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krisek Oranjestad - A travel report by Krys
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Oranjestad,  Aruba - flag Aruba
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krisek's travel reports

Giant lizards in the sun on Aruba.

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Aruba is the ‘A’ island of the ABC South American islands, just off the coast of Venezuela - the Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. No longer is Aruba part of the Dutch Antilles, though. With its ‘status aparte’ it is the closest to full independence.


Oranjestad travelogue picture
Aruba has a reputation of having the best beaches in the Caribbean (I agree!) and it suddenly became an island where I ended spending the largest number of days than on any other Caribbean island on this trip. Unintentionally! I was stuck due to a temporary lack of flights and a permanent lack of any other form of transport linking with other islands. I was rather unhappy with this, as my plan was packed with nine other islands, some much larger and more interesting. And there I was stranded for extra two days on Aruba. And weather was doing my head, too. Raining intermittently.

Aruba treated its autonomy with unprecedented seriousness. There were appropriate immigration and customs controls at the airport with all flights considered international. Well, the island had its own Arubian Parliament, flag and government but also a central bank issuing Arubian florins, a the only legal currency. All separate from the Dutch Antilles. The Kingdom of the Netherlands ‘promised’ to grant a full independence to both Aruba and the Dutch Antilles when their economies are mature and stable enough. Aruba managed to negotiate a step further, annoyed with the dominant position of Curacao, and now effectively considered an independent state.

The island looked almost flat and relatively boring to me. With weather playing wet, I struggled to figure out what to do. Surely, with a larger budget one would have many more options to kill time. Aruba was no stranger to a group of travel agents happy to separate tourists from their florins. Most of them offered ocean trips to do snorkelling and diving. Since it was raining, being wet anyway sounded like a good idea to many. But not to me. I was more focused on exploring the land than the seas.

Favourite spots:
Arashi Beach
Arashi Beach
The lovely beach Arashi and the famous California Lighthouse at the northern end of the island were my favourite spots. Tourists, who were taking a few pictures of the lighthouse, gave me a lift to the Arashi beach. The walk down the hill to the beach was very tricky and there was no walkway or path.

I stayed about 1.5h on the calm, picturesque beach absorbing the sunrays until the sunset. Four local guys came to take a sunset dip in the ocean. They were really enjoying it and it was the first time that I saw any local people on the beach. Arashi was slightly away from hotels and it was pretty empty. I could see why locals preferred coming all the way to the end of the island to take a swim. I asked them if they could give me a lift to the town. They put a few extra miles to take me to the central bus terminal. They were very funny and talkative. Their dilapidated van was on its last legs. The side door could not be closed properly and the seats were loose. I truly loved that ride.

What's really great:
Oranjestad travelogue picture
I decided to go on a sunset cruise with Jolly Pirates. It was possibly the best and cheapest way to get completely sloshed with free and unlimited sundowners. The ride was great, and I could finally socialise a little with some completely and unreasonably stupid holiday makers. It was totally obvious that many of them treated this cruise as a way of abusing the intake of alcohol. They didn’t give a toss about the sunset. The cruise had, what they called, a pirate swing, which was basically swinging from the boat to the sea. The captain of the boat was the best in jumping in the most acrobatic of ways. The youth, who was already plastered tried a few tricks, which I can only call utterly irresponsible. I guess they would’ve been saved by the crew, so it didn’t matter to anyone. It was somewhat funny and the sunset was great.

The Jolly Pirates where operating from the Highrise Hotel Area. An area, whose name would normally repel me. I liked it though for the many hangouts and beach bars.

Sights:
Oranjestad travelogue picture
The centre of the capital, Oranjestad, had interesting examples of modern interpretation of seventeenth century Dutch architecture. The buildings were painted in vivid colours and I loved that. It had pleasant alleys, too.

I decided to visit the only Dutch windmill in West Indies. I thought that since I wasn’t exercising (17h on airplanes!) and I had beer the night before, a longer hike would only make it good to me. I suspected the windmill wasn’t near but when I asked for directions people thought I was nutts. No-one sensible walked farther than a few hundred yards. They claimed it was too hot. I respectfully disagreed, and energetically embarked on the hike. It was great. It took just over an hour. I passed a few American style bars, restaurants and uptown shopping centres. I also noted that the majority of vehicles were American and carried US-style plates stating One Happy Island - Aruba. The windmill was kept in excellent condition. So perfect that it looked new or even fake.

Accommodations:
Oranjestad travelogue picture
Of course it would’ve been better to have booked a hotel well in advance particularly in the festive season like New Year's Eve. However I must’ve thought my bloodstream needed some more adrenaline. A few hours before the flight, I tried the internet but all hotels, apart from the USD 450 a night Renaissance Hotel, were full. So, I was surprised that a Spanish-American travel agent booked a room at a grand villa only to fail confirm it, claiming that they were dealing with a few at the time and didn’t realise the hotel had no availability for the period I wanted. They chose to tell me this as I was already on the plane to Aruba.
When I mentioned this to the immigration officer, she sounded very concerned and suggested a reasonably priced Holiday Inn (!). But a taxi driver took me to Hotel LaFayette (now called Hotel Victoria) on the main shopping street in the capital so I wouldn’t have to go too far for the New Year's actions. It was a bit shabby but adequate for $35.

