We left our house at 4:30 a.m. and we thought we were running late. Thankfully, we were lucky that there was absolutely no traffic on I-95. I think we made it to BWI in record time. I had a moment of concern when my husband realized that the flier for the privately owned parking lot we were planning to use only offered directions from the B/W Parkway. But, I am fortunate that my husband knows his way around that area quite well. He knew how to get us where we needed to be. We parked in the blue lot of Airport FastPark . It really did work nicely. The woman in the booth was actually very pleasant and she gave us the day’s newspaper. Then, she called the shuttle bus driver, who was circling around the parking lot. He met us right at our car and helped us with our luggage.
There were only a couple of people in front of us to check bags at the Continental airlines counter. The attendant said the security check was around the corner, so off we went. There was a line and it kept going and going and going. Finally, we got to the end of it. We were sure we would be in that line for an hour. Incredibly, it moved slowly, but surely, and we were at the front in about 15 minutes. Right as we were standing in front of the machines, a traveler behind us began saying, repeatedly, that we were going to get in trouble for having full water bottles with us. We had forgotten that you are not allowed to take water through security, in case it is actually some kind of flammable material, such as alcohol. My husband offered to chug his and they said that wasn’t good enough. He told them to throw the whole Nalgene bottle away. We did not have time to go through the line again. The Nalgene bottle I had was a Christmas gift from my husband and I was distraught over the thought of it being thrown away. I said out loud to no one in particular that I loved that water bottle. The traveler behind me said, “I told you.” I looked at her and said I had heard her, but I was not speaking to her… I was listening to the guards. She replied angrily, “It’s obvious you are not listening to anyone.” The security guard glared at the nasty passenger, looked at me, and said, “Come on, honey. I’ll walk with you to the water fountain so you can pour out the water and keep your bottle.” I followed the guard and didn’t look back. I guess I’ll never see that nasty woman again.
We were glad that we did not have to change terminals in Newark (because you have to take a monorail or walk a long way if you do). We got on the plane just fine, but then the tug that pushes the planes away from the gate broke down. It took about 10 minutes for them to hook up a new one. Then, there was a bit of a line to get on the actual runway. We finally took off 30 minutes late and settled in for the 5 hour flight. We were handed a form that must be submitted when you go through customs upon arriving in Aruba, so we filled that out (the basic questions about how long you will be staying and where). The movie they showed was The Lake House. The food was cheerios, milk, a banana nut muffin, and a box of raisins. I also ate two cheddar cheese sticks, some salami, and triscuits that we brought from home. We realized that our water did not make it through security, but the gel ice pack we had in our lunchbox made it through without any question whatsoever. What’s up with that?
There was a fair amount of turbulence for the descent in to Aruba and I now know that’s because Aruba is a very windy place. Apparently, there were a few planes waiting to land, so we had to fly in circles until it was our turn. I didn’t think the turbulence was all that bad, but when we landed with a bit of a jolt, everyone on the plane clapped loudly. Off we went, like a heard of cattle, to the lines for customs. We were happy to see that nearly every desk was staffed and the lines were not long. The Spanish speaking family in front of us realized they had not completed the form and frantically began looking for a pen. The wife asked two other Latinos, both of whom said they didn’t have one. I raised my pen and timidly asked, “¿Necesitas una pluma?” She smiled and took it. It was just a give-away we had picked up somewhere, so we told them to keep it. The guard smiled, stamped our passports, and said, “Bon bini! Welcome to Aruba!” We were through customs in less than 5 minutes.
All of the passengers were jostling to have a place to stand right up against the baggage carousel, which made the experience somewhat stressful. It was difficult to see which suitcases were coming along. Plus, there was a suitcase exactly like mine that belonged to a different person and it went around about six times before mine finally appeared. I had a unique luggage tag on my old suitcase, so I don’t know why I didn’t think to personalize my new suitcase (I tied a yellow ribbon on it for the flight back home). I guess we waited about 15 minutes for our luggage. The next step was to pick up our rental car.
