With my crazy work schedule under control, I finally had time to finish up my list of things you must do in Aruba. While my experiences there will be unique to me, there are a lot of things that you can take away from what I have done.
Above all, no matter what you are doing, relax, enjoy yourself, and have fun!
7. CONVINCE THE LOCALS THAT YOU ARE A NATIVE.
This is my ultimate goal no matter where I travel. How can I seamlessly turn into a chameleon, and convince the native inhabitants that I legitimately belong there? I am lucky to have been blessed with features that could represent most ethnicities (except for Sweden when I was the only brunette in the country), but not knowing every language that exists can make it hard. As we were driving through the Happy Island, while the sun scorched down on land that has both cacti vegetation and beach elements, we decided to stop off at a local bar that seemed to have a lot of charm. Please note that we did not go here for an afternoon rager, but rather wanted to experience the patronage of this local watering hole. We sat down, were given a menu and a warm smile, and were left alone for a few minutes while the bartender played some Arubian dance music, which were sourced from his tiny little computer in the corner that was playing YouTube videos.
He finally came over to take our drink order, and started speaking some crazy language (Papiamento) to us. It sounded so foreign, yet so familiar, and we could not help but laugh. For a second I thought he was trying to speak English, but had a strange accent that had an enunciation we were not used to. After what sounded like a minute of pure gibberish, we smiled at each other and told him that we did not understand a word of what he said. He then started speaking English, immediately changed his YouTube video selection to Pharrell's "Happy", and told us how thrilled he was to be speaking to Americans. We ordered a couple of local beers and clanked our bottles to yet another successful chameleon moment.
8. EXPERIENCE THE NIGHTLIFE, BUT WATCH YOUR DRINKS - ROOFIES ARE A REALITY.
In Aruba we were not party animals, we were sweaty animals. The temperature and humidity did not make it appealing to get wasted, only to be left with a sweaty hangover and an upset stomach. We did, however, believe that experiencing the nightlife in Aruba was important, as we wanted to get a feel for the ambiance of the island at night. We decided to go to one of the nightclubs on the island called Gusto. Gusto was a very interesting place. It had the aesthetic feel of a Vegas nightclub, the charm of a local hole in the wall bar, and an eclectic group of people that were drawn to it (with the age range from about 21-78). Nevertheless, we enjoyed it, AND most importantly it had air conditioning.
We had gone to Gusto once before, and we had decided to experience it one more time before we left. The bartenders there were Dutch (you'll find this at a lot of places on the Island), and also very funny, charming, and aggressive. At one point I had been invited into a threesome, but I awkwardly and nervously laughed it off. ANYWAYS....back to the last night we were there. It was around 2AM, and we had had a couple of drinks, I was given a free shot from the bartender that made me a little uncomfortable with his intense flirting, and we decided that it was time to go back to our apartment and get some rest. That night was one of the worst nights of my life. I woke up at around 4AM, and would not stop throwing up. The uncontrollable vomit and the worst stomach pains of my life did not stop. When my body ran out of food and drink to throw up, I just continued to dry heave. I didn't know what to do, and putting the cold tile floor in the bathroom against my face and body was the only thing that comforted me.
I remember laying there for hours praying. Praying to either let me die from this excruciating pain, or to help me feel just an ounce better. Jenny woke up around 9AM, as soon as I crawled back into our bed. She stood there looking confused at me, and asked me how we got home that night, and if If I had changed her into her pajamas. With my puzzled look, she told me she did not remember anything after leaving the bar. I then realized someone had put something in our drinks. Jenny told me this was unlike me (especially with that day being the last full day on the island - I rarely waste a moment while traveling, even if I am sick). She tried to do some "Mexican Magic" on me...something that involved wet towels and stomach voodoo. I am thankful for friends who are amazing as her, and are willing to do anything to get me to feel better. Getting through that day will be something that I will never forget, and I am not sure how I was able to literally pull myself up off the floor and enjoy my last day.
9. DON’T PACK MAXI DRESSES, LONG SKIRTS, OR ANYTHING THAT RESEMBLES AMISH ATTIRE.
I don't typically like tropical destinations, as they usually involve immobility, sand, and lack excitement and experiences (I know that is debatable). Life had recently become crazier than usual, and I suddenly craved being on a beach and basking in the sun. I basically needed to do nothing but relax and get my tan on. I had loved the Caribbean Islands that I had visited on a cruise, but I always swore that if I went back to any of them I would stay on the Island instead of just a few hours. Aruba always sounded so exotic to me (thanks Beach Boys), and after I impulsively booked a flight, I was on my way to paradise. Beach vacations are hard to pack for, but the casual aspect made it a bit easier. Bathing suits, cotton dresses, soft shorts, and gladiator sandals took up most of my suitcase. I was also excited for (what I thought would be) cooler nights, so I packed a few maxi skirts and maxi dresses. Upon arrival to Aruba (A.K.A. the inferno - see my previous post), I was a little nervous about what I had packed, but I thought it would be just fine.
