Aloe Aruba!!

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October 10th 2012
Published: June 26th 2017
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Cartagena to Aruba

I recently heard a saying: 'Every day on board is like a new adventure wrapped up in a dream.' I told a Canadian passenger as we both watched the coast of the tiny island of Aruba near.

'That is so true', he said. 'Is that Mark Twain or perhaps Huxley? '
I replied. ‘It is by that well known British philosopher, Dennis Tanner from Coronation Street!!'

Aruba is a small island that forms part of the Netherlands Antilles along with Bonaire, Curacao and Saba. It lies off the coast of Venezuela, South America and is roughly the same size and shape as the Isle of Man. The only difference is that in Aruba it is sunny all year round but on the down side there is no Laxey wheel!!!

There are 4 languages spoken in Aruba: Dutch, English, Spanish and the local dialect known as Papiamento.

The ship arrived in Aruba early and was tied up just after 12 noon. We took a leisurely lunch before heading ashore. In fact we have had more leisurely lunches than hot dinners on this cruise. Come to think of it, all our leisurely lunches HAVE been hot dinners!!! Work that one out!

We went ashore about 1:30pm but this time there were no locals to greet us, bearing fruit and herbs (as we now all know what bananas are!!) on top of their heads or otherwise!!

The terminal building was more open plan than in Cartagena. There was a distinct change in the weather as well. It was still in the mid to high 70s but this time the humidity was much less than in previous ports. Welcome to the Caribbean!!!

We headed straight to the information point and were greeted by a friendly smiling official.

‘Good day to you, Madam. How can I be of service?' he directed his question to Roisin. Well at least I hope it was to Roisin!!

‘Yes. Can you tell us the best way to get to California Lighthouse?' asked Roisin.

‘Outside you will see a kiosk with Aruba tours. There it is $20 for a 2-½ hour tour around the island.' Not what we expected to hear. Nothing about the bus station being literally across the road and it costing only a few dollars. Nevertheless perhaps it would be good to be chauffeured around in this heat in an air-conditioned coach. This would do for us. We were happy to pay this to see probably all there is to see on this tropical paradise. Princess was running tours to an Ostrich farm. If I want to see ostriches I can go to the local zoo back in the UK. There was also a tour to a butterfly farm. I'm sure they are not special to the island either. If you think of a butterfly as a moth with a bit of pigment then the idea of visiting such a place becomes less attractive!! We would both like to visit Casabari rocks and the Californian Lighthouse. Both were on the itinerary for this local tour. So there it was. Plan A was down the toilet but we reverted to plan B. The only draw back was that the 44-seater coach needed 20 persons. Any less and we'd have to transfer to a smaller mini coach.

I think people are wary of an empty coach. A lot of passengers were just ignoring this offer and walking straight past the tour kiosk in to Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba. I'm sure once they see people sitting on the coach others will shortly follow. We took the plunge.

We were first on the coach but it wasn't long before we were joined by another couple then 2 more. Soon there were 18 people on board all eager to see what delights Aruba had to offer us. The driver and our host was happy with 18 and we were off!

Our first impression while driving through the streets of Oranjestad was that it is very commercialised. There are plenty of bars, hotel complexes, restaurants and shops. It is very much a holiday resort. As we moved in to the suburbs we saw no evidence of poverty (by western standards) as is commonplace amongst many Caribbean islands. All houses seemed to be of a decent standard. We were advised by Michael, our host, that unemployment on the island was only running at 1.5%

After about 20 minutes we pulled in to our first stop, the Casabari rocks. These dramatic formations in the centre of the island are shaped by clusteres of boulders and have been eroded by the trade winds. Some formations are as big as houses with each boulder weighing several tons.

The boulders can be climbed, at the top a panoramic view of the island can be seen. Aruba is very flat except for 1 lone mound. It looks like a volcano but I'm assured it's just an innocent hill!!

