It looked and felt like a scene from many decades ago, and even though the themes of the area may have been centered around liquor and sex (and who knows what else), there was an air of playful innocence about it all; something straight out of a Porky’s or American Graffiti film.
Now I Know My ABCs
As I touched down in Aruba that Sunday afternoon, I smiled. I was happy to have been able to see all three ABC islands in one weekend: Aruba, Bonaire and Curação. For a while, I thought I was going to have to swing back to check off Bonaire at a later date. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to come back for another round of that gorgeous and interesting Dutch Caribbean, but I would have just hated to be so close to Bonaire–close enough to almost touch it–and missed it. But thanks to a last minute Hail Mary and a quick flight adjustment, I’d managed to fit Bonaire in–earlier this morning–the good news being I saw all three ABC islands, but the bad news: I would have even less time to enjoy my less-than-24-hour stop in Aruba. It was certainly a mild crime to say at all of these islands for such short stops, but that’s what you do when you’re trying to see every country in the world. I should note here, that none of these three islands actually even count as their own “country;” rather they are territories belonging to Holland. You can see the different country “lists” here…there are actually a few different lists; I am using the UN’s count of 193, fyi.
I was overwhelmed at how many tourists mobbed Aruba’s Internacional Reina Beatrix airport. While Curação was mildly busy and Bonaire was closer to a ghost town (which was awesome), landing in Aruba reminded me of the madness that is Honolulu, or any other big, beachy, popular tourist destination, for that matter. About two million visitors come to Aruba each year, mostly Americans, and it seemed that all two million of them had landed today. I spent well over a half-hour waiting to get stamped in at immigration, and the outside of the airport was just as congested. I was relieved when I finally pulled away in my rental car. The sun had already began to set and I was in a hurry to get in that water before I lost the day.
If you’re a regular to my blog (Thank you!), you know that I have a thing for Venezuela. It’s such a beautiful place and the fact that it’s pretty much closed off to American tourists just makes it that more appealing for me. Of course it saddens me that the country is in utter collapse, and I feel for the people of Venezuela. But at the same time, I can’t help being so intrigued on how the country got to their current state of affairs in the first place, and what will happen next. I was curious to see what kind of Venezuelan connections I might make in Aruba, due to the island’s proximity to it and the number of Venezolanos fleeing their home. I’d hoped to run into some Venezuelans on the island, and it certainly didn’t take long: My hosts–the owners of my lodging quarters for the night–were from Caracas. Meet the Perez Family.
The property was charming and in the perfect location (more about that later), but it was the family that owned The Anaté Beach Apartments that is actually the main reason I recommend this place for your lodging. Ana Maria was my host, and was just super warm, welcoming, and very helpful, taking lots of time to give me great advice and tips on exploring the island. I had less than 24 hours and needed an expert to point me in the right, specific, direction. The entire family was just adorable, including her very polite and pleasant daughter, Ana Carolina, husband Juan Carlos, cat “Cat”alina, and one of my favorite dogs of all time, Orca. Orca not only welcomed me to the property with her huge dose of nudges, licks and “happy” personality, but I officially fell in love with her, when I discovered she’d not only escorted me down the street to the nearby beach, but was waiting to walk me home when I got out of the water. It’s special moments like these that you won’t find listed under a hotel’s “amenities” listing online…they just happen now and then if you’re lucky. I hit the jackpot this time.
As I mentioned earlier, there are a ton of tourists on Aruba. Lucky for me–and honestly, only by chance–I’d booked a property that was completely clear of the “tourist” area of the island. Away from the high-rises and crowded city life farther north, the Anaté Beach Apartments were in more of a locals-only kind of residential neighborhood, or at least that’s what it felt like to me, and I loved it. It was also steps away from Mangel Halto Beach. It would be my personal swimming pool for the afternoon.
