Aruba - Dec 27- Jan 3

We flew out of LA on Saturday, December 27th, having spent Christmas with Bill and Janet Garber and the extended family, while Alison, Noah and Maddy spent it with Alison's folks in San Diego. Originally, we were all supposed to be on the same flight but American apparently decided to change Alison's tickets to an earlier flight. We all rendezvoused in Miami for the final leg, however, and it was all good. The flight from Miami was delayed for an hour due to late connecting flights, so we didn't arrive in Aruba until after 10, and the small rental car agency I had rented two jeeps from closed before that, so we had to take two taxis to the villa. We picked up the jeeps early the next day, however, so didn't lose much time. Just to avoid any suspense, Alison and I were engaged on Tuesday... the photo below being the aftermath party with the kids at the Villa. But we are running a bit ahead of the story.
We stayed at Villa Catalina, one of the many villas in the Malmok beach area on the southern part of the northern tip of the island (I know that sounds a little confusing).  It was a four bedroom beachfront villa with a lot of space, a pool, and a front deck looking out at the ocean.  It was comfortable enough for six people.  
The first day was a bit overcast, but warm.  We wandered down the street a bit to Arashi beach, a white sandy beach near the reef, which has great snorkeling.  But the first day, we just did some swimming.
By Sunday, the clouds had moved on, and it was the typical turquoise blue water at most Carribbean islands.  Small fishing boats and large party boats, some decked out like pirate ships, traversed the water.  Pelicans were common, along with adventure tours with noisy ATVs and jeep caravans.  It was entertaining to see a Segway tour roll by as well and wonder if they took the two wheel vehicles offroading. 

Monday, we did some snorkeling (the pictures below are from that and from another snorkeling trip to Arashi on Thursday).  The snorkeling at Arashi was stunning, easily as good as scuba diving, with coral and fish everywhere.  Noah managed to spot a squid (photo below).  We had one problem with a fin who's strap broke, but I managed to keep up with one fin.
Wednesday, Brie, Will and I went scuba diving.  It was good to get them back in the water.  It's been two years since they qualified in Boniare, but the dive went smoothly.  I lost the keys to one of the jeeps during the dive.  But the dive shop owner gave us a lift and helped get duplicates from the rental agency, so it turned out fine.
Monday (which I know is a little out of order) and Wednesday, we did off roading in the jeeps, both times on the north end of the island, which has a long section with tracks for off road vehicles.  The north shore is lava and coral, rugged and beautiful, with some low, rocky mountings that Alison could not keep herself from climbing.   
Thursday, New Year's Day, Alison, Noah, Brie and I went to Arikok National Park, which is open year round.  Meaning the road is not blocked, but the visitors center was closed.  It wasn't a big deal, and we drove some of the off road trails to foot paths and hiked to the shore line, amused by the wild goats scattered everywhere in the park.  We took the southern loop to the restaurant, which was also closed, and then the northern loop back, which turned out to be a couple of concrete strips you could keep your tires on if you were lucky.  But the jeep did a fine job of making it through the sometimes hazardous conditions, and we saw the abandoned gold mine, which was fun. 
Friday,  our last day in Aruba, Maddy, Brie, Alison and I went to the Butterfly Farm and Bird Sanctuary.  The Butterfly farm was fun; the Bird Sanctuary was mostly birdless, but it was fun to see the coastline from the observation tower. 
Below, Tuesday evening, when I proposed to Alison.  The restaurant at the Bucuti resort, Elements, has four two person pavillions on the beach for a romantic dinner.  Alison and I had an excellent meal, watched the sunset, and enjoyed each other's company.  It was  perfect evening, and it seemed like it couldn't possibly be a better moment, so I got down on one knee, presented the ring, and asked her to marry me.  It's a moment I will always treasure. 
And below, one of the restaurants we dined at as a family, La Trattoria El Faro Blanco, with a stunning view of the sunset and excellent italian food.