Aruba Ariba

No Caribbean vacation would be complete without enjoying a rum-based cocktail in an oceanfront bar. My choice on this trip was to try an Aruba Ariba, one of a number of different options that would have fit the bill.

The barkeep cautioned me that an Aruba Ariba should be sipped, not guzzled. When you read the traditional recipe for the drink, you will understand why: ½ ounce vodka, ½ ounce white rum, ¼ ounce Grand Marnier, 1 ounce crème de banana, and fruit punch made from orange juice, lemon juice, pineapple juice, and grenadine syrup. The Bucuti & Tara beach resort version of the cocktail is served with a wedge of orange and a maraschino cherry. It has a pleasantly fruity flavor and is not too sweet, which is appreciated. It’s an ideal drink for a day where you have been in the sun and are feeling a warm tropical breeze as you look out over the ocean.

I sipped my drink, following bartender’s orders, and also took some water breaks in between, for the record.

A Redemption Tale

The world of literature is filled with redemption tales. From ancient mythology to the stories of the Bible, from medieval narratives to modern novels, the basic contours of a redemption story plot have proven to be irresistible: the hero does something terrible, is tormented by his misdeed and seeks atonement, and must face some incredible challenge in order to redeem himself and wipe the slate clean. Sometimes the hero successfully meets the challenge, and sometimes he doesn’t.

In Greek mythology, perhaps the most famous redemption tale is that of Heracles (Hercules, in its Romanized form). Hera, the queen of the gods, hated Heracles because he was the son of her husband Zeus, kind of the gods, and Alcmene, a mortal princess who Zeus had tricked and seduced. Heracles’ presence therefore was a constant reminder to Hera of Zeus’ extraordinary and never-ending infidelity and philandering. To punish Heracles, Hera caused him to go mad–and in the throes of madness Heracles killed his wife and children.

When the madness lifted and Heracles realized with horror what he had done, he sought guidance from the famous oracle at Delphi, which advised that he must go into the service of King Eurystheus in order to atone for the murders. The King then required Heracles to complete a dozen seemingly impossible tasks requiring immense physical strength, stamina, extraordinary fortitude, and intelligence and guile, besides. The tasks included slaying the nine-headed Hydra, cleaning the colossal (and filthy) Augean cattle stables in a single day, and bringing the three-headed dog Cerberus, the guardian of the gates of hell, up from the underworld. Heracles completed all of the labors and was thereby redeemed.

Tonight we will see how another redemption story plays out. The Ohio State Buckeyes seek redemption in the College Football Playoff semifinal game after a disastrous second-half performance against Michigan a month ago. To start on the road to redemption, the Buckeyes don’t need to slay the Hydra, but they instead must defeat the mighty and top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, a three-headed powerhouse on defense, offense, and special teams. Rather than 12 labors, the Buckeyes will need to play a complete game of four quarters of tough, disciplined, hardnosed football, block and tackle, avoid penalties, execute under great pressure, go toe-to-toe with a great and talented team, and perhaps bring some guile and misdirection into play as well.

It’s a plotline as old as time, and we’ll be rooting that the Buckeyes–like Heracles–meet the challenges before them so that redemption lies ahead. Go Bucks!

Big Boats

Oranjestad is the Aruban port where the big cruise ships dock. As we ate our dinner last night I marveled, once again, at just how huge some of the cruise ships are. This passing cruise liner was colossal, but it was dwarfed by an even bigger ship that left the port about a half hour earlier. I’ve never been on a ship of that size, but I imagine it carries thousands of passengers.

Whenever I see a cruise ship of that size, I think about what it would be like if The Poseidon Adventure were filmed on one of these modern, titanic vessels. Shelley Winters would have to do a lot more swimming, Gene Hackman would have even more perils to overcome, and it was take Ernest Borgnine a lot longer to get everyone to the propeller shaft.

On The “Jeeps Only” Trail

Yesterday we decided to get away from the resort and explore a bit of the rest of the island of Aruba. On the advice of the Long-Haired Red Sox Fan, we rented a Jeep Wrangler so that we could explore the mostly uninhabited “wild side” of the island. It proved to be a memorable experience, but perhaps not in precisely the way the LHRSF conveyed.

