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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Day 6: Aruba baby!

Our last stop on our adventurous cruise and boy were we tired. And we still had one more excursion on Aruba (thank goodness I already booked a hot-stone massage for tomorrow while we were at sea!)

Smallest and most westerly of the ABC group of the Netherland Antilles, Aruba is just 19 miles long and only 6 miles wide. On one side of the island, the constant oceanic rage is so violent at times, so unsettling in its effect, and so eerie in its mood that one can forget how calm and quiet the opposite side of the island can be with its pristine white sand beaches. Some natives can speak as many as 5 languages: Papiamento, their own unique language, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and English! On a calm, quiet day, Venezuela can be seen from the southern most coast of Aruba.

The off road Jeep adventure tour began at 8am when we met our group and tour guide outside the terminal to be taken to the company's main building. We waited around another 30 minutes or so before they finally got everyone checked in (signed a waiver saying you were physically fit to join the adventure) and away we went. When we picked this excursion, it was mainly because it was an all day tour, we could see the entire island, there were places to snorkel along the way, we were fed lunch, and there were a maximum of four people per vehicle. When we set off, there were a total of 8-10 people per vehicle and we were sitting sideways in the back. Not fun for those bumping roads (unless of course you are in the military like hubby and are totally used to it from his days in Iraq!).

It started off as a cloudy day with occasional sprinkles in the morning, but the sun slowly came out closer to mid-day. Our first stop, California Point where a lighthouse named after the U.S. ship California sunk just off the coast 2 years prior to its construction in 1910. Perched on a high seaside elevation, the lighthouse has become one of Aruba's scenic trademarks and offers a picture perfect view of the island's western coastline of sandy beaches, rolling sand dunes and rocky coral shorelines.

We proceeded along the north coast line until we started seeing small piles of rocks and small stacks of coral. These were obviously placed here by other people, some more obvious and elaborate than others (there was one pile that included shoes and sponges and sticks). Our tour guide told us that visitors come here, as well as other locations on the island, stack a few rocks together, and make a wish. If we would like to do the same, he gave us 10 minutes to find the perfect spot. One person even thought about putting her business card under the stacks to bring her company good luck (wish I had thought of that with my new business). Turns out, one girls dream came true and her boyfriend proposed to her while she was making her own stack of rocks and coral.

Our next stop was to the Chapel of Our Lady of Alto Vista. Built in 1750 and currently holds masses every Tuesday, the chapel is again another stop with a breathtaking view of Aruba. Although I do have to confess, I didn't quite like the terrain of Aruba. When I think of Aruba, I think of someplace exotic with palm trees and beautiful beaches - apparently this is only on the south side of the island. Every where else is desert like vegetation again (similar to Bonaire). But Aruba - didn't remind me of Texas. Hubby said this is where he wanted to retire previous to visiting the island. I? Don't think so.

Aruba is an island created by coral, as are most islands in the Caribbean. The ocean current on the northern side of the island can be so ferocious that it has created "Natural bridges". The largest of several bridges collapsed in the middle of the night on September 2, 2005. However, another one has already started to form. On the day that we visited Aruba, the currents were so strong on the northern coast (although the tides were pretty choppy on the southern side as well) that we were unable to go snorkel in either of the two locations we were originally scheduled.

Our last stop before lunch was an Ostrich farm. Seriously?? I had worked with these beasts while at San Antonio Zoo, so I really had no interest in them, along with their Emus and Cassawaries. Obviously, they were more of a food staple than an attraction on the island. We did have a nice lunch at their restaurant (yes, it looked to be fully cooked chicken and ribs, not ostrich) before heading back out. Oh, and by the way. Something I've forgotten to mention. A majority of the islands we visited, you can't flush the toilet paper.... and sometimes you have to pay to use them! Something again hubby was used to from Iraq where I had never experienced.

The last leg of our journey for the day included two stops at natural caves. Unfortunately, the first one happened to be closed already (Hello? If our tour guide lives on the island, you would think that he knew what time attractions and sites closed!) and the second one was not a site to be hold, especially compared to some other caves, like the Natural Bridge Caverns in Texas. We were able to see some of the native bats in the cave which of course scared the daylight out of some people (hehe... get it? daylight??).

Before heading back to the company's headquarters where they shuttled us back to the pier, we stopped at the infamous "Baby beach" on the south eastern tip of the island) Yeah, I wasn't too impressed. It was so overcrowded, the sand really wasn't that "white", and the waves were choppy, we decided to find a calm shallow area to just soak our feet... and find some local crabs to watch... and contemplate on where we would live when we retire (I'm going for Barbados!)

A very long day in Aruba and we were dirty from the dust kicked up by the vehicle, my hair was in knots from being blown around all day, tired because we were bounced around so much, and thirsty (thank goodness Celebrity had that taken care of prior to us reboarding the ship!). Although I really shouldn't complain, I honestly did get to see the .... entire .... island .... of ....Aruba. Which is what we ultimately seek out to do when we go cruising (unlike some people who just visit the beaches or actually stay on board the ship while we are docked!) Or it could have been worse: I could have been quarantined! My friend's hubby was thankfully dismissed from quarantine during the day, but she? was feeling better but was depressed because she was stuck inside her room all day! Thankfully, they had purchased a balcony room.

Tomorrow, a day at sea making our way back to Puerto Rico.

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