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
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? 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. 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!
What's an east coast boy supposed to do on a Sunday afternoon on the west coast after getting a crash pad in Santa Monica and hanging out drinking and eating with two friends I haven't seen in probably over two years? Drive. As I left, the only words of caution were to watch out for Prius drivers. Since they had paid their eco points, they were not required to obey all traffic laws. I jumped in my little Nissan Altima rental and headed for the Pacific Coast Highway, California State Route 1. Windows down. Music cranked. GPS on, but I couldn't hear it over the music, and got a little lost on the first attempt. When you get lost, you should turn around and start over, but stop at a hotel and ask for proper directions. I seemed to have got caught up around LAX and took a wrong turn. Redo. I should have rented a mid-life crisis car, but my little Nissan had plenty of spunk and a heck of a lot better on gas mileage. I did enjoy drooling at all of the fast cars along the way, plenty of 911s, R8s, Esprit, jacked up Hummers, and a boat load of vintage american classics. I ran seventy miles of the over 650 miles of road with a few side trips along the way and a 30 mile drive back to the hotel. Sometime barely a crawl stuck in traffic, sometimes barreling down the road at 75 mph, it was fun. Plain stupid pointless fun. Never was this on my bucket list, but once I made it back to the hotel, I penciled it in and checked it off (partially). To truly check this one off, it has to be in a mid-life crisis car and it has to be the whole shebang. From Santa Monica to Laguna Beach was pretty much the same, little towns with expensive shops and food, lot's of beach, boats, booze (and traffic). After Laguna beach it was cliffs and crashing waves. Winding roads and up and down. I made it to Dana Point and started running out of steam after 3 days with little more than 8 hours of sleep total. It was time to head back after a refreshing drink. What came out of this day? A list of fun driving tunes. 1. What's My Age Again by Blink-182 2. Mountain Sound by Of Monsters and Men 3. Trojans by Atlas Genius 4. Somebody That I Used To Know by Goyte Feat Kimbra 5. Radioactive by Imagine Dragons 6. Alive by POD 7. Midnight City by M83 8. Ho Hey by The Lumineers 9. Tongue Tied by Grouplove And the best for last... 10. Some Nights by Fun Cheers my friends!
So first of all, welcome to the last day on Earth! I've been working on this post since August, this is the last time we get to converse, so I have to make it perfect! Since this is the last day, I have no limits, no telling how long this list will be (and these are in no particular order). [Edit: Of note, this has been written across many geographies including Phoenix, Aruba, Chattanooga, Chicago, Key West, Buffalo, Tampa, Baltimore, Orlando and North Carolina (Home Sweet Home), so excuse dialect changes mid post.] A little bit of history: I'm thirty something, I sometimes act like I'm twenty something, my kids are both under 10, my body makes me feel like I'm seventy something, so I guess you could say that I span a lot of generations. My "learning to walk and talk" years were spent outside of Cleveland in the quaint little farming town of La Grange, Ohio. My "relearning to walk and talk years" have been spent moving as far out into the country from Raleigh, North Carolina as possible, as long as there is high speed Internet access. It's not that I don't like the city, I love it! But I also like to kick back under the stars next to a campfire and roast marshmallows with the kids. History will not matter tomorrow. The list of people and/or things I want to thank/be thankful for in the remaining hours of our existence... 1. Facebook (and Mark Zuckerberg) - Thank you for being a total geek and expanding Facebook beyond the ivy league. What you did was a great last ditch attempt to bring the world together before we all self destruct. 2. Orville Redenbacher - Thank you for bringing buttery movie popcorn to the average home in 90 (ish) seconds so that I do not need to pay engorged prices to watch a movie with my kids... AND, I get to snuggle with them on the couch. 3. Neil Armstrong - your footprint on the moon will last for at least a million years, what an impression! 4. Alcohol - could we have ever made it this far without it? It "makes white people dance," it makes ice breaker conversations a little easier, it makes us take our clothes off, it makes us say things we shouldn't say (or should say), it makes us fall down in public and run into walls, it makes us fall asleep in the chair or fall out of the chair if we're unlucky. 