I chose a local car rental agency named Royal . I had read that their office was not in the terminal, but within walking distance. I couldn’t remember if it was to the right or left, so we went to the information desk at the airport. The woman said she wasn’t sure where Royal’s office was, but she said it was “across the street.” I envisioned having to walk across a highway. We stepped out of the terminal and, compared to what we are used to, the road in front of their airport is tiny. Indeed, Royal car rental was just across the street, on the left side of a row of rental car offices. They had our reservation information immediately and all was well. The attendant saw that my husband’s middle name is Selby and that was close enough to Shelby that they began to have a conversation about Ford Shelby Mustangs. Apparently that guy really likes cars. He also told us a little bit about how to drive around Oranjestad, instead of down the busiest street, since we were staying several miles north of the city. We got a Ford Explorer Sport Trac, which suddenly looked very big, considering the small road. We also realized that the reason the cars at Royal are $100 less expensive than the name brand places is that the vehicles have higher mileage on them than those of name brand companies. But, the engine was strong. I was a little worried about backing out on to that tiny access road, so my husband drove. We were instructed to go to the end of the car rental office and turn right. There were people all over the place doing the same thing we were, so there was a constant sense that someone was going to step out on to the road, or a car would back out of its parking space. Well, the turn is quite literally immediately after the building ends. We drove past it and entered a parking lot for which you had to have a code number to exit (it was where the rental car companies kept the extra cars). We were terribly flustered and ready to park the car and walk back to the rental center when a Royal employee drove up beside us; they had seen us make the mistake, which probably happens to them several times a day. He told us the code number and off we went. When we got to Oranjestad we went in to a traffic circle and quickly realized we had missed our turn. We went along the main drag of Oranjestad, along the harbor where the monster cruise ships dock. The traffic crept along very slowly, but it’s not a big town, so we made it though. Seeing a beautiful rainbow soon after we were outside of town rewarded us.
When we finally got to the Marriott, we had to wait over ½ an hour, because they didn’t have our reservation uploaded correctly. The stay had been booked using “points” from the Marriott Rewards program, so the information was in some alternate database in the main business office of the hotel. We got to our room around 5 p.m. The first thing I did was to call the restaurant at which we had reservations for Sunday brunch to confirm our reservations. After taking some time to get settled, we started to think about dinner. I had read about a restaurant within walking distance of the hotel, so we went to MooMba Beach Bar and Grill. We decided to eat at the bar, instead of at the fancier restaurant part. We ordered chicken wings and the Dutch snack platter, which was a couple of cheese cubes, chicken nuggets, frikandel (something like Vienna sausages), and bitterballen (kind of like a meatball that has a lot of breadcrumbs in the mixture). We were treated to a very nice sunset.
We were feeling a little refreshed, so we decided to go back to a grocery store we had passed a couple of miles down the road. We went to the Kong Hing grocery store in between Palm and Eagle Beach. It is right on Rt. 1, so you can’t miss it. The trick is that you have to get on an access road to enter the grocery store parking lot. To accomplish that feat, you have to drive past the grocery store, go around a traffic circle, then, as soon as you exit the traffic circle, you make an immediate little right hook of a turn to get on the access road that parallels Rt. 1. We had to go around the circle twice before we got it right. When we began looking around the grocery store we realized, just as the guidebooks and web sites noted, the food was very expensive. We bought the basics of milk, eggs, bread, chips, juice, a bag of apples, some beer, and some rum. The bill was about $60. I held out my credit card and she seemed a little annoyed by it. She had to walk over to the front office to run it for me. It turned out that they were just about to close the grocery store, so I think they had sort of turned off some of the cash registers (if we had been earlier, using a credit card would not have been a problem). The speedy drivers and traffic circles were stressing out my husband, so I drove back to the hotel. We got up to the room and we thought we had lost the bottle of rum we purchased. Luckily, when he went back to the car, it had simply rolled out of the grocery bag. I was too tired to do anything else. I went to sleep immediately.
