This doesn’t suck

What happens when you step onto a 45' cat with 8 people you don't know and sail close to 100 miles in a week off the coast of a country roughly the size of New Hampshire? "This doesn't suck" "...isn't fun the best thing ever?" "Everything that kills me... makes me feel alive" "Has anyone ever seen a baby pigeon in NYC?" Destination, off the coast of Placencia in the Stann Creek District, Belize, Central America. Except for the first day and last day of my ten day escape, there was no internet, no phone, no television; my virgin unplug from the world exercise. I am often criticized for traveling alone. It's not safe. You will be lonely. What if something happens to you? None of these are true. Although a guy I met at the airport waiting for my return flight described Belize City as a shit hole, Placencia, on the other hand, was full of laid back wonder and amazement. And I met many awesome people. From Ana at Laru Beya where I stayed the first and last night who is now a texting friend (think old school pen pals) to Charlie. She was from Whales and staying at Toms Cove for three weeks for advanced dive certifications and gave me the biggest hug when I left in the dinghy and she completed final checks of her gear before embarking on her first ever night dive. Of course there was Captain David and First Mate Patries. Their expert sailing experience saved us from a late night storm that caused our anchor to lose hold. We were heading straight for the reef. I'm not sure how they were able to navigate and reset the anchor in the pitch black night with 40 mph wind and pouring rain, but they did, and I'm still here to tell the story. I cannot forget my sailing mates. Todd and Rhonda, Wes, George and Diane, and Jim. We stepped on the boat at 5 PM Saturday and by Sunday morning, after the first night on the boat, had a well oiled machine of social interaction and fun. The problem, though, is that so much happened. I set out to, as I typically do, with the plan to blog about everything. The problem? I can't. I can't find the words. I've talked to a few people, I've shared the photos with my kids. But every time, another story comes to mind. I went camera crazy during the beginning of the trip, but as the week went on, I found myself taking fewer and fewer pictures. I started to breathe slower, I started to observe more. While I came back with over 1000 photos, they were whittled down to a little over 400. Every one of them has a story. I was disappointed in most of the underwater ones, not sure what happened to the settings on my camera this time. Even the ones that did turn out decent will never capture the true beauty. The 64 million shades of blue. The way the sky blends into the water. The rich purples of fan coral. The blues and yellows of trigger fish. Only the naked eye can truly see the colors, your Retina display has nothing on what I saw! The best I can do is to share a few memorable experiences of the thousands I had. 1. I swam with sharks. Nurse sharks to be exact. Yes, I had a few irregular gasps for air in the snorkel at first, but after that, seeing them glide under me so gracefully, it was relaxing. My mask has prescription lenses in it, but they are not exact, so my depth perception in the water is a little off. I found out after we were out of the water that the depth was only 4-5 feet and those sharks, yeah, a foot below me. 2. Eagle rays are magnificent creatures. Six foot wingspan gliding right under me, I could feel the push of the water. 3. Sea to table. Harvesting conch which turned into the 1st course for dinner as conch ceviche. 4. Eating the conch "nerve" which legend has it, is a natural Viagra. This turned into "Oh Patries, I'm feeling a little frisky" and a great laugh for everyone on board. 5. Intro dive. In 40 feet of water, I made it to a depth of 2 feet. Time for certification this year for sure. 6. Lion fish are invading the reef, eating everything and laying 20,000 eggs every 4 days. Polly, who owns and manages Tom's Cove has a license to spear them. Lion fish ceviche rocks as did the snook and coconut rice pilaf she served on Wednesday night. 7. I missed the boat. Well, the dinghy. Stepping from the cat to the dinghy, yeah, a really good miss as I went straight into the water. I was laughing so hard that I couldn't lift myself out of the water into the dinghy. No one let me live that down and I was asked numerous times to provide demonstrations for boarding a dinghy. 8. Night swimming. I will not reveal whether I had clothes on or not. 9. Night snorkeling. Splashing the water to see the phytoplankton light up and millions of baby fish swimming about. I was asked on numerous occasions to get out of the water and go to bed. I could not get enough of it. 10. You may think taking a walk in the park holding hands is romantic. Nah! Try holding hands "taking a walk" on water, uh, snorkeling. Where burping in your snorkel is OK and blowing boogers into the water after your "walk" is acceptable. All while having garlic breath after a yummy lunch. Yeah, the next person who is lucky enough to go out on a date with me... this is your warning! I came back. I came back alive. I was extremely land sick. It is a true thing that happens. Even a week later, I still cannot close my eyes in the shower without feeling like I'm going to fall down. I also came back having had time to think. Reaching inner peace as the boat rode gentle 12 foot swells on the open ocean. But the strangest thing that I came back with is that every single magical moment I experienced, I kept saying to myself, "She would love this!" She would love the open water and beautiful blues, the black of the night and the rays dancing on the water at sunrise. The gentle rocking of Mother Nature. "Lately I been, I been losing sleep Dreaming about the things that we could be But baby I been, I been prayin' hard Said no more counting dollars We'll be counting stars" ~ OneRepublic, Counting Stars "Sail away with me honey I put my heart in your hand Sail away with me honey now, now, now Sail away with me, what will be will be I wanna hold you now, now, now" ~ David Gray, Sail Away "When you're happy like a fool Let it take you over When everything is out You gotta take it in" ~ OneRepublic, Good Life "And I drink to that." ~ Rihanna, Cheers (Drink to That) The photo albums: Belize 2013

