This is a quick toast to the new friends we made yesterday on our bicycle trek to the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park at the southern tip of Key Biscayne.
We met Fang Zhang, Ming Chen and Baoxi Yang as we were walking around the historic lighthouse, dating from 1825, near the southern tip of the island.
Our encounter began when one of them asked me to take a group picture of them in front of the cabin the park service had recreated to simulate the 19th century living quarters of the lighthouse steward’s family. Sure, I said. Moments later, the same young man offered to take a picture of Georges and me on the front porch of the cabin, too.
His broken English was way better than my Chinese, but we still required both physical and verbal language to communicate. We had pedaled to the lighthouse from the Hammock Oaks area of Miami; they came all the way from Shanghai. They were intrigued to learn that we have business interests in Guangdong. I was excited to learn how to say “nice to meet you” in Chinese:
Hen Gaoxing Renshi Ni Zaijian.
Ultimately, we decided to take multiple selfies of all five of us to show our respective friends and family back home. I gave him the url to this blog. He asked if he would be able to access it from China. I said I hope so.
We pedaled on.
At a picnic area we encountered an adorable and completely unbashful raccoon feasting on the leftovers from previous picnickers. We stopped and watched him (her?) a good 10-15 minutes.
A young pale woman pedaled up next to us and asked what the animal was. A raccoon, I said. You can tell by the ringed tail and masked eyes.
She’d never seen such an animal. Turns out she’s visiting from the U.K. and was on a rental bike. I don’t think we have those at home, she said.
Such an adorable animal. We’ll count it as a friend. Too bad they’re such shameless thieves.
(Reminded us of the time we tent-camped years ago in the Hill Country State Park and were awakened in the middle of the night by a noise near the ice chest we had stashed under the picnic bench. G unzipped the tent and went out to make sure the ice chest was locked and secure. He even wrapped an extra bungee cord around it to protect its contents from curious critters. We went back to sleep. The next morning, we awoke to find the bungee cord unhooked, the ice-chest clasp unclasped and the half-pound of Monterrey jack cheese we’d saved for a quesadilla breakfast missing…. Oh, and the empty wrapper was under a bush nearby. I hope that raccoon got indigestion from all that cholesterol.)
We learned from the state park’s historic markers that the Tequesta people inhabited this island a thousand years before Columbus sailed. In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon sailed here from Puerto Rico searching for cities of gold. He found fresh water and firewood, and the island became a prominent landmark for navigators as it passed from British to Spanish and, ultimately, U.S. hands.
In the early 1820s, enslaved Africans, runaways and “black Seminoles” seeking freedom from slave catchers and plantation masters secretly worked their way down to Cape Florida, according to the park’s markers. In 1821, some 300 freedom seekers bartered for passage aboard 27 sloops or chose to sail Indian dugout canoes the 107 miles to secluded Andrus Island in the Bahamas. The construction of the lighthouse in 1825 served to block this escape route.
Today, along with the history of the island, the state park features a lovely bike path.
And the view from the Rickenbacker Causeway between Miami and Virginia Key/Key Biscayne is breathtaking – as was the act of taking this photo as cars whizzed by at nearly 50 miles an hour just a few feet from me, my bike and my precariously held iPhone.
Which brings us to our third (or fourth, depending on how you’re counting) friend of the day.
As G mounted the bikes back on the front of the car after we returned from our ride, a tall, thin man in his 50s with shaggy hair and a bandage wrapped around his left knee emerged from the trailhead nearby. G smiled and asked after his leg. The man returned the smile and said he’d injured it on a boat.
The man looked at our Casita and asked if we were travelers. G explained our perimeter adventure.
Both men recognized an accent in the other’s English. G asked the man where he’s from. Martinique, the man said. Where are you from, the man asked. Belgium, G replied. Laughter. So you speak French. Yes.
The conversation warmed and shifted to rapid-fire French.
It turns out our visitor is a boat inspector. He’d injured his leg while inspecting a boat. He asked about our just-completed 30-mile bike ride to the island and back and was very interested in our Casita and our yearlong adventure along the Edges of America.
Soon it was time to go. “Bonne chance!” he said finally, as he ambled off to his silver truck.
Sadly, we realized only later that we’d neglected to get his name or his photo.
C’est la vie.