Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 13, 2017
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Miami slices

Seven ways a Canadian doctor can see south Florida -- without the sun, sand and shopping

Of the 600,000 Canadians who visited Miami in 1999, not all wanted to spend their holiday lying flat on a beach. Not everyone equated a rejuvenating winter break with a frenetic spending spree in the thousands of shops that line downtown's streets and malls. Some just wanted to relax, possibly outdoors or together with their families.

Foremost among the less touristy travellers were doctors who flew in, usually with the family in tow, for a convention. Despite their hectic schedules, they found themselves going from the conference to the car -- then spending hours behind the wheel looking for a place to park.

The following seven half-day itineraries may help you avoid Miami's beaten and congested tourist tract. The majority of these excursions are kid-friendly or intended for couples that would rather trek nature trails than city thoroughfares. All are affordable so you don't have to book a room at the Biltmore, or be staying with friends on Miracle Mile, to gain admittance. (All prices in US dollars.)

DAY ONE: UNDERWATER
There are plenty of sunken ships off the beaches of Florida's developed beach resorts, all strategically dropped to attract schools of tourists. But faux coral will never replace the real thing. Which is why avid snorkellers should set aside a half day to visit Biscayne National Park. Ninety-five percent of this 73,000-hectare national park is underwater in a shallow bay, and is home to more than 200 tropical fish, including parrotfish, scorpion fish, angelfish and moray eels. The park also includes a small mangrove shoreline, a line of narrow northern keys and the northern part of John Pennekamp Coral Reef, the first underground state park in the United States. Flying inhabitants include brown pelicans, little blue herons and snowy egrets. While snorkelling is the most rewarding way to appreciate this wide-open park, you can see the underwater life from a glass-bottom boat or, if you're qualified, by guided dive. Snorkelling boats depart at 10am and return at 1pm and again from 1:30pm to 4:30pm daily. $29.95 per person (includes mask, fin, snorkel and snorkel vest). Glass-bottom boats leave harbour at 10am and return at 1pm. $19.95 for adults, $12.95 for children under 12 and $17.95 for seniors. Bring a disposable underwater camera; you may be surprised by its quality. Park headquarters are located at Convoy Point, 15 kilometres east of Homestead on North Canal Drive (tel: 304-230-1100).

DAY TWO: IN THE JUNGLE
Ever wondered what it feels like being on display in a zoo? You'll get an idea after a couple of hours at Monkey Jungle. Here, more than 500 primates run wild and humans are fenced in. You walk along caged passageways while loud, flirtatious monkeys run along the fence above your head, frequently dropping small baskets down shoots so you can fill them with some of the raisins you picked up at the entrance. This place is neither museum nor zoo, it's a family-owned and operated four-hectare wildlife park founded in 1933 by Joseph and Grace DuMond. Their dream was to establish North America's first colony of free-ranging monkeys. They chose southern Florida because its ecology and climate resembled the monkeys' Southeast Asian habitats. For years, the DuMonds and other researchers used the property to study the monkeys' behaviour in the wild; today, Monkey Jungle serves as a breeding sanctuary for South American primates. Researchers hope the endangered Brazilian Golden Lion Tamarins kept here will mate more like pet-store bunnies than the finicky breeders they are. The next generation of DuMonds broadened the family's mandate further to include exotic animals rejected by their owners. When you visit, be sure to see the crab-eating monkeys skin-dive into the pool for treats or watch as an ape trainer takes you through a session with an orangutan family. These presentations run throughout the day at 45-minute intervals starting at 10am. Hours are 9:30am to 5pm; ticket sales shut down at 4:30pm. Entrance is $13.50 for adults, $8 for children four through 12 and free for kids under four. Before leaving, ask about the archaeological dig: in 1994, 10,000-year-old fossils were uncovered in a sinkhole. Discoveries included human teeth and bones from a sabre-toothed tiger, dire wolf and a Pleistocene horse and camel (14805 SW 216 Street, Miami; tel: 305-235-1611).