44 hours

Wednesday 14:35 AST - Who was the munchkin head that booked this travel? Ponce is two hours from San Juan. By cab. 75 miles. $135 plus a tip. Oops! Thank god I didn't have to ask the cabbie to stop so I could pee. But good things come out of everything. My cabbie invited me over to his house for breakfast if I called him for my return trip to San Juan. Things you shouldn't do while traveling? Probably! I tend to trust cabbies with my life even though I hate not being in control of a vehicle moving 20 miles an hour over the speed limit. No matter where I am. But especially when we are navigating through [gorgeous, lush] mountainous terrain. I did get a glimpse of The Teats of Cayey... sexy... Cayey is known as "La Ciudad del Torito" (town of the little bull) and "La Ciudad de las Brumas" (city of the fog). Her peaks are nice. Time to move on. As we drove [ridiculously fast] south, the terrain became more arid, almost desert like and reminded me of Aruba. Are we there yet? cayeylg Wednesday 16:30 AST - Welcome home for 40 hours of my 44 hours in Puerto Rico. Where's the rum? Ah, shit. I have a conference call to attend to. And then actual work to do? That's all right in my book. These working conditions are much better. The beauty of being remote is that my office is determined by "is there internet?" All these years of complaining/wishing/hoping for an *ideal* climate of 70's at night and 80's by day is answered yet again. Put the lime in the coconut! Thursday 06:45 AST - Good morning.  Should I lace this cup of coffee with rum? No, work to do first, then hit downtown for a little sight seeing and then back to work before painting the town after dinner. Thursday 12:05 AST - Break from work. I asked the hotel to call a cab and take me downtown. "We don't recommend our guests go downtown during Justas." I had to ask and found out that it's spring break for Ponce University. Mardi Gras times 10. OK, you just made me want to go even more by telling me that you do not recommend it. In the cab I go. Thursday 12:25 AST - It's raining cats and dogs so I duck into a New York style pizza joint for a slice and to wait out the rain. What? NY pizza in the islands? Hey, a boy has to eat and it was the closest escape from the rain. Once it cleared up, I roamed around being the tourist and snapping pictures. The architecture is absolutely lovely. I just love this shot. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Thursday 14:29 AST - Back to the hotel to work for a bit, grab dinner and make that decision that usually I regret. Thursday 21:02 AST - Cabbing it back downtown, don't get arrested, that's the only rule. Friday 06:15 AST - I'm in my hotel, I honestly do not recall a thing from last night. This could be good, it could be bad. I'm alive though. I really should stop doing that sort of thing. When you just go, immerse yourself, lose yourself. I would be a great candidate for a pick pocket or scam artist during these times. I know it was loud with lots of music, and I know there were shit tons of people, shoulder to shoulder. But that's it. No recollection of the cab ride back to the hotel, if in fact I took a cab. I can only hope that at some point in the evening, I bought a beautiful lady a drink and said cheers. In my broken nonexistent Spanish. And hopefully I did not tell her I love her long time. Since I had no data on my phone, I cannot do the old school way and look at where I checked in and my random status updates on FaceBook, so it's just off to write it down as "I did something in Ponce during Justas 2013." Friday 11:35 AST - Time to go, it's been fun, it's been real, see you soon!

