Savoring the sea breezes, white sandy beaches, tropical climate and thick, creamy Pina Coladas, my husband Gene and I felt like we were in Paradise! We were on the island of Aruba and it was our honeymoon! Aruba, a Dutch island in the southern Caribbean Sea, is a short distance north of Venezuela and is part of the Netherlands Antilles. The island is 20 miles long and 6 miles wide...so it's very easy to navigate!
While Aruba has a dry climate and is cactus-strewn and desert-like, we were quite taken with the trade winds that constantly blow across the island. This results in the arching Divi Divi trees that appear to bow to the island in reverence. Although, it can wreck a hairdo that won't tolerate the instant redo as soon as you step outdoors.
We stayed at the cozy beachfront Divi Divi Hotel. Its bright and delightful décor, tropical food and friendly service also offered an outdoor bar and restaurant where we discovered those yummy Pina Coladas. The bartender said his secret to the thick, creamy consistency is the addition of vanilla ice cream. I was expecting something more exotic, like coconut cream or pineapple puree, No matter, they were the bomb!
The Croque Monsieur sandwiches quickly became our favorite lunch at this seaside bar. Another favorite was the authentic Dutch Wind Mill Restaurant with hands-down, the best Flan I've ever experienced! Topping that was the houseboat moored at the pier that served our meal while we sat on plump pillows surrounded by Indonesian accoutrements. The meal, Nasi Goreng, was a virtual Smorgasbord of several authentic Indonesian dishes. Young and adventurous, we did some snorkeling to see the underwater coral up close and swam with several brilliantly-colored schools of fish. We also enjoyed sailing the Caribbean on a Catamarran!
It was 1977, nearly four decades ago. When I looked up restaurants in Aruba online, I didn't find any of the above listed. I did see many restaurants like those we see in the US, so I think we were there before the flood of venues not necessarily unique to this Dutch island. Each morning, we were treated to an eye-appealing breakfast buffet set up either at the Tamarind Hotel next door or the Divi Divi. It was an outdoor feast with fresh tropical fruits and wide array of morning fare. There was only goat's milk on the island, but we grew used to the taste and found it pleasing to the palate. There is nothing as refreshing as eating your first meal of the day on a veranda overlooking the beach and the azure sparkling waters beyond.
It definitely whet our appetites! One evening, the hotel hosted a pig roast on the beach to welcome everyone. The night was filled with tympanic sounds from steel drums amid flaming torches. I can still hear those rhythms against the backdrop of water washing up on the shore. We were in the company of many honeymooners who agreed that, ultimately, Aruba was a good choice for us all. It was far from day-to-day worries, offering perfect weather, tropical music, food and drinks. It was the perfect utopia for us to begin our new life together!
The hotel offered box lunches and bicycles so you can explore the island on your own and pick a place of your choice for lunch. It doesn't take long to navigate the length or width of the island on a bike. The only drawback was the sunburn we both got on our thighs as we biked our way around. After a couple of hours of 2-wheeled sightseeing, we worked up an appetite and decided to settle for lunch on a beach that seemed a bit remote...in fact, there wasn't a soul in sight!
To us, this was the perfect romantic setting for a private lunch with only the sea, the sand and the tradewinds to accompany us. Ahhhh...this was heavenly! We unpacked our lunch and ate hungrily. Gene is not one for plunging headfirst into the ocean. He prefers the predictability of a swimming pool, sans waves or any sort of ebb and flow of water. After a while, I decided I would venture out alone into the sea.
I had to wade quite a distance as it was shallow for many yards. I finally got into chest deep water and swam a bit. Gene was walking the beach and taking in the enormity of the ocean. Before long, I saw him waving wildly to me and yelling, but I couldn't hear. I was too far away to pick up his words that seemed to be carried off by the wind. As I watched him, somewhat amused, he began to jump up and down trying to emphasize something. He started pointing to a sign about a half mile down the beach and beckoned me with hand and arm signals to come in to shore.
It took quite a bit of time to work my way back to the beach as water was slowing me down. It felt like I was moving in slow motion. When I finally got close enough to hear him, he began shouting that we were on the shark side of the island and I needed to get out quickly! We weren't aware that hotels and restaurants dumped food refuse into the deeper waters on this side of the island. It was a way to keep sharks feeding here and away from the tourist beaches lining the resort areas.
Most vacationers are somewhat clueless when in foreign countries and don't get enough time in the location they're visiting to become street smart. However, we thought perhaps they could have done more than post one lonely sign midway down the beach. It gives new meaning to the admonition,
Swim at your own risk!
I hope they do much more than this to warn tourists these days...or do they? Anyone??