DAY THREE: THROUGH THE MARSHES
The Everglades Alligator Farm has about 3000 alligators of all strengths and sizes that your kids can view up close. Throughout the day, wrestler-like farm employees conduct wildlife shows, cavalierly dragging one or more of these large carnivores around an enclosure, all the while lecturing to a gawking crowd of adults and children. Kids get to hold a baby alligator and touch live snakes as well as learn a few things: why alligators can never be domesticated, why they have limited vision and what to do in case of a close encounter. Top off the afternoon with a fast-paced airboat ride through a mangrove section of the Everglades. Open daily 9am to 6pm. Shows run every hour starting at 10am. Admission to the farm and shows is $9 for adults, $5 for children, free for children under four. With the airboat ride (no reservations necessary): $14.50 for adults, $8 for children four to 10 (40351 SW 192nd Avenue, Homestead; tel: 305-247-2628; www.everglades.com). On your drive back to Miami, you may want to stop off at Everglades National Park, a protected portion of southern Florida's massive slow-moving 80-kilometre wide "river of grass" flowing from Lake Okeechobee through thousands of hectares of marshland. During the winter months, the park is teeming with wildlife such as wood storks, crocodiles and alligators, green sea turtles, southern bald eagles and manatees. The Everglades don't offer overwhelming spectacular scenery; at first glance, you may even think you're in an endless murky swamp. Rather, the landscape's appeal is more subdued and serene. Even if you're the type of traveller who hates all things touristy, put your reservations aside and take a guided walking tour: it's conducted by informed and keen park rangers who point out the grasses, bald cypresses, clear ponds and hardwood hammocks as well as the water birds, alligators, snakes, turtles, bass, garfish and panfish lurking in the muddy waters. Main entrance is on State Road 9336, Homestead. Fee is $8 to $10 for vehicles, $5 for pedestrians and cyclists. For information on the backcountry trails and camping, call (305) 242-7700 (www.nps.gov/ever).

 

DAY FOUR: THROUGH THICK TROPICAL BLOOMS
Gardening aficionados may want to leave the kids poolside for this excursion. The Fruit & Spice Park, a 14-hectare living tropical plant museum, features more than 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and nuts from all over the world. There are 100 varieties of citrus, 80 varieties of bananas, 40 of grapes as well as exotic edibles. Collections include a fibre, dye and latex section, a citrus collection, a poisonous plant collection and a custard apple collection. Park manager Chris Rollins oversees workshops that cover everything from organic gardening to pruning to tropical fruit winemaking. The park is open daily 10am to 5pm. Guided tours are conducted daily at 11am, 1pm and 2:30pm. Admission is $3.50 for adults, $1 for children under 12. The park has picnic facilities if you want to bring along a lunch. (24801 SW 187th Avenue, Homestead; tel: 305-247-5727). For more information on the workshops, contact Chris Rollins at fsp@co.miami-dade.fl.us\.

Before returning to Miami, take a short zigzagged detour to R.F. Orchids, an award-winning nursery that sells and ships vandas, ascocendas and other warm-growing orchids. When you walk in, you're greeted by one of the nursery's experts bearing free glasses of juice. In the morning and afternoon on weekends, the owners offer a free tour of their tropical garden in back. If you're really passionate about your orchids, consider taking a workshop (the session begins in late March). Subjects include caring for coerulea and related orchids, using blooming orchids in floral arrangements and general orchid care for beginners. Prices for the 2001 workshops haven't been determined but they should be around $15 per class. Each student goes home with an orchid seedling. The nursery is open Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 5pm. If you want to get on their mailing list, write to 28100 SW 182 Avenue, Homestead, Florida, 33030-1804, or email rforchids@aol. com (tel: 305-245-4570; www.rforchids. com).

