Category Archives: Arikok Park

climbing mountains

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I’m a bit stressed at the moment thinking about the weeks ahead because I am planning and preparing for a trip to Peru in June. We are hiking the Salkantay Trail, which I have read is one of the toughest treks to Machu Picchu. It starts outside of Cuzco like all the others, but climbs higher and goes farther than the rest, as in 12,500 feet high and 36 miles far. My Dutch friend chose it because her friend who lives in Buenos Aires just climbed it in February. She had nothing but great things to say and gave it a 5-star recommendation. Going into this whole thing somewhat blindly after spontaneously buying the ticket, we decided it was probably best to sign up with the same company her friend told us about. She assured us the trail wasn’t that hard, although I later found out she vertically climbs rocks, so her idea of hard may be slightly different than most.

The logistics to planning it from this speckle island in the middle of the sea are quite challenging. How do you even go about training for it here? Gym memberships are too expensive, so that is out of the question. I’m slowly finding yoga studios that are a good fit and still looking for Pilates classes. There is one mountain/ hill in the middle of the island, the Hooiberg. You can climb the 600 steps to the top. But does climbing this stump of a mountain at sea level really prepare someone for the most formidable range in the Western Hemisphere? I finally found a track at Paradera Park nearby my house. I have no idea what the distance is around this track—maybe a half mileBut at least I can build up speed on a paved surface without having to worry about dogs attacking me. And I love walking at this park on weekday evenings when all the kids are flying over hills and ramps on BMX bikes and skateboards or playing basketball and soccer.

What Aruba does have that helps prepare is a large nature preserve, Arikok National Park. We started a Sunday routine hiking around 5 hours over this terrain. I’m not sure how well hiking in the sweltering heat can really prepare you for hiking the Andes during the winter. I guess I will soon find out.

Then there is the whole conundrum of finding the gear you need for a trip to the mountains in the winter when you live on an island where it is always summer. I desperately need fleece layers for cold weather. Good luck finding any winter clothing on a tropical island. I also need shoes with tread for hiking. All I have here are New Balance for running and an old pair of Converse. If you look online to find stores to buy stuff you need for hiking while living in Aruba, you will find an endless collection of hiking gear designed and named after the island; the irony is that you will most likely never find any of this stuff for sale on the actual island of Aruba. There are the Keen Woman’s Alamos Hiking Shoes in Aruba Blue. Columbia makes Women’s PFG Aruba Convertible Pants, which just happen to be great for hiking. Looking online will only drive you mad, especially when you once drove past an REI twice a day on your commute back and forth to work.

Shipping to an island is super expensive, so I can’t just order something on Amazon and have it delivered. I took a huge salary cut moving here, so my discretionary income is almost non-existent since landing; otherwise, I might consider paying five hundred dollars to get the stuff I need to Aruba.  Most people think I am crazy to complain about any of these inconveniences since I am living in paradise. It’s hard for others to understand what it feels like to see a plane take off while thinking to yourself—there is the way to Columbia Aruba Convertible Pants. I envy the ease in which everyone back home can purchase anything in the world they want and get it delivered to their doorstep within 24 hours. If I am lucky, I may find someone who knows someone coming soon to visit the island from the U.S. Then I can have Amazon deliver whatever I need to that someone’s address in Georgia or California, and then that someone can bring it to the island when they visit. That is how we do it around here.

There are other very specific things that you can’t order on Amazon and you only realize that you need them after moving to an island. You look through everything you brought, thinking surely I remembered to bring that one thing I will eventually really need after leaving the United States and moving to a rock in the middle of nowhere. Take, for example, a pamphlet my orthopedic doctor gave me a few years back on exercises to strengthen my ankle joints, after diagnosing me with ligamentous hyperlaxity resulting in chronic lateral ankle instability and perineal tendon insufficiency. What the hell does that even mean? He went on to explain that I was born with the joint flexibility of a circus performer and had essentially overstretched my ligaments in too many years of dance classes. Now they had lost their elasticity, much like a rubber band I suppose, and I would have to do a nightly routine in ankle exercises to keep them strong. Who has time for that? Apparently, I never did, or I would remember the whole routine. I’ve searched YouTube and can’t find anything that seems familiar to me, except for the draw out the alphabet with your big toe series. I would give anything for that piece of paper, but it is deep in a box somewhere in storage in Dallas, Texas.

