On Thursday the 6th, we left work a little early to do some last-minute packing before Andy’s mom, Eileen, picked us up to take us to the airport. We donned the only warm weather clothing we were bringing on the trip as the average temperature in Aruba was to be in the 90s F. The first leg of the trip was a short flight to Salt Lake City. If only the layover was as short as the flight. After killing five hours in the SLC airport, we flew to Atlanta. In Atlanta, we had another five hour layover but this one was more brutal due to it being from midnight to 5AM. Luckily we were able to find two rows of chairs without arm rests so we could catch a few Zzzzs and “few” is meant in the most literal sense.
The brutal travel was all worth it once we arrived on the beautiful island of Aruba. Once through immigration and customs, we grabbed a cab to our hotel. I was quickly aware that people were speaking what sounded mostly like Spanish which surprised me since Aruba is a Dutch territory. I asked the taxi driver in Spanish if the people in Aruba speak Spanish. She responded in Spanish that “No, they speak Papiamento.” I asked her (again in Spanish) what Papiamento was. She responded that it is a mixture of a bunch of different languages such as Spanish, French, Portuguese and English. Interesting.
After about a 15 minute cab ride, we arrived that Marriott Aruba Surf Club. We checked in, received our wrist bands to have access to the “lazy river.” It was close to 5 PM, so we did a bit of unpacking and then walked around the property and settled at the closest seafood restaurant for a nice sunset dinner. I quickly realized that it was going to be a bummer to not be able to drink on vacation. It is not such a big deal in Boise, but on vacation, it only seems natural to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. Oh well.
The next day, we woke up quite late, which we blamed on the jet lag. Aruba is one time zone further east than the Eastern time zone of the United States. By the time we got ready for the beach, it was practically lunch time so we ordered some lunch after looking for an open beach chair and not finding one. The Marriott food was decent but overpriced. We found lawn chairs by the pool but they were far away from both the pool and beach and there was construction noise directly behind the chairs. I was irritated and therefore determined to find better chairs. We found a couple closer to the pool where we sat and lounged for a bit. I started ready my Oprah magazine and planning my Christmas preparation activities, inspired by the advice from the authors of O. When we got hot, which was quite often, we went into the pool and swam over to the lazy river which is basically just a pool with jets that push you around in a large circle. It probably takes 5-7 minutes to do one lap on the lazy river. That first day, we did not have any personal flotation devices so we just swam with the current, but later we inherited one pink inter-tube from a family who was leaving and bought a noodle, so we could cruise on the lazy river in style and comfort (less effort). Later on in the afternoon, we moved to the beach and relaxed on some chairs under a palapa near the ocean. The ocean near the Marriott was a bit smelly and the ocean floor was slimy due to some rotting sea grass from a recent nearby hurricane, so I mostly avoided the ocean. Apparently the rotting grass was only around the Marriott, so that was unfortunate. I went and checked out the new “Helmsman Gym” which was equipped with really nice, new treadmills, elliptical machines and weight machines. We watched the sun go down and then went to another nice dinner.
The next day and the ones to follow for the entire week we were in Aruba are a lot of the same with a few exceptions here and there. We started forcing ourselves to get up earlier and earlier by not closing the night shade on the window of the room. Each morning we would try and either go for a walk or run together depending on how hot it was. It was pretty consistently hot every day, but one morning we actually got up around 6:30 AM to beat the direct rays of the sun and another morning it was overcast and even drizzled a bit.
The first couple of days I was a little annoyed at how “resorty” both Aruba and the Marriott were, but after a couple of days, we did get used to it. We have been incredibly spoiled with our last couple of beach vacations in the Maldives and Mexico where it felt like we had the place to ourselves. We quickly remembered why we had steered away from resorty beaches for vacations, but then also remembered some of the comforts of a resort. Especially with me being pregnant, it was nice not to have to worry about the food making us sick. We also didn’t have to cook it ourselves which was nice. Aruba has a lot of well-known American restaurants such as Tony Romas, etc. but we tried to eat at local or Dutch establishments. The best meal we had was at the end of a pier, our last night in Aruba. Really, all of our meals were great though, including meat from an Argentine restaurant, soup from a Dutch restaurant, steak from Ruths Chris and fresh fish (grouper, mahi mahi, red snapper, crab, shrimp) from a variety of places including the hotel. I tried to keep costs down by buying some bread, peanut butter and jelly along with some yogurt so I could at least eat breakfast in our room but since I bought all of these items from the hotel store, I really didn’t save much money though. If we would have stayed longer, we would have had to have used the kitchenette more, but honestly, who goes to an exotic place to cook the food they make back home.