One happy island, bo kier baila? The end

Friday, this is it, it's now or never next time. I took the taxi back into town and stopped again at The Paddock for a few beers before my submarine adventure. When I found out that the sub had no facilities, my choice to have a few beers was quickly labeled as "bad idea." The Atlantis VI was built in 1990 in Canada, weighs in at 6 tons, 65 feet in length and it totally electric. She has 248 batteries which allow her to make eight dives a day and carries 48 passengers plus three crew. All for the small price tag of 3.5 million, I think I'll go buy a sub. It was a 20 minute ride on The Sub Seeker through the channel to where Atlantis was waiting for us, I was nervous, I can get a little claustrophobic, and we were going deep! We boarded, watch your head, I felt like a sardine and was sweating like a pig. It was absolutely amazing, at 50 feet, the sunlight penetrating the water, the beautiful colors that unfortunately, my camera couldn't capture through the glass, marine life abundant, I couldn't believe my eyes! This trip has certainly opened up a whole new world for me, time to think about getting certified for diving. I know that this was a touristy gimmick thing to do, but after seeing what lies 50-130 feet under water, I didn't care. We passed a few ship wrecks (ones that were sunk on purpose for the benefit of the sub), saw barracuda, tang, coral, sponges and a hundred more types of fish that I cannot name. Sadly, the hour long adventure came to and end, this was only good because I had to pee, and back to the Sub Seeker we went. Since I was downtown, and starving, I decided to stay for a late lunch and happened upon The Mojito. Yeah, it was Americanized, but it was Cuban in influence, so I ordered a beer and some shrimp cocktail to start. I don't know exactly how they made their cocktail sauce, but it was the best I have ever had. Not your normal ketchup and horseradish, but chucky with pickled celery and onions, had to have been whole pureed tomato as there were pieces of tomato skin in there, horseradish (obviously) and some sort of hot sauce that gave it a wild kick. I will have to find out how to make this! Then it was time for another beer and some fried plantains, yeah, I just love them, followed by a tilipia sandwich. All in all, it was a good lunch, but Aruba is just not the foodie heaven unless you are in to the $100 fancy meals which are probably good, but I wanted authentic local cuisine and I didn't really find it. I'm not upset, though, I found a whole lot more on this trip. I had a few more beers to the point where I was happy and could still walk in a straight line, stopped at the market for another bottle of rum and some fruit punch and then hailed a taxi back to the resort. My last night and I had this great grand exit plan, once the sun set, I was going bar hopping until I couldn't walk straight, but was still coherent enough to find a taxi. Ten bars, that was the plan. Plans change (and also why you don't get 10 things today). Armed with a bottle of rum, fruit punch, two cups and two towels, Rachel and I headed to the beach to enjoy my last Aruba sunset and get plastered. And that's that. Saturday morning, the bottle of rum is empty, my head hurts, I think I drank a little too much, but I woke up in my own room alone, so I must not have done anything stupid. Only way to cure a hangover it to join it, so Balashi for breakfast it is! I must pack, how I so don't want to go home, but I don't have my laptop and my phone doesn't work here, so suck it up Mister, time to go. One happy island, bo kier baila? And I did, to the rhythm of a steel drum band. Thank you Aruba, and Rachel, and all of the others I met on this trip, for a wonderful dance and magnificent adventure. Now to find next year's paradise adventure dance (and to my dear friends in Chi-Town, you know you are going with me next year... so start preparing). Disclaimer: I officially hate WordPress for Android, I cannot find spell check, and editing a post once it is published has been pure hell, so forgive me, for I have spelled some words wrong, and made grammatical errors, I blame the Balashi as well! Cheers my friends, until next time!

One happy island, bo kier baila? Part 4

There's an eighth wonder of the world and I fell in love with it today. It's a world I tried to experience in Jamaica, we didn't work out. It's a world I tried again in St. Martin, but again, we didn't work out. And then, right before this trip, it hit me, why I was unable to see the eighth wonder of the world. "You wear glasses, stupid!" So before I left, I broke out the credit card and bing bang boom, I had an almost perfect prescription dive mask (the perfect world would have been twice the price and take 1-2 weeks, I didn't have that long). Saturday before I left, I booked back to back sailing cruises for Thursday. The first, a snorkle cruise and the second a sunset cruise. Pathetic, solo traveler on a romantic sunset cruise where you are supposed to hold hands and be all kissy and snuggling and all that romantic stuff (oh, I'll get burned for making this comment). Anyways, Red Sail Sports picked me up promptly at 1 and off we went. Maria had been in touch via email because the hotel wouldn't pick up the phone/or, I wasn't in my room. Two