Aruba 10/04

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The southern Caribbean's beaches & deserts...

Aruban sunset

I took another opportunity to do a short autumn "sanity vacation", this time to Aruba. Aruba is located in the southern Caribbean, 20 miles off the coast of Venezuela. South American mountains are clearly visible from the airport and all along the southern coast. Aruba is outside of the normal hurricane track, this year escaping the destructive storms to the north with just some heavy rain. It's one of the Dutch 'ABC islands' along with Bonaire and Curacao. It is roughly 20 miles long and 6 miles across. The weather in late October was perfect, with no rain and 80 F days and nights, cooled by mild tradewinds. I returned to Aruba in April 2009 and in July 2013.

Aruba feels very safe - safer than most of the US, with friendly people who are used to tourists. English is universally spoken. Although Aruba has its own currency - florins, US dollars are accepted everywhere. Gambling is legal and casinos abound. Bugs weren't any problem except at dusk, right around the water. Driving is on the right, signs are in English and the roads are generally in good shape, but often poorly marked. Hotels are segregated into downtown (Oranjestad), low-rise (Eagle Beach) and high-rise (Palm Beach) as you proceed north from the airport.

The Natural Bridge - on the north coast

Friday October 22nd

Landing at Aruba's Queen Beatrix airport was a bit of an adventure. We did a first pass at the runway and then suddenly pulled up. Then we did the same thing again. The passengers got concerned in a hurry, myself included. Fearing landing gear troubles or some other disaster in the making, we were finally informed by the captain that a goat was spotted near the runway and had to be corralled away. Finally landing just after noon AST, I passed through immigration quickly and easily. I rented a Suzuki Swift 4 wheel drive mini-SUV (parked in front of the windmill in the first picture above) to allow off-road exploration of Aruba's rugged north shore. After one wrong turn at an unmarked traffic circle which I quickly corrected, I got up to my hotel, the Aruba Marriott, around 1pm. The hotel was a disappointment in many ways, although it wasn't terrible. They didn't have any rooms ready and made clear they wouldn't try to get any ready before 3pm, although I had requested an early check-in a month before. I had also paid ahead for an upgrade to a "deluxe ocean view" room, but when I did get into my room, the view was anything but deluxe. A second shot after complaining at the front desk was little better. My advice with this hotel would be to reserve any run-of-the-house room, because they all have at least partial ocean views.

Finally situated just after 3pm, changed into tropical clothes and ready to go, I drove south along the coast through the high-rise and low-rise hotel areas. It got me oriented to the island. This area has a lot of shops, restaurants and beaches (first picture above - a real Dutch imported windmill turned restaurant, at the border between the low and high-rise hotel areas). I bought supplies (Chilean wine, sippin rum, snacks) at the large American-like Ling & Sons supermarket on the outskirts of Oranjestad and headed back to my hotel for a beach walk at sunset (second picture above). I had spotted a Spanish-style Tapas bar in the high-rise area called Salt & Pepper, which I walked back to for a light dinner.

Saturday October 23rd - The North Coast Drive

I headed north in the late morning on the coast road from my hotel to begin my off-road day tracing the northern coast of Aruba. The roads are paved to the northwest tip of the island at the California Lighthouse (third picture above), named for the ship California that went down nearby prior to the lighthouse's completion. Contrary to some tour books and web sites, it's not the ship Californian, infamous for ignoring the Titanic's SOS. That ship was torpedoed off the coast of Greece in the first world war. You can look backward from the lighthouse and see most of the southern coast (fourth picture above - the cranes in the far background are at the Marriott, building a second time-share resort). At this spot there are lots of cacti and sand dunes giving a first sense of how much of this island is like a desert. Turning right at the base of the lighthouse driveway, the paved road disappears and a rocky, at times almost non-existent, dirt path begins following the coast southward.