Our journey began at the northern tip of Aruba, at the California lighthouse shown above. It was crawling with tour buses and tourists, but the area provided a nice view of the surrounding area. Interestingly, this part of Aruba is very desert-like. The landscape around the lighthouse featured prickly pear cactus, saguaro cactus, and other desert fauna.

At the bottom of the lighthouse promontory we turned right, off the paved road onto a “Jeeps-only” trail and left the tour buses behind. The trail was described as a “dirt road,” but really “trail” is a better description of it. It was a rocky, twisting, deeply rutted track that was more like what you would expect to find in an X Games off-roading competition. The Wrangler held up well under the conditions–any normal car or bus would break an axle within 100 yards of the turn-off point–but fair warning should be given to any drivers and passengers who want to take the trail. It is truly a rough ride.

Unless you rent one of the dune buggies that some people were riding along the trail, you can expect an incredibly bone-jarring, kidney-busting journey that is beyond your wildest imagination. I’ve driven on dirt roads before, but nothing approaching the Jeeps-only trail. If you’ve ever bought a gallon of paint from a hardware store and had them mix it–where they put the can into the machine that agitates it like an overly aggressive bartender with a cocktail shaker–you have a mild sense of what driving on the road was like. The dune buggies were flying past, but we decided to take it slow to try to preserve the Wrangler and our internal organs. The rough road did provide incentive to periodically stop the car and the swaying and tossing and explore the surroundings–like Druif beach, shown above.

The Jeep-only trail runs along the coastline, heading directly southeast. The ocean clearly is a lot rougher on that side of the island, with the waves crashing into the land mass and lots of spraying surf. There are only a few small houses along the way, and it isn’t clear whether people live there currently. As you proceed along the trail, the coastline and roaring ocean is to your left, and to your right are lots of rock formations and dry areas, like that seen above

The coastline featured lots of different kind of rock formations, from a kind of spiny coral-type rock at Druif beach to some larger boulders and other kinds of rock as we moved southeast along the oceanfront. All of the rocks were getting pounded by the surf, and the surf, unfortunately, brought other things too–in some areas significant amounts of plastic debris from the ocean had washed up and been deposited on the rocky beaches.

After a long, bouncing ride over the rough road, we reached an interesting point at which the tide had cut a cave-like entrance through the coastline rock formation. I found myself wondering how long this feature would be able to hold up against the pounding surf before collapsing. You wouldn’t want to get into the water in this area, for fear of being smashed against the rocks by the rugged surf.

A little farther along the road we reached the Bushiribana ruins, which are the remnants of a large smelting works built in 1872 by the Aruba Island Gold-mining Company. According to our guide map, the smelting works were only in operation for 10 years, but the ruins remain. Kids and adults who were happy to be out of their cars were crawling all over the fallen rocks inside the ruins, but a few of the ocean-facing windows remain intact and provide a nice view of the Caribbean beyond.

Across the road from the ruins there is a field where people have constructed stone sculptures, as seen in the photo below. We weren’t tempted to construct one of them, but instead were motivated to find an exit from the Jeeps-only trail and back to the world of paved roads and civilization. Fortunately, after only a few more minutes of shake, rattle, and roll, there was a turnoff, and we took it with pleasure and relief. That means we didn’t follow the dirt track into the national park, but our kidneys thanked us for the sacrifice.

Sunset Shots

Aruba, like many Caribbean islands, is a great place for sunsets. Above is a photo of last night’s effort, taken as we were waiting to head to dinner at our resort. Below is tonight’s handiwork of Mother Nature, taken as we were having dinner at a seaside restaurant just south of Oranjestad, Aruba’s main town. We thought they were both pretty special.

Sunset Shots

Aruba, like many Caribbean islands, is a great place for sunsets. Above is a photo of last night’s effort, taken as we were waiting to head to dinner at our resort. Below is tonight’s handiwork of Mother Nature, taken as we were having dinner at a seaside restaurant just south of Oranjestad, Aruba’s main town. We thought they were both pretty special.

