FLORIDA, USA – Like the metaphorical frog in a well, you can never really get a true sense of how tiny Singapore is unless you take a road trip in a foreign country. Specifically, a foreign country as large as the United States of America.
The scale of which you never truly appreciate until you’ve driven some 500km over two days and realise you’ve gone no further than several centimetres on a map. Of course, this is entirely dependent on the scale of the map, but you get the idea.
So anyway, the trip itself was to pick up a MINI Countryman from Miami Airport and drive it 200km or so to the Florida Keys, including a small 100km stretch of the US Route 1, an almost arrow-straight finger of tarmac from Key Largo to Key West and back.
“Small” being the operative word here, because US Route 1 is nearly 4,000km long, the longest single road in the United States, running from Florida at its southernmost tip to Maine at its northernmost point. Nearly a hundred times the length of Singapore!
How’s that for big?
… With a really small car in it
Those distances seem all the greater, given our red dot-dwelling nature and the size of the car we were about to undertake the road trip in, the aforementioned MINI Countryman.
The more knowledgeable members will no doubt point to how the Countryman is the largest vehicle MINI makes, but as with many things size is relative.
Just to illustrate our point, the Countryman’s stablemate in the BMW Group’s vast array of SUVs is the X5. In the US, the X5 is formally classed as a mid-sized SUV, where here and in most other places, it’s in the full-sized class. The Americans regard the X7 as a full-sized SUV, while the rest of the world recognises it as a leviathan on stilts.
At any rate, the Countryman we were piloting was equipped with a 136hp three-cylinder motor with a 1.5-litre displacement. To say that engine is a midget in a land of giants would be an understatement.
In the land of the large-displacement V8 (typically 5-litres and upward), the Mini’s three-cylinder engine is positively Lilliputian.
… And how did it do?
Surprisingly well, thanks for asking. It’s telling that the little (in relative terms, anyway) Countryman never felt outgunned on those mythical American roads.
Primarily because we either spent most of our time with it sitting in gridlock — you can blame the President Trump’s arrival en route to Mar-a-Lago coinciding with our departure for that — or on empty highways.
You can again blame the aforementioned Presidential motorcade for that one, since it meant by the time we cleared the Miami city limits and negotiated evening rush hour traffic, it was well past 8pm, with less than half the journey to Key West under our belts.
Which meant negotiating the drive from Key Largo (the northern tip of the Florida Keys) to Key West in near-pitch darkness.
All that also meant a serious mistiming of a turn and mounting the kerb fairly hard. Worrying, because a puncture in the middle of nowhere would be fairly inconvenient, to say the least.
The general lack of visibility was a pity, because according to the map, the numerous bridges linking up the Florida Keys would provide an unobstructed view of the Gulf of Mexico, and if you squinted really hard, you might even see Cuba. Yes, it really is that close, a little over 150km, to be precise.
Not that we really could in our two days with the Countryman, because we came up close and personal with…
The uncooperative weather
Florida is normally known for warm-ish weather and sunshine all year round. In a cruel twist of fate, however, we got none of that.
On the first day we landed, we were treated to weather that was not only unseasonable, it was downright freakish. For Florida, at any rate. The temperature dipped to just below single digits, which also coincidentally had local iguanas falling out of their roosting spots in trees.
While it might sound like a satirical fake news story, multiple reports on the radio and TV news confirmed it, along with warning the public not to move the iguanas themselves or stand under trees, for fear of injury.
The day after, when we were about to depart Key West back to Miami wasn’t much better. What started out as a bright, sunny morning with temperatures in the low 20s soon turned to clouds and a persistent light drizzle.
However, one thing did make up for it, and it’s…
The people you meet
The best part of any road trip is perhaps not so much about the sorts of roads you drive on, which is no doubt important, but it’s the people you meet along the way that make it truly special. And boy, did Miami serve up some winners.
Interesting fact about Miami is that nearly three-quarters of its population is Hispanic. A third of that number being of Cuban origin. The people we met at the bars and restaurants dotting Little Havana are populated with some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.
Or even the random taco truck we stumbled across while on the way to Key West. Clearly, Carlos of Jalisco Taco Shop serves up his tacos come rain or shine. Which is a pretty important point, given we visited his food truck in the middle of a tropical downpour.
But really, no American road trip would be truly complete without a visit to an all-American diner like Mrs Mac’s. Apart from one of our companions who ordered a Countryman-sized bowl of chili, the rest of the food there was sized like an all-American V8.
That is to say, big, unpretentious and about as subtle as a smoky burnout.