Nightlife:
Oranjestad travelogue picture
From the air, Aruba looked very lively with many fireworks going off already at 7 p.m. Yet, on the ground it was surprisingly quiet. I spent an hour looking for a bar. I was getting increasingly concerned that I was going to celebrate the coming of 2006 too quietly. Eventually, I stumbled upon Scandals, a pub which was closing at 10 p.m. shocking me further. A couple of guys there told me not to worry but cross the street and go to Chaos, a night club which was opening at 10 p.m. I did. I was the only customer there by 10.30 p.m. but the venue warmed up quickly and from 1 a.m. there was a band called Crystal Breeze playing live. There were a few other pubs and bars in the capital, but the hippiest and busiest nightlife was concentrated around the Highrise Hotel Area. There, the nightclubs and bars are either directly in the sand of the beach or on the piers a few yards off the shore. And yet, some of them are exclusively for patrons of the all-inclusive resorts! Shame!

Hangouts:
Oranjestad main shopping area
Oranjestad main shopping area
Fortunately, there were still some, which welcomed anyone with cash. Particularly those around the Moomba Beach, including the Moomba Beach Bar! The beaches around were fine if a little too crowded and the bars at numerous piers offered superb sea breeze sitting. Even, if one could not get a drink at all of them, sitting there and watching the sea and the sunset was very pleasant.

In Oranjestad the pink buildings of the shopping centre, adjacent to the huge Renaissance Hotel along the waterfront street, housed not only jewelry shops but also atmospheric cafes and petite restaurants, with balconies overlooking the sea - a perfect spot for an ice-cream or a milkshake in the early afternoon.

The other hangout area in the capital was near the other Renaissance Apt Hotel, around a large cinema. This was where Scandals pub was, but also other cafes, bars, pubs and restaurants. All rather perfect for coffee, chatting, writing postcards. Late evenings saw them lit atmospherically.

Restaurants:
Oranjestad travelogue picture
As I was making a compete loop around the islands (Aruba, Curacao, St Maarten, Antigua, Dominica, St Lucia, Martinique, Barbados, Granada, Puerto Rico, Aruba) I saved some florins for my last two meals on the island, before taking off to Amsterdam. I opted for a lobster dinner at one of the restaurants near the cinema, and the place where all the iguanas were taking advantage of a sunny day. It was called The Waterfront Crabhouse. There were six or eight other restaurants in the area, five or four of which, specialised in fresh seafood.

I also tried Pago Pago, mid-range steak house; Sawasdee Thai Restaurant; and Que Pasa?, a steak and Caribbean cuisine, often described as fusion or eclectic cuisine, but it was more Antilles-focused with a Dutch visitor in mind, of course. All of them were really good, if not the cheapest (mid-range). I liked the staff at Que Pasa? the most. They were the friendliest and most knowledgeable about the menu and the cocktail drinks.

Other recommendations:
Oranjestad travelogue picture
Moving around Aruba was easy with Arubus. There were fifteen or so lines, which must have been subsidised as tickets cost 1-2 florins. The buses often ran empty or with a couple of passengers. They covered the entire island and all sights of interest, like the beaches, shopping centres, lighthouses, museums and forts (the Historical, Archaeological, Numismatic), the Parliament, ruined gold mines as well as natural monuments like the caves (Fontein Cave, Guadirikiri Cave) or natural bridges. Only some sights required a short hike from the bus stop.

The best spot to watch the large iguanas was a short stretch of rocky shore between the Renaissance Apt Hotel and the heliport in the southern part of Oranjestad. The lizards would just sat on the rocks catching the sunrays and the insects. They looked rather lazy and ignorant of my presence or my phat camera.

Aruba florins are not accepted anywhere else on the Caribbean. It’s a good idea to get rid of them before leaving.

Published on Sunday April 13th, 2008


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Sun, May 30 2010 - 11:11 AM rating by shervin19

Krys, this report is fabulous, you are best!

Fri, Apr 25 2008 - 05:01 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Pictures and text are exquisite

Tue, Apr 15 2008 - 06:34 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

bahut sundar aur iss report ko padh karr bahut accha laga :) i mean excellent report and i really enjoyed reading this report

Mon, Apr 14 2008 - 05:52 AM rating by rangutan

I would love to be stranded on an island like that! Great report & colourful images [4.75]

Sun, Apr 13 2008 - 10:45 AM rating by davidx

An excellent report, no owrse for the fact that I felt sorry for you being 'imprisoned' there for so long.

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