5. To my dog Lola, I never thought I'd have a dog, but you have been an awesome addition to our family. When I see the fireball in the sky, I'll let you out to run. I hope you can find a safe place and live out the rest of your life - your chances of survival are much better than mine! I'll leave the rest of your food out and a big pail of water to get you started. If you want to know what kind of dog she is then just ask my daughter... "She is part silly dog, part crazy dog, part cute dog, part clumsy dog, part lazy dog, part long tongue dog, part sniffer dog and part cuddle dog." 6. Kirkpatrick Macmillan, although there seems to be some dispute, in 1839 for developing the mechanics behind our modern day bicycles, for without them, as children, we would not have had so much freaking fun riding around. Bumps and bruises aside, our childhood would have never been the same without these awesome vehicles promoting staying fit and learning how to balance. And no, I do not make my kids wear helmets, I don't think that makes me a bad parent. 7. The wonderful world of the Internet for without it, I would not be here talking to you and for making life a little easier with online shopping, communicating, sharing, researching, the list could go on forever, but I don't have forever, so thank you Al Gore! :) 8. Sunscreen for allowing us to soak up harmful sun rays and feel protected. 9. Sex... uh, to the one that decided to put that in there, and share the ins and outs, you've kept us reproducing and I commend you! Without you, it would be a planet of two. 10. 5th-4th Century BC Chinese and Greek philosophers describing the basic principles of optics and the camera. And further up the timeline, 1822 Joseph Nicephore Niepce for developing the first camera obscura and then again in 1880 when Eastman Dry Plate Company founded and started the photographic revolution. We preserved memories on paper (and then digital) and I honestly wonder why, who will look at them in 1,000 years? 11. Peanut butter and chocolate together, and I hate chocolate! 12. Hats off to country music! For my favorites... "Barefoot blue jean night" and "Midnight Chardonnay", you have gotten me through many a night, sparked many conversations and made me all warm and tingly inside (wait, that might have been the Chard). But seriously, what's better than songs about broken hearts, trains, trucks, pontoon boats and whiskey? I actually love all music, so my hats off to the caveman with a stick busting out rhythms on a rock and "Delta Dawn, what's that flower you have on, could it be a painted rose from days gone by?" 13. My ex-wife... yeah, I have to be thankful for her. We didn't exactly work out, but she wiggled out two awesome children for us to share. Since the split, although we have had some rough roads and nasty fights, we have gone back to being friends, which is how it all started anyways. [She actually has proofed (part of) this post and commented... "You think I just wiggled them out? You were there, you know that it wasn't that easy." Yeah, I know!] 14. Henry Ford for bringing cars to the masses, and also for those that many years later decided taking car manufacturing back to it's roots (hand made) and charge a seriously high premium for ultra fast sports cars. I love speed and gas and grease and power (and Top Gear). 15. Sushi, how I love thee. 16. For Gay Marriage!!! I mean really, marriage is hard enough (see # 13), so who really cares who you marry, if it works, it works. I have plenty of friends happily married to same sex partners and they are doing a hell of a lot better than I did! Love is love, companionship and compassion are just that-don't judge! 17. To drama, yeah, no, I could have been fine without you! 18. For eye glasses. From Wikipedia... The first eyeglasses were made in Italy at about 1286, according to a sermon delivered on February 23, 1306 by the Dominican friar Giordano da Pisa (ca. 1255 - 1311): "It is not yet twenty years since there was found the art of making eyeglasses, which make for good vision ... And it is so short a time that this new art, never before extant, was discovered ... I saw the one who first discovered and practiced it, and I talked to him." For without the spectacles, I should not have been able to see clearly all that was in front of me. 19. Ah, the Wright Bothers and pioneering powered flight. If it had not been for them, I would have never fallen in love with the Caribbean! 