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Aruba – Paradise Finally Found

After eight days of beating our way through squalls and against currents, the coast of Aruba looks like paradise finally found. Warm tropical showers wash the accumulated salt off Sea Whisper and the seas change colour from a Waterman’s deep inky blue to the brilliant turquoise one sees in the travel magazines. 

Aruba, 19.5 miles long and six miles across at its widest point, was once part of the Dutch Antilles.  Granted autonomy in 1986, it is now the leading tourist island of the Dutch Leewards for American, Europeans and Latin Americans with its upmarket resorts on mile-long, sand beaches, crystal clear waters, average temperature of 27C, cooling trade winds, scant rainfall and legalized gambling.  As a matter of fact, with all of the visiting cruise ships and new casinos, Aruba is often called the “Las Vegas” of the Caribbean.

Two of the three Aruban ports are located at Barcadera, an industrial port, and San Nicolas (Sint Nicolaas), operated by the Coastal Aruba Refining Company and including oil terminals.  Both ports are quite dirty and smelly.  Most pleasure boats enter the third port in Oranjestad, the capital city of Aruba and call 16/11 to contact the Aruba Port Authorities to clear Customs, and Immigration.

Anchorages are available at Roger’s Beach, south of San Nicolas; the airport anchorage is 12 to 16 feet deep either northwest of the runway or in the lagoon south of the runway and an alternative anchorage is about three miles north of Oranjestad near the Mariott Hotel.

As we maneuver into the customs dock in Oranjestad, a big party catamaran overflowing with sunburned tourists squeezes in front of us to disembark its guests. Afterwards, the crew invites us to join them for ‘Welcome to Aruba’ drink and provides us with local knowledge about the island. As we part ways, they give us a ‘Welcome to Aruba’ bottle of champagne.  This kind of welcome works for us!  I must admit that the three foot iguana sitting on the dock awaiting our arrival did cause me to hesitate before jumping onto the dock.  Immigration and Customs arrive, greet us and clear us in a 10 minute procedure.  This is easy!

We motor to the Renaissance Marina downtown, part of the Renaissance Hotel complex which includes shops, a casino, marina, and a private island.  Here we find fresh running water, 110, 220, and 360V as well as 60H electricity, satellite TV, 24-hour security, laundry facilities, showers, and ice machines.  This marina is touted as a safe and calm port, out of the hurricane belt. As marina guests, Lionel and I are picked up inside the Renaissance hotel by launch and ferried to the Renaissance’s private island which is a tiny paradise in itself; beautiful pink flamingos parade amongst the sunbathers on the beach and lounges are discreetly scattered amongst palm trees; privacy and tranquility at its best.  

Lionel finds that the selection of marine stores here is somewhat limited as this island is more of a rest stop for cruisers on their way into the Caribbean or heading to Panama.  Our next few mornings include boat chores—re-sewing sail slides, repairing odds and sods, and getting Sea Whisper clean and tidy; the afternoons are for sightseeing and lazing around the pool.  There are several large grocery stores nearby for provisioning and we find Oranjestad to be a clean, well-maintained tourist city of glitzy boutiques, duty free shops, expensive designer stores, time-share booths, restaurants, and casinos.

Driving along the rural coast, we admire the distinctive divi-divi trees bent by the wind and take photos of iguanas, donkeys, wild sheep and goats.  We stop at a busy resort for a quick, cooling swim and a look around.  One of the most popular sights, the Caribbean’s largest natural coral bridge, 25 feet high and 100 feet long, collapsed in September 2005 from the constant pounding of the surf.  Now we have a ‘before’ postcard with the bridge intact and an ‘after’ photo in its current collapsed state.  After visiting a tiny, pretty church at the sea, Lionel treats me to dinner at a romantic outdoor restaurant with pools, lanterns, and arched bridges.  The specialty of the house entails the use of a ‘hot rock’ that acts as a grill on which you cook meat at your own table. 

With Sea Whisper tied to the dock downtown, we meet tourists from everywhere who are surprised to discover that we “really sailed all this way from Vancouver”.  After a week of enjoyment here, exploring, wining and dining, catching up on chores, partying in a carnival parade and meeting friendly locals and yachties, we venture out in search of some peace and quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  This time we’re off to Curacao.

Before leaving on a three year journey by sea aboard Sea Whisper, as a health practitioner, Laurie McDonald wrote a column for a western Canada health-related magazine. Her travel adventures are published in Canadian magazines and newspapers.

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