ARUBA

ISLAND of ARUBA

I thought I was done with the Caribbean.  I had been to the Virgin Islands, St. Croix, St. Thomas, Jamaica, even Puerto Rico (not by choice, but by diversion, and trust me, I would have loved to have stayed longer).  So, after 4 Caribbean islands in less than 2 years, I just did not see anything that really “wowed” me compared to Europe or even  Brazil.

For as long as I can remember, people have talked about Aruba.  Generally, I take travel advice from the masses with more than a few large grains of salt.  People like cruises, Disney, Orlando.  Not me.  I like the lesser known and harder to get to destinations that are far more interesting and fulfilling.  However, I was dead wrong on this one and I am glad I finally got to visit.  I had no reservations about visiting Aruba other than the fact that everyone loved it.  I knew it was a very safe place, perfect weather and American currency was accepted everywhere.  Better yet, its less than 5 hours from the NYC Metro Area, nonstop.

When I first landed, I went out to the taxi area.  Very well organized, and you have to pick up a ticket as to where you were going and how much it would cost so you would not get gouged by the drivers.  Even before I got here, people told me local merchants were not out to gouge you.  The price is the set price across the board.  $22 for a 20 minute ride did not seem unreasonable.  In fact, $25 for a taxi cab ride from any airport to any local city, 20-40 minutes is very cheap.

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The roads were very narrow, with very small cars, and what normally might look like a lot of gridlock, a typical small island, which was visually obvious.  However, something so so obvious, it was like being knocked down with a feather.   It was politeness, courtesy amongst drivers, no one was angry, and even more shocking, people gave you the right of way 99% of the time.  Now, when you come from New York, you just expect people to run you down at a cross walk, and its your fault if they hit you.  But in Aruba, they stop on a dime while turning a corner to let you cross even if you are jay walking.  This, to me, was very strange. And, I still did not trust them.  I waved them on and insisted they continue going. I am from New York, I don’t trust this polite, courteous facade.

IMG_0019Even after a week, I was still cautious.  I guess growing up and living in the NYC Metro area can do that to you. However, it really did not kick in until I got back and landed at Newark Liberty Airport.  Less than 10 minutes in the car on the drive back to my house I heard sirens, car horns, angry drivers yelling, and I thought to myself “what is everyone so angry about”?  Yes, the island of Aruba had changed my perspective a great deal.  In fact, the only time I can recall anything less than tranquil was the elderly couple bickering (barely, not even close to arguing) whether to have dinner at the resort or venture into town.  And yes, there are a lot of older retired people there probably for this very reason.  Its safe, its friendly, and its wonderful.  However you will find many young people there too, in addition to a lot of Venezuelans, who are very friendly in spite of their politicians and social problems.

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Aruba itself is a verb small island.  Its about the size of Manhattan with 1/10th the population.  Manhattan has over 8 million people, Aruba has around 800,000.  They are made up of Natives (people born there whose parents and grandparents were also born there), and those people are a mix of people from the surrounding countries like the Spanish and Dutch, and of course many retirees from all over.

IMG_0001Now, the one thing I have to take exception with is the tourism marketing concerning the weather.  Tourism websites claim they are below the hurricane belt and the weather is constantly warm and tropical all year round with no rainy season.  Well, I actually ran into friends from New Jersey while there and a few years back they were hit pretty hard by a hurricane, and while typically in the past they got very little rain, now November through January is the rainy season.  So reports of them getting less than 3″ each year is not accurate today.  Blame it on global climate change, but I can all but swear I saw 3″ fall in one day.  Causing a hotel to flood not just on the ground floor, but on the upper levels as well.  While it seemed like no end in sight, eventually it did clear and the location on the beach for a wedding ceremony was a picture perfect paradise.

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Now, I have to admit, I am very spoiled when it comes to traveling south of the border and food. I am used to having great food at half the price because it is all local.  However, in Aruba, it seems as if a lot of it is imported, not so much local, and you can expect to pay just as much as you would in NY/NJ, and the quality being about the same.  Unless you go direct to the supermarket and select the food yourself, you are not going to be impressed, at least I wasn’t.  There are always exceptions, and new to the largest supermarket was a small fish store.  Even still the soup, as fresh as it was, and could easily feed two, was still about $10.

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Take a look at what passes for calamari at a different seafood restaurant in the hear of the island… no, they are not onion rings, this is what they call calamari, though I am not sure how.IMG_0052So, you can come to Aruba for a very tranquil getaway just a few hours away from anywhere.  You can get cheap airfare, hotel and even some meals, but its not the cheapest place in the world.  At this writing, figure at least $1k for airfare and hotel for a week’s stay, and another $500 at least for food and drinks, if not more.

It is “One Happy Island” and very tranquil.  The only time I saw a police force was on Halloween night in the center of town.  You can easily count 5 of them.  One was a female, all were young (20-30 years of age), and they were very relaxed and enjoying the outdoor music. The benefit of them being in units of 5 with mixed crowd (men, women, ethnicities), is that it keeps them all honest and non-biased.

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Eagle Beach is right across from La Cabana and Tropicana Hotels within walking distance.  If you don’t like the pools or the resort or just feel the need for different scenery, you can just walk for less than 5 minutes and hit Eagle Beach.

There some spectacular beaches, probably the cleanest I’ve ever seen, the water the clearest, you can see the fish swim just under your feet.  No garbage or trash.

IMG_0026The sunsets if you can catch one, but the sun sets really fast, so if you plan to take a photo, be there at the right time and be prepared to shoot several times.  It sinks fast.

Now you will see plenty of other food entries on my blog regarding the food and cuisine of Aruba.  But for the most part, you come here to relax, whether it be a getaway from work, a honeymoon, or just a breath of fresh tropical air.  You come to this island for tranquility, relaxation, and all at a very fair price.

Unlike most places (even where I am here in NYC), at no time, did I ever feel in danger.  And while I did think twice about walking or taking a taxi, there was never a real threat.  Any threat I thought there might be, was only from being in a different country I had never been to before, and I carried over my New York paranoia with me.  This is not to say to not be cautious, and common sense, (even in paradise) should be of primary concern when it comes to safety, however, this is the safest place I’ve ever travelled to by far.

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