Territory number: 204
When? December 2018 coming from the Falkland Islands via Santiago, going on to Bonaire
‘In the Caribbean Sea
Is a tiny isle
Called Aruba -‘
I’ve navigated myself through four flights and arrived, not without some frustration. My connections seemed reasonable on paper – all over 2 hours – but every single plane today and yesterday has parked up on the outermost limits of the airport, meaning that coordinating the arrival of me and my bags at the right gate in time is challenging. I’ve had to pay for a business flight as I was told there was no availability on my replacement Avianca flight, but there are only 61 passengers sitting in economy on this leg; I didn’t count them, the stewardess volunteers this information. That’s all she does. They don’t even offer a drink. They give out breakfast menus when we take off and collect them when we land, but I don’t actually see any breakfast. To be fair, I am asleep some of the time. None of this improves my mood. At Bogota there seems to be an infuriating work to rule going on. The bus takes us to a park-up so far away I think we’re going to another airport. Then we’re not allowed to disembark until they’ve loaded the luggage. Which five men do, one bag at a time, one man lifting while the other four watch. Then they walk all round the plane with clipboards. We’re on the bus for at least an hour watching them. Don’t fly Avianca. (It’s not the first time I’ve given this advice.)
Few people I’ve met are quite sure where Aruba is: it’s a tiny Dutch Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela. It’s so tiny that Google has trouble locating it and Vodafone puts out welcome to Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela messages before tending me information on making calls in Aruba. Wikipedia says it has dry, sunny weather, blond beaches and gentle surf with constant trade winds bringing the cool breezes and causing the famous divi-divi trees to slope south-westerly. It’s certainly windy – I must have brought it with me. It’s a really bumpy flight in.
Unpack and flop on one of the blond beaches. The beach is certainly beautiful, with white sand, but the bars and resort hotels abutting it are a little ugly and much of downtown is utilitarian. Most of the bars serve hamburgers and grilled sandwiches. My hotel, like most American resort hotels is too big; it has four pools, four restaurants and a pretty golf course with lakes. It’s not quite a naturalist’s paradise, but it houses flocks of shags and other waterfowl, all vying for space on the relative tranquillity of the tiny islets in the lakes and a varied assortment of harassed looking lizards and iguanas, retreating to the undergrowth.
My apartment is spacious, brown and a little shabby. And the air conditioning won’t turn off or go above 72 degrees, because ‘Otherwise the room will get mouldy’ – ugh – it already smells pretty musty. But it has everything I need, including a kitchen area, with oven, and I got a very good deal. Aruba at New Year is not cheap. There’s even a sitting room and separate dining area. Though I bash my head on the too low light fitting every time I stand up.
The whole of this area, several hotels along the beach and behind it, is owned by the same company, who run a free shuttle bus, to encourage the punters to spend all their money within the bounds of their property. I hop on to go to to the local supermarket- I think I will do some cooking, it will save on fancy restaurant prices and gala dinners. The bus doesn’t go all the way to the shop, of course, as the company doesn’t own it. The store is packed with festive shoppers and I’ve bought steak tonight and chicken for tomorrow. It’s a shame that when I get down to business the oven doesn’t actually work…I won’t bother asking at the front desk. They’ve already told me that none of their maintenance men are working because of the holiday when I complained that my Wi-Fi didn’t work. Perhaps I shouldn’t pay because it’s a holiday then.
Firecrackers have been exploding noisily behind the hotels all day. They take New Year very seriously here. As it gets dark, the sky is lit up with the prettier fireworks. But I’m not keen on the loud bangs and my lack of sleep is catching up with me. I’m not sure I will make the big displays at midnight.
It’s very quiet here today – no piles of bodies, like in Latin America after fiesta. That’s good. I’m exploring, so I stroll out of the trolley zone, (I’m surprised alarms don’t go off), north round a small headland, to Eagle Beach. This is promoted as being Third Best Beach in the World and the Best in the Caribbean. Who on earth judges these things or votes for them? It’s a lovely stretch of powdery wide white sand and jade water, but it’s nowhere near as stunning as the gorgeous curve and clear turquoise water of Grace Bay, on Caicos, for example, to compare it with another all very American enclave. Hotels line part of it and there’s a quiet stretch in the middle, backed by some greenery, where I camp out for a while. Quiet that is, until some locals park up in the bushes and turn their sound blasters up full volume. I’m already a ghastly pink colour in the constant wind, so I retreat to the hotel for a break. I go to the Towel Hut(!) to exchange my sodden mess for a fresh one as instructed. They don’t have any.
I decide to sit by a pool for a couple of hours before calling it a day. The beach is a ten-minute walk and trying to find sunbeds that aren’t territorially marked isn’t easy. The thatched umbrellas are called palapas here and there are a series of rules nailed to each one. ‘No reserving before 8 a.m. your personal belongings may be removed if you are absent for over 2 hours…’. No wonder there aren’t any Germans around. The infinity pool sounds nice. It isn’t. Every one of its dinky little areas and swim up bars is absolutely solid with loud adults and children splashing. My idea of holiday hell.
Keep repeating to myself – ‘It was a great deal’, as I endeavour to cook chicken legs without an oven…
It’s still a holiday here. I thought I might spend my last day touring the island, but I’m not sure I’m going to see anything of interest. It’s flat and arid. The highlight of an island safari seems to be a natural bridge that collapsed two years ago (there’s a smaller version in the vicinity you can look at instead, the fliers say).
So, I opt for a whole day on the beach, relaxing and internet bingeing under a palapa. It’s so windy that the back of my sunbed flies forward and whacks me on the nose as I’m trying to retrieve my towel, which has collapsed over my face before threatening to fly away. It’s not a good look.
You will have gathered that I’m not much more enthusiastic about Aruba than the Spanish conquistadores who deemed it ‘useless’. I’m happy to fly on to Bonaire later this evening. I’m doing the ABCs in the correct alphabetical order, of course. I decide to indulge in Happy Hour in the hotel bar before I leave. Two margaritas help to take the edge off the rudeness at the airport. ‘Shoes off!’. I doubt I’ll be back. Though, despite warnings from locals about Insel Air, the south Caribbean equivalent of LIAT (Leaves Island Any Time), the plane is actually early.
Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao form the ABC islands located less than one hundred miles northwest of Venezuela.
Aruba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The other three countries in the kingdom are: Netherlands, Curaçao and Saint Maarten. So, the nationality of the citizens of Aruba is Dutch, but Aruba is not a part of the European Union.
Aruba’s earliest known inhabitants were the Caquetio, a branch of the Arawak who came by canoe from Venezuela in about 1000 AD. In 1499, Alonso de Ojeda arrived in Aruba, but the Spanish conquerors decided that the three ABC Islands were of little use, having no apparent mineral wealth. Nevertheless, the Spanish remained until they conceded Aruba to the Dutch in the Thirty Years War. During the Napoleonic Wars, the Netherlands lost control of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao to the British twice during the early 1800s. The ABC islands were returned to the Netherlands under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814.
English, Dutch and Spanish are spoken alongside the local tongue, Papiamento
After a concerted government effort from 1984 onwards, tourism became the backbone of the Aruban economy and the GDP of the country more than doubled between 1987 and 1992
To see more of my photos of Aruba visit this page.