I’ll Take Geography for $500, Alex
I went to Venezuela back in 2017. It was tough to go then and ever tougher now. The country is in the state of collapse, there are many dangers for foreigners and locals alike, and it’s really challenging to even get a visa at the moment. So being less than 20 miles from a place you’re “not supposed to go to” really had me tempted. I was a mere 18 miles away from Venezuela; surely there’d be a ferry to Punto Fijo, no? You could throw a stone from Saint Nicolas, Aruba and probably hit Piedras Negras, which was right across a few feet of water, figuratively speaking. After scouring the web, there was indeed no ferry service anymore, and I later was told that Maduro had actually closed all maritime access from Aruba. And yes, I was foolish enough to entertain the idea of jumping on a smuggler’s speedboat for an illegal ride over. I’m not saying I would’ve gone through with it, but did the thought cross my mind? Hell yes. Maybe it was a good thing I couldn’t find a smuggler.
The night was calm and uneventful, but enjoyable. I drove into town and explored a little bit before stopping into Isla Pop restaurant for an arepa (typical Venezuelan dish). I ended the night with a couple beers at a dive bar in the village of Sint Nicolaas. The jukebox played reggaeton as the Colombian (working) girls flirted with me at the bar. With its narrow old streets, lots of neon lights, handfuls of little clubs and ladies of the night congregating on the corners, the center of Sint Nicolaas looked exactly how you’d picture the red light district of Tijuana, if it was being portrayed in a 1970s movie. It looked and felt like a scene from many decades ago, and even though the themes of the area may have been centered around liquor and sex (and who knows what else), there was an air of playful innocence about it all; something straight out of a Porky’s or American Graffiti film. I wouldn’t bring the family there at night, but Sint Nicolaas had its own undeniable charm and quaintness about it, despite its adult themes. At least I thought so.
On The Way Out
I had a 2PM flight home the next day, which meant just a few hours in the morning to explore. One of the amenities back in my room that I really appreciated was this big photo book of Aruba beaches. It contained a map with all of the island’s beaches, descriptions and the most amazing photos of each beach. My research (the book and my convo with Ana Maria) led me to Baby Beach in the morning. The drive there was calm and relaxing; there weren’t many people up and about that early. I hated that I had to leave so soon. I wanted to relax and enjoy the day.
The Last Supper
I wanted one last arepa before leaving the region. I didn’t want to miss even one opportunity; who knows when I’d have a chance to have arepas next. Arepados was just down the street from the airport and would be my stop for lunch. I started with one of my favorite drinks: papelón con limón: raw hardened sugar cane juice, water and lemon (0r lime) juice. It was heaven and took me right back to South America. Then, the arepa…it was fantastic and the biggest I think I’ve ever had in my life! So big, that I wouldn’t be able to eat again until the very end of the day. I seriously left with a belly ache. I enjoyed conversing with Reynaldo at the restaurant; he even asked to take my picture before I left. I was flattered! I definitely recommend a trip to Arepados when you’re in Aruba. It makes a great pre-flight meal and it’ll keep you satisfied (full) for the entire flight!
There was numerous suggestions (warnings, really) from the airport authority about arriving three (even four) hours early. The Aruba airport takes in (and pushes out) gobs of tourists every day, so you definitely want to arrive with plenty of time. Getting through security took longer than most airports; nothing crazy, just a ton of people. What’s really interesting is that Aruba is one of the few countries whose airport hosts American customs and immigration checkpoints: You actually go through and clear American customs, right there at the airport in Aruba. Once you land back in the states, there’s no need to go through immigration because you already did in Aruba. Kinda cool; I remember doing the same thing in Dublin. I was pulled into a secondary screening because the officer thought it was odd I only came for one night, I guess that’s what drug mules to. I sat in a chair for five minutes and then they sent me on my way. No big whoop.
In closing: I loved Aruba! The location I picked (by accident) was a winner, the people I met were wonderful, the food I ate was delicious and the water I swam in was heavenly. I would’ve loved to stay longer, but for less than 24 hours, wow, I sure felt like I got my money’s worth!
And NOW…the REST of the (INSTA)Story: