Sometimes you just end up somewhere and when you do you think, WOW! Two stand out places this has happened to me are Aruba and Cartagena.
During my last visit to my beloved Venezuela I found myself with time to spare before I had to return to the U.K so I turned up at the airport information desk in Maiquetia ( aka Simon Bolivar) airport and asked the lovely lady which flights were leaving within the next few hours. I love doing this, I find it really exciting!
She gave me two choices, Aruba and Cartagena. Ooh, how to decide? So I chose Aruba for a week followed by a flight to Bogota and a connecting hop to Cartagena, Fab! I fancied Cartagena for the Caribbean setting, gorgeous colonial architecture and because it featured in one of my favourite films Romancing The Stone. (Vera Cruz Mexico was the location stand in for Cartagena but I didn’t know that then.)
I flew with https://www.aviorair.com/ it took maybe 50 minutes to Aruba from Caracas, the views over the Caribbean were worth the trip alone.
I arrived in Queen Beatrice Airport http://www.airportaruba.com/ and felt immediately happy, as the huge billboard in arrivals told me Aruba welcomes Happiness, I was in a good place.
I never book accommodation prior to arrival, unless I am going to land at a horrid hour, or am returning to a favoured place, I like to arrive in my chosen town and check out accommodation before I commit to paying for it. So I usually make a shortlist from a website or accommodation desk then set off exploring. I strolled around the pretty airport and found an accommodation bureau, which was just closing. Lucky for me the girl who was locking up offered to drive me to her friend’s holiday rental which she assured me was very nice and available, I agreed to take and look and off we went in her little car, simple!
During the 20 minute ride to Oranjestad as we cruised along empty cactus fringed roads Marie chatted away telling me all about Aruba and her job as a teacher in a local primary school. She even offered me a job teaching English. I had never met such an open, friendly and helpful person, ever in my life!
The apartment was actually a bungalow in a little complex of three, it was huge inside with a massive bathroom featuring a sunken tub I had to walk up three steps to get into, very Hollywood! Marie gave me her number and implored me to call if I needed anything, she told me to just pay the apartment money to the man next door, Irun. I can’t remember how much I paid but it wasn’t a lot, maybe $25-30 a night.
I stayed in the bungalow for four days whilst I enjoyed the beaches and just chilled out. I made friends with Irun and enjoyed talking with him about his life in India and Aruba; where he worked for the tax office to send money home to his family. He only saw his wife and daughter twice a year, I can’t imagine being able to cope with that. He very kindly offered to give me a tour of the island in his car. It didn’t take us long, the island is only 19 miles x 6.
Aruba is the place to go for beach lovers and people who just want to relax and be surrounded by natural beauty. The beaches are absolutely beautiful with the whitest powdery sand and the sea is the most intense shade of aquamarine I have ever seen. The sun is very bright here, the sky is clear and always blue. I was surprised by the strength of the trade winds blowing across the island, these winds are why the famous Divi Divi Trees are bent over, facing south East, by the end of the week I felt a bit bendy myself. I didn’t mind though as the wind really helped keep me cool, I love being in the sun but I hate being too hot.
For my last three days I decided to treat myself to a hotel near Eagle Beach. Again, this accommodation was provided via a friendly local. I was sitting near the mall in Oranjestad enjoying an ice cream when Frank appeared, he was a local working as a tourist tout handing out flyers. We got chatting and I mentioned I was looking for a nice hotel but I was on a back- packers budget. He told me no problem, come with me. I felt a bit apprehensive but it was midday and he seemed normal and the taxi guy knew him so I took a chance and went with him. Within 5 minutes the cab pulled into a lovely resort. I immediately panicked, it looked expensive and I feared I was going to be stung. I asked how much it was and he said ‘Don’t worry, it’s OK, you are with me, it is cheap.’
As I am writing this I am thinking, gosh I used to take some chances, just because it was daylight with lots of people around it doesn’t mean it’s safe. We all know the horror stories. Whilst I was in Aruba the flyers with Natalee Holloway’s photo were plastered everywhere, at that stage no one knew her fate, poor girl. Ultimately you have to be careful but you also have to believe people’s intentions are usually good or you would not go anywhere or trust anyone.
Frank’s intentions seemed godly good as I checked in and qualified for the local rate of just $48 a night instead of the rack rate $128 and he showed me to a lovely guest room with a huge balcony overlooking the tropical gardens. I offered to give him some money as he had saved me so much but he said ‘No problem, just buy me a beer at the bar.’ I couldn’t believe my luck, was it too good to be true?
I dropped my bag and we headed down to the bar, after he drank his beer and chatted with the staff he shook my hand, flashed me a big, friendly smile, wished me a pleasant stay and off he went. I am serious when I say this man had absolutely no ulterior motive, he was simply being nice. I couldn’t quite grasp it and for the next few days I expected him to pop up somewhere and ask me for something.
I stayed for three nights and enjoyed every moment of it. My days were spent lounging on the truly stunning Eagle beach and browsing the shops in the pretty and relaxing mall in Oranjestad. I treated myself to a lovely lunch at a fab Italian restaurant overlooking the beautiful sea, I felt so relaxed and comfortable I even went to a bar alone and had a Pina Colada, I was living dangerously in Aruba!
Upon check out I walked slowly to the reception desk, dreading my bill was going to frighten the life out of me because I still couldn’t accept I had landed that room for $48, no strings. I feared I was the gullible victim of a scam cooked up between friendly Frank and the hotel staff but no, the bill was as promised, $48 a night. Wow Wee!
I absolutely love this place and I have just been looking at photos and am nearly crying because I wish I was there now. I can’t believe I have been so blessed to see such beautiful places and met such lovely people. Here is Aruba’s official tourism portal. http://www.aruba.com/