Never once have I regretted waking up early to see the sun rise. It’s your own private preview to the day before the world begins to stir, your chance to discover what awe, sparkle, brightness and hope look like. Sometimes there’s a dramatic sky previewing the show, other times, a cloud cover has settled in so thick you’re certain you won’t see anything. Once, years ago, I walked away from waiting on a sunrise to begin, assuming I’d either woken up too late and missed the show, or there was no show at all, since the clouds wouldn’t let the sun out, only to turn around to find a giant orange ball had risen, tiptoeing in just when I’d stopped watching. Today’s clouds parted and presented us with a shimmering gold nugget, actively stretching and spreading its molten wonder. Everyone quietly found their seats – some on yoga mats in the sand, others climbing on overturned chaises, some standing still, reverent and expectant – each of us humbled and respectful, talking in hushed tones.
The hot glittery gold began to spread out and thin yellow rays extended across the sky, reaching out to each of us there looking up. It’s real, these golden tentacles which stretch from the center. They’re like the sunshines I used to draw as a little girl, when I’d carefully select colors from my Crayola box: orange, yellow-orange, orange-yellow, goldenrod, yellow, lemon yellow and gold, and if you were lucky enough to be coloring in 1972 as I was, you had access to the new fluorescent Crayola collection debuting that year, adding chartreuse and ultra yellow along with other colors to the mix. Those rays aren’t just in a child’s imagination, they are real – real enough for an iPhone to capture and so much more engaging in person than in any stock photos or inspirational motifs. They’re as real as those smoke curls I used to draw which spiraled out of the chimney of my house.
As the performance heightened, seagulls circled, perfectly picturesque and swooping into every frame. The sun broke out of its gold shell and rose up quickly, spreading a bright yellow haze all around. The crowd then shifted and scattered, and we moved on into the day, filled up from the performance, and my sister and I agreeing it was well worth setting the alarm. The show would resume tomorrow, but by then, we’d be back home in different cities, returning to the less interesting routines we’d left.
Afterward we went for coffee at a large Starbucks nearby. From our table outside, we watched lots of people – singles, couples, joggers and partners with their dogs – and talked for hours, a pair of sisters full on conversation, caffeine and celebration from this rare birthday getaway. This week she turned sixty, my warm, beautiful slender, forever-young sister, and me, just two years behind. For four days, we walked, sunned, swam and shelled. Lizards darted across our paths, a pair of parakeets flew overhead, pigeons cooed nesting on the hotel’s roof, and a bright green iguana even appeared, jumping in our pool for a quick swim across.
The four of us – my sister, her daughter, my husband and I – got along well, and it was easy making plans from our rooms directly across the hall from one other. Nearly identical, one room felt like a girls’ dorm with The Food Network on TV running in the background, bikinis hanging out to dry and no shortage of chatter. The other doubled as a couple’s room and workplace, since Joe needed to dedicate time each day connecting with his office. The rental car stayed parked throughout our stay and we instead explored the area on foot – past successions of royal palms in street medians, pastel Art Deco buildings, stark Miami-hot streets, Cuban sandwich shops and stylish cafes with lush outdoor seating.
We discovered a quieter beach away from the center of things and sprung for chaises with umbrellas, a first for each of us. Accustomed to hauling beach umbrellas from home, we’d typically find ourselves frustrated from their tilting or pulling up out of the sand and blowing down the beach, leaving us little choice but to bake in the sun or else call it a day. Esteban’s, our beach chair place, set us up, their drill boring a perfect narrow hole in the sand for our umbrella, creating an afternoon full of marvelous choices – sun or shade, surf or beach, walking the beach or lounging on cushioned chaises. I even fell asleep for a short while, infant-style arms overhead. Delicious.