Key Advances In Beachfront Technology

Our excellent resort in Aruba, Bucuti & Tara, is at the cutting edge of beachfront technology. I say this because the resort’s beachfront options feature developments I’ve not seen before in the essential umbrella, towel, and lounge chair categories. For example, you reserve your umbrella using a tablet in your room, with reservations becoming available at 5 p.m. for the next day’s umbrella location–and you’d better be quick with a click at 5 o’clock on the dot if you want one of the front row umbrellas.

I’m been more impressed, however, by two nifty advancements that avoid some common beach seating annoyances. The first is a towel design that has a kind of hood that fits over the back of the chaise lounge, as shown in the photo above. As a result, the towel stays snugly atop the back of the chair, and you don’t have the issue of the towel slipping down a chair that has been put into 45-degree reading position and then uncomfortably bunching up behind the small of your back in a wrinkled, damp wad. The second advancement is a kind of belt at the foot of the chair cushion, shown in the photo below. This thoughtful option allows you to slip your towel under the belt and anchor the towel so it doesn’t slip off the end of the chair and get all sandy–which can be literally irritating.

I don’t know the names of the Edisons who came up with these inventions, but I salute them. Now, if someone could just invent suntan lotion that doesn’t attract grains of sand and cause them to bond to your skin like Superglue . . . .

The Fofoti Trees Of Eagle Beach

Our resort is located on Aruba’s Eagle Beach. At one end of the beach, in a sandy area atop a rocky outcropping next to the water, you will find a stand of the amazing Fofoti trees–which have to be among the coolest trees anywhere, as well as some of the most photographed.

The Fofoti trees are of the species Conocarpus erectus, and are also known as the buttonwood or button mangrove tree. But on Aruba, which is constantly swept by brisk trade winds, the Fofoti trees have a special characteristic: they have been twisted and shaped by the constant gusts. The trees have a deeply gnarled trunk and have been bent almost to the ground, and they always point to the southwest, which is the direction of the prevailing breeze. As trees go, the Fofoti are pretty amazing.

Pappa’s Eight Rules Of Etiquette

Last night we went to a great restaurant called Papiamento for a terrific dinner, and after dinner we decided to visit Pappa’s cigar lounge, named for the cigar-loving patriarch of the clan that owns the restaurant. That’s him in the photo above, in the chair facing the camera. While at Pappa’s I savored our meal as I smoked a very fine cigar, sipped some excellent port, and enjoying a nice conversation with Pappa, his son, and one of their friends.

Interestingly, Pappa has published eight “rules of etiquette” for people who come to the cigar lounge. They are a pretty good guide for proper conduct, not only in cigar lounges specifically, but in visiting establishments generally:

  1. Don’t bring in outside cigars. Customers are expected to support the lounge and not take advantage of the amenities without buying a cigar (or a drink).
  2. Stay out of the humidor and ask for assistance.
  3. Leave the cigars of other people alone.
  4. Don’t stick a cigar from the humidor up to your nose, in the event you decide it’s not the right cigar for you.
  5. No trash talking, no religious discussion, and no politics.
  6. Don’t wet the cap of the cigar before cutting it, so as to keep the cutter sanitary.
  7. Watch your ashes to avoid accidents.
  8. Don’t expect freebies, because Pappa’s is “a big boys’ room.”

When you think about it, the eight rules all boil down to having respect for an establishment and its owners and acting accordingly. We scrupulously complied with the rules (especially rule no. 5, which is a challenge for many people these days) and enjoyed a very pleasant, wide-ranging conversation that touched on David Bowie, Salvador Dali, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the guitar playing of George Harrison, the World Cup final, the history of the restaurant, and other interesting topics. The world would probably be a more pleasant place if everyone follow Pappa’s rules.

What Makes A Great Walking Beach?

We’re staying at a beachfront resort in Aruba. That’s a good thing, because one of my favorite things to do on a beach vacation is to walk the beach. But not just any beach is a good walking beach. There are certain crucial elements that must be satisfied to make a stretch of oceanfront sand into a beachwalker’s dream, and fortunately our beach in Aruba has them all.

