Sun, Sand, and Sea
The three words I checked on Aruba´s immigration form as I laughed that it was even an option available as ¨Main Purpose of Your Visit¨, along with scuba and honeymoon. The three words I´ve never seen before on an official form were pretty much how one describes Aruba.
I might add STRONG WINDS, Biking and Rumba (parties) also, though those 3 don´t seem to work as well together.
Upon landing the adventure began. We (my friend Raquel and I) were greeted by fun carpet squares welcoming us in a new language; Papiamento. BOMBINI ARUBA, One Happy Island! That and some fun art, we could barely get ourselves out of there…then the immigration officer gave us our stamp and it was official….VACATION!!!!
With March being by far the best month this year it ended with yet another vacation/long weekend. This time it was Labor Day, in all of, or most of the Latin and Caribbean nations. It was also the random weekend I had picked from a lone coffee shop with wifi via my cellphone hours before leaving Nairobi back in January, just so I could enter Panamá (don´t ask bc the back story is even longer). The random flight destination purchase at last minute was serious luck as I never once had to prove I had it (which made me mad and glad) and upon arriving to Panamá I realized I choose a holiday weekend (less days to ask for leave, weee!)
Back to One Happy Island…it started off just ok…the taxi charged more due to the holiday even if prices were posted, hotel was close to main area but not within the main hotel area (that was my fault…entailed lots of walking)….We just said, Holiday Inn was our hotel and the beds were elsewhere because we ended up at Holiday Inn every day (not because its the best only because it was very central and we almost reserved it)! Besides a few early bumps including our first drink being $8 beers (accidental overcharge) the beaches were soo beautiful that it took us took hours just to get to a restaurant for lunch.
The first day ended great and was definitely our day of RUMBA. Very fun although kind of painful and funny the next day..ja ja Señor Frogs with the Mexican, beyond typical while highly not! The next day was a bit more productive, lots of beach. Although, not just beach, we also went into Oranjestad by local bus (easy going into town, don´t wait for it to take you back….$5 taxi it instead!) from Palm Beach (where we stayed, highly recommend…but inside high rise hotel zone unless your there for work or a week or more).
Oranjestad is pretty cool with original colorful buildings, history, cheaper souvenirs, happening events and streets to get lost in for a few hours…plus some nice architecture, Yeah! Our first touristy stop of the day. Returning to Palm Beach we rented bikes ($25 one day and $40 for 2 day…blue containers; Kite Surfer shop) because that was my original plan and goal of the trip…bike the island. Around 4 we headed on bike to the faro, California Lighthouse, a nice 10km from our hotel, around 6 miles, round trip. Very nice lighthouse, tall and skinny on the western point of the island (obviously placed there due to a shipwreck and rightfully named after the boat that sank, the California). I also fit in a sunset run…of course.
Another night of Rumba, well not so many drinks but a boxing match that filled all streets and bars with drunks watching an unfortunate chicken winning, Mayweather. Cool! 2 nights down. Oh and we had to walk all the way home at like 3 am because Transportation kind of really sucks in Aruba, especially after a massive crowd watches a fight…all hotels and taxi pick-up areas had lines of people waiting and waiting with no taxis in sight…we just kept walking…I´m sure my friend hates me for so much walking but it eventually just became part of the normal logistics of our trip.
Day 3, Raquel was set for scuba and I for a long bike ride. She did not make it out the door but I stuck to my plan but almost returned shortly after due to winds. I mentioned STRONG WINDS, right? Well I headed South on the One Happy Island for 2 hours against the wind. A nice 26 km (not very far at all!) but it felt like 2 hours of pure hills with a few actual hills. I kept at it and eventually made it to San Nicolas, not quite the sea but darn close (due to my set 4 hour time limit). Not much to see in San Nicolas but I still liked the run down place, the cute homes leading up to it and the narrow one way downtown streets. From there I headed back and was home in 1 hour. WHAT??? Tail winds!!!….I couldn´t even pedal fast enough to catch the wind…ha ha. I just imagined a triathlon on this island…struggle!