Meals were consistently wonderful except for dinner the first night when we got stuck in the middle of the largest, tackiest, rudest crowd we’d ever seen, who were constantly everywhere we found ourselves, blaring music and twerking, yelling, racing in cars and weaving on bikes around us. The restaurant was expensive as expected but unremarkable, feta noticeably absent from our Greek salads, canned California olives (c’mon, no Kalamata?), and tiny minced romaine, with a tasteless dressing on the side. It was loud and rushed – a sudden downpour contributing to the mood – as we all moved inside, bringing this crazy party uncomfortably closer. As we all fought fatigue from early morning flights and the rushing around you do before a getaway, this first night gave us a distasteful preview to our stay which luckily, four days in, faded like yesterday’s news. The rest of the time was quieter and what we’d been looking for and desperately needed – our soundtrack of tides, birds and our own spontaneous laughter.
Meals were highlights and our hotel was our favorite place for good ones; it’s so easy opting to stay in when you can dine alfresco in lush outdoor rooms surrounded by tropical vegetation and cute critters minding their own business. Our hotel’s Caesar salad was a thing to behold: Crispy butter lettuce replaced romaine and bread crumbs stood in for croutons, with tiny Parmesan curls scattered all around the top, and a smidgeon of bacon, all of it minimally bound in a refreshing dressing. Grilled shrimp tacos came with soft white corn tortillas, cotija cheese, finely shredded cabbage and jalapeño mayo, another hotel homerun.A friend recommended an authentic Cuban sandwich shop, and a couple by the pool, a place for lobster rolls, so we checked out both, which were authentically delicious.
The birthday – and reason for the trip – was full and fun. I got up early that day and slid a card under Anne’s door with a gift inside – a happier paper surprise on your floor than the usual hotel bill signaling the end of your stay, always a downer. Instead, the party was just getting started. We gathered for brunch and I brought down her bag of gifts – little nothings but each wrapped carefully with love. We got good coffees that day in lieu of the lobby’s free stuff and once more, sat outside in the early June heat. The four of us each found our thing – cappuccino, croissant, eggs and avocado toast – and reveled in it; I love how everyone gets to share in the same fun as the birthday person.
Another beach day, more beautiful weather, and reliable Esteban’s set us up again. Red and purple flags flew like the day before, warning us of rip tides and Japanese Man ‘o War, so we lazily floated close to shore. Five o’clock brought happy hour to our hotel lobby every afternoon, and we patiently stood in line hoping the sauvignon blanc wouldn’t run out. Little clear plastic cups were stacked next to a serving tray and the hotel front desk person turned sommelier for the pour, another plastic cup set out for tips. One day there was only chardonnay and our faces fell, but I politely convinced the pourer to check in the back for more and, spared the dreaded oakiness, the party continued.
We frequently coffeed and happy houred on our favorite patio on the side of the hotel with its snappy striped awning rolled up for evenings, revealing lovely strings of lights woven and stretching across the canopy of vegetation overhead. Lizards darted in and out of the plants surrounding us and one of them who came around every day was missing the tip of its tail.
A bizarre looking caterpillar appeared one morning as well, slowly motoring along a table top where we sat for coffee. An animal lover and learner, Hannah kept saying it might be poisonous, and a quick Google search revealed it was indeed. We had before us the puss caterpillar, a strangely beautiful creature born saddled with a horrible name. My search produced this: their wig-like hairs are actually spines that can cause intense pain, swelling, vomiting, and fever if touched, and with this, our fascination was over. Hannah held out a wooden stirrer for it to climb onto and then moved it far away into the vegetation where it leisurely dismounted and carried on.
It was during one last swim in the pool in the hours before check-out that we each admitted that we’d miss this place. I asked Anne and Hannah if at the end of a nice vacation they make little resolutions like I do, and they admitted they do. One such resolution, especially on the heels of that morning’s sunrise, was to get up earlier and notice the day when it’s its freshest and quietest. Another was to get outside and exercise more. Both ideas we carried with us as we boarded our plane for home, and even though the new season has barely begun, I think this sunny reset is firmly planted inside each of us.