luxury hotel room when you can give your home a despojo from football season and turn your bedroom into a love nest? Yes mujeres, there’s a reason why Valentine’s Day happens after the Superbowl. Now is the time to redeem your football widow points and exchange your viuda black dress for some lingerie. Throw out the sports paraphernalia and bring some real Miami heat into the bedroom with scented candles, soft sheets and sexy lingerie – all of which you can find at ño que barato for under $50.

Roses are beautiful but priced-gouged to bleed your pocket book on Valentine’s Day. Buy some cheaper flowers and spray the room with Agua de Rosas, the kind you’d buy for abuelita. Smells lovely, like Chanel minus the L. If you want to fengshueisar your bedroom, make sure the man cave is in a different part of the house. Ponte las pilas and be creative!

NETFLIX AND CHILL
When was the last time the two of you actually relaxed at home? There’s nothing wrong with Netflix and chill between couples. It’s when a cheap ass tacaño douchebag thinks of it as a first date that you know ese huevo no se merece ni la sal.

On Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to find chocolate-covered strawberries and a decent bubbly for under $50 – even at a gas station. Or maybe you prefer to indulge in something that isn’t a Valentine’s Day cliché, so pick up a jar of chocolate dipping sauce and buy a fresh bag of churros from the guy on the street corner in Hialeah. Whatever it is, do it with love. Maybe even turn your bathroom into a spa. Take a chocolate bath … but be careful, because la malanga resbala!

MORE FREE AND CHEAP IDEAS
Our buddies at Miami on the Cheap have their own list of Miami Valentine’s Day activities for the budget-conscious.

LOVE IS FREE
And remember … the important thing is to love, respect and honor each other every day. Your life doesn’t have to look like a Hallmark greeting card to feel like one. The best gift you can offer is your heart. Get your love on every day.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

How I Lost 80 Pounds and Got Back in My Skinny Jeans

New Year's Resolutions have been on everyone's mind lately. Here's why I say screw the resolutions. Each day is a new day. Fourteen steps to health, happiness and beauty as well as a tribute to a beautiful friendship that inspired me.

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Even skinnier jeans: I wasn't expecting to drop more sizes.


About ten years ago, I met my dear friend Stephanie Quilao online through the blogging community. At the time, both of us were embarking on our own self-publishing ventures. For me, it was here on Sex and the Beach and for her it was Back in Skinny Jeans, which has since evolved into other publishing ventures, including the blog Noshtopia, a book version of Back in Skinny Jeans, another book entitled Death of a Road Warrioran app called Vibrantly, stunning food photography on Instagram and more.

Stephanie and I have never met in person, but we've shared the many ups and downs in each other's lives as true BFFs.

THE SKINNY ON WEIGHT LOSS

stephanie-quilao
Stephanie Quilao
As we connected over the years, one of the most important things I learned from my friendship with Stephanie is that weight loss really isn't about numbers.

In Back in Skinny Jeans, Stephanie wrote about her weight loss journey with great candor; she focused on the emotional issues in her life that contributed to her weight gain. She was honest with her audience and continues to be so to this day, which is one of the things I love about her. We've both been through thick and thin -- pun intended.

As her blog Back in Skinny Jeans evolved, so did the idea of getting back to your core self -- weight not withstanding. As most of us know, being physically slim is no guarantee of happiness. Intangible parts of self need work, too. No matter what the scale reads, it all boils down to how we perceive the world -- a world that more often than not tells us we're broken.

During many a long conversation that went well into the wee hours -- she's on the west coast, so there's always a three-hour difference -- we didn't just chat about our weight and body image issues, but also about how to live life mindfully with a sense of purpose while helping others. How could we be who we are at heart and do this life thing with joy?

Our conversations about our personal challenges were often raw. We fearlessly looked at our "ugly" sides, disrobing, if you will, on a spiritual level to get rid of everything that no longer served us. We held a mirror up to each other and made ourselves accountable. We bolstered our self-esteem.

