Square Change

I had to gas up the Jeep before returning it, because the rental agreement was to return it with a full tank. I paid in U.S. dollars, which are accepted everywhere in Aruba, but got my change back in the official Aruban currency, the florin.

The Aruban 50-cent piece is a square, as shown in the photo above. I think it’s the first square coin I’ve ever handled. It’s actually a handy shape, because you can detect it immediately when you are fishing around in your pocket for the right change. It makes me wonder why more coins don’t deviate from the standard circular shape and go with squares, triangles, and other shapes you learned about in junior high geometry class.

The key thing about getting foreign coins in change is to be sure to use them up, or leave them in your hotel room when you depart. I managed to remember to do that, with the coins becoming part of our tip to the maid, and thereby managed to avoid adding to my collection of francs, kroner, marks, and other unusable currency kept in a wooden box on my dresser.

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.

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.