Took off last week for a little Caribbean vacation to celebrate the union of one of my best lady friends, Ms. Fauver, and her man Al. Lucky for us (aren't we just rolling in it these days?) we ran into friends at SFO who were on our same flight to Miami, one of whom was a member of the Admiral's Club. Sort of assumed there'd be free booze, but maybe it was for the best since our layover was four hours long and started at 5:55 a.m. Another four hours and we'd landed in Aruba, gone through a very antiquated security check, picked up a rental car and found our way to the hotel.
Where we were greeted by Ralphie the dog.
And a little reminder of home.
After a few minutes of howdy-dos our host Peter insisted we visit a few local bars. Not much of an argument on our part, especially as he was seconded by Dave the Submariner who'd come for a week's vacation and was on his second week and counting.
Ended up in Charlie's Bar, a San Nicholas institution since 1941.
Plenty of Balashis and a few shots of rum to get us acquainted.
Followed by a short tour of the streets.
The town of San Nicholas is way down at the south-western tip of the island, about an hour's drive from the touristy area (even though the whole island's only 19 miles long the roads are all two-laners so it takes forever to get around) and sprung up around the oil refinery to house its workers. Because its primarily blue-collar (and I assume far enough away from all the club-med style family resorts) there's a healthy red-light business going on with the government allowing women 3 month visas to come and ply their trade. At the end of their visa they have to go back home "that way no one gets bored with the same girls all the time". Not sure I can argue with that.
Back at our place we had a moment to relax before heading up to a party at Fauver's parents house. We'd decided to stay in Savaneta, (just north of San Nicholas) instead of the main hotel/resort area, an idea which turned out to be as awesome as I'd hoped, with minimal tourists and water right at our feet. This also meant that we had to leave ourselves about an hour to get anywhere since the whole driving situation there was pretty funny (think lots of crappy little Toyotas peeling out for no reason and strange pockets of traffic originating behind large diesel trucks). Plus the lack of signage helped us get lost most of the time.
Getting lost isn't that bad when there's a full moon and its still 70 degrees out.
Made it just in time.
Al's dad made it on time as well and he'd come all the way from Ireland.
Chats with the groom.
Probably not the best of ideas, but it always seems like one.
Got to witness a total eclipse of the heart.
Then home to bed and this lovely view.
Woke up a little worse for the wear.
Couldn't really complain, though.
Fortified ourselves with some breakfast and mimosas and headed out for a 3-hour catamaran sail.
Rum punch, sandwiches and snorkeling set everything right again. Got to see lots of pretty fish and the wreck of a German cargo ship sunk during WWII.
Drove home through Oranjestaad to see what we were missing. I think the term "Disneyland" sums it up nicely.
So much better at the Coral Reef Beach. Napped off the rum and sunstroke, then took ourselves out for a nice dinner. It never quite feels right paying more for food in a foreign country than you would in your own, especially when you know the price is adjusted for tourism (unless of course, you're in France and everything's more expensive). It reminded me a lot of the touristy parts of Mexico where you have lots of great little cheap spots, but if you want a full on sit-down with drinks and whatnot you have to succumb to the American standard.
You couldn't beat the Marina Pirata for ambiance, though.
The surrounding Spanish Lagoon and the creole-cooked fish were awfully nice as well.
Stopped by an abandoned building on the way home, but didn't stray too deep on the off chance that it was filled with machete-wielding squatters who didn't understand English.
Jumped up and drove into town for a Ladies' luncheon, which gave Frankie some time to check out the local skate park.
Apparently its still a fledgling industry over there.
Made poor Frankie sit in the car an extra hour while I downed champagne and made friends with the ladies, after which we decided to stay in the area for some lounging-by-the-pool-time at my new friend Bess's hotel (her boyfriend having already begun the process while we were lunching).
Once again took the round about way to get there. Strangely, no pool pictures were taken, but suffice to say that many hours and many rum drinks came and went in true vacation style. By that point our numbers had swelled to six, having run into a couple that we'd seen in the airport and then chatted with at Marina Pirata the night before. Dinner seemed appropriate so we piled everyone into the rented Yaris (always fun) and drove back towards our neck of the island in search of cheap eats. Made a pit stop by the Balashi brewery for a strangely quiet happy hour, perhaps due to the near impossibility of finding the entrance which involved two dirt roads, many gates and a turn-off available only from one side of the highway. I suppose that only made $1.50 beers that much sweeter.
The lovely Miss Bess.
Evening's such a wonderful time when its warm out.
Followed those beers up with more beers and tapas at a Brisas Del Mar, a restaurant just down the road from our place. As the name implies, seafood was in abundance with most major sea creatures represented in some sort of batter or sauce. On a whim, we threw in some escargot to balance things out. It should also be noted that at about this point my digital camera died an untimely death, its little screen resembling a piece of modern art. Looks like we're old-school from here on out.
Its curtains for you, Rocky.
Know your ABCs? That's Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, silly. Located in the Southern Caribbean Sea, the island of Aruba is a mere 17 miles off the coast of Venezuela, though this sadly was not reflected in the gas prices. Colonized for many years by the Dutch, Aruba is now listed as a Constituent Country of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, though I can't figure out exactly what that means beyond something like "independent, but not quite". Go ahead and untangle that one on your own. Though a tiny island (only about 20 miles long and 7 across the widest part) Aruba nonetheless has some serious petroleum refining going on (again not reflected at the bloody gas stations), as well as some more than hearty tourism likely due to its being outside the hurricane belt and thus warm and dry all year round. Its also got a houdini-like reputation for making blond girls disappear.