I spent another 30 minutes in Oranjestad (capital of Aruba) touring around because I wasted no time on the return. Eventually I headed back to Palm Beach, with some head winds, still managing to arrive around my 4 hour mark! 😀
The other part of the day we headed via transport/tour to Baby Beach (same direction as my morning escapade but actually on the coast…hence the word BEACH). We spent a few hours there, snorkeling and what not then headed back via side roads just in time for a beautiful sunset, a quick post sunset run (even more beautiful) and some Chinese food! 😀 Yes. We could not resist since the night before we walked in and it smelled sooo delicious..it was…and we left Super full. Taxied back to walk home from our closest high rise hotels the Marriott and the Ritz (taxis when you do get them are between $7 and $12). We stayed about 1-2 km from these 2 hotels so it wasn´t far at all. Lights out!
One last day (buu I could have used 1 more) was filled with as much as we could fit in! Raquel was off to scuba for real while I did one last bike ride to the North side of the island. Turns out no scuba for her because of the flight…under water followed by above the clouds doesn´t quite work well with the body as it turns out. So she went snorkeling instead with a scuba credit…so we have to go back…ha ha. She finished earlier than expected and I got back late because I got lost and well STRONG WINDS.
I headed on back roads to Alta Vista Chapel. I believe another 10km, no problem getting there….winds ok. Worth the visit, very pretty ride out there and gorgeous location for the chapel. Houses along the way were interesting to say the least, on bike it was easier to notice. From there I had more time so I decided to make my way to the Natural Bridge (not worth the trip) but got lost and ended up halfway across the island and then returned with wind until I found the ocean, STRONG WINDS, I almost called it quits on the dirt road but I made it, I made it! Took a break there and got some water, some fotos for proof of the achievement, and some confidence that I could make it back alive on bike. A nice tail wind helped me along …the perks of the return but I was pretty late this time. Oops!
Arriving I showered quickly because I was a mess and then out on bike again as I promised Raquel (who had waited for me) that we would go into Oranjestad (10 km, 6 miles) for some souvenirs on a fairly easy ride (besides the wind). We got there in like 20 minutes, shopped quick, ate, did a little touring and returned to the hotel (with a pit stop at Holiday Inn to check out :P). Being our last day I went for one last dip across the street….though I quickly regretted the first few steps…I now know why no one goes into the beach directly in front of the hotel….tiny flippin´ corals!!! Yep, had to get a few scraped out yesterday…fun…ok not really. (I sure have a bad trend of ridiculous vacation injuries…I´m gonna work on that! GRR)
One Happy Island colored our skin, grew on us (literally the corals), relaxed our minds, and gave us the adventures we were looking for plus some great photos to prove it.
A few other things –
Aruba: Small island, known as the most beautiful in the Caribbean. It is pretty darn pretty and diverse in landscape but not sure if it is the best…still need to explore…stay tuned :P. The climate is dry and hot year round but with wind its actually somehow cold at night…Because it is dry heat it actually resembles Arizona with its prickly pear cactus and other cactus relatives..ha ha. The population I read to be about 103,000, then add the tourists. Many destinations have direct flights. Lots of Venezuelans, although 25km away, currently no ferry is servicing due to Venezuela´s problems.
Language: Papiamiento is the official language but we spoke Spanish the whole time or English. Locals speak up to 4 languages. It has been a British, Spanish, Dutch and native Arawok tribe ruled/inhabited island. Currently, last 25-30 years a Netherlands independent island. Actually the prince of Holland was there when we were.
Money: Florin, not sure the exchange but the dollar is widely accepted. There is a cool square coin we loved receiving. I got 3, Raquel I think only managed 1. It is highly touristy so prices are higher but if you go with the right mindset you will be just fine spending away.
Biking: Coming from Panamá, Aruba is MUCH safer to bike in! I research before I went about biking there and I wasn´t sure if it was gonna be the safest but I really enjoyed a lot and I felt safe. The roads don´t always have space but the drivers (majority) are educated about bikes and either give space or slow down and wait to pass. Even the big trucks and buses. Plus the roads were clean and mostly well kept, not a lot of pothole dodging. The only real issue is the wind, put it in a lower gear, go slower and just keep at it, you will survive
Kite surfing: I did not try but I would highly suggest it as it is the perfect place for it! It is one the the top 10 locations for kitesurfing.
Snorkel/Scuba: Greatness although I didn´t get to do much (snorkel)…I need to return. Someone said Bonaire (also Netherlands´s island…along with Curacao)…has the best snorkel/scuba but that the island sucks. In Aruba, scuba allows you to go through a plane and ship wreck with quite beautiful fish. With snorkeling you can see the ship too and fishies too.
***For more island adventures check my blog about Barbados and Cuba