The first key element of a good walking beach is a visible destination in the far distance. It helps to have a goal as you stride along, so you can see that you are making progress. Our resort in Aruba is at about the halfway point of a long arc of beach. If you walk out to the oceanfront, to the right you can see some buildings in the far distance, and to the left the beach bends around a point. That’s a perfect combination: to the right is a goal, and to the left is . . . mystery. I chose the goal to start and headed right, toward the buildings.

The second important characteristic of a great walking beach is good sand conditions. It helps if the beach is wide, so there is plenty of room to steer around other groups of walkers and kids playing in the sand, and you also want a sizeable strip of sand that has been packed down by the surfline, to provide a firmer walking surface. And I don’t mind shells, but it also helps if there aren’t areas where lots of crushed shells have washed up, making for a tough slog through mounds of shell fragments. The Aruba beach is almost totally shell-free and has a broad area of compacted sand, which is pretty much ideal.

Another nice element of a good walking beach is some interesting geography and other scenic features. The Aruba beach walk, heading to the right, ends in a ridge of hard, spiny, coral-like rock, just past the buildings. The surf smashes into the rocks with a mighty roar, sending cascades of white spray into the air. there also are some channels within the rockline that have been created by the pounding of the water, so the surf hisses through the rock and sends up jets of spray when it hits the end of the channels.

I also pay attention to the length of the beach itself. In my view, it’s preferable if the length is manageable. Our beachfront in Aruba is probably about 4 miles in length, from one end to the other, and the photo above shows the arc of the beachfront from the top of the rock formation at the right end of the beach. The length is long enough to make you feel like you’re getting some good exercise and fresh sea air, but not so long to be dispiriting.

And the last important element of a good beach walk is a few surprises along the way. When I headed to the left from our resort and rounded the bend, I found a much more commercialized stretch of beach, with lots of oceanfront bars and restaurants. I resisted the temptation to stop and toss back a few Balashis, and headed onward, threading through some rock formations on the beach along the way. The journey to the left end of the beach ended at another rock formation, where there was an abandoned jetty and some sea birds taking a break by perching on the old pilings of the pier. The sun was high in the sky, the sunshine on the water was dazzling, and it was time to turn around and start back again.

On The Balashi Train

One of the very best things about a holiday trip to the Caribbean–and there are many good things to choose from–is sampling the local beer. In Aruba, one of the local beers is called Balashi. Like virtually all local Caribbean brews, it is a pilsner. No Russian Imperial Stouts or Triple IPAs or heavy porters down here–the traditional pilsners rule the day in this region of bright sunlight glinting off brilliant azure water. In the hot Caribbean climate, nothing suits for thirst-quenching purposes quite as well as a frosty pilsner, straight from the bottle.

Like all good Caribbean beers, Balashi is light and refreshing and is best served — and consumed — ice cold, almost to the point that you would get brain freeze. That maximizes the cooling effect and the contrast to the sultry weather. And Balashi has one nice feature that other Caribbean beers, like Sands or Belikin or Kalik or Piton, don’t offer–it comes in nifty eight-ounce bottles. The little bottles remind this native Midwesterner of Schoenling’s Little Kings, the beer that you got if you wanted to take a step above Stroh’s or Robin Hood Cream Ale back in the ’70s. And like Little Kings, those little bottles of Balashi go down very easy and stay cold all the way to the end, just the way you want.

I quaffed three of the Balashis without really realizing it, and wasn’t even troubled when the hat of the woman sitting next to me at the bar was blown by a gust of wind and and knocked over my about half-finished brewski. The woman apologized, the barkeep mopped up the mess, and he served me another ice-cold Balashi, on the house. It went down easy, too, and got our Aruba excursion off to a good start.

The Seat Next To The Bathroom

Yesterday I drew the short straw on our flight from Philadelphia to Aruba. We were flying on one of the big planes that has a mid-cabin bathroom, and I was assigned the unlucky seat right across the aisle from the commode. I was so close to the bathroom I could reach out and shove the door shut without leaving my seat—something that I regrettably had to do multiple times during the flight.