We woke up around 8 a.m. and had a leisurely morning. We walked to the Ruinas Del Mar in the Hyatt Regency, where we had reservations for brunch at 10:30 a.m. There is a paved walkway on the beach-side for almost the entire distance between the Marriott and the Hyatt. We arrived 20 minutes early, so we walked around and looked at the pet birds they had around their swimming pool. We also looked in a gift shop for a couple of minutes, then it was time to eat. The buffet is quite decadent and fancy and all the champagne you care to drink is included in the price. I started by eating some white pineapple, honeydew, beet salad, crab cole slaw, a couple of pieces of California roll sushi, and a bite of grouper in red pepper coulis. Next, I ate one eggs Benedict. My husband sampled most of the seafood offerings, then had some chocolate covered fruit.
We waddled back to the hotel, rested for a while, and then went swimming. We swam at the hotel pool, then in the sea. I sat in the sun while my husband swam in the pool again for a few minutes. We returned to our room and I showered while my husband walked around to take some photographs. Then, we drove to Oranjestad. It was Sunday at 3 p.m. and everything on Main St. was closed. We were panhandled where we parked (Note: It turns out that was the one and only time we were panhandled on the whole trip.). The street was so oddly quiet that we walked around the block and right back to the car. We were going to go back to the flea market we had seen in Eagle Beach, but we started to go down the Yacht Basin road and pulled in to a parking lot across the street from the Eet Café (also known as The Paddock). We went in for a beer, and so we could use the restroom! (The secret is that the restrooms are outside, in the back. They are unlocked, so we could have just gone around and used them, w/o purchasing anything.) The café is right on the water and you are looking right at the dock for the gigantic cruise ships. My husband took several pictures of the Royal Caribbean cruise ship there. It started to rain as soon as we got back in the car.
We were still thinking about going to the flea market on Rt. 1, but we decided it probably closed at 5 p.m., so we drove to Salt & Pepper, which is a tapas restaurant in Palm Beach. We arrived around 5 p.m. We got escargot, shrimp, lumpia, and bruschetta, plus glasses of the house merlot. We walked around the block, scoped out Amazonia (a Brazilian b-b-que place we were planning to eat at later in the week), and went back to the hotel. My husband wrote postcards. I went to the gym. Also, we watched the NE Patriots vs. San Diego Chargers football game.
We did not get out of bed until 9:30 a.m. My husband got up before me and made a breakfast of an omelet, slices of apples, and a piece of toast. After doing the dishes, we went to the lobby to ask the concierge for directions to Aruba Aloe. There were two couples in front of us, so I stood in line while my husband went to ask the receptionist at the front desk. He got there first, but I took my turn to ask the concierge to make reservations for us at Amazonia and to quiz him about international calling. My cell phone does not work outside of the U.S. He recommended that we buy a pre-paid calling card from a long distance provider named Setar and use the phones outside their office, behind Amazonia. We decided to do that later in the week.
We went to the Aruba Aloe visitor’s center. It is a very nice tourist attraction. They show a short video of the history of aloe farming on the island, walk you around some museum-style exhibits, and give you a tour of the small factory. Of course, there is also a gift shop (Note: It is possible to find the products for less at grocery stores on the island, and it is surprisingly inexpensive at the airport. But, it’s nice to see all the products in one place, so I did buy several lotions there at the gift shop.)
We went to Tomato Charlie’s for lunch, at the main traffic circle in Tanki Flip. It has been a “take away” place on the island since 1957. They also sell Ben & Jerry’s ice cream there. It is easy to get in-and-out of the shopping center and it has good parking. We got the two slices of pizza special, which came with a small soda. We also got a bowl of onion soup, which was excellent. I noticed that the broth had a orange tint and I said to my husband, “I wonder if this is Sazon” (A Goya brand seasoning packet). On the way out, I complimented the soup and my husband said, “That seasoning seems familiar. Do you use Goya Sazon?” The woman smiled and said yes. I wondered how many other Americans would have known that. In fact, we did not see any other Americans while we were there.
