Aruba: One Happy Island

aruba

I was looking for a nice summer destination for Christmas holidays. I had never been to Caribbean so this region was of particular interest. There are quite a few islands and all of them look charming in the pictures. Imagine this: beautiful beach with powdery white sand, palm trees, temperature over 30C, tropical cocktails, and sun all day long. Tempting, isn’t it? I read reviews of various islands and finally picked Aruba. It got fantastic reviews, it has a decent nightlife, merges Dutch, Latino, and American cultures, and is very safe. It is a 30 km long island located in the very south of Caribbean. I thought I have give it a try!

intro_boat
intro_palms


Thursday

Fast forward to Dec 20, I was on my way to Aruba. Finding cheap accommodation in Aruba is a challenge! For the first few nights I had a reservation in a guesthouse. Later, I was hoping to find a CouchSurfing host, or, in the worst case, was ready to sleep on the beach. Rienke, the owner or the guesthouse, promised to pick up Barbara (another guest) and myself from the airport. When I landed, I had to wait 20 minutes in the immigration line. Finally, I got the Arubian stamp in my passport and heard “Bon bini!” from the officer. I was happy that they didn’t ask any questions. In particular, where I’m going to sleep.
thu_passportwed_palms

 

At the airport we had to wait for Barbara, because her flight was delayed. In the meantime I got hungry and we went to the nearby restaurant. Outside the airport I instantly felt hot air all around me. As if someone moved me from a freezer to the oven. I ordered Dutch croquettes and sushi. The croquettes are crunchy and go well with beer. The sushi was less impressive. An hour later we finally made it to the guesthouse. I took a dip in the pool and we went to the dinner with other guests. Who was there? Two former US Army soldiers (Taylor and Brandon), and two Scandinavian girls (Lisa and Aino). No dinner can be completed without wine, so around 9pm we decided to head to the beach and drink some wine. The ex-soldiers turned out to be very cool and knowledgeable guys. They said how the night before they sneaked into Marriott to enjoy the hot tub. I’m very adventure-driven, so the convo went like that:

 

me: No way, guys! Let’s go there!
Brandon: Let’s do it!

 

Several minutes later we were all in a hot tub enjoying the beauty of the resort and colorful waterfalls. Some American girls approached us. I reckon that they were a bit drunk. I jokingly asked if they can impress me and stand on their hands. Guess what? One of them showed off her skills and she was standing on her head for the whole minute! The first night in Aruba was already entertaining. The adventure was on.

 

Friday
How is it to work when you’re tempted to go to the beach? It’s not so bad. I promised that I’ll keep working on my research paper because I’d like to finish it ASAP. I kept working for the whole day. The afternoon was sunny again and I went to the beach to take some pictures. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the sun. The sky started getting reddish at 6:30pm. That was the time to take pictures of the sunset over the sea. I must say that the view was breathtaking.
fri_sunset_beach fri_sunset_bird
After these visual pleasures I came back to the guesthouse, met the fellow guests, and we hit the bars. The nightlife in Aruba seemed very laid back. There were lots of Dutch and Latino people, which I really liked. I knew it before but this time I rediscovered one fact: Dutch girls have really big breasts. Not a bad combination with blond hair. Anyways, Aruba is a very interesting mix of cultures: Dutch + Latino + some American influence. One bar was particularly good and we stayed there until it closed.
fri_night fri_show

Saturday
The day didn’t start very well. It was raining the whole morning. I thought it was a great time to do some work and to write postcards. It took me two hours to handle all the postcards. I got a tons of requests from people who wanted a postcard from Aruba. Then, I kept working until early evening. When the sun set, we met with Rienke, the Scandinavian girls, and ex-soldiers and went to a live show on a luxurious cruise ship Freewinds. The show was of high quality and gave us  a glimpse into world music. We finished the night enjoying wine and conversations.
sat_kacper sat_freewinds
Sunday

What a day! The ex-soldiers told me that they’re renting a jeep to explore the island. I thought it was a fantastic idea and really wanted to join the party. We visited several sites, such as the restaurant ZeeRover that served fresh wahoo fish, and Baby Beach. Our main goal was to go to the Arikok National Park. We were ready to check out the local flora and fauna.

sun_cactus sun_tree
But what the hell? As we got to the park, it started raining! Seemed like a very heavy rain that should pass within a minute or two. How heavy was the rain? Well, within a five-second jog all my clothes were as wet as if someone poured a bucket of water on me. Fortunately, we could stay in the visitors center for a while. The center kicked us out at 5pm as they were closing.

