Aruba 7/13

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One happy island - third time's a charm...

Angry red sunset at Palm Beach pier

An opportunity arose following business meetings in Colorado and New York to take another "sanity vacation", in which I proactively get away from it all for a few days. On this trip I focused on reading, photography and exploring places in Aruba that I hadn't been to on my prior trips in October, 2004 and April, 2009.


Each time I return to Aruba - "one happy island", as their license plates proclaim, I'm reminded of why it's my favorite tropical island. It's incredibly safe, English is spoken everywhere, US dollars are universally accepted, the weather is near perfect year-round and it's just plain gorgeous.

Friday July 19th - Arrival


I arrived from Newark at 3:30pm AST, which was just after two other large US planes had dumped hundreds of passengers into passport control. 50 minutes later I got through and headed outside to National Car rental which was equally overwhelmed by customers. By 5pm I was at the helm of a baby SUV driving northwest through Oranjestad to the Aruba Marriott on Palm Beach.

I debated, but finally upgraded to the Tradewinds Club at the Marriott, which gave me a top floor room (#825), lounge access for 3 meals a day + drinks and an uncrowded, private beach. In retrospect, it was an excellent decision. After dinner in the lounge, I took a 2 mile sunset walk south on Palm Beach (first picture below) before reading and retiring for the night.

Eagle Beach Divi Divi tree at mid-day

Sunset walk south

Northwest coast view toward the California Lighthouse

Bubali wetlands & Dutch windmill

Bird in flight at sunset

Saturday July 20th - Settling in

I woke around 8am and started a morning ritual that I continued throughout the trip - coffee and reading on the balcony, breakfast in the lounge and then a quick swim in the ocean before cleaning up and starting my day's journeys. Around 10am I drove northwest along the coast, heading to the California Lighthouse (second picture above) at the tip of the island. Driving through Aruba's traffic circles' multiple lane entry and exit lanes was confusing at first, but I got the hang of them quickly and driving in general all over the island was easy. Finding my way was made easier on this trip by purchasing a detailed Aruba add-in for my GPS before I left from Driving southeast from the lighthouse, I stopped for a few shots at Arashi and Malmok beaches before arriving at the Bubali bird sanctuary and wetlands (third picture above) at the southern end of Palm Beach. The entrance is unmarked, on a dirt road directly across from the old Dutch windmill. The wetlands were deserted except for a few iguanas and nesting birds.

I returned to my hotel to grab a quick lunch in the lounge before driving south to Eagle Beach, referred to as the low-rise hotel area. Parking was easy along the main road and I took a long walk there. There's an Aruba landmark on Eagle Beach, the Divi Divi tree (large picture top of page right) which gets its unique shape from the constant tradewinds that blow across the island. The tradewinds work for Aruba in two positive ways. First, they make the nearly constant low-80s F very comfortable to walk around in and second, they keep the bugs away. En route back to my hotel mid-afternoon, I made a stop at the new Super Foods grocery store for some exotic cheeses and a couple good bottles of South American wine to enjoy over the remainder of the trip. After polishing off another book along with a couple of Balashi beers on my balcony, I ate a light dinner in the lounge and finished the day with a sunset walk south on Palm Beach (large picture top of page left and fourth picture above).

Palapas: Fisheye lens

Balcony view: Sweet 35 lens

Natural Bridge collapsed

Natural Bridge in 2004

Sunday July 21st - Clarity

Finishing my balcony coffee - lounge breakfast - ocean swim morning routine for the second day, I took a long walk to experiment with two of my LensBaby specialty lenses - the 12mm Fisheye (first picture above) and the selective focus Sweet 35 (second picture above). After a quick lunch in the lounge, I drove inland and northeast to the site of the Natural Bridge (third picture above), which collapsed on September 2, 2005. The fourth picture above, showing the original 100' span of this iconic site, was taken on my 2004 trip to Aruba. The same site has a much smaller natural bridge still standing (first picture below). After a quick stop at the Bushirbana gold smelter ruins on the coast, I headed inland and southwest to the Ayo rock formation, petroglyphs and natural caves (second picture below) which served as Flintstones-like housing for Aruba's earliest residents.