We drove around a bit and finally found Ling and Sons grocery store. Basically, it is a couple of blocks behind the Kong Hing, back off of Rt. 1. It is an IGA and it definitely has the look and feel of an American grocery store. I’m not even sure the locals shop there at all, in fact. Everyone we saw was American. We got back to the hotel at 4:45. We rested for 15 minutes, then put on our suits and went swimming at the Marriott Surf Club, just to see how different it is. Better chairs, not as nice of a pool. But, they do have a water slide. The main difference is that it is shaded from the sun and feels comparatively chilly in the evening. We saw a cat curled up in one of the chairs by the pool, keeping an eye on another cat that was in some bushes nearby. The cat looked content and well fed, so my husband asked an employee if it was the hotel staff’s pet. The man quickly said no, that the cats are a nuisance. I was happy to see the cats, anyway.
We hurried back to get ready for dinner. There was a torrential downpour at 6 p.m., so we got the concierge to call the restaurant to tell them that we were running late. We got to La Trattoria el Faro Blanco, near the California Lighthouse, and talked to a hostess at the desk. She answered the telephone just as another couple got to the restaurant. The second host walked up and said hello to that couple, then asked if we had been helped. We said that we did have a reservation and that we had checked in with the first hostess before she took the telephone call. Despite our explanation, he seated the other couple first and that couple did not seem to think for one second about the fact that my husband and I arrived before them. Then, the host tried to seat us on the open air patio and the wind was terribly strong; it was extremely unpleasant. We asked to be moved to sit under the awning, which they were happy to do. Dinner was good. My husband got veal with mushroom sauce. I got fettuccine with shrimp. We split a fairly expensive bottle of Chianti for dinner and realized we simply like merlot better. I was a little disappointed that we did not get to see a nice sunset, but the storm clouds from the earlier rain were interesting to look at as they moved out over the sea. We looked inside at the handful of indoor seating they had and it was completely empty. If we ever go back, I will ask to sit inside. We would probably have the whole area to ourselves.
Back at the hotel, my husband watched a movie on TV and I sat on the deck for a while before going to bed.
My husband made us bacon, fried eggs, and toast, accompanied by a bowl of grapes for breakfast. We had a leisurely morning in the room and left around 11 a.m. We went to the butterfly farm first. A photographer could spend a lot of time in there, as we did. Next, we drove in to town and ate lunch at Iguana Joe’s . It was packed and every single person in there appeared to be a tourist. But, that didn’t matter too much, because the food was very good. We both got a mojito, then we split an entrée. We got the fish of the day, which was grouper. We got it grilled and nicely seasoned, with a side of French fries and the mixed vegetables. The mixed vegetables were carrots, yucca, onion, and a little bell pepper. That might sound like an odd combination, but the way they seasoned it really suited the mixture. While we were there it poured rain outside. The rain passes very quickly though, usually lasting about 10 minutes.
We shopped around after we ate. The best thing we bought was an $8 map (the maps from the rental car places and the tourism maps are not very detailed at all). Unfortunately, we got to the numismatic museum right as it was closing…. 5 p.m. Instead of wandering the town aimlessly for another hour and a half, we went back to the hotel to rest for a few minutes. We drove back in to town and went to the weekly Bon Bini Festival. The entrance fee was $3, then we each got a $2.50 beer and we split the $8 dinner plate. The dinner plate was a very affordable, home-cooked meal: fried rice, an enormous pork chop, a mixed bean salad, and a couple of pieces of fried plantain. All of the chairs were wet from the earlier rain, but the locals in front of us had brought some paper towels and were kind enough to share them with us. So, remember to take some paper towels if you go to this festival. The show began with a steel drum band, continued with the tingilingi box (like a cross between a musical box and a barrel organ), then several dance groups (from young to old), then a folk band, then a soloist singer, then a repeat of everything. There were also some local art vendors. There was a woman selling dessert items, as well. On the way back home, we stopped at the Texaco for gas, which was extremely expensive. The Texaco also happens to be across the street for the turn to go the back way to Ling and Sons grocery store. It might seem awful to think of it this way, but the easiest way to recognize the turn is that it is in between the Taco Bell and the Pizza Hut (Lord Help the Arubians!). Back at the hotel, we ate some cheese and crackers, and went to bed rather early.