 

me: Guys, what do we do?
Taylor: Well, let’s go back to our place. It won’t get better.

 

The guys wrapped all the stuff in towels and put into backpacks to protect cameras, phones, etc. We ran back to the jeep realizing that it is all wet, because we had no top! The car was full of water. We had no other choice. We had to drive back to the guesthouse. The heavy rain continued for two hours and the streets were flooded. At the beginning I was kinda chill due to cold wind. The ex-soldiers were actually enjoying the ride! Every time we got into a pound, the water splashed, and got into the car.
sun_boat sun_jeep
Everyone was completely wet and the guys kept yelling “Wooohoooo!” and loudly laughing at the situation. Exactly as in the Hollywood movies about soldiers. It’s the kind of moment when you think to yourself “I wish it sucked more!“. You cannot be any more wet, so let’s enjoy the ride! When we got back to our place, Rienke offered us hot tea and coffee.

 

me: Guys, let’s go to the Marriott to the hot tub!
Brandon: Sounds like a good idea!

 

They both were down, and so we went to relax a bit and to swim in the sea. Later, we traditionally hit the town and explored bars and nightlife.

 

Monday
The Scandinavian girls, ex-soldiers, and myself went to the beach. It was a perfect day for swimming in clear water, for exploring the hotel areas, and for chilling in a spa place. It was also the day of changing my accommodation. It was the day of CouchSurfing!
mon_beach mon_nikki_beach
I’m a big fan of CouchSurfing. When I look for a host, I typically judge each profile by recommendations, the number of friends, and the date of last login. I messaged all the 30 Arubians on CS. Unfortunately, most of those who got back to me were going on Christmas vacations. Fortunately, I got a positive reply from Elias. He only registered on CS and had completely empty profile. I thought that’s a chance to do CS in Aruba. Right away he seemed very helpful and said that can host me for the whole week. It sounded too good to be true! He called me that afternoon.

 

Elias: My friend, where are you?
me: I’m at the bus stop in front of Marriott. I’ll be in downtown in 20 minutes.
Elias: Hey, we’ve got a car! I’m going to pick you up! How can I recognize you?
me: Black t-shirt, blue jean shorts, black sneakers, and winter jacket.
Elias: See you soon!

 

His English was respectfully good as for someone who learned the language only by speaking with people on the street. On our way to his place I got some booze and food. Traditionally: vodka, ginger ale, and cucumber. It turned out that he has one of the top hair saloons on the island. The couch was waiting for me right in the hair saloon. How COOL is that?

 

mon_aruba_map mon_hair_saloon
It was the day of Christmas eve so we went to a dinner to his friends. It was fantastic! The people were of Latino and Arubian descent. One girl was from Serbia. I hardly ever see people hugging and kissing so much while having a conversation. That was an interesting experience. The dinner itself was delectable: I was offered a marinated wahoo fish, tamal, tiramisu with vanilla ice-cream, wine, and vodka. The house was very artistic and also hosted a number of animals: chickens, hens, turtles, dogs, Persian cat, and geese. I really enjoyed the meeting because everyone seemed extremely chill and they really liked spending time with each other. You know, in Canada parties typically end by 3 am. By that time everyone is gone and the party is over. Here? Felt more like Poland. We finished some time around 6am. Nobody was giving lame excuses and there was always something stimulating to talk about. An interesting fact that I learned was that people in Aruba speak multiple languages. Throughout the education they learn: Dutch, Papiamento, English, Spanish, and then either French of German. Many also speak Portuguese. Anyways, after we headed back, I was sleeping like a baby on a couch in the hair saloon.

 

Tuesday
The Boxing Day started lazily with a lunch at a Latino restaurant. I got churrasco with avocado sauce and jack chips. The weather was warm, sunny, and light breeze kept me cool. Elias, my CS host, took his car and we were exploring the island. Besides the beaches, we hit the north coast which hosts one of the symbols of Aruba: the California Lighthouse. It is located on the coast where the Caribbean sea is much more rough. No beaches, just rocky coast line. Two days ago it was raining heavily, so there was lots of water and mud on the coast. We were forced to drive off-road with a Nissan march. Quite an experience!
tue_waterfall tue_off_road
In the afternoon we visited some more friends and got a lot of food for dinner. During the dinner I saw how strong bonds among Latino people are. Again, everyone was hugging, kissing, and touching each other. Something that in North America and some parts of Europe is recognized as sexual harassment… After the dinner we headed back to the hair saloon because Elias had a meeting scheduled with a client. That was one of the more unexpected things that happened during the trip. The lady invited us to the party full of Arubian ministers and business personalities! Although the party was pretty formal by design, I could not miss the opportunity to meet the local top politicians and businessmen. The party took place in a beautiful house with a swimming pool, colorful lights, live band, and Arubian classy atmosphere. Now, that’s COOL!
tue_lighthouse tue_partyaruba tue_stones
Wednesday & Thursday
I woke up pretty early in my favorite hair saloon. The weather was still great so I decided to go for a walk along the beach and to explore downtown Oranjestad. Along the route I saw many roundabouts with Christmas decorations, shops, hotels, resorts, and a whore-house where I was personally invited by the mama.