DAY FIVE: IN A BODEGA CUBANA
Apart from a drive-by visit to Elian Gonzales's former home, the neighbourhood of Little Havana appears to have little to offer the photo-snapping tourist. Not so. The place to see and taste the neighbourhood's Latin flavours is along Calle Ocho, or SW 8th, between SW 12th and 27th Avenues. Throughout the neighbourhood, you'll notice elaborate statues devoted to fallen saints and monuments commemorating those who fell in the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. The McDonald's here sells cafe con leche or, for under a dollar, you can buy a thimble-sized cafe Cubano or a Cuban sweet from a vendor along the street.

Here's an introductory walking tour that should take just under two hours: Begin at the western end of Calle Ocho and 15th Avenue. This is where you'll find Domino Park, a small cement square where Miami's top domino players congregate on a daily basis. Until 10 years ago, women were not permitted in this park, but thanks to the changing times and a few sharp female tile throwers, older regulars have become more accepting of the opposite sex. Either way, a bit of skill and a few betting dollars will go far. A display of vintage photos of Miami is located right outside the doors to the park. Further west is La Casa de los Trucos (1343 SW 8th Street; tel: 305-858-5029), a popular magic store that first opened in Cuba in the 1930s and reopened here by its exiled owners in the '70s. El Credito Cigar Factory (1106 SW 8th Street; tel: 305-858-4162) is a family-owned business whose workers learned to roll in pre-revolution Cuba, though the tobacco leaf they use today comes primarily from the Dominican Republic and the wrappers from Connecticut. Between 13th and 17th Avenues, you'll begin to notice the walk of fame street stars devoted to celebrities like Julio Iglesias and Gloria Estefan. Aguila Vidente (1122 SW 8th street; tel: 305-854-4086) is a one-stop shopping outlet for practitioners of the Afro-Cuban religion, Santeria.

If you're in town from March 2 to 11, be sure to check out Carnival Miami, a 23-street block party centred around Calle Ocho. During the 1988 festival, a Guinness Book of World Records was set for the largest conga line (more than 119,000 people danced to Gloria Estefan's Conga) and a few years later, 65,000 reportedly danced the Macarena at the same time. The festival also featured a Kids Pavilion, one full block of entertainment for kids: clowns, face painting, climbing towers, carnival rides, interactive games and all sorts of other activities.

DAY SIX: A LESSON IN PASTELS
The Art Deco District Welcome Center provides a wealth of information about the history of the one square mile known as the Art Deco District. If you have an hour and a half to spare, consider taking a walking or biking architecture tour that goes along the three parallel avenues that comprise this part of South Beach. You can also rent audiotapes and take your own self-guided tour. Walking tours leave at 10:30am on Saturday and 6:30pm on Thursday. Bike tours are every third Sunday of the month. Tours cost $10, audiocassettes are $5 (1001 Ocean Drive at Barbara Capitman Way; tel: 305-531-3484).

If you're reaching South Beach via public transit, don't forget the 25-cent government-run bus that runs along Washington Avenue. You can catch it anywhere between 2nd and 27th Avenues.

DAY SEVEN: UNDER THE STARS
Chances are, your kids secretly hate old-fashioned planetariums -- all they get out of the deal is a bit of stargazing and a few buttons to push. But tell them they'll be playing one-on-one virtual-reality basketball with an NBA player, testing their speed in a pitching cage, rock climbing or learning to be a TV meteorologist, and they'll quickly realize that the Miami Museum of Science & Space Transit Planetarium is way more fun than the average school field trip. This is a full-on hands-on sound, gravity and electricity learning centre. Permanent exhibits include the Smithsonian Expeditions, an Indiana Jones-style trek along the path of early scientists in the Americas. Mothers will appreciate the soft-tumbling gravity playground designed for toddlers. Also worth seeing is the museum's Birds of Prey Center, which shelters and rehabilitates injured birds like falcons, screech owls and bald eagles. More than 1500 birds of prey have been hospitalized in the centre, about 400 of which have survived. On special exhibit from February 17 through September 9: Sharks! Facts & Fantasy. Allow two to three hours to see the whole museum. Open daily 10am to 6pm. General admission is $9 adults, $7 students and seniors, $3 children under 12 (3280 South Miami Avenue; tel: 305-854-4245).

 

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