Our first port of call Oranjestad. Dutch Antilles Aruba.
You want beaches? Aruba’s got some of the best in the world but, it is a desert island full of Cacti, iguanas and strange boulder formations.
Aruba is still part of the Netherlands so there is a strong Dutch influence. After primary school the kids attend school in Holland at the governments expense. It seems all medical and dental is free but the taxes are high.
A tiny island, only 32km long and 9.7 km across at it’s widest point is less than 20km north of Venezuela.
We made it to shore and was immediately set upon by the local touts expounding the virtues of their tours above the next. We bargained a deal,squeezed into a VW Kombi van with another couple and took off for the local sights. Our driver, black as the ace of spades spoke a rapid version of Dutch English, not the easiest to understand but ok.
With stark windswept hills, towering cacti and rough rocky coastline, the “outback“ is completely different from the posh resort areas. We followed the most popular route to California Lighthouse, Alto Vista Chapel and Casibari Rock formation.
Our hell raising drive over roads without signage was an adventure. We at last reached the Northern most tip of the island and the ”past the use by date“ California Lighthouse. Perched high on it’s hill the beacon has been closed since someone committed suicide by jumping from its summit. The nearby restaurant once served as the lighthouse keepers residence. For a dollar you can use the toilet and also get a bottle of water. Like it or not. The surrounding area features some of the islands most spectacular scenery; gentle sand dunes, rocky coral shoreline and turbulent waves. It is where the Pacific and Caribbean meet.
Following a winding road lined with white timber crosses marking the Stations of the Cross we come upon a bright yellow structure not much bigger than a hut-the picturesque Alto Vista Chapel. Built in 1750, abandoned in the 1800’s and rebuilt 200 years later, the Chapel radiates serenity from it’s cactus studded perch overlooking the sea. The church’s ancient Spanish cross is one of the oldest European artworks in the Dutch Caribbean.
Continuing our adventure while trying to keep up with the monotonous commentary, the terrain seems harsh but the cacti and Divi Divi trees love it. The tall organ pipe thrive along with Prickly Pear and a Barrel type cacti. Soon we come upon alien rocks rising from the cacti and lizard infested hills. Although the boulders weigh several tons each, they look freshly scattered by some cyclopean dice- roller. A climb for the sure-footed resulted in a fabulous panoramic view of the area. A quick drink and ”on the road again“ passing expensive housing complexes owned by ex-pat British and Americans. Some new brightly coloured houses for the locals range in the 700,000 dollars.
Our whirlwind tour of the island ends back at the port.
After walking the main harbour-front road, past the large pastel bus depot building we reached the half mile long Caya G.F.Betico Croes, better known as Main Street where local girls dressed in Caribbean style colourful outfits offer more tours. More tours? No thanks.
The gingerbread pastel-coloured buildings are impossible to miss. Pink, purple, aqua, blue and yellow. Shops, shops and more shops, restaurants and casino’s, markets and the ubiquitous artsy stalls are all ager to relieve you of your dollars. Diamonds International and other internationally known stores share the mix. All sell silver jewellery but of vastly different values.
With the temperature rapidly rising we enjoyed a pineapple,apricot and mango smoothie. Ah! relief for the parched throat.
Back to the Maasdam and to another day at sea.