Friday, March 20, 2009


Video supplement to First Impressions

First Impressions

We’ve found first impressions to be a very intriguing part of cruising. Each time we cross paths with a new person or place, a first impression is made. In retrospect, it is always fun to learn whether our first impression was right on the mark, or as in some cases, did we totally miss the boat? On our very first approach to the congested Rickenbacker dinghy beach, I spotted a group of marina workers eyeballing us through the fence from shore. “Do you think this place is safe?” I whispered to Gary, immediately jumping to the wrong conclusion. I was suspicious of what turned out to be just innocent looks of curiosity directed toward the “newcomers from Ohio”. Roberto was the first Rickenbacker Marina employee that we crossed paths with on our way to the showers. His warm greeting quickly made us feel welcome in our new surroundings. This was no menacing stranger, but instead a genuinely kind man. All it took was one look at Roberto’s engaging smile and twinkly eyes to calm my fears. He had me at “Hola”! One morning, some kids said they spotted a manatee out on B dock. I ran, and Roberto biked, out to the spot, but we saw no manatee. Roberto sensed my disappointment. Days later, he ran to us as we got out of the dinghy announcing with deliberate effort in English “LORI, THE MANATEE IS HERE!” Off we went, and again, no manatee. I thanked him for trying and headed into the showers. A minute later, I heard a loud knock on the restroom door and Roberto’s voice. “LORI, THE MANATEE IS BACK!” This time, success! We watched happily as the gentle creature lumbered through the water along the docks and stuck it’s nose up for air. Roberto was so pleased and proud to show me my first Rickenbacker Marina Manatee! Another interesting marina resident is the Iguana. The Granddaddy of Iguanas has taken possession of a seldom used sailboat docked at the corner of the channel to the dinghy beach. It is a thrill each morning to search for him as we round the corner. Sometimes a bit too much of a thrill, when Gary scoots our dinghy right up next to the boat, MY side closest to Mr. Iguana, where I could grab his long tail if I ever give in to the urge. I have hooted, shouted, whistled, clucked, cackled, and barked like a dog to get his attention, yet he doesn’t blink an eye or move a muscle. Lately he has relocated to the other side of the boat, where Gary insists he is hiding out to avoid my harassment. Speaking of barking like a dog, the marina rack storage is patrolled at night by the meanest looking, most vicious sounding German Shepherds. At our marina we don’t need no stinkin German Shepherds. We’ve got LOCI! His name is derived from the Spanish word “loco” or crazy. Our first impression of Loci did not bring to mind a crazy guard dog, but his size didn’t fool us for long. We soon realized that he commands respect with a single look that says “Don‘t even THINK about it.” No barking required. Gary was the first to befriend, aka charm, Haydee, one of the Gas Dock Managers. Haydee (like most of the Rickenbacker employees) is from Cuba and speaks very good English. She proudly insists that she SHOULD speak excellent English while living in this country. In December, we learned it was her birthday and dinghyed over to the gas dock with a bottle of Cab festively wrapped in aluminum foil. She seemed thrilled, and later reported it was “very very good!” She always greats both of us with a lovely smile, a big wave, and cheery “How you doing my friends?” Most mornings she waves me in for a dose of her popular cubano coffee, which is certainly worth getting up early for. Haydee charmed Gary right back and I suspect he looks for excuses to pull up to the gas dock to see her. Seriously, Gary, you CAN buy more than one gallon of gas at a time. I’m not sayin…I’m just sayin… Luis, Oscar, and Raoul bounce back and forth between the marina and the gas dock. Luis recently confided that his friends at home call him Kiki, and invited us to do the same. We were surprised to realize that even the Rickenbacker employees don’t know him as Kiki, which made us feel pretty darn special. On Sundays we are entertained by a cheerful Cuban guy, wearing a festive hat, playing Latino music, and shouting greetings from the upper deck of his houseboat next to the dinghy beach. It took us three months to put two and two together and realize that our impression of a partying local was Carlos, the stern night time Security Guard! He is nicknamed Munchie for his love of food, and we definitely scored some points in January when we delivered a jumbo slice of Jon’s double fudge birthday cake. Every day, everyone we encounter shares big waves and friendly greetings. If Jay, the Marina Manager, paid by the smile, the Rickenbacker employees would all be rich. Our friend Ray runs the convenience store next to the Marina office where I bought my first Materva Yerba Mate Tea and became addicted to the unique