Saturday, January 19, 2008

Aruba: One Happy Island

The slogan on Aruba’s license plate reads “One Happy Island.” These three simple words accurately convey the carefree attitude of the locals, the slapdash charm of the brightly colored bungalows, and the prevalence of loud Caribbean music emanating from the (very) slowly moving cars. All of this easy allure set amid an astonishingly beautiful landscape results in a sort of zany, smoked out utopia, where everyone is always high or else just very, very polite all of the time. Strangers wave enthusiastically to each other as they pass on the road, friendly chitchat is a way of life, and no one ever lays on the horn. Goats and lizards hold up traffic by skittering across dusty roads, service is inattentive (yet affable), and it always seems to be 5 o’clock somewhere. I witnessed no scowling, no pushiness and no impatience from either customers or those employed anywhere on the island – and if you have ever shopped at a Duane Reade drugstore in Manhattan and have witnessed the surly behavior of both customer and employee you will appreciate this surprise along with me.

However, this sunny island idyll is not for everyone. Frankly, sophisticated nightlife and dining options would deter those looking for a four or five star experience. You won’t find caviar and Russian vodka, and I’d imagine even a Cosmo might be hard to come by (although I didn’t embarrass myself by checking given the fact that we were at a dive bar). Aruba doesn’t strike me as this type of an island. Instead, it’s best suited for outdoor adventure seekers, laidback sun-worshippers or penny pinching students looking to soak up a little local charm while they spend their days in the water.

We happened to spend the day on an adventure of our own off-roading around the island in Jeeps – bumping over rocky hills, dirt roads, and arid brush as we witnessed the beauty of six natural bridges carved out of the landscape by erosion. We also made pit stops at the famous California lighthouse, the Alto Vista Chapel and the Casibari Rock formation, choosing to finish the day snorkeling around the coral reefs. Topping it all off with a few Balashis (the local beer here) at a second-story bar overlooking the island’s coastline was the perfect ending to a perfect day.

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