Aruba is a long way from Saint Kitts; we spent three days at sea reaching it – a chance to rest before another round of sightseeing. To fill the time, there were a lot of organized activities on board.
Country Number 92
I woke up to the breeze of South America, one of my favorite continents. Some people may argue that Aruba should not count as a part of South America. A map shows it lies just outside the Venezuelan coast, at the south edge of the Caribbean Sea. There are three big islands in this region; all of them Dutch territories. Also known as ABC islands, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao are among the most developed, liberal and affluent islands in the Caribbean. Though our ship would not travel to Bonaire, we anchored at Aruba today, and would be in Curaçao tomorrow.
Due to their geographical location, hurricanes don't come to the ABC islands as they do to other islands. However, trade winds blow year round making it breezy and soothing. The wind pushes most of the mosquitoes out to sea, so we don't need to worry about malaria or Dengue Fever.
I reserved shore excursions two days in advance; a cycling adventure at its northeastern shore ($58.00) and a sunset catamaran cruise ($38.00). I considered them overpriced, but not outrageously so. Since both excursions were in the afternoon, I still had the morning to wander around the capital town, which is outside the cruise terminal.
The capital, Oranjestad (a Dutch name), is not a big town. There are a lot of Dutch style guild houses. They are narrow, like those I saw in Holland. However, their pastel colors seem especially adapted to the tropics. Most of these houses are now souvenir shops, or chain restaurants from North America. A Dunkin' Donuts is next to a McDonalds, where homesick Americans can grab a Big Mac and a box of donuts. Walking along the main street, I entered a shopping mall that had a few bookstores, a hair saloon and a panini sandwich stand – like any mall in North America. This does not seem authentically Caribbean to me; I was a little disappointed. But they had an internet cafe – $4.00 per hour compared to the internet connection on board, at 50 cents per minute!
Aruba is dry and relatively flat; easy to bike around. Though it tends to get hot in the afternoon, the constant trade wind did cool us down. A van took our group to the western coast. The starting point was next to the Baby Natural Bridge, a seaside arch eroded by wind and the sea. Unfortunately, what we visited was the "Baby" Bridge. The larger and more famous (as stated in Aruba's tourist brochures) is the "Natural Bridge" which no longer exists; it collapsed in 2005. After a few pictures, we started on our three-hour biking trip north.
It was great to work out a bit after all the eating on board; sometimes eight meals a day. We passed an abandoned fort, and later, a tiny church. Along the way, we saw many tourists on various types of transportation, including the awkward looking quad bikes. We ended our ride at a small beach on the northern side of the island. We could only stay there 20 minutes.
There were more passengers on the catamaran excursion than the cycling tour. The people tended to be older (and fatter). Many were couples. Though the catamaran was smaller than I thought, it fit the forty or fifty of us. It was a "booze" cruise – free cocktails, but not strong. The catamaran sailed along the eastern coast, passed Palm Beach which is extremely touristy.
Aruba is not very interesting. It gives you a sense of a giant tourist trap. Many people come here for its beach and shopping opportunities. I’m glad I came on a cruise ship; a few hours is enough.
For me, the ship is the star on a cruise; not the islands. I found that most of the Caribbean islands were too similar to one another and not impressive. Some have beautiful turquoise beaches and friendly locals, but not much else. I may be wrong. I haven't been to Cuba, or Jamaica, which have more distinct traditions than other Caribbean islands.
Saricie Kuo is a college professor and public health researcher from Taiwan. He is also a part time novelist and film critic. He made a wish when he was 18 – to visit more than 100 countries before he turned 40. By the end of 2006, he had traveled to 90 countries. He plans to reach his 100th country in 2007.