Or My Brother's Graduation Trip
A little exclamation of pride: my baby brother graduated college this year; not just graduated, and not just any college: it was NYU and it was with honors! Understandably, our whole family was tickled pink; and our Dad decided to treat him to a graduation trip to the location of his choice. And, the most important, since none of his friends were available to go with him, and he did not want to go alone, I was selected as his traveling companion! Hurray!!
At first, he suggested Mexico. I nixed that idea, since I would not go to Mexico on principle; then he explained to me that he just wanted to go somewhere warm, where he could go to the beach and snorkel; the particulars were left for me to iron out. So, after much careful research, reading up, and compering different things (we are Jews, after all), I recommended Aruba. So, Aruba, here we come!
One of the reasons, by the way, why I settled on that particular little island was because different sources kept praising Arubans' hospitality and friendliness. One travel guide put it very nicely, saying that even though tourism is their main source of revenue, nobody learns to be that friendly just for work. How true that is, considering my constant frustration with the so called customer service here! Anyway, the reports were absolutely correct. The Arubans are very friendly and helpful; and Aruba itself is a perfect place for R and R.
This tiny island is about 20 miles by 6 miles in total. It's very close to the Equator, and as such has almost desert climate, which in my book is perfect, by the way. The temperature variations for the year are between 79 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit! Plus, there is low humidity, strong winds, which are actually quite pleasant, and cool nights; sheer heaven! To that, add gorgeous turquoise water! By the way, all the beaches on Aruba are considered public beaches, so, technically, you can park your bathing suite (and your behind) anywhere you fancy.
Aruba is a former Dutch colony, and now they are officially semi-independent, even though their national money are still produced in Holland and then shipped to them. Their official population is around 110 thousand people, and they have a Parliament consisting of 21 representatives. They even have a capital, although it's pretty hard to figure out the boundaries of that fair city. They have one airport where arrivals are only international and departures are either international or to USA (more on that later). They have one hospital, one post office, one police academy, one prison, one desalination plant for fresh water, and one oil refinery. They also have their own Beverly Hills: this is the area where American celebrities have their houses. Due to the nature of their soil, it's impossible for them to produce their own food, so they import everything. According to our tour guide, they produce only two things in Aruba: babies and beer. Yes, they have their own beer! It's called Balashi, and I was dared by my brother to try it (the only reason I did not was due to laziness on my part). Oh, yes, and they also have one factory called Pepsico, where they bottle both Pepsi and Coke! Go figure.
They have one main road, and when we were driving from the airport to the hotel, something nudged me as being unnatural. It took me a little while to realize that unnatural feeling came from driving 40mph on the main road! For a New Yorker, especially someone related to my brother in law, that's sacrilegious. One main road and nobody is rushing anywhere! But what is how they are: friendly, polite, very helpful, very relaxed, and not rushing anywhere at all!
Aruba was also the first place I have discovered in my travels that had Coke, but no Lubavitch! Plus, apparently, they and their visitors do not subscribe to vegetarian food much, which in total created some really funny situation with food for us. But, hey, we are not American born, so, what is a little food deprivation next to a wonderful relaxation! Although I did point out that we would be ones of the very few who would come from Caribbean vacation minus a couple of pounds, not plus:)
Jackie Mason has a great skit where he makes fun of people who go on vacation, and then all they can say is "but the water was so blue, it was fantastic"! I really enjoyed that skit, but, the truth of the matter was, by the time I have arrived, I was so exhausted, that the option of sitting by or in the gorgeous turquoise waves and not doing or even thinking of anything else was, well, fantastic. By the way, Aruba has two hotel areas: low rise and high rise. Low rise is up to five floors; I do not remember the highest hotel in the high rise area, but I think it had about twenty five floors. Insert smiley face here from a crazy New Yorker.