20. All of the awesomely fantastic 80's and early 90's flicks that I grew up with, The Breakfast Club, Risky Business, 16 Candles, Cocktail, Heathers, Goonies, wow, the list could go on and on, but I need to be conscious of the time. Oh, I cannot forget Dawson's Creek, for I spent many weekends in Wilmington on the waterfront wondering if I could get a glimpse of Katie Holmes (and the day she married Tom Cruise, they sent the rescue crew in to find my sunken heart). 21. Gardenia, Carolina Jasmine and Honeysuckle, you have made my summers fragrant. 22. Lego's... I love (still at 37 years old) playing Lego. I think it's really swell of you to have released the "Friends" collection for girls, I know my daughter loves that, it's kind of like a doll house with the ability to build something new and creative (oh, and I love the Lego hedgehog). And the Dino series, my son eats that up! 23. Edgar Allen Poe
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling, By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore, `Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven. Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore - Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!' Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'24. For The Dukes of Hazzard! 25. The keyboard, well, this one is bittersweet. Without it, it is difficult to compose crazy blog posts or to work, but it also has caused over 3 years of pain dealing with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome that has escalated beyond what surgery might be able to fix. Oh well, just don't laugh at the way I type, I can still hen peck with the best of them! 26. Angry Birds for passing time in a few situations I inadvertently put myself into that I kind of regretted. 27. Spam (the processed spiced ham?). 28. To books, I know you are made from trees, but I've always loved the way your pages turn as we passed time at leisure. Yeah, I tried the whole eBook phenomenon, it just didn't feel right, kinda like a bad kiss. So I should also give a shout to all the great authors I've read in my life, I won't name you all, not even sure if I could. 29. Midnight. 30. To Cassie who got me drunk is Buffalo, NY by serving me a quadruple gin and tonic for the price of a single. And for when I got stuck in Buffalo a few nights later due to delayed flights, she promised to take it easy on me with a light and tasty IPA. 31. Props out to Felix Baumgardner for having the balls to jump out of a capsule at over 128,000 feet above the earth. And land safely. And set some records. Not that those records will matter tomorrow. 32. To my employer for taking a chance on hiring me almost six years ago and letting me grow a job into a career where i can honestly say, "I absolutely love what I do and enjoy work, it is not always easy, but it is always rewarding." 33. Marilyn Monroe, yeah, I would have totally slept with you! 34. To Kool-Aid, for without, I would have never puked in 3rd grade. 35. To playgrounds, for without, I would have never had my first kiss in 3rd grade (and calling out the HashTag... #MyLastKissForManyYears) with a girl that was from Greece, and that same year, said, "Hey, you should go to Greece with me." - we never did. 36. For rain. According to the song, "Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey, whiskey makes my baby, feel a little frisky" (Just need to find "my baby" in a short period of time, that's all we have left). 37. For toilet paper. 38. Waffle House, 'nuff said. 39. For blankets and snuggling on the couch and blanket forts when you destroyed every piece of furniture by removing the cushions and creating your own little haven to chill out in. You better remember the secret password to get in! 40. To pen and paper. There is a lost art of writing love notes (and other notes) and passing them around in class, hoping to not get caught by the teacher. Kids these days have no clue what this was all about. Those lucky enough to have not had a significant other burn them on the grill will have the luxury of going back and reading what you were like and the relationships you had. For the rest of us, if we only could. For the youth, you have Facebook! It's not the same. Check Yes or No. 41. For Egg Nog, not for Custard. 42. For cooties. Yes, there are boy cooties and girl cooties and they don't go away as you get older. They exist until you do the circle circle dot dot now I got my cootie shot ritual. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you must have the cooties! 43. For Tacky Christmas Sweaters. 44. For prescription snorkel masks that let me discover the absolutely stunning world that lives below the surface of the water. 