Abruptly moving the blog on from Bonaire, we left for Aruba, skipping past Curacao since we already stopped there earlier. We haven’t heard anything good about Aruba from other cruisers and were warned away, but some people have to learn everything the hard way. Or maybe some people are willing to go through anything for a chance to kiteboard. Whichever the case, we were determined to make the best of it.
Hurricane Matthew left us completely devoid of wind in Bonaire for the foreseeable future, so kiteboarding was not going to be an option. Dave was going through some serious withdrawals and Steve and Peter wanted to practice their newly acquired skills. So they started looking towards Aruba, which was rumored to have better wind. I, on the other hand, would have been perfectly happy staying for a year in Bonaire. I loved stepping off the back of the boat and scuba diving any time I wanted or just snorkeling the shallows around the boats. Every time I went out I saw something new and interesting. In fact, I practiced using the new camera in video mode quite a bit while snorkeling. However, due to computer issues, I am unable to finish that video and post it here. It was the last of my material in Bonaire before we left. Maybe I’ll be able to return to it in the future. There was some really cute stuff in it like a fish that kept attacking my camera. The computer issue is why I am suddenly jumping to Aruba. During the motorsail, Dave got a good bite on his line.
It took a mighty leap out of the water in an effort to throw the hook (and we saw it was a beautiful dorado), but Dave kept the tension on and brought it in. He was a colorful medium-sized dorado that supplied us with a fresh mahi mahi dinner enroute to Aruba.
Other cruisers told us Aruba is not cruiser friendly, has the worst dock ever that you are forced to use to check in and out of the country, and is extremely touristy. It didn’t sound very inviting. As we made our approach to land, our first impression of the island was not a good one. The air was heavy with pollution. The shoreline was hideously filled with oil refineries.
It looked very dirty and industrial and we wondered why tourists would want to come here. But as we continued towards Oranjestad where we needed to check in, the view changed. We saw more houses and the air started to clear. Then we saw condos, lots of them. Then we saw huge hotels and resorts lining a beautiful white sand beach. But the dock we had to check into was concrete and lined with huge tires, massive rusty chains, and pieces of metal sticking out. These docks were designed for tugboats and cargo ships, not little cruising boats. The water was rough, the wind was shifty, and the surge made it impossible to avoid the boat being beat up on the dock/tires. It was awful! As one of us tended to the paperwork, the other fended off disaster. Our fenders kept popping up and we would rub on the tires. The whole side of the boat was covered in black marks. It was very frustrating, but we thought with some black streak remover and elbow grease we could clean it off.
Milly arrived first, finished the check in process, and set anchor at Eagle Beach. Peter was ready to relax after the stress of the customs and immigration docks. Here was the touristy part of Aruba. The white sand beach was miles long and the water was a gorgeous turquoise color.
Slow Flight finished next (also traumatized) and anchored next to Milly. These hotels/resorts pictured aren’t even the big ones. Some of them looked very similar to Las Vegas: huge, showy, and shaped in unique forms. Resorts are great for vacationers spending a week or so spoiling themselves, but they don’t really offer much for cruisers. They don’t have dinghy docks or any of the services we require. Many of the resorts are all-inclusive, so our business is not really welcome. However, some of the bars and restaurants were open to us. The prices, however, were enough to keep us away. That is the problem with touristy areas: everything costs much more than anywhere else. We are not used to paying $10 for a beer any more.
So we did what we do and got together on each other’s boats for some nerve calming sundowners and potluck foods and watched the sun set over the ocean, hoping to be treated to a green flash. This night was too hazy for a flash, but the haze made for a spectacular sunset.
It was like something out of mythology. Just as the sun was sinking below the horizon, one of the gods sailed his ship to carry it away.
The next morning I was endlessly entertained by the pelicans fishing right behind our boat. I love watching them dive. They look so heavy and awkward, but they soar so gracefully just above the surface of the water. Their big wings have a lot of power to lift them up out of the water.