We had Cheerios (that we received on the airplane), toast, and grapes for breakfast. Around 9 a.m., we drove out to find Hooiberg, hoping to get there around 10 a.m. There were no directional signs, so we ended up driving all the way around the “mountain,” through Santa Cruz. That ended up being a good thing, because we stopped at the McD’s in Santa Cruz so I could use the bathroom. We finally turned down a small street, drove past several homes, and found the parking area for the stairs up to the top of Hooiberg, which are on the south side of it. About three quarters of the way up, I started hearing truly odd grunting and spitting sounds. Soon enough, I saw a pack of feral goats. They were pretty far away from me and there were lots of cacti in between us, so I wasn’t too concerned. A few of the males had impressive horns. I was happy to see them, anyway. I watched for a couple of minutes, then kept moving. As we neared the top, it began to rain a little, but I was grateful for that, too, because I was very hot from hiking up 500+ steps. Once we got to the top, we were surprised to find two guys repairing the radio tower. One guy was up on the tower and the guy on the ground was belaying and tying various things to a rope for the tower guy to haul up. It was interesting to watch. We spent about 15 minutes at the top and started our descent.
We left Hooiberg and continued south to go to Savaneta. We were challenged by a detour in the road, but we just went with the flow of traffic, so it wasn’t too bad. When we got back on the main road, I was thrilled to find a little take-away that I had seen on the Internet. I had only read about it in someone's travelogue on Virtual Tourist and that person did not know the name of the restaurant or give the exact location. Alas, we were on a mission and didn’t feel like stopping. We finally got back on Rt. 1 and realized we needed to turn and get on the ocean road. We thought we had over-shot Saveneta and gone in to San Nicholas, but when we got on the ocean road, the restaurant we were looking for was right there: The Flying Fishbone . There were hardly any cars in the parking lot. I looked in the guidebook and it said they did not serve lunch. But, we both had to go to the bathroom and we wanted to ask how to get to the Balashi brewery, so we decided to go in and try to talk to someone. We were surprised to find that they were serving lunch…. but we were the only customers! This is a fancy waterfront restaurant and we had the whole restaurant to ourselves. We asked our host about it and he said they had just begun serving lunch, so not many people knew about it. We were grateful for the quiet. We order the fish of the day, which was wahoo, and a bowl of corn chowder with crab. We were given the choice of having the fish as a sandwich or as a salad. We chose the salad. It came over endive, with baby radicchio, cucumber, tomatoes, pine nuts, and a salad dressing I could not quite figure out…. My guess is that it was pureed mango or papaya.
We asked our waiter how to get to the Balashi brewery and he gave us very good directions. We drove there as soon as we were done with lunch. We were a little concerned by the lack of cars in the parking lot and it looked like all the workers were eating lunch at the “beergarden.” There were no other tourists in sight. We asked about tours and she responded, “What time on Tuesday?” I was dumbfounded. My husband explained that we would only be on the island until Saturday. She said they offer tours every day, but they were booked up until next Tuesday. Therefore, the lesson is that you have to book a tour of the factory at least one week in advance. Next, we asked if there was a store to buy Balashi merchandise. She said they only sold t-shirts and glasses there, but that there was a “logo store” with a wide range of product in between Eagle Beach and Palm Beach (i.e., close to the Marriott!!!). In fact, my husband and I had noted the place. Our next question was how to return our bottles, which are worth 10 cents each. She informed us that we could return those at the logo store, as well! I felt a little silly for driving to the brewery for nothing, but I enjoyed our trip to the Flying Fishbone and it was interesting to see the outside of the Balashi factory and the desalinization plant across the street from it.
