With more than 30 major islands to choose from – from the hush wilderness of Dominica to the desert-like terrain of Curacao – the Caribbean can be almost all things to all people.
Want a back-to-nature hiking experience? You got it. Want to be pampered in a five-star resort where the staff-to-guest ratio runs at two to one and the toughest decision you will make each day is whether to have a hot stone or a massage? No problem. Or do you just want to chill at a place where there is no TV, no telephone service and where dinner is no more elaborate than the catch of the day? Consider it done.
But choosing the right Caribbean vacation is not as simple as blocking out the dates and going online to find the best airfares – for the infinite possibilities of the Caribbean can cut both ways.
You can end up with the trip of a lifetime or a vacation from hell. Just ask a newly married couple who have planned a romantic getaway only to find themselves sharing the pool with dozens of screaming children, or the adventure-seeking windsurfer who has ended up the windless side of the island, or the party animals who didn’t realize that the hot spot they heard so much about last year is a different island this year.
Well, first of all, my wife Becky and I are not hard to please. Give us some sun and sand, and we feel we are in heaven. So Becky chose the island of Aruba which lies at the southeastern end of the Caribbean 15 miles off the Venezuelan coast. I had some tribulations because of the disappearances of the lovely teenager from Birmingham who was traveling to Aruba on a class trip and the older lady who was snorkeling in the ocean with a Maryland man. Both got lots of TV news time, and have never been seen since.
The Alabama teenager – Natalee Holloway – was among 125 classmates who came to Aruba on their senior trip, a booming tourist business at that time. But the senior trips from the United States has now waned despite efforts by the Aruban government and tourist officials to meet with U. S. school people in a campaign declaring that Aruba was a safe place to visit. The chief suspect, Joran van der Sloot, faces trial in Peru for allegedly killing a young Peruvian girl.
In the other case, the Maryland man went free after a probe by local officials because they could never find her body. Despite having an insurance policy on her life, he returned to Maryland where he now faces an indecent exposure charge.
Nevertheless, Americans and Europeans still come to Aruba in droves. Our plane from Atlanta was full. Popular Aruba offers miles of white sand beaches adorned with swaying palm trees and caressed by the gentle ebb and flow of crystal-clear turquoise waters.
We are staying at the Divi Village Golf and Beach Resort, one of 34 resorts on the island which is 20 miles long and six miles wide. Just steps out our backdoor is a spectacular, infinity swimming pool with water flowing over rocks, a 30-feet circle slide and a foot-bridge crossing part of the pool which winds in-and-out in a curving fashion for some 300 feet, Just beyond the pool is a nine-hole golf course and to the front an up is the ocean with its white sandy beach.
Aruba is mostly flat and small, generously scattered with volcanic boulders. The climate is warm and humid, but rainfall is generally poor, and vegetation is sparse apart from the watapana, dividdivi and palm trees and the cacti and succulent plants that grow here. It takes less than four hours to fly non-stop from Atlanta to Aruba and we used frequent-flyer miles for our trip which began in Lexington.
Aruba became part of the Netherlands Antilles in 1634, but seceded in 1986, becoming an internally self-governing part of the Netherlands. The monarch is represented by a governor, but the 21 members of the States of Aruba are directly elected. Arubans are mainly of African, European and Asian descent, and most are Roman Catholic. Dutch is the official language, but a Spanish creole is widely spoken.
Tourism is almost the sole source of revenue. Prices are high on food since most of it is shipped to the island. Aruba has surfaced roads, deep-water harbors and an international airport. Most drinking water is distilled from seawater. Education is not compulsory, but literacy lervels are very high.
On the island are some 10 casinos, 27 nightspots and more than 100 places to eat. Dressed up or dressed down, high energy or laid back, a night out on Aruba is something to remember. So are the days with its marvelous sites, beautiful white sandy beaches and the bluish, clear water.
Don Mills is a Kentucky journalist who lives in Lexington.