Tuesday, September 6, 2011

88 Degrees and Sunny

That's what the weatherman predicted here for today. And the day before that, and the day before that. Can you guess where I am? If you said Aruba, you'd be absolutely correct. In fact, being the weatherman in Aruba has got to be the easiest job in the world: "It's going to be in the mid-80s with steady breezes and almost no chance of rain. Back to you, Bob." When it does rain here, it generally occurs from mid-October to mid-January and amounts to about 16 inches for the entire year. In the Pacific Northwest, from where I hail, we call that much rain Tuesday. And while Aruba is in the Atlantic Hurricane Belt, it lies at its southernmost edge and chances of a direct hit from one are minimal.

Aruba's history is not quite as sunny as the weather, however. Its original inhabitants were the Caquetio Indians of the Arawak tribe from South American. They lived first as fishers-hunters-gatherers and then as agriculturalists for thousands of years, until the arrival of the Spanish in 1499. Alonso de Ojeda claimed the island for the Spanish crown, and called it "la isla de los gigantes" or "island of the giants". This was a reference to Caquetio, who were known to be large in stature. But after finding no gold or riches, the name was changed to "isla inutíl", or "useless island". It was then systematically, and completely, depopulated of its original inhabitants. The Spanish got their comeuppance at the hands of the Dutch in the 1630s, however, and it has remained a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands ever since. Gold was eventually found on the island and along with aloe, petroleum, phosphate and tourism, have helped give Aruba one of the highest standards of living to be found in the Caribbean. But it is the weather that has helped make it the destination spot with the highest rate of return visits of any island in the Caribbean. Did I mention it's 88 degrees and sunny today?

Oranjestad is the capital of Aruba and offers many historic sites, museums, restaurants, galleries and night spots. Make sure to hit the Aruba Aloe Museum & Factory, where you will get the fascinating history of this healing plant, as well as a tour of the factory and free samples of aloe products. Even though aloe vera is a huge part of the island's economy - it is even featured on its flag - it is not native to Aruba. It was introduced about 160 years ago, and at one point had taken over about two thirds of its land mass. They've since gotten that under control, and if you've ever used aloe on a burn or other skin issue, there's a good chance it came from here.

The Numismatic Museum is another one to put on your itinerary. I know it sounds like a museum dedicated to washing machines or some such, but numismatic refers to the collecting of coins. Yeah, this one started about fifty years ago when a fellow named Mario Odor was mowing his lawn. He happened upon a coin dating from the late 18th century, and then caught the numismatic bug. In all, his collection houses over 33,000 pieces from countless countries, and dates back as far as 400 BC. Why is it that whenever I mow my lawn, all I ever find is my neighbor's dog poop? Of course this guy has to walk around with the name Mario Odor, so I guess life just isn't fair all the way around. Oooh, and there is even a model train museum here. Know what it's called? Model Trains Museum. Alright, so the name is not terribly creative, but it is home to trains dating back to 1895 from Germany, The U.S.A., The UK, and The Netherlands. If you read my blog regularly - you do, don't you? - then you know how I feel about trains, and we'll just leave it at that.

But Aruba has many attractions outside Oranjestad. Among them are Arikok National Park, Bubali Bird Sanctuary, Aruba's Butterfly Farm, Indian Caves, the Historic Gold Mills, and much more. There really is a lot to see and do on this island of just 75 square miles (slightly larger than DC). You might want to arrange for a bus or jeep tour so that you can get a taste for everything to see and do here.

Of course the beaches are what keep people coming back, and my timeshare rental is located in Palm Beach, the best of them all. This two-mile-long strip is home to glamorous accommodations, beach bars, restaurants, and shops. Its calm waters are ideal for swimming and snorkeling, and its sunsets are just out of this world. I have a 1-bedroom/1-bathroom, oceanfront unit at Marriott's Aruba Surf Club, which is rated 4.5 stars by RedWeek.com members. It features a 10,700 square foot casino, an outdoor swimming pool, a lazy river, and health club - all onsite. All units feature spacious living and dining areas, full kitchens, multiple TV sets, VCR, and a private balcony.

Well, I am off to catch another perfect sunset at the California Lighthouse. No, I haven't gotten myself lost again. This beautiful beacon is located at the northwestern tip of Aruba and offers the most spectacular views of the island from its elevated perch. It is named after the U.S.S. California which sunk in 1908, and lies in about 20 feet of water just offshore from the lighthouse. That was the fourth U.S. ship to bear that name, and its replacement didn't fare much better. It was bombed and torpedoed in the Pearl Harbor attack, causing it to sink and take 100 members of her crew down with her. Wisely, a sixth U.S.S. California was never commissioned. On a cheerier note, it's 88 degrees and sunny here. Did I mention that already?

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