We drove back to the hotel to rest a little before dinner. Then, we drove back in to Oranjestad, because I had my heart set on going to the Eet Café (also known as The Paddock) for the “all you can eat” ribs night. It took us a while to find a parking place (the lot in front of the restaurant always seems to be full), but we were lucky to find one on a street a block or two off of the waterfront road, near the government buildings. We arrived at the café at 5:10 p.m. and there were plenty of open seats (I thought we would have to be there by 4:30 p.m. to get a seat, but I was quite wrong). The scenery was interesting enough. As we arrived, one enormous cruise ship was pulling out. Soon thereafter, the second, equally enormous cruise ship pulled out. It was kind of fun to watch. We were also treated to a nice sunset, despite the fact that a cell phone tower was right in our line of sight. On the other side, we were looking at the Louis Vuitton shop being renovated, right next to the Ferragamo shop…. I guess someone buys that stuff or it would not be there. Regarding the food, they brought us each a ½ rack of baby back ribs, a tossed salad, and a choice of potato (French fries, baked, or pan fried) or rice. My husband chose a baked potato and I got French fries. The food was good, but not great. The ribs were overcooked, but I suppose I am glad that they erred on the side of food safety, instead of them being undercooked. We did not order a second round of ribs. In fact, we asked to take home (back to the hotel) half of what we were served. We were amazed that the couple sitting behind us asked for more. The clientele was mostly tourists, but I did see a table or two that might have been locals (as opposed to Iguana Joe’s, which was exclusively tourists). As we left, we looked out in the water and saw that there were many, many fish up against the dock. They were literally rolling over each other. I didn’t quite recognize them. They looked a little like smallmouth bass, but they had to have been saltwater fish. The staff of the restaurant was very busy, so we decided not to bother them by asking. We headed back to our car directly.
We struggled to find the optimal way to get going back north without getting on the yacht basin road, but we figured it out eventually.We drove back to the hotel and had an early night of watching a movie (The Outlaw Josey Wales) and reading.
We had scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast for breakfast. At 10:30, we went down to the hotel’s created “iguana habitat” for the iguana feeding. I think about four adults and eight or nine children showed up to watch. We had hoped there would be a bit of an educational program, but it turned out to be a young hotel employee with a bag of lettuce leaves. The iguanas in the “habitat” area are babies, which are shy, so she walked the group back over to the rocks near the swimming pool area, where the larger, full grown iguanas like to hang out. She did help a young boy feed an iguana from out of his hand, which was probably a nice experience for the child. I realized we might be able to see the baby iguanas if we went back by ourselves, since the group was enthralled by the big guys. At first we didn’t see any, but right as we were about to leave we saw two. They are quite a vibrant shade of green. Even though it wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped, I am glad we went and it was smart of the hotel to offer a free, family-oriented activity.
We left fairly late and went to the ostrich farm for the tour. We were there close to Noon and were told that the next tour would leave in about 15 minutes. There is a covered, yet open air bar and restaurant, so we sat and waited for a while. The weekly newspaper had a coupon for a free smoothie with the purchase of a tour ticket, but we had forgotten to bring the coupon with us. We noticed that two men were talking and the guy who appeared to be a local was holding a small hawk-like bird, which he basically handed to a tourist, along with a small piece of steak for the bird. We slowly walked over to have a look at the bird and the tourist handed my husband the bird, explaining how to hold it. The employee of the farm sat at the bar eating a sandwich while all this was going on. My husband was a little nervous at first, but the bird was obviously quite tame, so he relaxed quickly. We asked the employee a few questions and learned that he would be our tour guide. The man explained that the bird was a falcon and that the bird had a mate and a baby nearby. The man showed my husband how to release the bird and it flew very purposefully to a tree outside the restaurant. By the time the tour began, there was a group of about 15 people. It’s a working animal farm, so we were walking on dirt paths and there was no shade at all. I was glad I wore good shoes and that I remembered to put on sunscreen. The tour guide was quite funny and we definitely saw lots of ostriches, and a few emu, as well.
After we left the ostrich farm, we drove down the coast to the area that used to have a natural bridge (it fell down in 2005). The northern coast of the island is completely different from calm, sandy southern coast. We stopped at one point along the way to take some pictures of the rocky shoreline and crashing waves. Many people had stacked up handfuls of rocks like mini cairns. There were dozens of them. It’s rather odd to see them all. We each made our own, said a little prayer, and kept on driving. We stopped for a moment at the gift shop that is where the natural bridge was and we actually bought a few souvenirs.