To have such a friend in my life who would love me unconditionally, warts and all, has been a blessing. Today, we still face many challenges, but we've shed more than just weight -- we've shed barriers to joy that keep so many women from feeling fulfilled and free in their own skin.

Ten years later, both of us are fit, fabulous and full of as much zest for life as two women in their late 40s could possibly have. We're wiser but none the worse for wear. What can I say? Millennials got nothin' on the hot, sexy babes we've become. Women in their 40s can look great and beam with confidence -- and most importantly -- feel it honestly down to their bones.

Let's not get too cocky here, though. We've also got humility, compassion and a genuine desire to share the best of ourselves with the world and to make a difference.

So, now you know what I think when I read "over 40" in any editorial. I just roll my eyes and laugh. That's bullshit. Aint nobody gonna tell me I'm broken.

THE SKINNY JEANS

before-and-after-diet
Before and after. No judgement. Just phases in life.


Over the holidays, I took advantage of sales and headed over to Banana Republic -- my favorite jeans brand -- to find a smaller version of my size 30 jeans. Earlier in the year, size 30 was my "finally! I've made it!" size.

I texted Stephanie from the store. "Dude, I'm down to size 26! It only took me 10 years, LOL."

I then began to reflect on our friendship, our blogs and the journey to get to where I am today.

I LOVE MY MOM, BUT I DON'T WANT TO LIVE LIKE SHE DID

After my mom passed away a year and a half ago, I woke up one day and decided that I would avoid eating anything with fur or feathers. There was no particular nudge. Nothing. Just like that.

A plant-based lifestyle helped me drop the 80 pounds I gained gradually during my years as a caregiver, when I broke the number one rule of caregiving: I didn't practice self-care. I could have practiced self-care, but yeah, Monday morning quarterbacking. I was overwhelmed and simply didn't have the skill sets. Nobody handed me the manual on being a full-time caregiver to the elderly. But that's another story.

happy-goofy-maria
Be concerned if you gain an undue number of pounds. Be even more concerned if you are unhappy. Taking care of the elderly reminded me more than ever that happiness is our birthright. Goofiness is OK at any age.


Witnessing my mother's demise from Alzheimer's influenced my choice to avoid the typical Cuban-American diet, which is full of animal protein, starches and sugar. My mother's health history, which is similar to that of so many baby boomers now experiencing the wasting that came from decades of post World War II ideas on nutrition in the industrialized West, made me realize that something had to give. There's rampant proof of this in geriatric pathology today. But that, too, is another story.

I've maintained my weight loss for over a year and a half. I've never felt better. Each day is a new day. Screw the resolutions. As sure as the sun will rise, so will an opportunity to start fresh.

2015 was a particularly difficult year for me. I lost weight, to be sure, but I also lost my livelihood and home. What I didn't realize then was that I was gaining far more than I ever imagined I could have ... being skinny again was really about shedding all that which no longer served me; slimming down was an opportunity to peel that proverbial onion and get back to my core self. No one would ever be the boss of me except me. I followed my heart to those size 26 jeans, no doubt. What I put in my mouth was secondary.

Below are 14 steps I took and still take as I start each day like a new year. Do note that only four of them have to do with food and exercise and that all the steps lead back to number one.

Where ever you are in life, I hope my story inspires you to get back to your unbroken, beautiful self -- no matter what your size.

FOURTEEN DAILY PRACTICES FOR HEALTH, HAPPINESS AND BEAUTY

bikini-miami-beach
Sex and the Beach is more like Freedom and the Beach now.


1. FROM DYSFUNCTION TO FUNCTON
The single most important thing I did to lose weight was to detox my life from ALL toxic relationships, including the one I had with myself. Toxic relationships are based on lack and fear. Healthy relationships are based on abundance and love. That's it.