Along the first bumpy miles, there are several "wish rock gardens" where passers-by make a wish and build a small temple of rocks (first picture above). A half hour further south, the Chapel of Alto Vista (second picture above) appears up on a ridge, looking very civilized compared to the barren coast. Soon the road turns into mostly sand dunes and rocks, passing the mini-natural bridge (third picture above) and a couple of blow holes (fourth picture above). Nearing the abandoned 1870's Bushiribana gold smelter ruins (first picture below) the road got steeper and more rugged, often just one car-width wide (second picture below - road in the foreground, coastal plains to the north in the background). About halfway down the northern side of the island is the much photographed Natural Bridge (third picture below and large picture at the top right of this page). It's hard to grasp its massive size from pictures, spanning roughly 100 feet at about 25 feet above the ocean, but the fourth picture below offers some perspective relative to the size of the person standing on it. A note looking back from my return trip to Aruba in 2009 - the natural bridge fell into the ocean on September 2, 2005.

Even with the aid of a GPS, turning inland I got lost trying to find the Ayo Rock Formations (first picture below), which served as Flintstones-like housing for Aruba's early residents. Petroglyphs and natural caves were around every corner as I climbed the path. The roads in this area were paved, but essentially unmarked as well as nonexistent in the GPS maps, so asking for directions was the only hope. Turning south again after Ayo, I headed into Arikok National Park. The rough park road is bordered with minor sites like abandoned gold mines, experimental gardens and old adobe houses as it winds its way toward the coast. The coastal inlet, Boca Prins and Fuente cove (second picture below) are home to sand dunes, bleached limestone cliffs and a variety of wildlife. Sea turtles hatch in the tide pools and run for the ocean in the spring. It's also home to a handy bar and grill - a welcome touch of civilization popping up in the middle of nowhere.


Proceeding south along the coast, there are a series of musty bat-filled caves; Fontein (third picture below from the inside - yech!), Quadirikiri and Baranca Sunu (also known as the tunnel of love because of the heart-shaped entrance seen behind me in the fourth picture below). Heading south out of the park, the road becomes paved and ends up in Aruba's second largest city, San Nicolas, home of a big oil refinery that dominates the landscape. Turning north, I headed back to my hotel along the south coast road through Savaneta with views of South America to my left. I got back just after sunset, did some writing and then relaxed on the beach listening to music. I finished the day with a swim in the waterfall area of a then-deserted hotel pool.

Sunday October 24th

I slept-in late and then headed into Oranjestad to see what the city was like. Because it was Sunday, most everything was closed. Main Street was filled with high end, designer shops and casinos. The coast road in Oranjestad (first picture below) is dominated by the Renaissance hotel, shops and casino. I grabbed lunch at small restaurant by the beach and headed back to my hotel. An outdoor concert on the beach was just getting started mid-afternoon with a live Brazilian band (second picture below). I found a comfortable beach chair and did some more reading and writing. Along with taking-in some artistic contributions sent to me from one of this site's Muses, I read the first half of a very good book by Bill Bryson, "A Short History of Nearly Everything" which fit both the trip and my mood well. As the sun set and the band wound down I took another walk south on the beach, snapping pictures along the way (third and fourth shots below and the large picture at the top left of this page). I ended the evening with a just so-so meal at Le Petite Cafe in the high-rise hotel area.

Having achieved my own version of calm, experienced new places and gotten in touch with both myself and the obscure, I flew out Monday morning for home.

Home Up Aruba 10/04 Aruba 4/09 Aruba 7/13 Aruba 5/14 Cancun 5/07 Costa Rica 4/06 Costa Rica 7/04 Costa Rica 11/12 Curacao 2/05 Grand Cayman 12/00 Jamaica 7/07 Panama 12/13 Puerto Rico & Vieques 12/08 Puerto Rico & Vieques 9/08 Puerto Rico 12/07 Puerto Rico coasts 7 & 9/14 Saint Kitts 2/06 Virgin Islands 12/03

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