We back-tracked and took Rt. 4 across the middle of the island to get to a take-away place I had read about on the Internet: the ShaHai Take Away. The owner and his wife were there and we were relieved to find that the owner spoke English, because the menu had a lot of local dishes with which we were not familiar. We told him we had read about his shop on the Internet and he was really surprised. He said very few tourists come to the restaurant. We asked him what he would recommend and he said their “stoba,” which is kind of like beef stew, is popular. He said the “saco” options are also very popular. He explained that the mixed saco includes a piece of roasted chicken, a pork chop, and a few barbequed ribs put in a paper bag to take home or to have a picnic or whatever. Another customer volunteered that he likes the beef tongue that they sell there. We were not feeling extremely adventurous, so we ordered a large stoba and sat on the patio to wait for the food. There was a steady stream of customers, all of whom were obviously locals. Then, a young American couple about our age pulled up. As they were getting out of their car, the restaurant owner asked us if we knew the people. When we said we had no idea who they were, he laughed and said it was his lucky day, to see so many tourists at one time. The couple explained that they had seen me and my husband sitting there on the patio and decided to give the place a try. They were from Long Island, NY. Anyway, the man brought us our stoba and I would say it was kind of like very tender pot roast, or beef cooked in a pressure cooker. It was served over beans and rice (or we could have chosen plain steamed white rice), with a side of French fries, a salad, and a couple of pieces of plantain. I am glad we decided to split a large, because it was a ton of food. The cost of the stoba meal plus two Balashis was $13. I think it was the best food I had the whole trip.
We started to head back towards the hotel after we ate. We stopped at the Balashi logo store, which is on Rt. 1 a little past the Kong Hing grocery store. Our main goal was to return the empty bottles we had, because they are worth 10 cents each. I got a hat and my husband got a t-shirt. After we finished paying, the employee gave us two free cans of beer. Next, we walked up the street to the Palmero rum store. It’s a very small store, and the rum is actually cheaper in the large grocery stores, but the employee on duty was very nice. She explained that the rum is made in the warehouse right behind the store. She listed the various kinds they sell (i.e., light, dark, lemon, coconut, etc.) and offered us samples (which were really only a couple of sips each). She also described some recipes to cook with the different types of rum. We did buy a couple of bottles to give as gifts, and I think the pleasant interaction made the slightly higher cost worth it.
We went back to the hotel and relaxed for a while before going out to dinner. We went to Amazonia. It is a very typical Brazilian steakhouse and the description of it on the web site is perfectly accurate, so I won’t spend too much time describing it. The one tip I will offer is that the parking lot is behind the building. We got there in a rather non-conformist way. We turned off of Rt. 1 and drove across a patch of dirt to get on to the road. I think the way you are supposed to get there is to turn off of Rt. 1 when you see the sign that says “To High Rise Hotels,” and drive down J.E. Irasquin Blvd. Then, you turn at the Hooters. I can’t believe I had to type that, but I have to admit it is a recognizable place.
After dinner, we went to the Setar right next to Amazonia and tried to get a calling card, but the self-service station was not working (it would not accept credit cards, although it claimed to do so). We simply had a quiet night back at the hotel.
Our breakfast consisted of yogurt, toast, and apples. We were going to go downtown in search of music (i.e., to purchase cds), but we decided to stop at the Certified MegaMall. We were happy that we did. It turned out to be a grocery store/convenience store that seemed to be used mostly by locals. One description on Yahoo Travel is not totally correct. It does feel kind of like you are in a warehouse, but it is not like Sam’s, Costco, or BJ’s. It’s just a regular grocery store and it also has a large housewares section. The prices were really good. We purchased some tuna fish for sandwiches on our trip back, as well as some gift items, such as chocolate bars and bottles of Madam Janette hot sauce. Also, the bread at the bakery in front of the store was very beautiful. The bakery was called Huchada. Eschewing their offering of multi-grain bread, we purchased a beef pastechi and a mini-pizza, which we took back to the room and reheated in the oven.
