Aruba, home to Dutch chocolate and clear water, was proving hot, brown and spurious as my family of nine bounced across the desert in a rustic van frantically searching the unforgiving landscape for any sign of life. The sun was falling without magnanimity, taking our precious natural search-light (and the sanity of my grandmother and aunt). Panic had set in, with ‘What are we going to do with his body?’, ‘He is so selfish’, and ‘He probably wandered off and had a heart attack’ as prominent laments, intermixed with the sporadic ‘Mom… I have to go to the bathroom’.
To this point the trip had satiated, with unanimity bringing us happily to the beach to soak up the sun, and evenings spent savoring sunsets. When the ‘Vacationmobile’ took its turn for the desert, this familial conviviality deteriorated rapidly.
As an active family, frequently found juxtaposing biking/hiking trails and lying on the beach (with the intent of proving that the former is the only way to go), we quickly fulfilled our allotted time lying around and were off to the Alto Vista Chapel and neighboring California Lighthouse.
The road to the chapel spit us out in the desert, where the rocky coastline spilled into the roaring ocean. After a brief stop at the church, there was no option but to hike down to the coast with endearing huts decorating its face.
Before departing, we crossed a dirt ‘road’ where my 72 year-old grandfather adamantly insisted on a walk to the lighthouse, instructing us to pick him up on our way. Thirty minutes later we were bumping down the road after trekking to the chapel, stopping along the way to look at every flower, praying at the altar and taking a group photo. The surrounding landscape featured tumbleweed, a few decrepit shacks and NO sign of our grandfather.
‘He is so selfish,’ my grandmother said as panic set in, ‘he probably wandered off into the desert and had a heart attack’.
Escalating on that, my aunt added, ‘How are we going to get his suitcase home?’ having decided that he was most certainly dead in the desert behind an obscure rock.
Upon reaching the lighthouse sans granddad, the rest of my family became a bit anxious as well. None of us had international service, negating a ‘where are you?’ call, so we drove back, on the slight chance we missed him. The mania never ceased, with mutters of ‘selfish’ and ‘heart attack’ continuing for 50 MINUTES as my brother and I sat in the back seat using the sheer comedy of the escapade to mask our fear.
We then called the police (who didn’t speak English), informed them of a missing man in the desert, and returned to the rental as a last ditch effort, where we unexpectedly found granddad grinning sheepishly outside.
Visible steam escaped my grandma’s ear; fury emanated in waves from her body, and to ‘cool off’ she had a little conversation with my grandfather out front.
Afterwards it was discovered that granddad, growing weary, had taken a ‘shortcut’ to the lighthouse, on the way stopping at a shack and paying a man for a ride. Upon getting to the lighthouse and noticing our absence, he took to the beach, figuring that we had decided to go there because we DIDN’T think he was DYING IN THE DESERT. Not finding us there (surprise!), he returned to the rental, where we reunited, albeit tensely.
Not long after, we were back in planning mode, arranging to rent bikes the next day, sure to add that no one was wandering off alone.
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