Having just arrived in Aruba with daughter Kari and family, I am struck with the beauty of its pristine beaches abundant with sugary sand and sunshine galore. On the road to our hotel I notice multiple high and low rise apartments and luxurious hotels-all built on what was once an island of lava and limestone inundated with craggy rock formations.I have not been to Aruba since the seventies and what was once a primitive oasis has now become a tourist mecca. Along the sandy shores divi divi trees lower their wind sculpted branches whistling with the ever present salty breezes.
I am looking forward to the many land and sea activities which abound in Aruba – most of which are administered to by the numerous multi-cultural inhabitants. Dutch is the primary language of the island, Aruba having been founded in 1636 by the Netherlands, but Papiamento, the original language of the Amerindian people, as well as Spanish and English are also spoken.
Our destination in Aruba is Caribbean Palm Resort. Because the island does not list street names, it takes us awhile to locate the resort. We are not disappointed. A tropical haven with palm trees and two swimming pools (one perfect for laps),an outdoor bar (naturally), grills and pool chaises greet us.
Since it is almost dinner time we decide to go to nearby Buccaneer Restaurant, one of the oldest restaurants on the island. When I see the place my heart drops. An almost tiki-like establishment reminiscent of the 50’s greets us. There is also a bar which is actually a huge old dory. But we are there mostly to please grand daughter Adriana because of the many aquariums.
Inside the restaurant is icy cold but I have been told the food is very good and it is a pleasure to watch the abundant sea life in the aquarium lined walls. This place is certainly worth a visit especially if one has children aboard. All kinds of tropical creatures make their homes within these 7500 gallons of sea water and they are certainly worth a great deal of observation. The menu too is worthy of note and the ceviche ordered by son-in-law Ed is indeed fresh. The catch of the day – grouper, is marinated in lime juice with cilantro, red onion and hot peppers lending piquant and spicy touches. My “Seductions of the Seas” also proves to be outstanding. Sea bass, scallops, shrimp, mussels and calamari are served over fettuccine which is graced by miniature mounds of stuffed vegetables. The portions are abundant, and as I observe the colorful sea life swimming and diving next to me, I have the feeling that I am observing marine life from a submarine.
The following day Kari and Ed decide to jet ski on the open seas of Eagle Beach. It is an exciting, breathless and exhilarating trip comparable to riding a motorcycle through surf. Adriana has made the acquaintance of a new friend at one of the hotel pools so she is quite happy to dive and plunge in the azure depths of the water. We enjoy ourselves at the pool for the remainder of the day.
Since it is Ed’s birthday we decide to have dinner at Trattoria El Faro Blanco (Trattoria of the White Lighthouse) in order to enjoy the sunset. The trattoria is located next to California Lighthouse, so named due to the shipwreck of a merchant vessel (The California). Trattoria El Faro Blanco consists of numerous outdoor terraces so located for best viewing of the magnificent sunset over the neighboring waters. We have booked an early reservation in order to watch the sunset in this romantic spot. It does not disappoint. Soon gold and orange rays of the setting sun are plunging below the horizon. After numerous photos we enjoy briny sea bass with a gratin composed of squid, octupus, clams and mussels, jumbo shrimp, basil, garlic and tomatoes-all served over linguine. Afterward the wait staff in goofy glasses and hats arrive with sparklers in order to serenade Ed, the birthday boy. He is one happy camper and we all enjoy the tire-mi-su which accompanies this impromptu birthday celebration. Lights come on over the bay. Island music plays. The Divi trees bend in the gentle breeze. All’s right with the world.
On Monday we snorkel at Moomba Beach. Our pirate ship takes us to three different locations for snorkeling – one with the crusty hulk of a WW II sunken ship. The crew also supplies us with alcoholic libations throughout this excursion…oh! those pina coladas! There is nothing like sipping on a pina among sea happy snorklers. The island music never stops as “sailors” plunge into the bay, some of them from a rope swing. Did I mention the barbecue? Tasty ribs, chicken, cornbread and potato salad are served to the hungry mariners. Upon returning to the hotel a dip in the pool is mandatory.