After lunch, we suited up and took a walk down the beach. We walked past the Pelican Pier and almost to the next pier before turning around to go back. We swam in the pool for a while when we got back and went back to the room around 4 p.m. I showered and my husband went back out to walk around more. I called the front desk to get our departure time extended until 11 a.m., because the usual check out time is 10 a.m. I drove to the Setar telecommunication center and to the quickie mart. I called my parents, my brother, and our friends in Texas . After that, my husband had asked me to stop at a small convenience/liquor store near the hotel to pick up one more bottle of Arubian rum as a gift, which I did, although it turned out that the prices in the Certified MegaMall ended up being the best around, including the Palmero Rum gift shop. Upon my return, I sat with my husband to look at the pictures he took. Then, we went to the restaurant side of MooMba for dinner while the sun was setting. My husband got pasta with crab and shrimp. I got pasta with grouper and shrimp. On the way back to the room, my husband got some pistachio ice cream from the shop in the lobby.
We had scrambled egg, bacon, and toast for breakfast. As I finished packing, my husband put together a lunch box of tuna fish sandwiches. The receipt for the hotel room had been slipped under our door and it had instructions for how to do an “express check-out,” so that we would not have to visit the front desk on the way out. We called the phone number, followed the voice prompts, and that was that. We were ready to go by 10:30 a.m. and I went to the lobby for a cart. The attendant asked if he could help me, but I declined. We left the Marriott at 10:45 a.m. We had read in two different places and had heard from several people that the departure procedures were very lengthy and that we needed to be at the airport at least four hours in advance, so we were not exactly lounging around. We had to fill the gas tank of the rental car before returning it, so we headed for the Valero that is the landmark for when you are on the edge of downtown Oranjestad. We were very surprised to find that the pumps are totally full service! There was not a single self-service pump. We drove half way back to the hotel to use the self-service Texaco, which is on the road to the aloe farm. On the way back towards Oranjestad, we realized we had never driven down the waterfront road for the low-rise hotels, so we went to look around. I was thrilled to find an often-photographed divi-divi tree in front of the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort. We pulled over and my husband took lots of pictures of it. The low-rise hotel area reminds me of the Gulf of Mexico resort towns in the U.S., in the sense that the ocean road is in between the hotels and the beach, meaning one must cross a rather busy road to get to the beach from the hotel. But, I would agree that the beach was a bit more picturesque from there.
After taking many photographs, we drove on towards the airport. We arrived at the airport at 1 p.m. The rental car return places are closer to the arrival terminal, but the departure terminal is one building over. That’s not a problem, because the airport is absolutely tiny compared to the three airports in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Here was the process: We walked right up to check in to get our boarding passes and our luggage was put on a conveyor belt, but we were told that we would have to pick it up “on the other side.” Then, we went through Arubian security (take off our shoes, put your carry-on luggage through an x-ray machine, walk through a metal detector, etc.). The line was not long at all and we had no problem getting though. We got our luggage from a carousel just like a post-trip baggage claim, then transferred them to another conveyor belt to take them to the plane. All along, there were attendants pointing to where you should go, so it all went very smoothly. Then, we filled out our international travel declaration form and walked up to the U.S. passport window and got our departure stamp. Then, we went through another round of metal detectors and security. Again, the lines were almost non-existent and we sailed through. We finally reached our terminal around 2 p.m. Keep in mind that our departure time was 5 p.m. !!! We stayed in amazingly good spirits, because we figured that the people “traffic” would have been much worse if we had arrived at 3 p.m. The commerce at the airport was rather unusual. In the strange middle zone in between the Arubian and the U.S. security, everything was oddly inexpensive. A six pack of Balashi was six dollars (the cheapest we had found it on the streets was something like $8 or $10 per six pack). On the other side of the second round of security, the beers were back up to being $4 each. I’m not quite sure I understood what was up with that.
The flight from Aruba to Houston, TX took 4 hours. We spent one night in Stafford, TX to visit friends and one night in Galveston, TX to do some sightseeing before returning to Baltimore. I will be posting my travelogue from that trip soon.