45. For the sweat shirt I gave my Dad when I was about 16 because I thought I was too cool to wear it. And the day when I was 37 and he gave it back to me with only a few small holes. What happened to quality craftsmanship? 46. For the zipper. From Wikipedia... "Elias Howe, who invented the sewing machine, received a patent in 1851 for an "Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure". Perhaps because of the success of his sewing machine, he did not try to seriously market it, missing recognition he might otherwise have received." 47. For the wheel. This has sure made life easier. 48. For butt dialing. It's only caused a few awkward moments. 49. For my 6 year old son. What an awesome little man. He loves life, can be stubborn, get's shy around pretty girls (I think he got that from me), has one heck of an imagination and can talk non stop. He knows more about dinosaurs that I ever did. 50. For coffee that gets me going every morning. Black, velvety, hot. Again, Wikipedia to the rescue... "Other accounts attribute the discovery of coffee to Sheik Omar. According to the ancient chronicle (preserved in the Abd-Al-Kadir manuscript), Omar, who was known for his ability to cure the sick through prayer, was once exiled from Mocha to a desert cave near Ousab. Starving, Omar chewed berries from nearby shrubbery, but found them to be bitter. He tried roasting the seeds to improve the flavor, but they became hard. He then tried boiling them to soften the seed, which resulted in a fragrant brown liquid. Upon drinking the liquid Omar was revitalized and sustained for days. As stories of this "miracle drug" reached Mocha, Omar was asked to return and was made a saint. From Ethiopia, the beverage was introduced into the Arab world through Egypt and Yemen" "The Oromo people would customarily plant a coffee tree on the graves of powerful sorcerers. They believed that the first coffee bush sprang up from the tears that the god of heaven shed over the corpse of a dead sorcerer." 51. For my beautiful daughter. My Daddy's Little Girl. According to her, I do not know where the middle of her head is when I fix her pony tail every morning. She enjoys sitting on the front porch with me while I sip my morning coffee and we just talk, about anything. She's got a great head on her shoulders and reads well above her grade level, but most of all, she just has a really great personality. 52. For the cell phone. This one is also bittersweet. I no longer recall how we lived without them. It was one thing when you just received phone calls on them, now they are connected to everything, mutiple email accounts, text, web, Facebook. Do you go into shock if you leave your phone at home for a quick trip to the market? Mine is usually attached to my hip from 6 AM until 10 PM. I have learned (usually) to leave it alone on the weekends and almost every Thursday from 6 PM until Friday morning. It's a very rewarding experience to be freed for a little while from the thing that seems to run our lives. So I spend this reclaimed time with my awesome kids and the dog and doing normal things around the house, you know, fun things like cooking and cleaning and yardwork things. 53. For voodoo dolls. Yes, I have 9 of them. My first one was the only one that went through the naming ritual, I will not tell you whom it was for. Yes, I was bitter, yes, I was mad. The rest, well, they just sort of showed up because they are a great conversational piece. 54. For PBR and an acquaintance in NYC. I expected to buy you a $20 fancy mixed fru fru drink, and you wanted a PBR. 55. Brooklyn. [On a NYC kick right now] 56. For poetry slams. We all have a voice, some of us are just really good about sharing it in front of a live audience. I have yet to attend one where I was not in tears at some point in the evening (and no, it wasn't the alcohol that made me tear up). 57. For My Side of the Mountain. It took my wonderful sister and I close to 20 years to figure out the name of this movie that we both watched when we were much much younger. I was surprised one day to find a copy in my mailbox. 58. For the perfect kiss. 59. For Vegas, we have a love/hate relationship. I don't gamble, but I love your larger than life attitude. 60. To conch fritters. These tender yummy concoctions that scream "Caribbean!" [Caribbean kick now] 61. For crystal clear azure water that defines the Caribbean and every time I see it or dive right in, it takes my breath away. It's like a drug that I'm drawn to, addicted to and NO! I will not go to therapy because of my addiction, it IS my therapy. 