Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Despite the fact that he's been flying people up, up, and away in his beautiful balloons for the past 30 years, Don Caplan says matter-of-factly that South Florida is not a very good place for such activity; it's too windy, the weather is unpredictable, and mornings are usually the only time calm enough to launch. Caplan, owner of Balloonport of Coconut Grove, is one of a small number of loyal hot-air balloon captains for hire in Miami-Dade. Year after year they wake at the crack of dawn and put up with quirky weather patterns and demanding customers for an hour of magic. And what magic it is. Using the winds to take you into birds' territory, succumbing to invisible forces, you will experience flight in intimate, low-tech fashion. This Memorial Day weekend Caplan and about 30 others will take customers skyward at the Homestead Air Reserve Station in the Spitzer Dodge Sixteenth Annual Great Sunrise Balloon Race (a misnomer, as the balloons don't really race, they compete for accuracy in reaching a target). According to Caplan the past three years have provided unusually good weather. The event benefits Sunrise Community, a nonprofit organization for people with disabilities. For details call the race hotline at 305-275-3317. If you're willing to shell out about $200 to ascend 1500 feet in a wicker basket propelled by gigantic flames that shoot into a canvas balloon, you'll get the closest thing to a magic carpet ride this side of sobriety; if not, you can watch the colorful spectacle from the ground, where you belong.
It's been a strange morning. The kids are bored with their video games. In fact they're bored with everything. You're about to tell them to go out and play on the expressway. You feel as though you're a candidate for the funny farm. Well, why not go to one and take the kids along? Patch o' Heaven is a twenty-acre spread where owner Elaine Spear has been breeding goats, cows, deer, sheep, and emus, among other animals, since 1983. She's also devoted to providing children with an opportunity to pet and otherwise get personal with the creatures. She offers pony rides and two hayrides per day through fields that are scattered with deer and emu. Kids fraternize with ducks, geese, turkeys, parrots, pygmy goats, key deer, and some local celebrities such as Bernina Banana Capucha the monkey and Tiffany the dancing cockatoo. The patch is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Admission is $8.50 per person or six dollars a head for student groups if you call in advance. Huddle with your gaggle and quack at the ducks. It just might keep you from quacking up.
Here you are, jammed into overdeveloped, thickly congested, air-polluted Miami, raging at the idiots around you and choking on the toxic fumes of urban life. There it is, the outback, where porpoises frolic in the shimmering flow and hawks soar against the glow of the cirrostratus. You can get there from here. First pack up your camping gear, some food and beverage, your favorite bug repellent. Next drive south to Flamingo, where the park rents canoes ($40 overnight). Reserve one of the chickees or space at the other campsites (about ten dollars in season, free during late spring and summer) along the clearly marked mangrove-lined trail leading to nirvana. Then begin paddling. Hell's Bay is heavenly, like Florida before freeways, one of the last refuges for nature lovers, a place where you can awaken to a dawn bristling with color and life (devoid of those darn humans). Be aware that canoeing this route is not an endeavor of sissies: Hell's Bay is a narrow, twisting half-day paddle from Flamingo. That's what it takes to get from Miami to paradise these days.
Greynolds has received a bum rap in recent years. True, its once-teeming bird rookery has fallen victim to marauding raccoons, feral cats, and extensive development near park boundaries. Yet this park/golf course/ picnic ground is still a magnificent oasis from hectic urban life. Dirt and paved trails meander through oak and palmetto stands. Wooden bridges cross over water and red mangroves. You can view fish jumping, birds feeding, and kids flying kites here. A large playground and a stone fort on a hill are great diversions for small children. Adults can stroll the grounds and enjoy a natural serenity all-too-often forsaken in modern living.
Feel free to frolic like the mythical gods and their favorite mortals in the Elysian Fields at Fairchild Tropical Garden. These 83 acres of tropical botanical rarities provide a delightful backdrop for your meal: flowering trees, palms, mangroves, bamboos, and vines. Throw down a blanket and become enchanted by a giant African baobab tree. Relax in the cool, moist rain forest or feast on fresh fruit near the still waters of a lily pond. A couple of caveats: 1) No grills allowed; and 2) No Dionysian-style debauchery -- kids are a common sight here. The garden is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and admission is eight dollars. There's no charge for children twelve years old and under. Tread lightly and don't wake the gods.
The hotshots are playing on this court, running the floor like gazelles, connecting on impossible alley-oop passes, and nailing honey-sweet jumpers that would impress even Tim Hardaway. But the action isn't quite as intense just one court over, where some tykes are swarming around a bouncing ball, occasionally heaving shots that barely reach the rim, and drawing proud applause from a few moms on the sideline. Every day at Cagni, from sunup until 10:30 p.m. when the park closes, you see the kids, the superstars, and everybody in-between. So come one, come all. Whether you want to measure your skills against some of the best playground competition in Miami or you're just looking for a way to shed those extra pounds, these four courts are the spot for you. Excellent lighting and a helpful park staff keep the peace. It's safe and fun for the whole family at this little slice of hoops heaven.