Upon hearing that our annual summer trip destination would be Aruba, I was pleasantly surprised and excited, but not overly thrilled. My hazy expectations predicted lots of time lazing on the beach, eating fast food, and maybe doing some shopping. However, upon stepping off the plane into the airport, I immediately knew there was something different about this place.
The first surprise of the trip occurred before we even left the airport. At the luggage carousel, a lizard the size of my arm was happily riding around with the bags, stuck between a huge pink suitcase and a duffel bag. Our fellow travelers were taking pictures, laughing, and pointing him out to each other. Even the locals were amused. After he was returned outside, we grabbed our bags and took our first steps into the island air.
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We hailed a taxi and were whipped along the nameless streets until we reached Palm Beach, one of the resort areas along some of the nicest beaches in Aruba. The taxi driver told us that the natives speak four languages: Portugese, English, Dutch, and a native dialect. The confluence of the European and Caribbean influences was obvious in the many aspects of the island.
Although a fair amount of time was spent sitting on the white sands of the beach and by the pool of the Westin, watching the blue-green waves and listening to the live island music, the best experiences came from leaving the hotel and venturing out into the streets. One day, we took the bus to the downtown area of Oranjestad and perused through the outdoor and open air shopping plazas. Urban and island culture seamlessly converged, with a Starbucks and stores like Ralph Lauren, Versace, and Coach situated directly across the street from a string of stalls selling homemade items such as jewelry, handbags, and trinkets. There were various cuisine offerings, and the streets were adorned with fountains, murals, and Dutch architecture. Simply wandering around gave you a true feel for the island, whether you were bartering at the market or grabbing ice cream and watching cruise ships dock at the port.
Another day, we booked an excursion out to De Palm Island with the concierge, which offered various activities. I snorkeled in the shallows and saw the comical parrot fish, among countless other species, and got an up-close view of the coral. My mom learned how to salsa, and my sister rode a banana boat. My dad was content to sit in the shade, eat the delicious buffet food, and nap. The island also offered a water park and scuba diving.
Even after all that, my personal favorite activity was a short one I almost missed. My sister and I had been promised a parasailing trip and we could hardly wait to go. However, I seemed to have forgotten my fear of heights, which I quickly recalled as soon as we got on the boat. My family finally convinced me to try it, it so I got hooked onto the parachute and away we went. It was absolutely breathtaking. The breeze brought up the salty spray, and there was an expanse of clear turquoise water below, boats dotting the distance to one side, and the entire island from coast to coast on display on the other. It was truly unforgettable, and I would recommend it to anyone.
Aruba can do many things for a traveler. It can surprise you, relax you, scare you, teach you, and empower you. Some opportunities you find, and some find you, but in the end, you will leave the island with something invaluable.
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