On the way down from the top of the rock I stopped dead in my tracks. There in front of me was a rather large and menacing looking iguana. The lizard had also frozen in its tracks. I looked at it and it looked at me. It was a stand off! No one was around me so I gave it the quick, ‘Crouching tiger, hidden dragon' stance; the old ‘one, two, kung-fu action. Mr Iguana knew when he was beaten and scuttled off under the nearest rock.

Our next stop was to an Aloe Vera factory. ‘Oh, here we go', I thought. The usual agreement these companies have will local businesses to bring a load of tourists to spend their hard earned cash on stuff they wouldn't have dreamt of buying if they weren't pushed in that direction!! However, I must admit, the short tour of the 20 strong factory was very interesting. The Aloe Vera plant is still cut manually as there are no machines that can extract the gel from the plant.

At the end of the tour, one has to walk through the shop to get to the exit. Now Roisin can usually spot a bargain when it comes to these kinds of products and none were to be found here! They were over priced but that didn't stop a few fellow passengers reaching in their purses for the cash or plastic that would secure them a little piece of Aruban Aloe. We were just happy to stay in the shop with the air-con until the bus was ready to leave.

Across from the factory lies the field where the Aloe plants are cultivated. In the field stood a lone tree. These trees I found out later are known as the divi-divi tree. Does that mean they are twice as ‘thick' as other trees. The div-divi tree is not half as stupid as the name sounds as they are nature's compass. All these trees point in a south-westerly direction thanks to the trade winds (again!).

We took a detour through Aruba's golf club where some of the hottest properties on the island are situated. Some of these houses have been sold in excess of $2.5 million.

Our final stop was to the extreme northern tip of the island, to the California Lighthouse. This structure was named after the SS California that sank off the coast of Aruba. The lighthouse was built in 1910. We were not told when the SS California sank. Now either the lighthouse didn't do its job (boat sank!) or they only built the lighthouse as a result of a risk assessment (boat still sank!!) Either way, I would have been straight on to the council for a new boat!! (and I'd want the new/existing lighthouse named after my old boat!) I wonder if the captain ever got a new vessel??!!

While we have been enjoying our experience (and hopefully you have enjoyed reading about it) Roisin has been suffering for the past few days with a toothache. This has got progressively worse. I suggested it sounded like an abscess and that we should seek a visit to the ships doctor.

The last time I had seen the inside of a ships surgery was when I was in Portsmouth visiting Nelson's flagship, the HMS Victory. Gone are the days of rusty saws and blunt scalpels. This was a state of the art waiting room with reception area and even a fully equipped operating theatre. A triage nurse assessed the problem and almost immediately thereafter Roisin saw Senior doctor Shoba Varatharajoo. Born in Malaysia, she completed her medical training in the West Indies and went on to pursue postgraduate work and emergency medicine in the UK.

At this point Roisin said: ‘This is all very interesting Doctor but we're not on ‘This is Your Life!!' While I'm here is there any chance of putting some of your emergency medicine in to practice and telling me what the damage is??' (some poetic licence may have been used here!!)

The ‘damage' turned out to be $172!! I am please to announce since this episode the antibiotics are doing their job and the pain has subsided somewhat. (unlike the pain in my wallet!!)

Trivia. Tonight's quiz was on tropical music. It was so bad some teams who we consider to be our rivals dropped out after the 3rd question. This ‘guess the title/artist ‘ was about Reggae music. The answers to the first 6 questions were ‘Bob Marley and the last 3 were UB 40. Those in between were groups I'd never heard of. All tracks were obscure unless you are avid fans of either of these artistes. Rick and Dave gave a valiant effort. The rest of us were about as useful as jock straps in a eunuch's 5-aside charity football match!!

So our last port of call before we disembark. We now have 2 days at sea where we will sail the final 1099 nautical miles from Aruba across the Caribbean Sea passing Haiti and Cuba before landing in Fort Lauderdale/Port Everglades.

It was announced that the most travelled passengers on this voyage are Mr and Mrs Schoenenbrun from Palm City Florida. They have made a total of 726 sea days with Princess deserving of a seat at the Captains table. In comparison, the number of sea days we have spent on Princess wouldn't even qualify us for a place at the ‘Grease Monkeys' table

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