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

Sunburned and selfish

What a freakin' awesome weekend, and a 3 day one at that! Just me and the kids, we had the hood to ourselves for a change. It started with a ball game Friday night where my daughter's team is really starting to show that they can play. They still lost, but that's not the point. They are maturing into a pretty good team considering their pre-season practices were mostly rained out and almost all of the girls are first time players. I'm proud of them! In preparation for a long weekend, I let the kids make the decision of what to do, fully aware it would just be the three of us (sort of). It was head to the beach or stay at home and chill, do some gardening and invite Grandma and Grandpa over for a cookout. Stay at home won, which honestly was a little weird considering they are beach babies through and through. So we hung out ALL weekend, and it rocked! And I got a little bit too much sun! And they were nice enough to lather me up with aloe in the evening. And I'm a little sad that it's over, but there's always next time! 1. Digging up plants that we are donating to someone else's yard 2. Flip flops or bare feet, no need for shoes 3. Hot hot hot Carolina sun 4. Grillin' and chillin' 5. Suntan lotion a little too late 6. Bathing suits and running through the sprinkler 7. Catching frogs in the pond 8. Fireflies in the evening 9. Hit a few hundred balls in the back yard (square up those feet, elbow up, bat back) 10. Enjoying spending time together, just the three of us A little blast from the past, last Memorial Day, I was sliding on a wing and a prayer across 100ft of plastic and vegetable oil on a home made slip and slide that ended with bruises for 3 weeks, so here's to keeping it low key!

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.

An American in paradise, the photo essay

Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, 18° 4′ 0″ N, 63° 3′ 0″ W, West Indies, Lesser Antilles, Leeward Islands, half French, half Dutch, 100% island with diverse cultural roots. 1. As promised, my companion, Gizmo 2. Front Street in Phillipsburg, which runs parallel to Back Street.  This bustling stretch in the Dutch capital is filled with shopping, food and bars.  Parking is difficult here, but if you drive around long enough, something will open up.  Just be sure you practice parallel parking first. 3. Oyster Pond, quiet calm waters and Orient Bay, French side, clothing optional. 4. This scene happened more often than not, which one is mine... 5. The blue waters of Anguilla 6. Sunset cruise on the Lambada.  The little girl has a striking resemblance to the girl in Water World 7. The streets and cafes of Marigot, the French capital 8. My delicious Mahi 9. Back to Little Bay 10. The last sunset I really need to invest in a better camera to capture the colors of the Caribbean, but I also like the "pocketableness" of my little Canon Powershot.  These photographs give you a sense of what it was like, but nowhere near the experience.  Until next time!
filled with shopping, food and bars.  Parking is difficult here, but if you drive around long enough, something will open up.  Just be sure you practice parallel parking first.