flavor. We stopped in there daily after our morning walks until I ran through their Diet Materva stock. Even so, it’s still fun to poke our heads in to kid around with Ray and pick up a bag of ice. Another fun store experience is the Key Biscayne Winn Dixie. Gary was intrigued by the odd little brackets hanging on the front wheels of the shopping carts, wondering about their purpose. We also liked the uniqueness of second story grocery store with a moving people/cart escalator. First trip down the escalator, it all came together. The brackets are brakes for the carts, so little boys can gleefully let go a the cart and it doesn’t go careening down the escalator…most of the time. Since our December arrival, I’ve been compelled to interrogate everyone we meet regarding the best Cubano restaurant in Miami. We only have five months to find the best places to eat, so there is no time to waste on mediocre food! Our buddy Fred at the gas dock gave Ayersteran a rave review, so off we went to give it a try. Our first impression of Ayesteran could best be described as SHAKY. Upon entering the brightly lit cafeteria, there was a lot of curious looks and busy talking in our direction, but not a word of it in English. I ducked into the restroom to attend to nerves. No problemo for Gary, he simply used the international sign for lifting a drink and asked “Donde esta Bar?” He was led to a side door marked “prohibido!” which looked slightly less than welcoming. In addition, the Hispanic hostess was gesturing negatively toward his shorts. A more authoritive sounding hostess approved his attire, and the secret door was opened into the prohibido club, just in time for me to slip through behind Gary. We exchanged a “what in the world have we gotten ourselves into?” look when we pulled up a bar stool… and the two people sitting at the bar got up and left. OK, we’re committed at this point, so let’s hurry up and order a cocktail to calm down. The dapper bartender clad in a perfectly tailored black suit did not understand our English and rushed out the secret door, leaving us giggling uncomfortably. He quickly returned with a waitress from the cafeteria to translate. Marissa introduced herself and then introduced our dignified bartender, Cuco. “What is his specialty?” we asked. After a lengthy Spanish exchange (wasn’t it just four words to translate?) Cuco brightened and proudly announced “MARGARITA… MOJITO!” Now we’re talkin, Cuco! We’ll take one of each! And so our love affair with Ayesteran began. We began happily chatting away, in English, with a gentleman next to us who sounded like he was from Boston. When he switched to perfect Spanish with Cuco, I asked how he mastered the Spanish language so well. “I was born and raised in Cuba” he replied with a wry smile. Could have fooled me, I thought he was “one of us.” And that is the beauty of what we’ve learned from Ayesteran. There is no “us” or “them”. Every single person we have encountered, staff and guests alike, has gone out of their way to welcome us. There are no nationality lines drawn at Ayesteran, only hands extended in friendship toward their fellow citizens. They are proud of their heritage but equally proud of their country, the United States of America. Ayesteran immediately became a “must-do” for all of our visiting guests, and not once have we been disappointed. Their hospitality is rivaled only by the absolutely fantastic, very affordable, Cubano cuisine. Each time we arrive, Gary gets a hug and pat on the back from Cuco, and I get a kiss on the cheek. Each time we take a table, other diners politely approach and offer to translate the menu. Everyone of our guests has thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the wonderful food and drinks. Each visit we laughingly tell the story of our first impression of Ayesteran, and often wonder about their first impression of us. It’s got to be humorous, so before we head north in May we will have to ask. It took us a while to get to know our fellow mooring ball neighbors. When your closest contact is by dinghy, it takes a few good happy hours to really become acquainted. Over “sundowners” we have gotten to know Chuck and Patti on Soul Mates, Troy on Imagine, and Ken on Eagle. All great people with sailing and living aboard as our common ground. Everyone has special stories to share and we would have to run out of sun, food, or drinks before we ever run out of conversation. We are so fortunate to have met so many wonderful people here. Everyone should be so lucky to cross paths with their own Haydees or Robertos in their lives, and in our travels we hope to cross paths with many more like them. Maybe there’s another lovely smile around the next bend, or another pair of twinkly eyes filled with happiness and mischief waiting to greet us in the next port. If not, it’s OK. We have certainly met had our fair share of special people here and we don’t want to get greedy. We’re just very, very thankful. MUCHAS GRACIAS AMIGOS!!!!!!!!!!!