What I am learning from the people I meet is that you have to seize any opportunity you can to travel. You can find a way to do it if you really want it. So I can’t let any of these obstacles get in the way. There aren’t any excuses for choosing not to turn the page on your next journey. There is so much to be gained from doing so, and you can always get there, even on a budget. You just have to do it. So I will move forward with my hypermobile joints and find a way to get what I need without the convenience of clicking here and there on Amazon. However, since I know so many talented and amazing people reading these posts, feel free to send me anything you’ve got: ideas for how to get stuff here, words of inspiration, ankle strengthening exercises, a Camelbak hydration pack, wool socks, etc..

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aruba adventures

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Dedicated to friends arriving soon from Texas – a short list of big adventures. It would be even better if I listed directions for each, but that is way beyond my capabilities.  Maybe this map will help. Hopefully, you will get lost at some point because doing so will delightfully lead you on your own island adventure.  I certainly do not claim to be an expert on all that one can experience here. After all, I have only been here for six months. I work all the time, but when I’m not at work, I’m exploring the island—albeit, on a shoestring budget. So here are a few discoveries made. 

Sand  – You will want to spend the majority of your time at beaches. Our favorite is Baby Beach. Drive to the southern part of the island to get to Baby Beach and stop at Charlie’s Bar in San Nicholaas. It closes early because it is in the Red Light District. Also, stop at Zeerovers for dinner on the way home, but only on the weekend, because only then will they remove all the shells, skin, bones, and eyeballs from the heaping baskets of seafood you are about to devour. Many Sundays here have been spent at Baby Beach followed by a delicious catch-of-the-day dinner at Zeerovers. Eagle Beach is named one of the best in the world. Its powdery white beaches and turquoise blue waters will not disappoint, especially during sunrise and sunset. We also frequent Arashi beach. There are more locals there and a drive up to the California Lighthouse after is a nice way to end the day. Another great place for sunset is the Alto Vista Chapel. One more beach worth mentioning is Andicuri Beach. We just had a barbecue there last Wednesday.

Sea – Definitely do some kind of water activity while you are here as well. Snorkeling is the simple, go-to activity if funds and experience are lacking. There are plenty of snorkel spots throughout the island and you can buy gear inexpensively at stores all over the place. There are a plethora of other water activities as well, from kite surfing to kayaking. Also, get out on the water if at all possible. I haven’t been out on a water tour yet, but I heard the Catamaran “Dolphin” tour is the best.

Off-road – There is plenty of activity on land as well. Rent some type of all-terrain vehicle and explore Arikok Park. Be sure you find your way to Conchi, or natural pool. Take the plunge. Just make sure you have on your stylish water shoes.  Spelunk one of the many caves while exploring the park. Quadiriki is my favorite and the setting of an Arawakan legend. There is also a bar/ restaurant in the park called Boca Prins. It’s fun to sit and relax there while enjoying a tall tropical drink and a fantastic view. If you have the time, keep driving along the coast to the California Lighthouse.

Get lost – Somewhere along the way during your time in Aruba it is essential to get off the beaten path and just get lost so that you can experience authentic island life. This will inevitably happen if you turn off any main road because street signs are nonexistent in this country. Don’t worry about it. You are on an island, so how lost can you really get? Eventually, the road will take you to water. Stop any place that looks fun. Explore the aisles of a Chinese supermarket or grab a Balashi paired with a pastechi at one of the many roadside eateries.

Beasties – Designate a day to spend some quality time with animals and insects while you are in Aruba because there are so many sanctuaries that provide serene shelter to a large variety of species, from Howler monkeys to camels. My favorite places are the Donkey Sanctuary and the Ostrich Farm. The Butterfly Farm is also worth a visit. There is a tour guide to educate you on all of the life science moments in case you have forgotten them since 7th grade. We listened attentively as our tour guide described the transformation from caterpillar to cocoon. I was so transfixed that I watched YouTube videos of this process for at least an hour after my visit. I’ve discovered these videos will put you in the exact same meditative state as the Bob Ross’s Joy of Painting series.

Chow down – Sample Suriname food while you are here; order the roti. We like Yanti, Indo, and Swetie. Colombian food is a must as well. There are several restaurants serving authentic dishes. I have only been to Don Jacinto where my friend, who had just returned from a visit to Colombia, emphatically recommended the bandeja paisa. Savory Colombian empanadas can be found at snack stands and food trucks all over the island. Go for Dutch pancakes and order something you don’t typically have with your pancakes. Linda’s Dutch Pancakes is good. There is also a fabulous Dutch bakery in Paradera called Huchada. Sample Peruvian at El Chalan. Finally, we are always on a budget because we are poor school teachers, so if you are looking to splurge, here is a complete list of all the restaurants.

