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 small 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, when I arrive, eventually, from the Falkland Islands.
Unpack and flop on one of the blond beaches. Divi Beach is certainly beautiful, with white sand, but the bars and resort hotels abutting it are a little ugly. Most of the bars serve hamburgers and grilled sandwiches.
The Divi Village
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.
Venturing into Oranjestad.
The resort is on the edge of the capital, Oranjestad. 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. Much of downtown is grey and utilitarian. Apparently there is some Dutch Colonial architecture if you hunt for it. There's been recent political pressure to maintain the island's' cultural heritage. The store is packed with festive shoppers and I buy steak for tonight and chicken for tomorrow.
31 December 2018 - New Year in Aruba
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.
The Third Best Beach in the World
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. (See my own suggested list of best beaches.)
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.
Rules in Aruba
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…
Aruba - A Useless Island?
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.