Most of the people staying at the Marriott and the other hotels on the south beach (Hyatt, Westin, Holiday Inn, etc.) were timeshare owners. We had exchanged our timeshare week in Vegas for a week in Aruba and we found that we were unique in that sense. Most of the people were from the east coast and actually owned the Aruba timeshare. We saw many family units with parents around our age, kids and then the grandparents all vacationing together. It was pretty cool. It was funny to hear all of the New York/New Jersey accents. We joked that it was like watching the Sopranos, “Carmella, can you believe that Betty had her nose done…” All and all, people were really nice especially the locals who seem to recognize that tourism makes the island tick.
I eluded to the challenge in finding a beach chair, but we later found out there was a complicated, elaborate system as to how you get chairs by the pool and palapas on the beach. Both involve getting up early and on the beach, it involves standing in long lines before dusk and then reserving spots days in advance. We tried to play the game but weren’t very good at it especially since we preferred to sleep in and didn’t understand all of the rules until probably the last day we we were there. One day, we actually did get up at 6:30 AM to go for a run. We put our towels on chairs by the pool, but when we came back, people were sitting on them. Not wanting to get $100 fine per towel, we knew we had to somehow get our towels back. Finally, Andy got up the nerve to ask the people if they saw our towels and they explained to them the pool chair rule that you cannot put your towel down to reserve a chair until 7 AM at which time the pool officials come and remove the towels of all of the ignorant souls who wrongly tried to claim their pool chair before the specially appointed 7 AM hour. They joked about it and explained how it all worked to Andy. We made fun of all of the rules but also understood why they were probably needed, especially with so many east coast people on the premises.
A couple of new things came about later in the week. First, a catamaran sailing competition was getting closer to starting so a lot of nice Dutch catamarans started showing up on the beach at the Holiday Inn next door. Andy loved to go over and drool over them. Andy and I actually rented a Hobie Cat for one-hour one day and really enjoyed sailing it back and forth in front of the south shore. Aruba is known for its stellar wind sports and if I wasn’t pregnant, we would have tried again with the windsurfing lessons, but as it was, we mostly spent our time relaxing, reading and eating.
Another interesting twist to Aruba is that gambling is legal. On our second or third night there, we checked out the Marriott casino and it was hopping with people, but missing a poker room. We were bummed. I think we burned about $20 playing video poker but then quickly called it a night. A couple of nights later, we walked through some of the other hotels and found poker rooms in two nearby hotels including the Holiday Inn next door. Andy surprised me by his desire to play (he is not a “game player”). We played for probably three hours that night and maybe two the following night. I swear, nowadays, I am so sensitive to the smoke that that was ultimately what made us turn in both nights. The tables were pretty diverse and fun and had a lot of locals and old guys. It was fun to hear the locals speak Papiamento except you had to wonder if sometimes they weren’t saying, “wow, he really did something stupid” or “she has no clue what she is doing.” We played decently but I realize I need to work on some things. I haven’t played poker hardly at all lately though so it was fun to get back into it a bit and I am thrilled that Andy enjoyed it so much.
The last night in Aruba, we enjoyed the previously mentioned fish dinner on the pier and then went on a full moon sailing trip. It was a nice trip and we actually were able to talk with the host of the tour, a local, and learn more about Aruba. Apparently, many of the local speak Papiamento, English, Dutch and Spanish. Impressive!
The last day, we had to kill some time between hotel check out and our flight, so we walked through a bunch of stores and did a bit of shopping. Our flights were unfortunately no less brutal on the way back. We flew Aruba to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Seattle where we had from 1AM to 6:45AM to “sleep.” The Seattle airport was freezing so that was a brutally harsh contrast to Aruba. We endured and made it back to Boise Saturday morning. All in all it was a great trip and it was SO nice to get a break from work and the cold and spend some nice, uninterrupted, quality time together.
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