o'clock and the main sail was up, and the bar is open! I vaguely recall someone telling me you should not drink and swim, let alone drink and snorkel. Yeah, I don't know who would have said that. There were only 13 of us on the boat, excluding the crew of John Pierre, Randy and Richard, and on a 70 foot vessel, plenty of room to spread out. I grabbed a drink and headed to my favorite spot on a cat, port side forward, feet hanging over, soaking up the sun and the gentle rocking of the waves. I was a little dissappointed at first, although we were under sail, we were still under power (be it limited), but this was a snorkel trip, hopefully the sail adventure would happen tonight. A few instructions... if you see the crew grab a lifevest and a bottle of liquor and jump overboard, so the same, or go down with the ship, other than that, stay between the boat and the shore. Easy enough. Oh, one more, if you are in trouble, scream like hell! Yes, I did get a little bit of snorkeling in on Tuesday, but I was still a new fish in the water, not completely comfortable, almost on the panic side, Tuesday, I was able to touch the bottom, today, not so much. Our first stop was a bay, don't recall the name, water 8-20 feet deep, panic mode, but here we go! Small aside, before this trip, I also decided that it was time to get a new camera, my old trusty digital proved me wrong in St. Martin by not capturing the true colors of the water. So almost $600 later (after camera, accessories and a SD card), I was the proud owner of an Olympus Tough, 12mp, submersible to 40 ft, shock proof from 6 ft, dust and dirt proof and took great pictures. I'm glad I did it, I was already pleased with Tuesdays pictures, and that was just from viewing them on my 10" Android tab. So... OMG, it was totally worth it! I dove in, well, more like slithered in. And there it was, right beneathe me, the eighth wonder. Decked out in a bouyancy vest, mask, snorkel, fins and a camera, I fell in love! The crystal clear water, the coral, the fish, the colors were... 1. Stunning 2. Breathtaking 3. Amazing 4. Spectacular 5. Gorgeous 6. Unbelievable 7. Other worldly 8. Beautiful 9. Heart stopping 10. Take your breath away! I could not stop taking pictures and video! It was like nothing I've ever seen before (yeah, sure, I've seen the shows on TV, but it's not not not not not the same). And this was just the first stop. Thirty minutes in and we were all back in the cat to move to the next spot. Rinse and repeat for three more reefs and I was amazed each time before we moved to our final spot, a ship wreck. Now our first three stops had been in 8-20 feet of water, I was gaining confidence and feeling more comfortable. Our last stop was 60-80 feet in open water, nerves, don't fail me now! Our last stop was the shipwreck Antilla, a German freighter sunk by her own captain off the shore to ensure she wouldn't fall into enemy hands during the war. I was getting tired and the current was stronger, or the Balashi was kicking in, so I didn't stay out long, maybe 10-15 minutes, I enjoyed the shallow depths more, where I was starting to get comfotable with "duck dives" and getting up close and personal. Back to the boat I went to swallow down a few more Balashi. Better slow down Mister, you still have an open bar sunset cruise tonight. Then it happened. Some of us that decided to stop snorkeling early found that jumping off the boat was good fun. "Watch my swan dive!" I felt like a kid and it was loads of fun. Jump, let the current take you to the back of the boat, climb up and do it again! Time to head in. Docked, I had 30 minutes to kill, just enough time for the restroom and get back to the cat. JP, Richard and Randy greeted me again as I boarded under sail!!! I was in heaven, there's nothing like the bobbing of the waves and the sound of a cat slicing through the water. There were about 25 of us this time, not bad for a boat that holds 100. We stayed under sail for most of the trip, only under power once the sun went down, I was happy. I took my same favorite spot, soaking in the water, the sun, the heat, the wind. Dominica introduced herself to me, aked if she could take my picture relaxing leaning on the rail. I said sure. We talked for a few, although she had a boyfriend in tow, she was from Canada and stunningly beautiful. She asked if I was alone, here we go again. I decided to have a little fun and told her that I was on the snorkel cruise right before the sunset cruise and my girfriend pissed me off so I threw her overboard when the captain wasn't looking. She looked a little worried at first, so I told her that yes, I was alone (I ran into her and her boyfriend on Friday, we had a drink together downtown). More Balashi, more water, more sun as it sank low in the horizon. Some dude proposed to his girlfriend as the sun set, hopeless fucking romantic, champaign all around, I just kept my spot. I love being on the water, and now, in the water. It all has to end at some point, so back at the hotel, I met back up with Rachel for drinks and dancing before calling an end to the evening. I've fallen in love with everything below the surface, tomorrow, I'll go deeper in a yellow submarine (kidding, it's blue and white). I have a love affair with every island I visit, but this one has been special.

