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!