62. For airport bars and the hundreds of people I have struck up random conversation with. Everything from sports to travel to higher education and all the things in-between. [Oh my, Chi] 63. For Chicago. Ahh, the many many stories I have from her. From the best in the world Bloody Mary at Reilly's Daughter to bacon infused whiskey at The Southern. We've been drunk together wandering the streets at hours that were probably not safe. We've reunited with old and dear friends and done vodka flights at The Russian Tea Room. I've watched a couple join in holy matrimony, walked a gazillion miles, breathed in the lake air, heard stories of the most odd things, almost taken muffins from strangers, bought a bottle of wine for a complete stranger and met really interesting people. I'd have to say that Chi is my favorite city, so full of life, culture, good food, great drinks, great friends. 64. For Navy Pier and a random three hour conversation with a complete stranger on a warm summer night. 65. For hedgehogs, the most adorable little creatures. 66. For everyone that knows how to Wang Chung tonight. And for those that know "Wang Chung" is translated to "Yellow Bell" and is the first note in the Chinese classical music scale, my hats off to you for that useless piece of knowledge. (This also makes the song a bit more odd... "Everybody yellow bell tonight?" WTF?). 67. For lawnmowers, although I do not hold on for dear life and whip you around the dirt track any more, you are the reason I have met so many wonderful people. 68. To pickled green beans, yum! 69. Emoticons. :) 70. Campfires. 71. For all of you that read my crazy shit. Honestly, I don't have a clue how many of you actually read this mess, although analytics on this site say there are at least a couple of you. 72. For not being normal, a little on the crazy side, but living and loving life. Any other attitude and it's a waste of breath. 73. To oysters on the half shell with a little squeeze of lemon, pinch of horseradish and a couple shakes of Tabasco. Ohh, my mouth is watering. 74. WiFi at 36,000 feet. How cool is that be be able to catch up on all the blogs I read while speeding through the air at over 400 miles per hour. 75. For proper Chicago hotdogs with mustard, relish, onion, tomato, pickle and hot peppers and a dash of celery salt. 76. Did I mention Chicago? 77. For Katrina and the Waves Walking On Sunshine - because that's how I feel! (I do like Aly & AJ's version better) 78. For my awesome sister and our front porch nights, we haven't had one in a long time, need to fix that. 79. For the fact that this list has grown so long and I have less than 24 hours to finish it. 80. For The Hobbit, Christmas parties, tacky Christmas sweaters, The Holiday Club and Mirai Sushi. This unlikely combination of things is turning out well. 81. ................ to be hopefully continued Maybe this is all a waste and the truth is that we all just love the drama that the world could end now! But really, it could end any day and at this point, only time will tell. I really think we are on a path to self destructing ourselves and the lovely planet we call home. But, should we all be here tomorrow, I think we should start to take life a little less for granted and appreciate each other more; Love a little more, hate a little less. Now for some factoids...
"It's the time when the largest grand cycle in the Mayan calendar—1,872,000 days or 5,125.37 years—overturns and a new cycle begins," said Anthony Aveni, a Maya expert and archaeoastronomer at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. The Maya kept time on a scale few other cultures have considered. During the empire's heyday, the Maya invented the Long Count—a lengthy circular calendar that "transplanted the roots of Maya culture all the way back to creation itself," Aveni said. During the 2012 winter solstice, time runs out on the current era of the Long Count calendar, which began at what the Maya saw as the dawn of the last creation period: August 11, 3114 B.C. The Maya wrote that date, which preceded their civilization by thousands of years, as Day Zero, or 220.127.116.11.0. -Courtesy of National Geographic
