Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Magic City

I've been bad at taking notes about this process, but I thought I'd get some things down right now while they are still fresh in my memory. Staging took place in Miami again, but this time at a hotel near to the airport. It was a very nice hotel (and, by coincidence, it was right next door to the hotel I stayed at when I went to Miami solo for New Year's Day this year). But first -- some drama, regarding the flight to Miami.

The night before my flight, I was busybusybusy doing last-minute things for the trip: finalizing packing, getting things squared away in the boxes, that sort of thing. Among the list of things to do was to scan about thirty or so pictures to them transfer to my iPod photo to bring with me, but that alas proved the only thing I didn't end up with time to do. Instead I simply chose a few photos which reflect major parts of my life and I put them into a tiny little travel photo album. Then, having received not one wink of sleep, my mother and I left the ranch in west Texas at around 5:30 for my 7:00 flight from Abilene. It took us over an hour to get there, so naturally we arrived within the 30 minute time frame required nowadays by the jittery airlines. Yes, they said I was too late for that flight. But the desk clerk was eyeballing my baggage and said there was no way I could have made it onto that flight anyway, because they had a weight restriction and she could tell I was sporting too much baggage weight. So she checked to see if they could put me on the next one and -- nope, it was oversold. Oops! and the next one was oversold too. She said she could get me on one tomorrow, though, and I said that was not acceptable. A quick call to SATO Travel later, I had her transfer my ticket to Continental, which changed my flight plan and departure time, but at least would get me to Miami that day.

So the end result was that I arrived at Miami at the end of the first day of Staging. My roommate was an older black man from New York. We bonded pretty well, and have remained good friends since. One thing of note about him: he was in the Peace Corps before as well, in Cameroun... in 1975!

Sadly, I missed all the fun ice-breaking exercises and "Expectations" exercises. It's a good thing I had gone through essentially identical exercises before so I didn't feel I missed too much. We had a joint-Staging with the group heading to Paraguay, since they were leaving the same day.

After Staging the first night, one enterprising volunteer (another good friend of mine now) arranged to have the hotel van drive us out to drinks. The other volunteers had all heard that Coral Gables was a good spot to go; I informed them that, yes, Coral Gables is beautiful, but it is mostly residential and they were unlikely to find anything to do there at night. Where they wanted to go was Coconut Grove, so we headed down there instead (sadly, one cab full of volunteers had already gone looking for a Coral Gables hotspot, so our last-moment change of plans screwed them over. I hope they've forgiven us by now). We had dinner at Coconut Grove at La Tu Tu Tango (or something like that), and knocked back a few drinks. It was a great evening.

The next day of Staging was longer and had to do with dealing with harassment and unsafe situations, and other country-general topics. The highlight of the afternoon was the "Capstone," where we were divided into teams and given an assignment to demonstrate various aspects of volunteer life through creative expression, like skits and songs. Our group ended up doing a version of Win, Lose, or Draw (an old t.v. show like Pictionary) and it went over very well. One trainer, Kerry, said he liked it best.

That night, our last night in-country, we pulled out the big guns. We went out for a night on South Beach, replete with much drinking and dancing. A group of about 8 of us had a really expensive dinner at a sidewalk spot one block south of The Clevelander (the site of my first real South Beach adventures, Spring Break with Dave and Mike, so many years ago -- man, has my life changed since then!), then spent a couple of hours at a pub near 15th and Washington (one block away from the youth hostel where I spent New Years) called "The Lost Weekend." Already buzzing pretty nicely, I went with a group of volunteers down to Mango's on Ocean Drive, where we proceeded to dance Salsa/Merengue and drink very very heavily until about 3:30 am. One of my newfound friends kept sharing shots with me, and by the time we corralled a cab to return back across the MacArthur Causeway and head back to the hotel, I was nice and toasted. Luckily, I didn't wake up with a hangover and I never felt sick.

Up next: The flight to Guyana and our first night in country.

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