Cutting southeast skirting the Arikok National Park, I wound my way through industrial San Nicolas to the southernmost point of Aruba, beautiful Baby Beach (third picture below). I walked Baby Beach from one end to the other, snapping shots along the way. I doubt that I've ever seen ocean water so clear or sand so white and fine. Heading back northwest along the coast I passed through San Nicolas, Savaneta and Oranjestad en route back to my hotel. After some wine, cheese and reading on my balcony, I grabbed a light dinner and drinks in the lounge before a quick dip in the ocean and another sunset walk (fourth picture below). I drifted off to sleep on my balcony in the evening listening to music over the sounds of the beach, before finally retiring around midnight.

The "other" Natural Bridge

Ayo rock formations

Baby Beach at Aruba's southern tip

Windy sunset: Palms & huts

Monday July 22nd - Relaxation

At the end of my morning routine, I hung around the beach much longer, reading and observing the people. It seems to me that there are three categories of beach people on a tropical island like Aruba: 1) the beautiful people who really are beautiful and know it, 2) the out-of-shapers who spend a lot of energy covering up and being self-conscious and 3) the out-of-shapers who just don't give a damn. It's not clear to me which of these groups is happiest, but we're all there every day holding down the same sand. After a quick lunch in the lounge, I drove south to Aruba's main city, Oranjestad (first picture below) to do some souvenir shopping. It rained on and off in the early afternoon, but it didn't slow me down much walking the town from one end to the other (second picture below). I spent the late afternoon on my balcony sipping wine, tasting cheese and polishing off another couple of books before dinner. I decided to try some more challenging photography on my sunset walk that evening. Armed with my big tripod, remote shutter, flash and fast wide angle lens, I parked on the pier and snapped away. The third and fourth pictures below are a couple of the highlights. I finished the night with drinks in the lounge.

Oranjestad Parliament sign

Rainy, busy downtown

Just before sunset

Sittin on the dock o the bay

Tuesday July 23rd - Closure

I've talked a lot about that balcony, so here's the visual - first picture below from the start of my morning routine on Tuesday. I read on the balcony until almost noon, finishing another book. After lunch in the lounge, I put my LensBaby Composer Pro and Edge 80 tilt lens on my DSLR and headed out along Palm Beach's main drag to master its use. A tilt lens allows me to effectively tilt the shot to a different plane than the camera's sensor itself, which is especially useful in architecture photography to correct upward or sideways perspective. A tilt lens also allows me to define a "slice" of focus cutting vertically (second picture below), horizontally or diagonally through any frame. I learned a lot on that walk and I learned that I still have a lot more to learn to use a tilt lens effectively. My last sunset stroll that evening was calm, just like the sea that night (third picture below). I stopped at the hotel's pool to do one final night shot of the waterfall (fourth picture below). I finished the night reading and packing for my return trip the next afternoon. On Wednesday I did my final morning routine, finished packing and was en route to the airport at noon. All in all, another successful, relaxing sanity vacation.

Room with a view

Hyatt garden: Edge 80 tilt lens

Calm seas ahead at sunset

Marriott pool waterfall


Epilog: On this sanity vacation focused on reading and photography, what did I read and what photography did I explore? My reading was a wide mixture and extensive: three mind-bending romances, a lawyer novel, two medical books on cholesterol and statin drugs, and two "how-to" books on Adobe Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS6. My photography exploration was equally wide and extensive. I did underwater video using my Kodak Playsport HD and I did most of the candids using my Sony RX100 Point and Shoot perched atop my always handy pocketable Joby tripod. On my DSLR I experimented with my 12mm fisheye, 80mm tilt and 35mm selective focus specialty lenses from LensBaby. Also on the DSLR, I took the more serious shots with my 16-35mm f4 and my 120-400mm f4.5-5.6. I also explored some creative post-processing (e.g., in the large picture top of page right on Eagle Beach, the beach was not deserted and I was not actually in that shot), although Aruba's natural beauty lends itself to needing very little post.

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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