Walking to the beach from our apartment, we dripped sweat - and I'm not talking about a light sweat; it was a rolling stream down my back and cleavage. This is one of my worst nightmares. The night I decided to wear a maxi skirt was on the Kuku Kunukoo bus (on my previous post) - which was barely a maxi skirt because 1. it had a black mini skirt underneath it, and 2. it was a very breathable, light woven fabric, with slits up both sides. The decision to wear that skirt on that bus, was worse than the one time I decided to pet a horses butt (don't do this EVER). The fact that I started out with sweat gleaming from my upper lip, was the beginning of a regretful night. After that, we packed up any clothing that remotely covered our bodies (except for the sweatshirt I had to wear at night because of the mini Antarctica that Jenny turned our room into), and I was no longer embarrassed to wear my swim shorts around the island.
10. BE WILLING TO TRY THE SKETCHIEST RESTAURANTS, INCLUDING FOOD TRUCKS.
I've made some pretty questionable travel decisions in my life (and I'm sure many more will come), ranging from trying a witchcraft concoction from a woman in Buenos Aires, to shaved corn from street vendors in some of the sketchiest parts of Rio De Janeiro. My parents say I trust too many people, but fear will never rule my decisions, and the experience and adventure of it all is 100% worth it. Anyway, back to Aruba. On the walk to our local apartment one night, we noticed this food truck (with a really creepy picture of a man and a giant burger on the side of it), that was packed. People surrounded its four corners, and that definitely piqued our interest. We laughed, as it stood out in the dirt driveway of someones house, literally next to a retail store with a neon sign called "Sextasy". We actually passed it many times before we even entertained the idea to stop and try it.
When we finally had 4 wheels and were able to explore more of the island, we decided that authentic Arubian food needed to be found. The woman whom we rented the jeep from, told us about this place called "Red Fish". After about an hour of trying to remember and decipher the directions she gave us, we found the restaurant on a desolate highway road. This was our favorite sit down restaurant on the island. It was extremely authentic, fresh and delicious, and exactly what we were looking for.
11. VISIT THE LOCAL GROCERY STORE, RENT A TOPLESS JEEP, AND MAKE TURNS BASED ON YOUR INTUITION.
High on my list of things to try in a new country is to rent a car and just drive. After renting many cars in many countries, we had decided that we were going to rent a topless jeep. I knew that it would not be as eventful as renting a car in Ireland, and having to drive on the other side of the road, while I tried to put on the blinker sign and the windshield wipers would go off. We primarily rented a car in order to go to the orphanage (see the previous post), but we decided to keep it for a few days in order to explore other parts of the island.
We didn't have GPS, so for a short time we would base our right and left turns on our intuition. Many times we would hit a dead end road, laugh hysterically, and turn right back around.
Luckily we had rented the jeep for a few days. We didn't anticipate the heat and humidity that felt like we were going to get skin cancer within 5 mins of sun exposure. One of the first excursions in our jeep was to get McDonalds. It's such an American thing to do, but I've gotten McDonalds in every country that I have visited. I've experienced Shrimp Burgers in Greece, and a Magnum McFlurry in Portugal. Therefore I had to experience the McNifica in Aruba. I don't ever expect it to be gourmet, or the most amazing food I've ever eaten. I think I just like to benchmark something familiar that I've grown up with, and how it's adaptable in other parts of the world.
One of my other favorite things to do when I am in a new place is to go to the grocery store. It was one of my favorite experiences when I was living in Florence, and no matter the destination, I make it a priority. In Aruba there were not tons of options. There was a small supermercado near where we were staying, but the flies that surrounded the fruit and meat section were not appealing. We heard there was a large "American Grocery Store" within driving distance so we decided to go. Super Food was a mecca, and nationalities from all around the world were there buying pallets of yogurt, Kind Bars, and fresh fruit. The foreign voices and packed aisles of grocery carts made me smile uncontrollably.
One place on my bucketlist during our road trip was Baby Beach. I had read many reviews and blog posts about one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Baby Beach is a man made lagoon, and is called "Baby Beach" because of the lack of waves and it's shallow water. It is calm and safe enough for even very small children. We were there for a few hours, as we enjoyed the white sand and clear blue water. We then got back in our sweltering topless jeep, and drove around the rest of the island.
SIDE NOTE: When we picked up our jeep, the woman who helped us told us that we should keep the top on between the hours of 10 and 2, because of the extreme heat on the island. Being the non-conformists that we are, we took it off, found that she was right and it was sweltering, tried to put the top back on, only to find out that we couldn't put it back on. Needless to say, we drove around in our bathing suits the rest of the day.