The end of the Mayan calendar coincides with a galactic alignment, in which the Sun will align with the center of the Milky Way galaxy. It is said that this rare event occurs once every 26,000 years and some predict it will be the 2012 apocalypse, potentially catastrophic consequences. The theory goes that on the day of the winter solstice in 2012, the Sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way . This alignment could mean that energy which typically streams to Earth from the center of the Milky Way will be disrupted on 12/21/12 at 11:11 p.m. Universal Time. This galactic alignment has the potential to create a shift in the Earth's poles, initiating the 2012 apocalypse, which would involve a sries of disastrous environmental events. There is also a good possibility that the effects will alter the magnetic polarity of the Sun. -Courtesy of 2012 ApocolypseMaybe we should all just be looking forward to the next 1,872,000 days... or say Happy New Baktun! On another note, should you choose to spend you last day learning, go forth and educate yourself on the Maya Codices, and the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, it's freaking interesting! As for me, I'm going to go pour a drink, a Gin and Tonic to be specific, and wait for the big fireball in the sky to swallow me whole and should I wake tomorrow with a hangover, well, at least I woke up! Cheers and love my friends! (And good luck, I hope we can still chat tomorrow) [Final disclaimer, I've tried to note references where applicable, if I missed some, blame it on alcohol or sleepiness or laziness or that person over there]
It's getting cold at home and four days isn't long enough for the Caribbean, what's the next closest place? None other than Key West. Snorkel gear packed and I'm heading south. "It's a short runway, we are in a big bird, we'll be touching down hard and stopping fast," says the captain of flight 3210. He was not kidding! But before that even happened, my adventures had started. 1. For 55 minutes from Tampa to Key West, the seat next to me was occupied by none other than the loving wife of Cowboy Charters. She did a great job convincing me to take a full day fishing trip on their 36' Hatteras in search of marlin and tuna. I would consider. At the time, I had nothing planned for Friday. I checked in at one of the nicest Doubletree's I've stayed in. I really wanted to stay in some little bed and breakfast close to Duval, but when you are traveling on points, you can't be too picky. Either way, it's a nice hotel and offers free shuttles to downtown and airport pickup and it was my home away from home for the next 4 days. Unpacking to me means unzipping the suitcase, pulling out my trusty day pack and packing it with camera, notebook, odds and ends of other little stuff and a book to read (just in case I get to feeling unsociable). First stop, Sloppy Joe's. You cannot go to Key West without stopping at this iconic bar. No longer in it's original location (that would be where present day Captain Tony's is), you can have a drink where Hemingway used to party. Try the Mile Marker Zero Pale Ale, it's pretty tasty. The story is that in 1937, the rent was going to increase in the original location and Joe Russell refused to pay. He did what any bar owner would have done, asked all his patrons to grab their drink and anything that wasn't nailed down and move to a new location. More on this move a little later, there was something that was sort of nailed down that ended up in a rather interesting location. The rest of Wednesday involved meeting random people at a couple of different bars, talking, cinnamon whiskey shots and lots of laughter. Although I travel alone, I very rarely find myself alone. People are friendly (usually) because we are "One Human Family". There was one small group of 6 that I ran into multiple times during the evening, each time, we had to celebrate the reuniting with another shot. Lucky for me, my last stop was only 1/2 block to the hotel shuttle pickup location, that was the longest 1/2 block I think I've ever
Fury and I was heading out on an Island Adventure. All trips start with the debriefing, how to use the head, safety, itinerary, etc. and every boat I've been on includes the most important safety tip of all, "If you see the crew put on a life vest and grab a bottle of rum, do the same." As we left port, the captain received reports that the reef had 3-4 foot seas and would be too rough to snorkel in plus low visibility. We opted for an area known as The Lakes which has some coral growth, but mostly sea grass and a depth ranging from 5-30 feet. It' a group of grassy flat banks that completely encompass a shallow lagoon. The lagoon runs from Mule Key to Boca Grande Key and visibility is generally good.
The water, although calm, was still a little rough so I only stayed in about 45 minutes. Unfortunately, I was not able to get any good photos this trip, but I did see a couple of nurse sharks and plenty of sting ray. I also learned that the nurse shark is one of the few sharks that can respire while stationary by pumping water through their mouths and out gills. This allows them to play the sit and wait game, I love interesting facts!