The seat next to the bathroom is not a prime location under any circumstances, but the passengers on our flight didn’t help matters. Curiously, some people evidently are confused about the etiquette of closing the bathroom door after they have exited. If you have any doubt on this question, please have pity on the person sitting next to the bathroom and shut the door! Some people left the door wide open in their urgent zeal to leave the area, treating me to a great view like the one below. Others would halfheartedly leave the door in a partially closed position, which just meant the door would open to full toilet display mode during the next spot of turbulence. I’m not sure if Emily Post ever addressed the question, but the correct answer is that propriety demands full closure of the door.

The area around my seat also became a kind of gathering spot for those in waiting. Here are some things to keep in mind if you find yourself in that position. First, remember that the area is not a cocktail lounge, and there is no need to chatter away inches from the guy who is unfortunately seated there. One overly enthusiastic women, for example, kept promising another person waiting that she would be quicker than the current occupant of the bathroom. A respectful silence is preferable to such witty commentary. Second, the headrest of my seat is not a leaning post or a handrest, either. And third, I’m really not interested in engaging in conversation with those who are waiting.

It was a four-hour flight, so I had plenty of practical experience to help me in developing these pointers. Please keep them in mind for your next flight—the poor guy in the seat next to the bathroom would appreciate it.

A Moosehead Lake Weekend

Mother Nature threw a curve ball at our plans for an outdoorsy weekend at Moosehead Lake. The big storm soaked the area in torrential freezing rain, and the high winds knocked down many trees. When we tried to drive to a hiking area the morning after the storm had passed, we discovered we were penned in by fallen trees and downed power lines. So, we contented ourselves with exploring the downtown areas, where these photos were taken, eating meals at the excellent Dockside restaurant, and checking out the shops.

Alas, I did not see a live moose, but we’ll have to try again. I liked Moosehead Lake and would like to come again in the summer, when — hopefully— freezing rain and ice are not part of the forecast.

You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch

We’re at the point in the holiday season where many of us have begun to experience Christmas music soundtrack overload, and we feel like we might go into a saccharine sentiment coma if we hear It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year even one more time. That’s why You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch has become such an essential part of the holiday season. You can be sitting in a restaurant, hearing a standard mix of songs like Up On The Housetop and Frosty the Snowman, and then suddenly detect the strains of You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch cutting directly through the sugar content, and you find yourself using your best super-deep voice to sing about bad bananas with greasy black peels.

Written as a key part of the TV broadcast of How The Grinch Stole Christmas that was first broadcast in 1966, the music for You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch was composed by Albert Hague, and the song was memorably sung for the TV show by Thurl Ravenscroft, the same actor who voiced Tony the Tiger and his “they’re great!” catchphrase. But it is the lyrics to the song–penned by Dr. Seuss himself–that are a hilarious revelation and a wonderful antidote to the unrelenting spun sugar sweetness of most holiday soundtracks. Here they are, in all their glory:

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch
You really are a heel
You’re as cuddly as a cactus, you’re as charming as an eel, Mr. Grinch
You’re a bad banana with a greasy black peel!

You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch
Your heart’s an empty hole
Your brain is full of spiders, you’ve got garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch
I wouldn’t touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole!

You’re a vile one, Mr. Grinch
You have termites in your smile
You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile, Mr. Grinch
Given a choice between the two of you I’d take the seasick crocodile!

You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch
You’re a nasty-wasty skunk
Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch
The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote
“Stink, stank, stunk!”

You’re a rotter, Mr. Grinch
You’re the king of sinful sots
Your heart’s a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots, Mr. Grinch
Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful
Assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots!

You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch
With a nauseous super “naus”!
You’re a crooked dirty jockey and you drive a crooked hoss, Mr. Grinch
You’re a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce!

You have to give Dr. Seuss credit for coming up with lyrics like “your heart’s a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots.” He understood that the Christmas spirit is best demonstrated with some negative contrast, before the central character is redeemed. It’s the same approach that makes Dickens’ A Christmas Carol such a classic.

And maybe I’m wrong–but doesn’t it seem that You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch becomes more popular every year?