An American in paradise, a mini series, the finale

It's a different sun, a different air, a different water.  It's a slow down to island time. Whether a day, a week, a month, you will feel different here. It's about sinking into crystal clear waters, it's about power under sail, it's about conch fritters and rum punch. It's about music and fun, good times and sun. It's a love affair. I spent the greater part of yesterday soaking in UV rays that I probably didn't need, I'm sure that payback will come in time. Afterwards, I made my way to Simpson Bay for a sunset cruise on the Lambada. She sets sail from the Pelican which is fairly easy to find if you take a left at Hollywood Casino, parking however, is a challenge. I scored after two times asking the resort parking attendant where to park and she ended up letting me park in the guest lot. Main sail hoisted and I sunk into not a care in the world. Perched topside on the forward port hull, my mind drifted. Two hours later, I really didn't want it to be over, my therapy session was done and I needed to return to my room. I've almost learned to navigate the island, at least the southern portions. This was my first time driving at night, though, and my regular landmarks were not quite as visible, but I managed to make it back. Today was a return trip to Marigot, and I'm glad I did, the street was bustling with vendors selling local everything. I had two things in mind, rum and some good food. Maaya is the place to go for duty free in Marigot. My only advice is (as with any duty free I've found here) if you are using American Express, tell them that is all you have and they will most likely accept it. I had read some forums before arrival that AMex was not widely accepted, this is true, unless you present as your only method of payment. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted. Cash always talks! I found my rum, now for food. It must have been cooked on a million degree grill, because the outside of my mahi steak was crunchy and the inside was moist and tender. Bistro de la mer filled my taste buds with deliciousness and a side of rice. Good food, check, time to head back. I made the same wrong turn as the other day, mental note, when leaving Marigot, it's a left on the roundy, for next time! I experienced my first "I need gas" moment on the way back. First of all, everything is in liters, secondly, the pump attendant doesn't really pump your gas, just stands there to usher you expecting a tip. No worries, 22 liters (I think I read it right) and a three dollar tip later, my lawnmower tank is full. The remainder of my afternoon was spent soaking in Caribbean waters as the sun sank deeper and deeper into the horizon. I left the soothing waters in time to climb back up to Fort Amsterdam armed with a camera. The wind atop the peninsula is pretty strong, but I had the best seat in the house for my last St Martin sunset. I did some experimenting with my cameras (I think I've actually figured it out) exposure settings and I think I got some good sunset photographs (to be posted later). I'm hesitating right now to continue writing, or wrap it up, my mind is so at ease and relaxed that listing 10 things seems distant. Maybe I'll leave it with Just3Nights in Vegas and Just7Nights in St Martin and call out a vacation I have shared with you... As the calypso rhythms echo across the bay, I wonder. I watch the mother next door dance with her baby boy, I miss my kids. I watch the couple on the beach slow dance, maybe next time we can dance, if I can muster up enough to ask you out. Yeah, there's no 10 specifics tonight, just me, drinking a rum punch, listening to music, dreaming, and dancing.... Reflections my friends, cheers!

An American in paradise, a mini series, part three

image Wednesday and Thursday have been my lazy days.  Aside from a trip to La Grande Marche for mid-week groceries, I've been relaxing in a beach chair not really doing a whole lot of anything.  I had not planned on posting tonight, but after 8 failed attempts of uploading one picture to Facebook, I changed my mind.  So here it is, the best sunset so far.  I wish photographs could capture the feelings better as the sky burns red and orange with tints of pink.  It's one thing to see it, it's another to experience it. I forgot last night that, believe it or not, I'm fragile. In the process if climbing out onto a rock to photograph the sunset, my knee decided to fail and down I went. Initially, I escaped with only a small gash in my ankle, however when I woke this morning, I realized I had a pretty good sprain. I spent a good deal of time walking it off today when I was not soaking in the sun. Still a bit tender, but I'll live. There really is something about this island, maybe it's the people, as friendly as I've ever met, and I'm sure it has something to do with the constant breeze and temperatures in the eighties. Message to my ex: put the kids on a plane to SXM and let me know what time they land, I'll pick them up... Message to my parents: please Fed-Ex my laptop and the rest of my clothes, sell the house and whatever else is left... Message to HR: please email me a change of address form... Reflections. 1. Tomorrow I shall find a proper cat to sail on 2. Plenty of time to think 3. About where I am 4. And where I'm going 5. Do I really have to go to Indiana next week? 6. I have not touched email all week (with one slight exception) and it's been wonderful, but will probably be hell when vacation is over 7. No two sunsets are ever the same 8. I finally remembered to get bug spray, haha mosquitos, can't get me now 9. Next trip will need to be two weeks, I've only two days left and still lots to do 10. Cheers

Just for you Q

image image image

I'll justify this post by the fact that I left after I saw Just10Lizards.  This is Fort Amsterdam, the oldest fort in the Dutch Caribbean and sits high on the cliffs between Little Bay and Great Bay, a short five minute walk from my room.  It's a little on the cloudy side and trust me, pictures do not do justice to the true color of the water.  Love to my Chi peeps, miss ya!