One happy island, bo kier baila? Part 3

Wednesday turned out to be my leisure day, my bum was still sore from all the bouncing and shaking and my knee was acting up from the 181 step climb back up from the Natural Pool, so I laid kinda low. After a morning pot of coffee I started wondering what to do, sit on the beach, take a dip in the pool, nah, let's go downtown. Into a taxi I go and I notice the mileage on the taxi to be 147 thousand kilometers and some change... how to you rack up that much on an island that is roughly 32 kilometers long and 10 kilometers wide... and much of the north side is not accessible by car. Maybe it was used somewhere else before relocating to Aruba, oh well, the things I notice sometimess, strange! Just drop me off as the bus station and I'll find my way back (of note, bus round trip, $2.30, taxi round trip, $18, what you learn in a taxi versus the bus, maybe it's worth the extra money). As I expected, downtown was lined with all the super discounted jewelry and electronics stores and for the ladies, all of the designer clothing, purses and shoes you could ever want. Not for me! I did find the strip of "local" vendors, but any more, you have to wonder if it's local arts and crafts or made in China. None the less, I picked up a few souveniers for the kids and a couple others, then found a bar. At 10 in the morning, the bar was empty, what is it with people, don't they know that beer is for breakfast? Or at least a Bloody Mary! Out of respect to some potential island rule, I asked if it was too early for a beer. Although I did get a funny look, I was promptly served an ice cold Balashi (see, there is a theme to this trip, Balashi). Being the only patron, I got all of the attention, not only in conversation, but in prompt refills (oh boy, slow down there sailor, it's only 10 am). My bartender, Swalini (I know I murdered her name, I'm sorry my dearest) was originally from Brazil, moved here 16 years ago and been working behind the bar ever since. She does like it here, although (she confirmed my thoughts), it's becoming too Americanized. She wants to move back home, but is scared about how the economy and job markets will be if she does go. Anyways, we chatted it up for about an hour about random things. I told her about St. Martin (she now really wants to go), she told me about Bonaire (I really want to go) and she asked why I was alone. This trip has landed me in more situations where I've been asked if I was traveling alone then the last five years of travel combined. It doesn't bother me, I'm on my own timeline, I can do whatever I choose and stare at women in bikinis as long as their boyfriend/husband doesn't catch me. I need to come up with the standard response though, so here it is... I'm scoping out the world for a retirement home, once I have found it and it's in my name, I'll be open to finding someone to share the travel with. There, that sounds good! The only downside I have found traveling alone is that it's awkward to ask someone else to put sunscreen on your back (yes, I've done it, and yes they did, many times). The ceiling and walls were plastered with layers of money and pictures from around the world. I asked about this. The tradition is that when you return, you leave your mark. I'll post the pictures when I get home, it's really interesting. I asked her where to buy some rum that I needed for my morning coffee and she sent me off on a wild goose chase for the market. I ended up on Main Street, found the market and for a mere $20, left with a bottle of rum, fruit punch and some sunscreen (I didn't make it to the beach this year so my base tan is just not there). Next stop was Iguana Joe's for another beer, too Americanized, only one beer then off to Cellar 23 for Tapas and yet another beer. The bartender, I never caught his name, once again asked if I was traveling alone. He told me to come back around 8 when he gets off and he would show me around. And find me some "hot Columbian bitches" - his words, not mine! Yes, it's legal here, am I going there, absolutely not! Time to head back to the hotel, had enough of downtown, but first, why the hell not, let's book a submarine tour on the Atlantis for Friday. On the way back, Mr. Taxi Driver and I chatted up about the refinery closing. This is big news and no one knows what it will do to the economy. Thousands of locals are employed there, it could drive up the crime rate (Aruba is a relatively safe island, but still keep your caution goggles on). I couldn't understand anything that was being said on the radio, but he explained that there were a lot of political battles going on over this news. Once I returned to the hotel, it was relax on the beach time (and I did find a cute gal to put my sunscreen on, twice! she was traveling with her parents so no, I didn't steal someone else's gal) and then retiring to the beach bar to listen to the steel drum band where we met back up and danced (well, she danced, I have 4 left feet) for a spell and had a few more drinks before calling it a night with a quick kiss and exchange of email addresses. Hmm, 10 things, you escape me, between the iguanas and the really cool blue tailed lizards, I think I saw 10 today, but maybe we'll go with 10 fun filled facts about Aruba. 1. Aruba has the 3rd largest desalination plant in the world and the World Health Organization ranks the water as the purest in the world. (Water research is something you should do when traveling to other countries) 2. It rains very little here and on the rare occasion where it rains for more than one day, much of Aruba will flood 3. There are three types of snakes, a common snake, a rattlesnake, both native, and a boa constrictor which is not native and is killing off iguanas, small rodents and other lizards 4. Year round temperatures are around 80 degrees dipping to the 70's at night. Constant trade winds keep it pleasant, although being only 12 degrees from the equator, the midday sun is brutal 5. Much of the north east side of the island is more desert like than tropical, abundant cacti dot the landscape 6. Aruba was granted status as an independent entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1986 7. Local food is hard to find (unlike my travels to St Martin and Jamaica where you can find roadside local food pretty much everywhere 8. August through November are the slowest tourist months (perfect time for me to go) 9. Aruba lies on the southernmost edge of the hurricane belt which makes it popular during hurricane season 10. There are approximately 60-70 wild donkeys living on the island, I didn't see a single one

