Through the thin walls of the tent, I hear an elephant trumpet, and a breeze caries its musty smell across the open expanse. Somewhere nearby, a lion joins in.
If you had told me this is what camping in south-central Miami would be like, I'd have called you a liar. But Larry and Penny Thompson Memorial Campground manages to carve out a bit of nature in the middle of the city.
Named after a Miami Herald reporter and naturalist, the park is a few minutes off of U.S. 1 by Biscayne Bay, and while it’s largely used by RV campers, the tenting area is rather peaceful – save for the noises emanating from the zoo nearby.
I stay up for a bit, listening to the animals and fighting the effects of the powerful Cuban coffee we had earlier.
In Miami, our visit to Little Havana took us to the Versailles Restaurant, a sort of classy cafeteria-style Cuban eatery, sprawling with chandeliers and inlaid mirrors. It’s authentic down to language capabilities of the staff, who were friendly in humoring me as I struggled with my own rusty communication skills. They may not have spoken much English, but it was still better than my attempts at Spanish. Despite it all, in short order mojitos were delivered, followed by heaping plates of pork, beef, rice, beans, onions and fried plantains.
The food was delicious and the portions generous, enough that we saved half for lunch the next day. Surprised at the name of the restaurant (which I would guess to be French), I inquired with the waiter how it should be pronounced. “Ber-sigh-ees,” he replied, and when I asked where it comes from, he informed me simply, “It is French.”
A little confused but contentedly full, and we wandered to the adjacent Versailles Café for a Cuban café con leche. We stood sipping the tiny cups of sweet, strong espresso with steamed milk, watching the crowd.
The cafe also sells cigars, and men linger, smoking and flirting with the baristas. We savored the delicious coffee, the best of my life, before heading off to the center of the city to make camp.
After finally drifting off to sleep, I'm awakened by the sound of soccer being played at the college that borders the campground on the other side. We eat a quick breakfast and hurry to the coast, arriving at t-minus 1 minute and 30 seconds to the final Endeavor shuttle launch.
We're three hours south of Cape Canaveral, but still catch a glimmer over the Atlantic as the shuttle turns on its way out of the atmosphere.