3. After lunch it was into the ocean kayaks. I've never done this before and was a little nervous. I was paired with John, the odd man out in a group of 3 (there were only 6 of us plus 2 crew, so it was a very cool social experience as well, and lots of eco educational fun facts from the crew). Our guide filled up a cooler full of beer and off we went. The water depth dropped to about 3 feet as we enter the mangroves. We stopped frequently to observe heron and osprey and this really cool bird, I think it was an anhinga. Regardless, these birds swim under water better than they can fly, using their wings like fins. With the full moon and high tide, there were a lot of little paths through the mangroves where we got stuck and had to back it on up. I learned that mangrove trees are actually fresh water trees that filter the salt out through their roots. Which aren't all really roots. Some are branches that hang down into the water to siphon water. Then there are sacrificial leaves that form salt crystals as it is removed from the water. Really neat if you ask me. And really cool to be surrounded by a canopy of trees in a kayak, leisurely rowing along.
official website, I'll just give you the cool little fact that I learned. So this picture is a cat drinking fountain. Yes, I saw polydactyl cats. There are about 45 cats on the property, a little under 1/2 have 6 toes or more. Back to the story. The rumor is that after Hemingway returned from a trip as a reporter during the Spanish Civil War, he found a pool in the back yard. Upset about the extreme cost of said pool, he reportedly gave Pauline his last penny which is embedded in the flagstone pavers near the pool. But it gets better. Well, if you look closely at the "fountain" you will notice that it is a male urinal. The fountain-urinal apparently came from the original Sloppy Joe's location when Joe Russell moved the bar due to increased rent, the only thing removed from the original location that was "sort of" nailed down. Hemingway put it in the garden to "get back" at Pauline for the expensive pool. She, being the fashion diva high society woman she was, decorated it with expensive tile and found a rather large Spanish vase that would create a cat fountain.
Pub Crawl Key West in a larger map
10. Saturday came fast, time to return to the real world. I terribly missed the kids and the dog. Key West International Airport sports the world's only beach bar. For real! There's an outdoor section next to gate 6 with sand and tables and a little boardwalk type thingy. All in the name of the tourists, oh well, it's still fun! I'll be back, but not until after I discover some new destinations.
Oh, the full photo albums are available.
One, lets just assume we've gotten past the part of actually making coffee in the dark. There's potential for some insight into this task, but there is much less chance of bodily harm (unless you use a sharp knife to make coffee, which is probably a small subset of the world population and therefore, any insight would just be a waste of my words), so we will just skip to the important part, pouring a cup of that freshly brewed, dark velvety concoction that makes us think we can finally start the day... in the dark. Now why would we be awake at an hour where we would need to pour coffee in the dark? Well, it could be a thousand reasons, you can't sleep, you have an early morning flight, it doesn't really matter, you are here, in the dark and you want coffee. Another assumption not worth insight is that you didn't bang your head on the cabinet door while retrieving a coffee mug and therefore aren't lying on the floor unconscious, so let's move on. You raise the mug up with one hand, grab the coffee pot with the other and start to pour. Your eyes have adjusted slightly to the black that surrounds you, but what this really takes is awareness. So now you basically have two options. Your first option is to pour until you feel the hot liquid overflow onto your hand that is holding the mug. This is dangerous and can lead to a pretty uncomfortable rest of the day as the scalding hot liquid finds your smooth flesh. Your second option is to listen. This takes patience and acute awareness, listen for the sound of the coffee filling up the mug, wait for the precise moment when the sound of pouring coffee echos just the right notes in the mug and then stop. Your mug is full. You go on about your day until you have to pee. Three things just happened here. First, you listened to the sound of the coffee pouring. Listening is a skill we sometimes fail at, it's easy to just let it go in one ear and out the other. Open your ears, shut down your other senses, you are in the dark, you can't see, only your ears to guide you. Next, drink your coffee, consume what you just heard. Sometimes you suck it down fast, other times, it's so hot that you have to let it cool down a bit before you consume it. If you've been lucky enough to have had a coffee tasting class, you should make slurping sounds while you consume (although others might find you strange if you utilize this behavior). Occasionally, you are doing other things (shame on you for multitasking) and put your mug down and forget where it is, only to