Our destination for food that evening is the elegant Chalet Suisse. Located opposite Eagle Beach, Chalet Suiss is renowned for its Europen-style dishes. When I walk into this upscale restaurant I feel as though I am back in Bavaria due to the Bauernstil furnishings. We share several dishes among them “Geschnetzeltes”, a Swiss-German specialty of morsels of veal in a mushroom, cream and wine sauce. These are served with “Spaetzle” tiny house made dumplings. There is also Black Angus beef and sea bass but I prefer the Euro-Swiss dishes. The view of the beach is spectacular as are the furnishings set among the 200 year old wood panels.
On the following day Ed arranges for us to take a jeep safari around the island. If you are over 23 years of age I do not recommend this trip for you. In our ramshackle, jeep (no seat belts for Adriana and Kari) we travel up and down the coast of Aruba through ditches and potholes, over rocky crags and formations at a highly accelerated speed. It is difficult to enjoy any sights due to our high speed over the rocky terrain and the lack of information from our “guide”. An interesting stop however is Alta Vista Chapel. Tiny and serene, it is built on sacred Indian burial grounds and provides a peaceful oasis for those hardy enough to endure the trip over the terrain. We also visit Bushinbara gold mine now in ruins. In Arikok National Park with its granite and limestone formations some of the potholes and drainage ditches are almost vertical. The landscape is rocky and cactus-filled with unpaved roads and windblown divi divis. We see wild goats and donkeys but because we are going so fast the sights are a blur. The ancient Indian caves however are quite fascinating with their ocher-colored rock drawings left behind by island natives. Fascinating too are the “graffiti” of early island settlers and adventurers, some dating as far back as 1819 with the dates written on the cave ceilings in an old world script. If you like adventure, this is the trip for you..not me, however. Lava and limestone formations are scenic, but I prefer the finale of the tour which ends at Baby Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches on the island with its shallow waters and closed off rock formations. A swim is definitely in order as is “Two for One Happy Hour” back at the hotel .
The next day is for shopping. I buy two Dora backpacks for my two little blondie grand daughters in Cincinnati. The heat is intense and I am indeed relieved when we seat ourselves at Iguana Joe’s overlooking the colorful market area. I order a frosty cold, minty mojito and quaff it down. It hits the spot. Ed orders the excellent national beer of the island. Balushi Beer is a deep golden color with an aroma of fresh hops and of a soft bitterness. I go minimalist on my choice for lunch preferring a warm portion of calaloo (a spinach-like green)) oozing with melted cheese and served with toasty flour tortillas. The others feast on chicken burgers, and cobb salad thus rounding out this al fresco meal..
Sole Mare is our dinner hangout that evening. It is known for its serving of an enormous block of fresh parmesan cheese which has been partially scooped into a bowl-like depression. Wait staff filll this “bowl” with pasta sauce and then add spaghetti all the while lifting and tossing the pasta strands to encompass both the parmesan and the sauce….a neat trick, rather gimicky.
The following evening we dine at Madame Janette.This is my very favorite restaurant on the island. Situated in an old mansion with spacious gardens and pools we of course decide to dine outdoors. Kari and I enjoy filet mignon topped with fresh spinach, lobster medallions,sliced portobellos and hollandaise. I love the Dutch roasted potatoes with sauteed onions and crispy bacon. There is also creamed spinach. For Ed- It is a mixed grill of Argentine tenderloin served with lamb chop, foie gras and green beans in a barolo glaze.
The following day we leave the island. Although my first trip to Aruba had been mundane, I am more than happy with this last jaunt and hope to revisit the island next year, a perfect spot for another family vacation.
Now…if I can only get the rest of the group together…..
About The Author: Isabel Chesak is a well regarded food journalist who’s articles have been published in numerous national publications. ****************************************