An American in paradise, a mini series, part two

When was the last time you were sitting at a beach bar in Anguilla and watched a gorgeous French woman try to catch a chicken with a blue beach blanket?  Yeah, I attract such oddities, or maybe this scene happens more often than not and I'm just more observant...  "What would you have done with the chicken if you had caught it?" In the best English she could (which was pretty good, tainted with an accent that may have come from Heaven), came a simple reply, "in the oven." I had to ask, "what are you going to do now that you have been unable to catch the chicken?"  Her reply, again, so simple, "market."  I suppose the underlying question, though, is what are chickens doing roaming freely at a beach bar?  They are justifying my love for travel, because there is so much out there to see and experience, this time, with a little bit of humor. I spent the morning in Marigot, a quaint little French inspired harbor town on the west coast.  Red brick sidewalks tied the streets to endless rows of shops and restaurants. Open air markets filled the empty spaces with local crafts that I surely didn't need, but still were nice to look at. Catamarans peppered the harbor and inspired me to be spontaneous. My adventure began. Not exactly the cat I was dreaming of, but more of a floating taxi. Though immigration, I checked out of St Martin and boarded for a thirty minute trip to Anguilla. What was I to do once I arrived? No clue! I was slightly concerned about leaving my car parked in Marigot, nothing in it and unlocked (at the advice of my friend at the Westin), but hey, I've no care in the world right now. We set sail, well, we were in motion. The sea wasn't really that rough, but Kim, 23, from Atlanta, traveling with her parents and sister, thought otherwise as the water taxi rocked and rolled in the open waters. She had a pretty good tan, but white as a ghost. I tried to talk her through the trip, keep her mind on something else, she almost lost her cookies twice, that would have been a mess. I made it, she said she was going to swim back. I ran into Kim later that afternoon and bought her a guava berry colada in appreciation for her input in my story of life. Deko was my cab driver, I later learned his real name was Connor, took me to Shoal Beach. I admire the planning of the location of the port and the location of the best beach in the world, it keeps the taxi drivers employed. Round trip, $52, I only mention this because I had only brought a limited amount of cash. I arrived and settled at Madeariman where the beach was turquoise, the sand velvety and the beer cold. Lucky for me, they take Visa, unfortunately, for me, at the current time, the line was down. Maybe it would be back up before I left. I bounced back and forth between the beach and the bar, knowing Deko would come find me when it was time to go. I chatted with Kim for a bit, and Chris, one of the waiters before my ride back to the boat arrived. By my calculations, $26 for the return taxi, $20 for the water taxi and $13 deportation tax was going to leave me $23 short. No worries, Deko could stop at a cash machine on the way, until... The smallest thing said cash machine could spit out was EC$100. Great, I have no clue what the exchange rate is, was this enough to get me back or would I take up residence in Anguilla? Only one way to find out, try. I paid Deko my last US currency (well, leaving me $10) and off to customs I go. Next up, the very apologetic lady I was trying to pay for the return boat was unable to change my bill. I guess this is good only because I had enough. She told me to wait and eventually she would have the correct change. I missed one boat while waiting, she finally had my change not five minutes before the second boat was ready to leave. Mental note, when you don't plan (as is often the case) at least bring enough cash. I sat on the top deck getting sprayed with sea water as the boat sliced through the waves on the way back to St Martin. I ended up really lost trying to navigate back to Little Bay. My sense of direction, however, did get me to Sunset Bar. This place sits right at the beginning of the SXM runway where incoming flights are about 100 feet above the beach and signs warn of jet blast being harmful or fatal. I use my last bit of cash and relax as a couple 747s take off and one Cessna lands. Not only should you ask if places take Visa, which most do, but also be sure to ask if there is a minimum, as most often there is. Finally back to my home for the week and I'm exhausted, but wait, there's live music at the beach bar. Ok, count me in. Sinatra with Caribbean flair, love it! Gizmo kept me company for awhile and I requested Bob Marley's Redemption Song before it was time to turn in for the evening, thoroughly worn out. Reflections. 1. Cash, I've learned my lesson 2. Be spontaneous, but don't forget #1 3. I've discovered almond flavored rum in my coffee this morning as I write this 4. I think today is a low key relax on the beach kind of day 5. A lady kayaking in the bay just flipped, funny to me 6. I really need to find some bug spray, my legs are covered in little bites from some hungry mosquitos 7. I haven't been my usual foodie self on this trip, this is supposed to be the food capital of the Caribbean 8. I'm going to have to make more coffee (see #3) 9. Skype has kept me in touch with the kids, I do love technology 10. This is letting go More to come...