After our quick stint in Curaçao we hopped over to Aruba, The Happy Island. Our hostel was quaint and sunny with a small pool and a serious bed upgrade (a king!) from our previous hostel. We were looked after by the owner’s mother, who spoke only Spanish, and would cook breakfast for us in the morning. After settling in, we walked downtown and spent the afternoon strolling along the waterfront, seeing all the glossy, luxury stores contrasted against the slightly dusty and outdated touristed shops.
We ate dinner at The West Deck, which for the fist time on our trip, was completely packed. A popular beach-front shack featuring tapas-style local dishes and fruity cocktails. We enjoyed fungi, fresh grouper, Balashi (the locally brewed beer) and fresh passionfruit margaritas. After watching the so-beautiful-it-looks-fake sunset, we called it a night.
The next day we decided to have a Patrick-day and Maja-day, where we spend time apart to do whatever we want independently. Patrick spent the day finishing and launching the Primaries website with Parakeet, and I arranged an island tour for myself. My tour guide, J, is a cancer surviver, junior architect, motivational speaker, and part time tour guide. After picking me up in his open air Jeep painted like a tiger, we spent the next four hours together circumnavigating the entire island and getting to know each other.
We climbed down a narrow wooden ladder into the Natural Pool at Boca, a small pool of water hidden inside an oceanside cave. We went off-roading through the entire Arikok National Park, plowing over steep rocky paths, each more tumultuous than the next. “It’s like a free massage!” J would yell, as we were slammed from side to side, smiling the entire time.
We stopped at Conchi, another natural pool, which before becoming a swimming area for tourists, was used by fisherman to raise sea turtles until capturing them for food became illegal.
We crawled through the Guadirkiki Caves, filled with native cave paintings, legends of trapped souls, and many, many bats.
We climbed over the Breathing Rocks to hear them sigh as the ocean flowed in and out below them. We explored the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, where 3 million pounds of Aruban gold was processed starting in 1824.
We saw the chapel of Alto Vista which was completed in 1952 and stands on the same location as the original, built in 1750.
We drove by Boca Catalina, the blackstone beach, Eagle beach, and just about every other beach on the island. We drove past the Wish Garden, where thousands of tourists have built cairns, each rock symbolizing one of their greatest wishes as they stack them on top of each other.
We saw both lighthouses, the Northern lighthouse under remodel to allow tourists to climb to the top, and the Southern lighthouse, nothing more than a 8 foot pole with a light in a cage stuck to the top. We stopped at the oceanside pet cemetery, and walked through the hundreds of tiny handmade crosses, carefully painted with names like Fluffy and Tito.
We drove through the different neighborhoods on the island so I could get a feel for “real Aruba, not just tourist Aruba”. We went everywhere from “The Hamptons of Aruba” to the “left behind neighborhoods”, J pointing out restaurant recommendations and soccer fields he likes as we passed.
Completely happy and thoroughly dusty, J dropped me off at the Hyatt Regency where I met Patrick at the pool bar. He had spent the past two hours walking through town and taking pictures of lizards. We scarfed down a quick snack before hopping on the Dolphin for a sunset booze cruise. We sat in the front nets of the catamaran and drank the special, Aruba Ariba (vodka, rum, fruit punch, orange juice, and a splash of whiskey) as we watched the sun go down.
Back on land, we walked along the strip in front of the high rise hotels until we came across Amore Mio, where we enjoyed Napoletana style pizza. Our waiter Michael, wearing some incredible vintage hightop Nikes, gave us suggestions for Bogotá and free limoncello at the end of the night. After a scoop of Ferrero Rocher gelato next door, we headed back to our hostel for the evening.
The following morning we packed up and headed to the Airport for our next stop, Panama City. Overall, Aruba felt really touristy, but with the unbelievably clear water and perfect white sand beaches, I’ll probably return.