We flew over the island of Aruba before making a turn to come into the airport, and we could see the battered east coast as well as the calm aqua waters of the west coast scattered with hotels. For a tiny island it sure has a lot of hotels!
Our taxi driver was an interesting chap. He thanked God about every 5 seconds, for the lovely place he lives, the times when they get rain so his farms can produce fruit (not often, it hadn't rained for 15 months), and he even told us God was the reason we found our destination easily (nothing to do with the directions our host gave us which we read out to him as we went).
We stayed with a Dutch guy called Benny, an avid windsurfer who wound up in Aruba 10 years ago after a divorce. He built a house, with 2 separate apartments that he rents out, which is about 15 minutes walk to either Palm beach (the high rise hotel area) or Eagle beach (the low rise hotel area).
Our first stop was the supermarket for some groceries, and this enormous Dutch supermarket was the most exciting food shop we have done in ages. They had everything! Such yummy deli foods and sweet foods, we wanted to buy everything! But we controlled ourselves and purchased just the essentials.
In the afternoon we went to Palm beach, as we wanted to book into a tour of the island with a company based there. The beach was beautiful. Crystal waters and white sands, though packed with little shelters and beach lounges out the front of every hotel.
After booking our tour, we went for a dip and attempted to sun bake a while, but unfortunately it was quite windy and after losing a layer of skin as the wind blew the sand across us, we gave in. Apparently that is why you pay so much extra for a hotel with free access to beach lounges!
We made our way back to our room via Eagle Beach, to find the hotel where our tour would pick us up in the morning, then sat on the patio at Benny's, a nice little green oasis. We enjoyed a bottle of Australian wine (the only ones with screw caps), some cheese and crackers and watching the honey eaters on the feeder Benny had.
The next day we met our tour bus for our day trip around the island. After some commentary on the high rise hotels as we passed them, we stopped at the lighthouse at the northern tip of the island. We couldn't actually enter the lighthouse, but there were some nice views along the coast from the hilltop on which it sat.
Next stop was a little church called Alta Vista Chapel. This church on a hilltop with nothing much but cacti around it was built in 1952, where the original had stood, which was built in 1750. And is a place for local pilgrimage once a year. We were more interested in the labyrinth of silence, made from rocks in the sand, which we zigzagged through wondering what spiritual enlightenment it might bring us (none, it turned out).
The bus then took us along the east coast of Aruba, a rocky, wind battered coastline. We stopped at a section where two natural bridges once stood, though one collapsed in 2005 leaving only the smaller of the two remaining.
We carried on towards our lunch stop, and as we did, the skies opened above us and it poured with rain! No rain for 15 months and we managed to be there for it! Our lunch stop wasn't very well designed for rain either. The tables were all on a balcony, half of which was saturated as the rain came in sideways. The roof leaked in places, though mostly just above the toilets which were only covered with planks of wood.
It was a pretty miserable lunch with average food, though fortunately the rain died down soon after. We drove through flooded streets and past the desalination plant that supplies Aruba's water, supposedly the second largest in the world, and on to Baby Beach at the southern end of Aruba.
It was a nice little beach, though not that exciting to look at on a wet day with grey skies. A little bay was created by rocky peninsulas and we were here to go snorkelling. Given the weather, we were the only people on our bus silly enough to go in! We snorkelled around the entrance of the bay to the sea where some really nice fish were swimming around, until it got a bit cold.
We had a nice day though it might have been considerably nicer without the pesky rain! In the evening, we decided to take a walk to the high rise hotel area which had a bunch of shops along the way and a shopping centre at the end, in search of new shoes for Fergus. Through all the souvenir shops, designer shops and jewellery shops, we didn't have any luck finding an outdoor shop.
Our last full day in Aruba we had reserved for lying on the beach and visiting downtown Oranjestad. We went to Eagle beach, a bit nicer and quieter than Palm Beach. We spent a long time soaking in the warm, clear water, but not much time relaxing on the sand due to the pesky wind/sand blasting problem.
When it got quite hot we headed into town and roamed the shops. While we had some luck finding shoes, they didn't have the right size for Fergus. By now it was mid afternoon and we were really hungry, so we went to a place called Iguana Joe's for some lunch. We each had Mexican and the meals were huge, washed down by some nice cocktails.
The downtown area itself was actually quite nice, with colourful old buildings and clean streets filled with US tourists. Though after wandering the streets in the hot sun we were desperate to get back into the water, and stopped back at the beach for a dip on the way home.
Our plan for the last morning was for an early dip, then return to shower and pack before checkout. This plan was cruelly thwarted by upset stomachs and multiple bathroom visits. Poor Fergus spent most of the night awake having been hit much worse. So we stayed in bed a while later and eventually recovered enough to pack and get to the airport.
We would love to visit Aruba again, for longer and with enough money to stay in a nice hotel. Benny's apartment was lovely but not on the beach, and didn't include a beach lounge or a waiter to bring cocktails!