One happy island, bo kier baila? Part 2

Adventure time! I rolled out of bed at 6:30, right on time, put on a pot of coffee, did the morning routine and was ready for the day. Until... I realized my camera battery was dead. I had an hour before I was being picked up for my day of exploring, maybe I can get some charge in. At 7:50 in rolls the Land Rover of all Land Rovers from ABC Aruba, we're going offroading! I arrived at the office, signed a waiver (I probably should have read it a little better) and was ready to go. Some quick math here, the Rovers fit 10 people each, 98% of the people gathered were couples, 1% was a group of three ladies, and then there was me to round out the hundred. I figured at least I might get the passenger seat up front since there were 8 in the back. Elijah, the Prophet introduced himself, he would be our guide, and his sidekick (but I cannot remember his name). Wait, we were a group of about 30, and five Rovers, 2 guides doesn't add up. Elijah explained the morning, where we would be going, explained we would be back at the office for lunch and that his drink was the Elijah's Punch because he used to box when he was younger and we should all have one to make us happy for the afternoon shake up. But I was still wondering about the number of vehicles to guides. And then it happened. He asked for three daring volunteers. Ah, there's the other drivers! We were all then instructed to hop in. I grabbed the second in line and hopped in the passenger seat, I get an up front tour. I then learned that Tony, my driver and fellow adventurer was from Brooklyn, well, originally from Greece, but now in Brooklyn. I thought about this... driving in the city versus off roading, my life was in his hands for the next 8 hours. How bad could it be? City drivers tend to be right up on the tailgating concept, this would be my fear, he didn't like to use the brakes. I never truely caught his girlfriends name, but I think it was Christy, I did find out she was from China. The best thing, and worst thing (which I will explain later) is that we were the "rest" and the only three in our Rover, the remaining four were packed with between 6 and 10 people. Buckle up, lets go. First stop, the Natural Bridge. Hmmm, I said, because I knew it had fallen in 2005, most likely due to Hurricane Ivan smacking his tail against the coast in 2004, but Baby Natural Bridge is still there, but probably not for long. The ride there was not too bad, pretty much all paved road, and my Brooklyn driver had increased my confidence level in his ability to keep me alive. Ouch, brain freeze as I write... Dang Summer Dreams, a yummy frozen concoction of 151 Rum, Green Grenadine, Coconut Cream and fresh bananas. We all notices the stacked rocks, but Elijah wouldn't tell us yet their meaning, and on we went. The next stop was... an ostrich farm? Yep, that's right, certainly not indigenous to Aruba, but here none the less. There's a "good luck butt" carving near the entrance, yeah, I rubbed it! We met Herald, the Ostrich farm tour guide and then we met a few Emus. I learned that emu oil is great for joint pain, and they run 25 miles an hour, but don't drink the emu oil, warned Herald, or you will shit at 25 miles an hour! Next we me a few ostrich, they are much taller than me! And I fed them, pictures come after the trip, you must wait. They can run 40 miles an hour, and sustain that speed for an hour, and can kick like hell, so what once was a bear escape plan is now an ostrich escape plan. We then headed off to the gold mines, the terrain became a little more rugged, the bumps a little bigger. Gold, over 3000 pounds of gold was mined from Aruba, and a castle like fort thingy was built with openings to scare the pirates away (you couldn't tell from the pirate ship if there were cannons or not in the openings), although no cannons were ever in the fort, nor was a roof ever put on. It stands today, pretty much as it was the day it was finished. Here we finally learned about the stacked rocks. Ledgend says that the firsherman used to stack rocks to mark a good fishing spot, but then the tourists kicked in, and Aruba loves tourists, so pretty much the entire north shore from the Natural Bridge to the lighthouse has stacks of rocks (pictures to come, it's pretty cool). Of course Elijah had his own story when he told us to go stack rocks, stack 7 rocks, one for each wish, the seventh is your big wish, but before you put the seventh rock on, slip a $20 under the sixth rock, then make your big wish and place the seventh on. Walk away for seven minutes and when you come back, if the $20 is gone, you wish will come true and your tour guide's wish already did! We then went through some pretty serious four wheelin' action and I was holding on for dear life! My drivers girfriend was bouncing and shaking in the back and got a little sick, but after a cool frozen drink from the roadside stand, was feeling a little better. We stopped at the Alto Vista Chapel, the California lighthouse and then headed back to the office for lunch at the Waka Waka where we had Aruba style bbq ribs and according to my drivers girlfriend, rice comparable to that which she would have in Hong Kong (it was pretty tasty). Then there was the not so good strawberry ice cream. We all had some drinks and jumped back in the Rovers for a shake you up afternoon! Our first stop was Baby Beach, and it was a long 45 minute ride, although mostly on paved roads. Baby Beach is hard to get to unless you have your own rental vehicle, the taxis will take you there, but they don't exactly come around to pick you up. There are plenty of tours that will get you there, buut ABC Aruba is the only one that will also take you to the Natural Pool (and a bunch of other places as well!). This beach is waist deep forever and does have a little bit of snorkle action, but the current is a little strong, so without flippers, very tiresome, and we had already had a tiresome day, so I didn't stay out long. Bring extra money if you go, it's two quarters to use the restroom, and no, it's not one quarter for #1 and one for #2 (yes, this was asked by someone). I decided it was time for another Balashi, so for the small fee of $3.00, I had an ice cold beverage and sat down with a couple from Holland. We talked for 10 minutes or so then it was time to go. Fifty kilometers an hour over the desert like landscape, dust flying everywhere (note, don't wear a white shirt, it will not be white when you get back to the hotel). The terrain wasn't too bad, my drivers girlfriend had moved to the front seat, she was right though, it was more intense in the back (possibly since we had an empty Rover, not much weight back there). Next stop, the bat cave, no seriously! It was dark. It smelled like bat dung. We could go in any cave we wanted to, but our guide couldn't promise we would find our way back out. I almost did another Aruba Face Plant, but managed to catch myself. There were spots in the cave where the ceiling had holes up to the surface, really neat how the light poured in. Anyways, time to go for the last stop on our adventure. Holy @*#%, hold on for dear life kind of ride to the Natural Pool. This was serious four wheeling! Up and down volcanic rock and coral, hairpin turns, six inches of clearance to the edge, please stay on the road! For what seemed like hours, my ass was in the air more than it was the seat, but we made it. You could hear all the others in the Rovers screaming, it was like a roller coaster. It was only 88 steps down the rocks once we parked, but 188 steps back up. Basically a pool formed by rocks and coral, the water was crystal clear and swarming with fish. Well worth the bumpy ride. We spent close to an hour there before packing up to end our adventure. In true spirit of Elijah, he made sure we had a bumpy shake you up ride to almost ever place we had been today, but there was always a smooth ride leaving each place. We asked him about this and he was quick to relay that the only way out was the same way we came in. Holy @*#%, hold on for dear life kind of ride leaving the Natural Pool. Going back was a lot bumpier than coming down, I think this was due to over confidence of the drivers, a little faster and trying to aim for the bumpiest of bumps. We made it though! Back at the office, lots of email exchanging goes on before we all get redivided into groups for a smooth ride back to the hotel. What was an eight hour tour was better close to ten hours, and worth every penny - I would do it again, and I'm usually not one for those big group tours, but this one goes down in my book as an excellent adventure and social experience. I arrived back at the hotel close to 7:30, Happy Hour was over but I popped a couple asprin (my ass hurts!!!) and headed down to the bar. A few drinks later and I was in bed by 9:30, exhausted, but had a wonderful time! My new song One Balashi Two Balashi Three Balashi Four Five Balashi Six Balashi Seven Balashi More Eight Balashi Nine Balashi Ten Balashi Floor Cheers!