 

mama: Fico, fico, sico, sico? Come in!

 

or something like that. The Latino music is all around the island. Salsa, merengue, bachata, you name it. Everywhere. I could hear it in the hotels, grocery stores, and on the beach. I think it mixes really well with the sunny weather and chill attitude. I needed to keep hydrated so I drank hectolitres of coconut water. I think it’s my new favorite non-alcoholic drink. It tastes best when comes from young coconuts. The water is inside, so you need to chop off a part of the coconut and put a straw inside. The water is kept in coconut flesh, a white edible part. It has a jelly texture and a mild taste. To eat this part you need to cut the coconut in half and scoop the flesh with spoon.
wed_coconut thu_iguana

 

Arubians were extremely friendly. While in North America I see tons of fake smiles (people smiling only with their mouth), here I got lots of genuine smiles (expressed both with mouth and eyes). Many drivers greet pedestrians with honking, waving their hands and smiling. No, it’s not because you’re walking wrong. During the two days I made around 50km on foot, which is not so bad as for a walk in 35C.

thu_iguanas thu_oranjestad
Side note: this is the first trip on which I’m not using a deodorant. I found them ineffective in warm weather where I’m constantly doing something for 8-10 hours. On this trip I have been experimenting with baking soda. Strange, as it may sound, baking soda is a fantastic deodorant. It has no scent, doesn’t leave any marks, and keeps everything in shape for the whole day. You can buy baking soda in any grocery store for less than a dollar. Need some scent? Put on cologne and you’re good to go!
thu_palm wed_mill

 

Friday

Beach, wandering around, partying. A bird made a poo on me so I had to clean the shit.

Saturday

It was the day of picking coconuts from coconut trees. Learning how to climb the trees took me the whole day. For the night we headed to downtown Oranjestad. It seemed pretty empty at 1am. Taking that into account, we drove to Noord as more clubs and tourists are there. The town was pretty vibrant and I knew it would be a cool night. Do you remember the Scandinavian girls from the guesthouse? Unexpectedly, we ran onto each other in front of a club.

 

Lisa: Hey Kacper! What are you doing?
me: Hey! We just got here and are looking for a fun place.

 

We met the girls, Barbara (the girl whose flight was delayed), and some new friends. It was a pretty cool night, indeed. The group split and I was left with Lisa and Barbara. Barbara was giving us merengue lessons. It’s confirmed, Latino girls are amazing dancers. Nothing can beat their moves and the natural feel of rhythm. We also had some good conversations and I really liked the place. Everything was run in Spanish and the crowd was very lively. After the last call we went to grab a bite as both Lisa and me were hungry. We ordered 2 beers, 2 burgers, 1 fries, and 1 coke. I couldn’t believe that they charged $35 for that! Bastards. OK, the quality of meat was very good.

sat_boat sat_beach

 

It was some time after 3am and none of us was sleepy. We decided to go to the beach and hang out more. The sky was completely clear. We could see all the stars, the moon, and their reflections in the sea. Add Ai se eu te pego to that. Beautiful moment. The dream is over. Then I realized that I’m pretty far from my favorite hair saloon (10 km) and it was getting around 5am. My flight was around 4pm but I still needed some sleep. I wanted to get a cab and decided to check the number in the guesthouse (using the complimentary WiFi). Well, when I travel, things rarely happen according to the plan. Of course, I didn’t take any cab. Lisa helped me and kindly let me stay in the guesthouse. In the morning I somehow hitchhiked to the favorite hair saloon, got a short nap, and got my shit together.

Sunday
Writing this post and flying back for New Year’s Eve to Canada. Overall, Aruba was a wonderful experience: beautiful island, sunny weather, friendly people, CouchSurfing in a hair saloon, meeting with Aruba’s VIPs, decent nightlife, and coconut water. It doesn’t get any better. Highly recommended!

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