Aruba - March 21-27 2012

You can see all the photos here

Contrary to appearances, the waters off of Manchebo and Eagle beach in Aruba are not radioactive, just in case you're wondering.

We flew non-stop on Jet Blue to Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba (which is off the coast of Venezula in the Carribbean sea) on Wednesday, March 21st.  The flight was just over four and a half hours and we were on the beach in time for a slightly late lunch.    We stayed at the Manchebo Beach Resort and Spa, one of the "low rise" beachfront resorts.  Every room was within 50 feet of Machebo beach, with the brilliant turquose water and white sand that appears to be Caribbean standard issue for vacation spots.
There are a number of things you should know about Aruba if you're going to go there.  At Arikok National Park, when the rangers say a standard rental car can make it through "no problem" they don't count loosing most of the underside of the car as a problem.  In fact, most of the non-beach areas in Aruba... and you want to visit the non-beach areas... are easily accessible by helicopter.  Otherwise, take a jeep and plan on some jostling.  Driving the northern loop from the Arikok visitor's center (which is on the inland side of the park), the road is narrow and has rain culverts across the road that are about five feet deep.  Eight, max.  Despite crossing them at "as-slow-as-the-car-could-go"speed, we still bottomed several times.  But it was worth it.  The inland side of the park is a beautiful but strange vista of cacti, brush, grass, and cliffs, with wild goats and donkeys a frequent sight.  When you reach the coast at Boca Prins, which is on the northeast side of the island, it's a rugged landscape that mixes sand, limestone, coral and volcanic rock in wild abandon. 

Above, The northern loop heading into Arikok National Park

Kate in our trusty Yaris

Sea Grape and sand dunes above Boca Prins

Above, Boca Prins.  Below, some of the wildlife we saw; crabs abounded on the sandy beach, while irridescent green speckled whiptail lizards hid from Crested Carcara hawks.  Wild goats and donkeys wandered inland.
After lunch at the restaurant at Boca Prins, we drove south to the Fontein cave, the most popular of several small limestone caves along the coast. Brownish-red pictographs were left by Caquetios Iindians along with graffiti imprinted by early European settles on the walls and ceilings.  
Friday, Kate did a day at the Manchebo's spa while Dave headed out to do some scuba diving, the main attraction being one of the many wrecks along Aruba's coast (which Aruba is famous for).   
The spa consisted of thatch huts overlooking Manchebo beach.  Kate had a body wrap that, based on the price, consisted of powered gold and platinum mixed with ground semi precious gems, essense of endangered species and water from the fountain of youth.  Below, Dave dives the "Jane C" in 100 feet of water with a few other people, led by JADS dive shop.
That afternoon, we drove northwest to visit the "California Lighthouse," named after a famous shipwreck of a sailboat with the same name.  Once you leave the hotel area (Manchebo, Eagle and Palm beach), the coast gets rockier and wilder until you turn the northeast corner of Aruba; somewhere along there, it turns into the same sharp, jagged volcanic landscape we saw at Arikok.  Below, looking southeast from the California Lighthouse; below left, Dave in front of the lighthouse, below right, a view from just north of Arashi beach looking back at the highrise hotels along Eagle Beach.
The next day, we visited the Bulbali Bird Sanctuary,  a fresh water preserve fed from a nearby water treatment facility that empties into two inter-connected man-made lakes, known as the large and small Bubali Bird Ponds. The area has become a resting and breeding area for more than 80 species of migratory birds and has a observation tower looking over the marsh.
From the Bird Sanctuary, we headed north to Alta Vista Chapel, the oldest church on the island, a very picturesque building.  Surprisingly, it seemed to be a working (if small) chapel, but with no clergy, and no donation box, just a small if colorful altar with burning candles and fresh flowers around it.  Outside, we walked about a half mile downhill through the rocky, semi-barren desert, where birds perched on the top of many of the cacti.  We finally reached the north coast of the island, to be greeted with the same incredibly beautiful rocky beaches we'd seen in Arikok. 
The next day, we headed back toward to the north to visit Arashi beach, a snorkeling spot we had passed on the way to the California Light House.  It seemed like it was going to be a disappointment, but a few hundred yards off the beach it turned into a snorkeling paradise, with fish and coral abundant in relatively shallow water.  Dave did a short snorkel off Marmot beach as well, swimming around a wreck protruding above the waterline.
Our last day in Aruba was a combination of shopping and adventure.  The adventure was taking a submarine trip to 140 feet deep, cruising by two wrecks in the process, on board the Atlantis VI.  Our trip wasn't very crowded, so everyone sat along one side of the submarine (so they didn't have to pass by things twice, once on each side).  The total tour was about two hours, but part of that was taking a boat out to the Sub; the underwater time was about an hour. 
For the evenings, we invariably ate outside (other than the first night, where we ate in the French Steakhouse at the Manchebo).  We had dinner at Soenchi's, which featured "native Arubian food," twice, finding it tastefully decorated and quiet, as well as having interesting and delicious meals.  We ate at Madam Janette's once, finding the food and service excellent, but the noise level a little high.  We ate at the other restaurant at the Manchebo one evening, sitting by the pool.  And we ate at Mirpas in Oranjestad (a Tapas place) our last night. We did lunch at the Pega Pega, the Manchebo's beachside bar and cafe, almost every day.  Breakfast was normally on our balcony overlooking the beach.  The Manchebo was a nice place to stay, and was "beachside," unlike most of the low-rises, which were on the other side of the road along the southern shore from the beach. 

Dinner at Soenchi's

Dinner at Mirpas
Top, the Manchebo from the beach.  Left, the view from our Balcony. Above, Kate relaxes on the beach... an activity we didn't indulge in anywhere near as much as we planned!
We flew back Tuesday, the 27th.  Our only dissapointment for the trip was that the Boston area had a heat spike and was close to 90... warmer than Aruba!   That sort of reduced the "rub it in" factor when talking with everyone about the vacation.