A couple of flaps and they were off. They would rise up, look around, and make another dive. The waters in Aruba are alive with small fish. I could see huge schools of them hiding in the shadow of our boat.
Sometimes there would be a dozen pelicans fishing right behind us. But then I noticed something strange. Something I’ve never seen anywhere else…
The seagulls landed on the pelicans. The seagulls would follow the pelicans around in the air. As soon as the pelicans dove, the seagulls would swoop in and land on the pelican’s head! If you’ve never watched pelican fish before, when they come back up their beak is filled with water. The pelican raises its head part way, tipping its beak into the water, and opens just enough to let the water sift out.
During this process, the pesky seagulls would try to reach in and snatch out the fish. Occasionally a fish escaped and the seagull would snap it up from the water. If the gull couldn’t get anything from on top of the pelican’s head, it would try from the side…
If that didn’t work, it would try from the other side. Sometimes the gull stood on the pelican’s back, but I’m not sure what it could accomplish from there.
I witnessed this behavior time and time again. Sometimes there would be half a dozen gulls harassing the pelicans. I’ve never seen them resort to this type of thievery before. They must get enough to make it worth their while.
And perhaps this gull is laughing in triumph at this method they have figured out. Or maybe it is screaming out of frustration if it came up empty beaked? I’m not sure, but I have hundreds of pictures I took over the few short days we spent in Aruba.
Doesn’t it figure? After we arrived in Aruba, the wind died down. The day we arrived was windy and every day decreased after that. The guys had to hurry out if they were going to get any kiteboarding in. Dave needs 16-20 knots to get going pretty well, but the winds in Aruba are gusty. The winds did not sustain a set velocity, but instead were all over the place. It would be a good 15-16 knots, then drop to 12 or 9, then suddenly gust at 22. Kiteboarders were up and down and up and down, pumping their kites in an effort to keep going.
When the wind was good, Dave was able to stay up. He didn’t even look rusty after his long dry spell without kiting.
When a gust would come, Dave would take off! But as soon as the gust was over, he would slowly sink back into the water. It was tough going and he was only able to get in a couple hours. This was our whole reason for coming to Aruba and it looked like it was going to let us down.
So we all went to town to for dinner and a look around. There was a huge “downtown” area that looked specifically for cruise ship people. It had the diamond, perfume, sunglasses, and resort wear stores you see in every cruise ship port. And because they are typically the eating type more than the hiking type, Aruba supplied a trolley to carry them around. We felt like we were in Disneyland and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I apologize if this is what you are into, but it is just not what we go cruising for.
Sally and I decided to walk to the Butterfly Farm. It was hot and humid and probably not a great day for walking, but we didn’t think it was far. We walked one direction and it wasn’t there. Sally asked for directions and got something incomprehensible and I looked at a map at a bus stop. The map showed it all the way past the high rise hotel district but before the low rise hotels. So we walked that direction. The map said it was next to a pond, so we felt hopeful when we finally saw this pretty pond about an hour and a half later.
This bird was in the pond all by itself. I could’t recognize it. But since I was planning on taking pictures of butterflies, I didn’t have my long distance lens and couldn’t get a good picture.
It wasn’t a duck, but I can’t think what it was. Anyway, we moved on and walked and walked and walked. We were parched when we came upon a grocery store and took refuge inside from the heat. The air conditioning felt so cold on our sweat soaked clothes and bodies. We bought some fresh squeezed orange juice and relaxed for a bit. Sally asked directions again and learned what our mistake was. We were walking on the highway, not on the smaller road that runs parallel with the shoreline. We took the wrong road! Now we were out of time and needed to get back to the boats. After more than three hours of walking, we never did see the butterflies. However, Sally and I had a great walk together enjoying each other’s company. Next up, we take a hike to the lighthouse to see more of this island before saying good bye to Aruba.