Best Of :: People & Places
Cigar smoke clings to the air inside the Habana Cuba Cigar Lounge like two teenagers on senior prom night. The baseball game on the giant plasma screen TV set is drowned out by the din of men decked out in guayaberas and dress slacks playing bones on the two tournament tables. They munch on pastelitos and drink Cuba libres. Armando Lopez, a plump Miami Lakes retiree who cautiously nursed his rum and coke on a recent night, avoided the taunts from his pal, Marcelo Llavore, to drink more. "You just want to throw me off my game," Lopez hissed. At another table a bald Cubanazo with a bushy mustache slammed down a nine. "DOMINO!" he bellowed. His opponent gritted his teeth and clenched his right fist. The lounge's owner, Rafael Nodal who bears a striking resemblance to actor Joe Mantegna slyly stepped in before the fisticuffs flew. "Gentlemen, por favor, we're not in Little Havana," Nodal chastised, holding a smoldering stogie in his right hand. Last year the gregarious Cuban opened the lounge as a way to promote his line of Cuban-American cigars. Now the lounge has morphed into one of the few places men can release their testosterone-fueled competitiveness seven days a week. "We're all about creating a nice ambiance," Nodal says, "where you can enjoy a good, stiff drink and a fine cigar."
Ever sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, laying on the horn because the ding-dong in front is not moving, and you're in a hurry because you're late for work, and you still have to drop off the kids and get to the bank to deposit some money so your checks don't bounce, but you're almost out of gas and you're not sure if you're going to make it, but if you stop then you'll be even later, and if you're late again you'll get fired, and then you won't have money for anything, so should you chance it and risk getting stuck and getting fired because you don't show up at all, or stop and risk getting fired because you're lateç Dude, if this even remotely resembles your brain, you seriously need to take a break before it melts. And the best spot for escaping from the daily grind without spending a small fortune (provided you have a rich friend who owns a boat, that is) is right here in our back yard: Elliott Key. Located about nine miles from Homestead in the aquamarine waters of Biscayne National Park, this is the largest of three keys in the park's 172,000 acres, and is only accessible by water. Once harboring a thriving community of pioneers, today this idyllic island offers camping complete with barbecue grills picnicking, swimming, wildlife watching, and a hiking trail, along with showers, toilets, and even fresh drinking water. The coastline is predominantly rocky, but the clear waters make it ideal for snorkeling. And there are some small areas of sand if you feel the urge to bronze. What's more the place is large enough to never get overcrowded, yet small enough to feel like your own private paradise (especially if you head there on a weekday). Best of all, it's free. So grab some grub, anchor offshore (low tide is less than three feet high), and chill. Sleep under the stars and bathe in crystal clear ocean waters ... you deserve it. It sure beats waking up to reality.
Last year's summertime calendar brought us 6/6/6, the apocalyptic number of the beast. Some predicted the Antichrist would appear on that hot as hell June afternoon, but it didn't happen.This summer will bring 7/7/7, which is sacred and mystical, according to various traditions. On that day Miami will host the Sacred Sevens Selebration. (In case you haven't checked, July 7, 9007, will fall on a Saturday; of course, the town will be either underwater or nuked by then.) It's all organized by the people at MysticalFlorida.com, who put on the Tropical Fairy Festival at Coral Castle every October. "This festival will raise positive energies and provide an outlet for people to experiment with their spirituality," says Atina Komar, the festival's organizer, "and honestly, days that don't appear very often give us an excuse to throw a party."The festivities will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church in South Miami. There will be drum circles, live bands, magicians, spiritual workshops on well-being and self-healing, as well as performances by jugglers, dancers, and singers. There will also be games and a costume contest for children.
Want the moon to yourselfç Haul your bike out to Shark Valley after sunset and have at it. There's nowhere better to check out that massive cheese wheel in the sky than the River of Grass. Cruise around the fifteen-mile paved loop with wind in your hair, bird songs in your ear, and mysterious water splashes every few feet, as the glowing disk makes its way across the evening sky. It's beautiful especially the view from the observation tower halfway into the ride and it's free after 5:15 p.m (the gate closes at 6:00).
You make the 45-minute trek to work every day. And every day at least two jerks cut you off or give you the finger. At work your micromanaging boss breathes down your neck because he's a sadistic maniac. The kids fight, your visiting in-laws are annoying, and you're behind on your bills again. Does the Mobius bandlike cycle of stress ever endç Sure you can plop yourself down on the couch and wish your life was copacetic as Shaq's, but that's a poor excuse for relaxation. What you need is mental and spiritual rejuvenation, both of which can be found at the Wat Buddharangsi, a Thai Buddhist temple in Homestead. Wat's Eastern-influenced architecture is striking; ascending steeples are adorned with red tile and gold decoration. The same color scheme can be found inside, with a large Buddha as an inspiring centerpiece. An aura of serenity permeates the inside of the temple as bright sun rays fill the quiet, open spaces. Patrons are encouraged to forget material possessions and control their lives during the temple's many ceremonies and prayers. Some rules for visitors: dress conservatively, remove shoes upon entering, and avoid making loud noises. The temple is open to the public every day from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and hosts special events at least once a month.
It's not that the sand is whiter or the sea greener. Nor do those few feet of ocean boast more waves or fewer pesky sea critters. It's just that Third Street not Second Street, not Fourth Street, but either side of the lifeguard stand on Third is where the cool kids hang. Week in, week out. It's where the hot Brazilians can be spotted in their pseudo-Speedo trunks, flexing taut muscles as they battle through endless games of foot-volleyball. It's where the Latinas and the Euros throw caution to the wind and discard bikini tops without so much as a flinch. Coolers stacked full of beach essentials (i.e. beer), lithe bodies, and paddleball games abound. In all its skin-baring, sweaty glory, Third Street beach epitomizes this city we call home.