Out hotel was in the low rise area, and Expedia specified it as not "on the beach". Beach, by the way, was in around two minutes worth of walking:) Never the less, our hotel was not on the beach, but, as a consolation, it had two swimming pools and a hot tub. One pool was designated for the children, because it had giant slide in it. It also had the bar attached to it, so go figure. The other pool was officially for adults; it had waterfall on the northern side, and hot tub was right next to it. Of course, nobody cared who was in which pool; everyone just enjoyed themselves.
Of course, my brother and I, being dorks, had to do something. So, we went on the tour of the island, where we learned a lot of interesting facts about Aruba. One of them was the beer; the other one was that it is customary to have a rum store, a church, and a police station next to each other. We also learned that most of the Arubans are multi-lingual: they have their own dialect based on Dutch, then they learn the official Dutch, plus English and Spanish (for the tourists both from North and South America). Pretty cool, eh? We also saw their one and only lighthouse; in addition, we basically covered the entire island both from North to South, and from East to West.
We visited their numismatic museum, where we saw some really cool old coins, learned about Aruba's money (which is Florins and Cents), plus the attendant, exited at seeing two nerds, pointed out some really funky looking coins for which the late JC was supposed sold. Then we went to the Museum of Aruba's national history (which took about fifteen minutes to see in total). My brother also wanted to see the gallery of local artists, but nixed that idea after the history museum. We also went to Aruba's butterfly farm, where we saw lots and lost of gorgeous butterflies, plus were given a very informative tour with demonstration of butterfly eggs, cocoons, and chrysalis. After that we went to the Bird Sanctuary, where I managed to snap a picture of a camera shy crane, and later on we saw some beautiful green parrots, which were very similar to the ones that have a huge nest on the corner of our block here, in New York.
The most exiting were the Sea Trek and the submarine. Sea Trek works like this: you go to an island, listen to a little safety lecture, then you are given a pair of special slippers (and a wet suit, if desired), then you slowly go down the stairs, and when you are just about to submerge into water, they put a funny looking helmet on you, which basically lets you breathe under water. You get two professional divers for a group of eight, go down to about twenty feet, and literally walk under the sea! So, my bro did just that. I, unfortunately, succumbed to a claustrophobia attack, scared both divers and the guy who was running the show on top, then needed about five minutes to catch my breath, and ended up just watching the rest of the group through the wires that were connected to their breathing helmets. Ah, shoot!
After that, my poor traveling companion kept checking the submarine's dimensions, but this time his fears were unfounded. Submarine was so much fun! We dived to about 110 feet, and saw couple of sunken ships, different coral reefs, and a whole bunch of gorgeous tropical fish. One woman with a little child even found Nemo and Dori!
And, of course, we did a whole lot of shopping for cheap (sorry, inexpensive) souvenirs, in the proses of which we discovered that it pays to come to Aruba for jewelry shopping. And what kind of Caribbean vacation would it be without some exotic cocktails? But we indulged only twice; for the first time I got slightly tipsy; second time was a bit worse. Aruba also boast of a surprisingly large number of casinos, which we both decided to skip.
But, of course, the most important part was those gentle turquoise waves! Ah, what a pleasure! I think our last night there I sat in the ocean for about three hours straight!
And, the final funny: USA departures. If you are flying from Aruba to this blessed country, you clear the customs there. In order to do that, you are told to show up your souvenirs, your luggage, your mug, and the rest of you three hours before the departure time!! Tortured by TSA, poor American citizens usually follow this suggestion, which, of course, is a total bunk. First of all, the employees of different airlines do not even bother opening their computers till about two and a half hours before departure; then you spent about five minutes tops with the costumes agents. But, no liquids on board works also, and your poor shoes have to clear security twice while parted from your feet. Basically, a lot of time to visit duty free shops (which are not that plentiful or exiting), or bars (which are). I wish I would have known that in advance, so I could have spent more time in those luscious turquoise waves on the morning of our departure!
The best good buy was when our taxi driver, after unloading our luggage and thanking us for the tip, politely and with a smile told us "so, see you next month!" Ah, how much I wish it!