Aruba dreaming on such a winter's day....

One of the best Christmas presents I EVER received was a cassette. With it were strict instructions. "Find a single source of light, like a desk lamp and put it on, put on a bathing suit lie on my bed with the light facing me. Close your eyes and play the tape." I was transformed from a snowy winter day to a hot afternoon on the dock of my friend's summer rental in the Finger Lakes of New York State.

Rental car is the key to a great trip
On this cold January day when Bridgewater is digging out from yet another snowstorm, let me offer you a similar vicarious experience. You don't need to wear a bikini! Just pour yourself something warm in your mug and read, imagining yourself exploring Aruba.

We arrived in Aruba and found that their motto of "One Happy Island" did not include taxi drivers, so we rented a car.  It was a defining choice and made the vacation interesting.

N plays "where's iguana"
We spent a night in the Aruba Renaissance.  The Renaissance has two hotels in one. An "adults only" hotel and "family" hotel. Our reservation, made through Priceline, was accidentally made for the adults' hotel, but we had 2 children.  The receptionist very, very reluctantly changed our room after much discussion. My mother- and father-in-law stayed at the adults section. We stayed in the family hotel.

Private island filled with wildlife
The best part of the hotel wasn't facilities on-site which were very nicely designed but otherwise unremarkable. The treat was their private island. A free boat takes guests to an mini-island filled with wildlife. We spent a wonderful day relaxing and swimming on this little piece of paradise. While the rest of us were sunbathing or reading, my son spent the entire time enthralled by the geckos, hermit crabs and iguanas. The island had everything we needed. A restaurant/bar, an opportunity for SCUBA diving or snorkeling, private massages, bath-water temperatures in the enclosed beach area and hammocks for relaxing with a good book.

Our private pool with a view of the lighthouse
For a family of six, including Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad, and C and N, two hotel rooms during high season can get very pricey. We chose another option. For the next six nights we rented a house. Casa del Viento was perfect for our family's needs. The website's pictures were true to form. Although it wasn't walking distance from restaurants or shops, the location couldn't have been better for us. We didn't want to be in the middle of a strip of at-capacity hotels. We wanted something more quiet and personal. Located across the street from Arashi Beach, and a short walk from the California Lighthouse, we felt very safe both day and night in this residential neighborhood. Having our own pool was perfect.

The streets of Oranjestad
Generally speaking, no one plans for rain when packing for an Aruba vacation. We didn't either. Boots would have been more useful than flip-flops on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Since we couldn't swim when it started to thunder, we headed out to explore the island. Unfortunately, we got stranded by flash flooding. At one point the rain was coming down so hard that it was difficult to guess the water's depth and we had to pull over and wait. There was stayed, watching cars try to maneuver flash floods for more than an hour. 

We would have gone stir crazy in a hotel room. Casa del Viento had games, plenty of English language TV channels and a good selection of books. Best of all, for our teenager sporting a new ipod touch, the house had a fast wireless network! C was in 7th heaven as she Facebooked and chatted her way through the rainy days. I didn't mind internet access, either.

Andicuri Bay - Where you don't find hotels
Luckily it cleared up. When we weren't trying the local beaches (Arashi, Boca, Malmok and Hadicurari lie walking distance from the house), we explored the island by car. One day we drove across the island, past San Nicolas. It was a stark reminder of the difference between "clean tourist Aruba" and the many towns scattered throughout the Caribbean where poverty and financial struggle are the norms. Although some neighborhoods were sketchy it was good to show the children this side of Aruba as well. We drove past San Nicolas only to be more shocked by widespread garbage washed ashore on Bachelors Beach. Still, it had an eerie beauty. Despite all the trash, we watched harsh waves crash against the shore where windsurfers and surfers were having a great time.

Diego's cousins?
Alto Vista Chapel
Our car also offered us a chance to see other island gems. We were saddened by the number of underfed street dogs. Our own Diego was a rescued "Sato" from the streets of Puerto Rico, so these dogs touched us (and made us miss him more). Alto Vista Chapel is beautiful and simple. Finding several stray dogs there, emaciated but friendly, moved us to buy a bag of dog food and return to feed them. We found we loved this part of the island, away from the "High Rise" or "Low Rise" hotel neighborhoods, where we got a taste of how many people live on Aruba, in their (mostly) single-story, colorful houses along windy dirt roads.
A "natural" cacti planter?
Christmas spirit outside a bright home
It's the little things that we liked about Aruba. The beautiful sunsets, the warm-but-not-too-hot weather, the small beaches scattered across and the funky houses. Along one side of the island, wherever you are, you can just start wading. Many tourists praise Aruaba's restaurants. A broken refrigerator forced us to try a few. Madame Janette (expensive but great) and the Dutch Pancake House (cheap and good, but slow) were our favorites.

The fresh morning air inspired me to start the day with a run. During the day we played in the water and read on the beach. We ended each day with a good meal.

As I sit in the sub-freezing, dropping temperature, it's hard to believe that Aruba is only 4 1/2 hours away. I hope these images have helped you warm up a little as you took a vacation in your mind.


Jem said…
Oh, Poppet, what a lovely holiday! sounds like you made the best of the rain and your accommodations! I'm jealous!

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