Party – Arubaville, Bugaloe, and Salt and Pepper all have excellent mojitos. All three also have delicious tapas to choose from on their menus.  Arubaville and Bugaloe are waterside spots. Moomba is right on the beach, as in the legs of your chair will sink into the sand. 080 and Chaos are fun Dutch bars to visit where you can strike up a conversation with anyone. I was just at Chaos last night and it appears to be the party headquarters for all the Carnival parades. Order bitterballen somewhere along the way when you are out for the night. Another great location to grab a drink is Casibari Cafe and climb the Casibari Rock Formations.

City streets – Also, I haven’t done much of this because I moved here to get away from the city, but visit downtown Oranjestad. Walk around. Go shopping. Take the trolley. Talk to people. Everyone is incredibly friendly in Aruba. You will meet people from all over the world. This is the best part of living here.

62nd Carnival – Finally, Carnival is scheduled for Sunday when you arrive. I went to the lighting parade last night as a sort of run through for next weekend. I am thrilled to soon be experiencing something new here with all of you.

island logistics

 

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Travel tips for friends arriving soon…

1. Learn a few Papiamento phrases. My favorites are bon nochi and drumi dushi, which mean good night and sweet dreams. Learn some Dutch words as well. My favorite is the very useful ik houd van katten, or I love cats.  Spanish is also helpful, which most of you already know as Texans. Expect everyone you meet to speak all of the above, including English.

2. One Florin equals 0.56 U.S. Dollars. You may want to use a conversion app on your phone if you are mathematically challenged because sometimes you will pay in one currency and receive change in another. You can also study ahead with this currency converter.

3. Tip the teenagers who bag your groceries at the store. One to two Florins is customary. My friends tell me that I tip too much in restaurants. They say 10% is all I need to leave because it is not like America where the tip is basically the wage. Regardless of this advice, I always tip 20%. It is ingrained in me after working as a waitress throughout my entire time in college.

4. You will pay twice the amount for American brands at the supermarket. Shop for Dutch brands instead—they are much cheaper. Everything is lekker, only you won’t really know exactly what it is you are about to eat until you take a bite. Also, pack a collapsible cooler for the beach. You will pay a fortune for one here, or anything else made to save human beings time and bring about convenience. I thought I might like to buy a toaster yesterday until I looked at the price: 84 Florins. Now you can practice a bit with currency conversion to clearly see why I chose not to buy it. The toaster is a luxury I cannot afford.

5. Prepare ahead for holidays. Arubans—unlike Americans—understand the full meaning of the holiday, as in businesses do not open because no one goes to work. You are home or on the beach celebrating life with your community of people. This means places that you had in mind to eat and visit will most likely be closed, including the grocery store and even the gas station. Burnout Monday is a national holiday the day after Carnival. Maybe go to the beach on Monday.

6. Pack over the counter drugs. I don’t take any prescription medications. I don’t even take over the counter medications. But I found myself in need of something to bring relief when I was sick the weekend before last. Regardless of its classification as OTC or RX, any pill you swallow can only be bought at the Botica, and the Botica has limited hours. Most importantly, the Botica is closed on Sundays. Plan ahead!

7. Beer is sold in 8 oz bottles, which I was told at the Balashi Brewery has more to do with tradition than heat. The local beers are Balashi and Chill. Some other popular beers are Polar (Venezuela) and Amstel Bright. Don’t be alarmed when the 8-year old bagging your groceries asks you if you want the bottle of beer opened on your way out the door. He will most likely already be prying off the cap with a bottle opener in hand by the time you tell him that you do not need one for the road.

8. Go ahead, you can park your car on the sidewalk. It is favorable to blocking traffic in the narrow street. It is best to have 4WD in Aruba because you will need to go over curbs and drive on dirt roads. Also, you will want to tour Arikok Park to Conchi, natural pool. After that, be sure to drive the coast to the California Lighthouse.

9. Everyone in my neighborhood carries a stick while walking to deter dogs. I’m not sure what they would do with it if a vicious dog were to charge forward. I hope they wouldn’t use the stick to beat the poor pup. Maybe they would just make themselves big and roar like a bear. Then, perhaps, they would swing it around until the dog hopefully ran away. You might consider something to protect yourself as well if you venture off the beaten path. You may also want a machete to lop off the head of any boa constrictor you might come across

10. Bring Sunscreen. Buy the biggest bottle. Get SPF 100 if you can find it. You are going to need it!