One happy island, bo kier baila? Part 1

My, oh my, 3 o'clock came early, but I'm here, sitting at the bar on the shore of the Caribbean sea at fifty past four on a Monday sipping a Balashi (Aruba's Beer) out of a plastic cup and enjoying constant trade winds while listening to the island version of "I can't take my eyes off of you." It's happy hour, I'm double fisting and writing knowing that I am surrounded by water, and I couldn't be more at ease. Then, I digress to how I got here. Well, I have good great luck with airlines lately and managed to score first class upgrades all the way, and then I met Charlie. Charlie, well, he sat next to me for four hours from Atlanta to Aruba, and I'm all about people, conversation and experience, so we entertained each other (and drank) along the way. Charlie was born in 1934, 78 years old.... TODAY! Before I get into the details, I had a little fight with Atlanta, the airport bars do not open until 9 am, not good for early morning vacation travelers, but I made do. After 9 (and everyone at the bar was counting the minutes), a beer and a serious arm twisting from the bar tender, a Makers straight up, I was very ready to sleep the flight away; Four hours, sounded like a good catch up on sleep to me. No, didn't exactly work that way. I boarded, took my seat and was ready to snooze when Charlie asked to get into the window seat. I didn't care, I was either going to sleep, or drink for free, or both, so I thought. Charlie, I learned, was heading to Aruba to celebrate #1, his 78th birthday and #2, his 52nd wedding anniversary. Russian heritage (don't know if this is the why...), he was quick to share that, although his wife and him had occasional fights, they were in it for life, and at 52 years, I'd have to agree. He also said she drank like a fish, his retirement fund split between keeping her pleasantly inebriated and him playing golf and semi inebriated. What a combo. So very rarely when I travel to the Caribbean do I run into solo travelers, Charlie is one of the few. He was denied boarding yesterday on a flight to Aruba due to not having his passport, only his passport card which is only valid on international travel by land or sea to select destinations, so his wife and the couple that they were going with were partying it up in Aruba while he took an alternate flight a day later from Orlando through Atlanta, where we crossed paths. Mambo #5, break... We toasted to his birthday with a whiskey on the rocks, followed by a few beers. We talked and talked and talked, I'm sure all the other happy couples in first class were annoyed with us, but we were having great conversation. We talked of relationships, travel, he tried to convince me to take up golf, I learned of a great retirement community north of Orlando, we talked literature and philosophy. I took a couple of notes on books I should read (always carry a journal and pen) and he showed me a few exercises he does with numbers to keep his mind sharp. He was the only one of 6 kids to graduate from college with a degree in accounting and went on to be a principal at a school for 30 years. He then shared his "motto" for living life which was a 20 minute tale involving a drawing on a napkin (which is folded neatly in my journal) which essentially boiled down to "pay it forward." I then shared mine with him, it took all of two seconds to show him the word "relax" tattooed neatly on the inside of my right wrist and an apology for not having an elaborate story. Now Mama always said "Don't talk to strangers," but I do that every day. With caution. About half way through the flight, I decided to switch to coffee. One thing you don't want to do is to go through immigration intoxicated! Charlie put up a little resistence, but eventually sided with me and sobered up (he had a few more whiskies than I did). We continued our conversations and exchanged email addresses (I did give him my spam one, just in case) and shook hands as we deplaned. Honestly, I was ready to get away from him so I kicked in the turbo on my suitcase and wheeled into immigration in half the time. He was a great guy, and I enjoyed his company on the four hour flight, but I am also a cautious traveler. Immigration was easy, no questions asked, I'm in Aruba. My next encounter was Jennifer, she made sure my check in was flawless, provided me with all of the neceassary instructions for towels and most importantly, where the bars were. I admit, I did give her a hard time, but she smiled none the less and knew it was just all in good fun. I don't think she's ever had a guy from North Carolina flirt with her ;) (of note, this is the first time I've put an emoticon in a post, shame on me!). I planted my feet on the floor of room 8306, tastefully decorated and clean one bedroom suite with a full kitchen in case I decided to stay in and cook. Uh, no, the full kitchen is for the full size fridge to keep the Balashi cold in case I have to much to drink to be out in public and need to retire to my room. Also, in case you were wondering, no it's not ocean view, well, I can see a little bit of the ocean. Although ocean view is nice, I don't spend much time in my room, so why pay the premium? Oh, that brings up another point about Charlie. I thought it was very strange that he shared all of his trip costs with me, showed my his online booking printouts and everything. The point in sharing that was that he payed way too much. I didn't tell him this directly, but I could have gone 3 times for what he paid. Maybe there's a travel agent in my future when I retire. If you need some advice on Caribbean destinations on a budget, let me know. I did some quick unpacking, threw the essentials in my Jan Sport, you know, the old fashioned canvas backpack that is extremely difficult to find these days, and headed to the beach bar. The sun was starting to sink on the horizon and I could feel sleepy setting in. A few drinks later and it was time to start making my way back to the room with a quick stop at the pool bar (for maybe one more), but mor importantly to Skype my kids and tell them good night. Lesson learned from last years trip, don't get a global phone (unless you already have one, although if you do, it's not cheap to call the US), but take a small laptop or tablet and Skype back home. I do give this resort one negative point for poor wireless. I've found two spots that are decent, neither are in my room. So I called the kids, said my goodnights and headed up to get some rest. I took a Balashi to go, which didn't get far, and it (and me) went flying as I tripped over a rock and did the world's best Aruba Face Plant. You can blame the Balashi if you want, I blame my buggered up knee. 1. Always carry your passport to the airport if you are going to leave the country 2. Never get plastered (I can't say that I always listen to this one, maybe one day I'll remember the stories of downtown Philly, Chicago, NYC, San Fran, etc.) 3. You don't really want all inclusive, sure, they are convenient, but each of the islands have so much to offer outside of the resorts 4. Be aware of your surroundings, always! 5. Smile, have fun, don't be an ass to people 6. Always tip the bartender well the first time he/she serves you, they will take good care of you from then on 7. Be adventurous (see Part 2 to come) 8. Travel light so you can bring back more rum, don't check baggage if you don't have to 9. Make sure you charge your camera at night (again, see Part 2 to come) 10. Balashi is the best beer I've ever had, and it goes down pretty quick! Sleep tight!

Guavaberry

Yet another week draws to a close as the sun hides behind the clouds. These are pine trees, not palm trees. I'm tired of Eastern time and need to be on Island time. I miss Rum Punch, it's not the same in the confines of my land locked home. I miss Gizmo and crystal clear turquoise waters. I miss being under power of the wind as the cat slices gently through the waves. Dear Caribbean, If I hadn't met you I wouldn't like you If I didn't like you I wouldn't love you If I didn't love you I wouldn't miss you But I did I do and I will

Our happy place

It's a cinder block efficiency with 2 double beds and a kitchenette.  It's a downstairs unit with a front porch and a courtyard area with picnic tables.  It's two blocks to sand and surf.  It comes with welcome hugs from the owner and hurry backs when we leave.  It's our happy place filled with memories and good times. 1. Included with every stay are complimentary plastic wine glasses with a single Hershey kiss in each one.  My son cannot wait to get his Yoo-hoo from the store around the corner which he promptly pours in his glass upon arrival 2. Also included is a little rubber ducky, this time a turkey duck, sometimes a sunglasses duck, you just never know, this is Ducktur Ducktur 3. It's a familiar escape for the last 2 years which promises to bring relaxation and reflection time 4. It's where I spend quality away from home time with my kids 5. It's where we play Go Fish with plastic tigers and dolphins and stuffed penguins and we laugh and smile and enjoy disguising our voice when it's one of the animals turns 6. It's a 5 minute walk to the beach where we soak in the sun, splash in the water and take long strolls down the beach at dusk 7. It's across from the pier, which each time we meet with less hesitation and my little ones are no longer trying to avoid stepping on the cracks and clinging to me for dear life so high above the water 8. It's salt air that cures all 9. It's where spinning around a pole until we are way too dizzy is so much fun 10. It's where we make friends with the neighbors and share sea shells and stories of the beach, our getaway, our happy place, at any time of the year It's almost time to go again!

Sand between my toes

1. Sand baking in 100 degrees for a few hours is hot enough to grow blisters on your feet, lesson learned 2. Two feet of water plus a two foot wave puts both my little ones in a little over their head, 206 tears later, we were back out in the water 3. I went body boarding for the first time in probably ten years, with a twist. I went blind, well, close enough, without my glasses. My depth perception suffers greatly with my naked eyes, I felt eight feet tall walking from the blanket to the water (need to do that more often, being not short was kind of neat). As the waves sucked in to topple over themselves, they looked like monsters with gaping mouths ready to swallow me and a body board with one gulp. Still, I let go of my fear and pushed with the power of nature towards the shore, probably with a pretty big grin 4. Is there an age where you finally say "I don't give a ____" and you realize that not all of the suntan lotion has rubbed in and you have white streaks all over and it's not a big deal? I think I've reached that age. 5. I pushed the limits of stamina at 3 hours in the hot sun and warm waters 6. Son, I'm sorry, but I don't think you will catch those little fish in the surf with a bucket 7. Don't leave the beach towels in the truck - stinky ride home 8. Or half eaten orders of chicken nuggets, a cooler full of water (that was once ice) and pork rinds (half eaten as well) - stinky truck after 6 days of sitting in the airport parking garage 9. Life's a beach, roll with the waves - they come crashing down regardless, ride them out, or drown 10. Off topic, I may have exposed and pushed a topic outside the scope of Just10Things too far tonight of which the consequences will be either loose a friend, or gain a better friend. Value friendship for friendship so that you can continue to look forward to something you look forward to.