Although our trip to Aruba had many ups and downs, it was quite the experience. No regrets, and another pin added to the map. It's been real Aruba, but I love not being sweaty! :)
Well I've already prefaced how uncomfortable and excruciating the sun was in Aruba, and while I had an amazing trip I definitely was appreciative of the cooler climate that welcomed me back in Seattle. When I am researching a destination, I always want to know what I should do, where I should visit, and what I should try (whether it is food or an adventure). Therefore, I wanted to create a list of things that you should do (or not do) if you should visit this "Happy Island". Some might reiterate what I said in my previous post, but I am going to elaborate more on what I experienced.
1. PACK HEAVY DUTY SUNSCREEN LIKE YOU ARE ABOUT TO ENTER DANTE'S INFERNO.
-->I'm not a fan of sunscreen, and I typically pack carrot or coconut oil for a beach trip, but trust me when I say that the Arubian heat is not just hot, it's fucking SEARING. It is so unbearable, that within 10 minutes of exposure to the sun, you are sure you have gotten skin cancer. Our biggest rookie mistake was to not pack strong sunscreen, and we ended up paying a pretty penny for SPF 50.
-->One more thing... if you're a sweetner lover like myself (i.e. sweet n low or equal) - yes I'm one of those horrible people, then make sure you pick some up in the last American airport (probably Starbucks) that you are at before getting to Aruba.
3. GROW UP AND STOP USING HOSTEL WORLD (LE SIGH), AND GIVE IN TO AIRBNB TO BOOK ACCOMMODATIONS.
I was excited that I got to pop my AirBnB cherry, and use the site for this trip! Being obsessed with Hostel World throughout college, it was very refreshing and exhilarating to try something new. I knew from past travels that I wanted to stay in an apartment vs. a hotel, and that I wanted it to be semi close to the beach, but not adjacent to the tourists. I also wanted to stay in a place that was closer to the locals.
4. DON'T BE AN EBENEZER SCROOGE.
While I was looking what you must see and do when in Aruba, I came across a couple of orphanages and the people that had gone to visit them. I knew I needed to add this to the list. Please note: I am not obsessed with kids, am not even sure about having them, but knowing there are kids out there that didn't grow up with the luxuries that I had breaks my heart.
There were two orphanages on the island - Casa Cuna is for ages 0-8, and Imeldahoff is for ages 8-teen. Children are placed there by the state because they cannot live at home anymore (whether it is from physical or sexual abuse). Before we left the states we each made a small area in our suitcase that would be dedicated to clean clothes, and toys dedicated to learning and fun. I literally had to SIT on my suitcase in order to get everything I wanted to bring in there.
We decided to go to Casa Cuna on the Tuesday that we were there (I had called the previous week when we were in the states), and getting there was like finding a needle in a haystack.
Luckily we had mapped out every street and turn, because the Arubian people made it very difficult to find these kids. I guess that's a good thing?
Here is also the link to other ways you can help around the Island: http://www.togetherforgood.org/.
5. DO THE KUKOO KUNUKU TOUR...EVEN IF YOU HAVE SWEAT ON YOUR UPPER LIP THE ENTIRE TIME.
This by far was the favorite thing I did in Aruba. A friend of mine from NYC that had recently been there, and suggested that we do this while on the Island, so we looked into it. You had your choice of 4 tours:
As everyone got on the bus...we all had our maraca's (that they told us not to break them, but of course I did...)
The tour included stops at 4 bars, in which you have time to mingle, as well as get drinks and shots at a discounted price. There is also a welcome shot at every bar, and you get a "shot necklace" when you first board the bus. I must have broken this necklace at least 4 times.
They also offer these "sippy cups" for $5, which not only allows you to drink on the bus, but prevents the crazy drunks from spilling drinks all over your already sweaty body. Of course we had no cash or debit cards on us to buy some sippy cups, but we met a couple from Jersey that got us some cups in exchange for some shots. Our alcoholic angels <3
Our bus driver, Jaime was A. PARTY. ANIMAL. Not only were his stripper moves on par, but his eclectic mix of genres and karaoke skills took the cake.
The bus was not complete without a few lap dances...as well as the older creeper
watching every move we made.
While we all begged and begged and BEGGED for Jamie to take us to one more bar, he could not. Therefore he put on Kokomo by the Beach Boys, and let it sink in that the most fabulous night in Aruba was about to end.
For more info on the Kukoo Kunuku click here.
6. FIND AN ARUBIAN MAN AND TELL HIM HE'S BEAUTIFUL.
Because well, who doesn't like a compliment?! I met him at the last bar of the tour, and my first question was, "So, do you like Aruba...Oh you do? Ummm ok. Great, here put on this hat...Oh and I wanted to tell you that you very beautiful. Bye!"
*if you ever meet me in person, you know that sometimes my awkwardness crosses with whatever comes to my mind at that moment...and you'll never know what you'll get. :)
That's all I have at the moment, but I do have a ton more tips and pictures, so a part 2 will be coming soon!
Bellisima = "Extremely Beautiful" in Italian, and how i would describe the world, and how I view it through travel.