2. DNA IS FAMILY ONLY IF YOUR LAST NAME IS DEOXYRYBONUCLEIC ACID
I had to reevaluate unconditional love in my life -- how much was I receiving and how much was I giving? Love has nothing to do with bloodlines. When I was down and out, the amount of unconditional love I received from friends was boundless. I continue to receive. I give. No tiny gesture of kindness and love is ever wasted.

3. THERE SHOULD BE A WAR ON DRAMA, TOO
Drama is powerfully addictive. I decided that unless I was standing behind a proscenium, there'd be no room for drama in my life. Healthy relationships let go of resentments. Toxic relationships thrive on drama. Remember what I wrote about perception and the illusion of being broken? Food for thought.

4. A SHOPPING LIST IS FOR GROCERIES, NOT LOVERS
I threw out my list of expectations for the perfect man and stopped looking for love. Guess what? It found me and I'm happy.

5. SHARING REALLY IS CARING
I joined a bereavement group for support as a caregiver and to cope with the loss of my mother. I became more acquainted with folks who've started mindful, intentional communities in Miami.

6. SPIRITUAL FOOD
I continued to take in spiritual nourishment with my life coach Gloria Ramirez', whose free Thank God It's Monday teleconference is just as important to me as a yoga class or a trip to the gym. I practice some of the tenets of Course In Miracles and nourish my heart daily.

7. THE GLASS IS ALWAYS HALF FULL AND I WON'T GET PISSED AT YOU IF YOU ONLY POUR HALF
I practiced gratitude and forgiveness every waking moment. The spiritual detox encouraged me to live in a space of radical gratitude, which opened my heart to receiving unconditionally. How can I explain this? Unconditional love is a "thing" you must have in your life in order to be happy, just like air to breathe. Unconditional love doesn't flow from toxic relationships. In healthy relationships, it's a birthright. It's just second nature. Simple as that.

8. TOSS SHIT AND TRAVEL LIGHT
I lightened the load by donating many material possessions, including things I didn't even remember I had in storage. Yes, it's possible to have toxic attachments to material things that can't even love you back.

9. SCHLEPPING IS A MIZTVAH
I sold my car and continue to schlep everywhere on foot or public transportation, which has become a fun storyline on my Twitter account as #miamischlep. Most people think you can't live in Miami without a car, but thousands of people get by without one. It's funny to me that many car owners count their steps with Fitbit because they own a car. Of course, not being an automobile-based human is inconvenient sometimes for me, my beau and friends who helps me schlep, but it's great for my body and has shown me a side of my city that car owners don't often see.

And finally, the food part!

vicequeenkitchen
A plant-based diet spurred my creativity as a lifelong, avid home cook.


10. I DON'T EAT PIG BUT I EAT LIKE A PIG
#Vicequeenkitchen as it is today was born in the last year or so. I don't eating anything with fur or feathers. (This makes me an ovo-lacto pescetarian, for now. Many of my meals are vegan or raw vegan.) A plant-based lifestyle is so tasty and filling, I never have to use that nasty four letter word D-I-E-T. As a food writer who covers omnivore establishments, I have to make some exceptions, but that's all they are -- occasional, small samplings of food that isn't usually on my plate.

11. MODERATE IF NOT MODEST
I've never been a shy wallflower at parties, but I did cut back on libations.

12. THE JURASSIC PARK DIET IS FOR VELOCIRAPTORS
I don't eat like a predator whose food is going to run away. I eat slowly and mindfully.

13. PALEO FOR YOUR COMPLEXION
I got rid of dozens of beauty products I never really even used. Coconut oil is all I need. Think about what our ancestors used for beauty.

14. SHAKE WHAT YOUR MAMA GAVE YA
I've saved a key physical practice for last: Daily Burn. These, thirty-minute full-body workouts from home, in addition to long walks and some yoga from my own practice, have made all the difference. What's best is that the gym is one place that isn't on my list of schlepping destinations. This fun, online community workout is inexpensive and is part of what helped tone my body for those skinny jeans.

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