find it later at room temperature and you promptly resume consumption. Either way, you are taking it in. Lastly, and dependent on your bladder size, you gotta pee! You repeat (let it out) what you heard in your own words (yes, I know, this is stretching it). Sometimes it's right away, other times, it could be a couple of hours. But the important thing is that it's coming out. What a strange analogy for listening skills. Four cups of coffee later, I'm laughing at myself for no apparent reason, and it is not even five o'clock. It's good to laugh, some say it is the best medicine. My dog is snoring. Almost six and my mind is already racing, what's on the plate for today? Seven years I have been in this house, and it is still not exactly the way I want it. Sure, a few years ago I went mad and repainted and redecorated most of the inside. I bought some new furniture and pictures to hang on the wall, but I'm just not finished yet. It does feel like home, my home, and I'm getting there, it's just slow. I've put all of this time, money and energy into the inside, but I've been neglecting the outside. I used to keep a tight leash on the flower beds and grass (and picking up all of the children's toys outside that no matter how many times I tell them, they just will not pick up themselves), but life gets in the way. Oh, and we've had some hot hot hot summers lately, and as much as I used to like hot weather, I no longer enjoy yard work in hot weather. And then Saturday happened! My ritual morning cup of coffee in my favorite rocking chair on the front porch and OUCH! Stupid freaking fire ant bites my foot. I've been battling these nasty creatures for years, but this year has been downright nasty. I blame the mild winter (which has also made fleas and ticks bad this year). With two kids and a dog, I really didn't want to spray all those chemicals around to get rid of the tiny little bastards, so I went on a hunt with the help of Google. A 50/50 mix of Borax and sugar, Splenda (the molecular structure is apparently similar to DDT and will eat away the oil on an ants skin after consumption), burn 'em out (pyro), etc., but I reached my limits. Maybe these "natural" tactics would work, I just no longer had the time to wait and see. There must have been a million ants on the front porch alone. Off to the big box home improvement store we go. Eight gallons of ant killer later (yeah, I ain't playing!), it's time to go to work. My theory was that the (once) Koi pond (now turtle/frog pond) was their source of water, and because of the run off from the rain, the ground also stayed nice and wet. Let's remove their water source, out comes the pond and in goes some dirt leveling. After a good half day of moving all of the rocks I had used for landscaping, I don't think there was a single one that weighed less than nine pounds (if anyone wants some big rocks, they are free, just bring a trailer), I then proceeded to empty 250 gallons of H20 from the pond where I discovered the turtle eggs! Fifteen of them to be precise! I guess Mr. Turtle was really Ms. Turtle and getting lucky! I pulled all of the plants out (including the iris' that came from Ohio, I think 30-ish years ago and have moved with me all over), I now had a big old bed of dirt. Well, if you know me, I sometimes don't do things small, I don't do things easy, I pay attention to detail and now was my chance to start getting the outside "right". This was not going to be a weekend project. Yes, I had a battle with ants to contend to, but those nasty little menaces to society were forcing me to get back in the game and get it right. One more trip to the big box home improvement store and I had a trailer full of top soil and mulch (and a few new plants). Decked out in my best flip flops and a pair of shorts, yeah, no shirt (calm down ladies, I don't exactly have a six pack), I went to work. After about 30 minutes with a pick ax, I was glistening in the bright Carolina sunshine (again ladies, calm down, it wasn't a Vampire glisten like diamonds, it was stinky sweat, hardly a turn on) and determined to get this done. Or so I thought. Or until I realized that I'm not as young as I once was. Or... ah, put the kids to work!!! I kick back in the rocking chair with a great book and they get to have all of the fun (work). Or until I realize that shoveling dirt is only fun for a kid when you aren't supposed to be doing it. And then it was back to manual labor and me sweating and stinking up the air, all the while trying to envision what the end product would look like. And also thinking that this was just the beginning as the rest of the flower beds have potential as well, and potentially more ants, and I'm not giving up, this is a war that I will win! How this ten things went from coffee to ants to yard work is beyond me. Such is the nature of randomness. That's what happens when dinner plans are cancelled and ants invade. Cheers my friends! (And next time you need to pour coffee in the dark, just turn on the light)
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!
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.
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
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!