Trip to Florida

25Jan07

We managed to escape the chill of winter for a few days while we visited family in Miami. As usual we packed in quite a bit into a short trip. As fate would have it, there were even a few shocking moments to remind us we were not in the Midwest anymore.

Miami surprise!

One: When we were stuck in traffic on the highway, a red minivan sped past on the shoulder, followed by at least a dozen marked and unmarked police cars, and in the rear, some guy in an SUV whose front bumper was off the car and dragging on the ground. We found out from the evening news that the minivan was stolen a few days earlier, and driven by a man and woman (affectionately dubbed “Miami’s Bonnie and Clyde here) who had commited an armed robbery at a grocery store earlier in the day. Eventually the chase was on by maybe as many as 20 police cars; even a concerned civillian tried to stop them, by parking his or her tow truck in the middle of the street. Eventually the suspects rear-ended an innocent bystander, lost control of the car, and the chase was over. The minivan was totalled, and the suspects aprehended. More about it here.

Two: In downtown Fort Lauderdale we got lunch at a pizza place in Riverwalk, basically an open-air shopping mall. There was also a small arts-and-crafts show we checked out. As we were walking away from the mall, a man leisurely strolled past in a blue tank top, sneakers, and, at least it seemed from the rear, NO PANTS! When Grant told me, I had to get a look for myself, as did a bunch of mall security people. We all got a good laugh…It was an odd sight. Then after we got into the car and were driving away we saw him again–this time from the front! Luckily it turned out he was wearing a black thong bikini bottom, but frankly, that’s still way more than we wanted to see.

Parrot Jungle Island

DSCF2817.JPGWhen I was a teenager I used to volunteer at the old Parrot Jungle in what is now Pinecrest, Florida. So it should not be surprising that we visited the new Parrot Jungle Island during our trip. The park abandoned their spot in suburban Miami for a place on Watson Island, and the new location has only been operational for a few years. I have to say the admission fee seems high, and to make it worse, you have to pay for parking. In some ways the park seemed new and not very polished–some of the animals and most of the plants did not have signage to indicate species, there was not adequate signage to navigate the park so we kept getting lost, some of the directional signs were not professionally done, and so on. But in spite of those issues it was a fun place to visit and certainly memorable. We bought kibble from a vending machine and fed the birds around the park. Some of the birds, the “retirees,” were as old as 60 or 70 years, such as the original “Pinky,” the Moluccan cockatoo who rode a bicycle on a wire. The Winged Wonders and Wild Encounter show are both a must-see. There are also a number of “record holders,” such as the Liger DSCF2846.JPG(part lion/part tiger) and humongous Crocosaurus. But our favorite aspect by far was feeding the lorikeets. A lorikeet, or lory, is a small parrot with a strange tongue used to collect nectar. For $1 you are given a cup of “nectar” and walk into an aviary filled with lorikeets that immediately pounce on you–lorikeets on your arms, shoulders, head and in your hair. Feeding those screaming birds was unbelievably fun. The only downside was one lorikeet that was out for blood. It kept biting my arms (I actually ended up with a bruise) and it chomped on Grant’s ear as well. More photos here.

“Cradle of Christianity” Exhibit at Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale

The Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is currently hosting the exhibit “Cradle of Christianity: Jewish and Christian Treasures from the Holy Land.” It is a collection of artifacts found in the Holy Land, traveling from The Israel Museum of Jerusalem. It will visit only two other cities in the United States, so we were lucky to be in town for this one. The exhibit included both Jewish and Christian artifacts, drawn mostly from the time of the final days of the Second Temple, and thus the first days of Christianity. Highlights include stone urns and burial ossuaries (stone chests for the storage of the bones of deceased relatives), fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, stone menorahs and other relics taken from the Temple, and lavish mosaics. It took all of the discipline I could muster to stop myself from touching the relics, particularly an inscribed stone which was once a piece of the Temple Mount. Grant was unimpressed, but I found it very interesting. It is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, unless you plan on traveling to Israel.

Flamingo Gardens

DSCF2933.JPGFlamingo Gardens in Davie, Florida is a botanical garden and wildlife refuge. The foliage is lush, and reminds me of the old Parrot Jungle. It is home to a number of birds and other animals which were injured in the wild, and despite attempts at rehabilitation, were unable to released. The residents are primarily birds of prey, including hawks, eagles, owls, and vultures. A walk-in aviary houses native Florida species such as ducks, pelicans, ibis, cormorants, storks, and spoonbills. They are friendly and food can be purchased from vending machines to feed them. The day we visited there was also a small reptile show and sale, and I was able to pet a Cayman Island Iguana, but we didn’t take anyone home. Flamingo Gardens is not as new and nice as Parrot Jungle, but it is interesting if you like birds, and admission is not as pricey. I enjoyed snapping pictures of the wildlife. More photos here.

The Fruit and Spice Park

DSCF2968.JPGNo visit to Miami is complete until we have explored the Redlands, officially a part of Homestead, Florida. Only minutes from Suburban Dade County, the Redlands remains primarily nurseries (for plants, that is), farms, horse country, and now is dotted by mansions here and there. Miami Tropical Bonsai is there, next to a ranch where I used to volunteer when the Horse Protection Association of Florida was still in the area. We enjoy visiting Knaus Berry Farm for milkshakes and cinnamon buns but sadly didn’t make it this time. However we did go to Fruit and Spice Park, a one-of-a-kind public park that hosts 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, and herbs. The weekend we were there was the Redlands Festival, so vendors were selling food, arts and crafts, and plants in the park. We purchased maybe 7 or 8 different species of air plants to put in the vivarium, and also saw a creepy woman dressed as a vine, who enjoyed scaring people.

And Finaly…


In case you were wondering, this is how you know that you’re not in Florida any more! When we got back to the car it was very cold, and we had to scrape some snow and ice off the windows. The drive home from Chicago was uneventful, and we only saw one car abandoned in a ditch on I-57. It happened to be a sporty little silver Mercedez-Benz coupe and was stuck in the grassy median.

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