Had the captain not said that we would be the only cruise ship in Aruba? Sure he had, and he had never misspoken yet on these matters. Yet, as we approached the dock, there it was: “The World”, a luxury cruise ship, nicely tied up along the biggest pier. The captain had been right though, things are not always what they look like in this world. “The World” was a cruise ship all right but, for the time being, it was turned into a hotel. Some say a room goes for five million dollars – ownership – and for that kind of money, it moves around the world from time to time too. It made me think of “The World” in Dubai – that wasn’t an island neither, rather a ill-conceived landfill with residential modules on top.

Docking was straightforward, cruise ships are welcome guests: welcome to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, not that Aruba is part of the Netherlands: that would be too easy. Aruba, together with the Netherlands, Saint-Maarten and Curacao belongs to the Dominion of Queen Beatrix. Understanding the world’s complexity, or its frivolity, is not simple, especially if you also consider that Aruba does not have the Euro as its official currency, but the “Florin”, referring to the old Dutch guilder. (Bonaire, formerly the B in the ABC islands chose independence but adopted the Euro).

And if that isn’t enough for fuzziness, here is a twister. Trying to be a nice cosmopolitan, as always, I had got some local money from an ATM in the terminal building. I went to a small shop to buy a cap, and found all articles priced in US Dollars. My cap cost $6 and I gave the attendant 25 Florins (approximately $14). As she started to dole out a few dollars in change, I asked her for some local coins. That she did not have! Two hours later, my taxi driver would react in the same way when I told him that he could keep the change, for a few local notes … no local money!

And all of this trans- and perspired under a heat leaden sky. Aruba is normally a kind of desert but it definitely sports a special climate. The average diurnal temperature is about 80F (27°C) but unlike in real desert conditions, the spread between day and night, irrespective of time of year, is maximally 20F (10°C). They had forecast “partially cloudy” today, but the meaning of that must have gotten lost in tropical calculus. In Belgium they arrive at such an estimate starting at “cloudy” and distracting, (it remains cloudy as a consequence). In Aruba they start from “sunny and clear” and add of few clouds into that. In any event, I was partially cooked!

The island is a paradise. More precisely, it is Eden if you are a beachcomber or a water rat. Barring its beautiful white sandy beaches and an ocean that varies between almost blue, blue, bluer and bluest, with touches of green and purple for good measure, there is next to nothing to see here, nor to do (I did not spend the night, but have not discovered places for night entertainment (Ron and Coca Cola on the Beach perhaps?).

Our brochure advertized the Natural Bridge, the California Lighthouse and the Casibari Rock formations as must-see. I decide to jump in a taxi and do some quick reconnaissance (because I also had to start planning the last laundry and the early packing). The taxi driver informed me that the 25ft high stone bridge had collapsed in2005. The Lighthouse was closed to the public two years ago, because it had been abused for jumping off. (He added that the suicidal people now just step in the waters off the East coast of the island, and the currents and surf do the rest). That leaves the rocks … they are also 25ft high and cannot collapse because they are lying on the ground! Nobody knows by whom, and why, how or when they were collocated in that little area. I climbed them and discovered their only obvious value: you had a clear 360° view of the grounds, all two hundred square miles of them, almost featureless.

Luckily the driver had a few ideas as well, saving my day and, of course, running up his take in the process. The Aruba Tree was the easy part to explore: it is a phenomenon alike to North Sea poplars, they are bent by the wind. In my neck of the woods the trees all, well, bent towards the East but they still standing erect. Not so in Aruba: as soon as they reach 10 feet, they continue to grow horizontally, invariably in a southwesterly direction.

The next stop was a cemetery. I have always found that cemeteries tell a lot about people’s customs and values – toilets, no intended relationship here, although nowadays also called restrooms – serve the same purpose, by the way, albeit in different dimensions. The Arubans rest together, all inthea family, so to speak. And they start under the ground (like most traditional burials) with the oldest “progenitors”. Their kids come on top, usually at ground level, and then they foresee one or two levels for next generations or siblings. In all we are talking about six to eight burial places, all from one family. I have not asked, but I wondered, especially since it was Ash Wednesday, how “returning to ash” works in a dry climate, three feet high?

Finally he suggested that I should shoot a few pictures at Eagle Beach. He must have noticed, if only by my clothes, that I could not have many “aquaphile genes”, but he insisted that it would be worth my while. It was. Although there was not much curvy skin exposed under the unrelenting sun, the pelicans were out in full force – fishing. It was a grand spectacle of which I got a few good shots of happy pelicans!

The afternoon was dedicated to training and packing. I say training because folding dress shirts, regular shirts, T-shirts and polo-shirts, in a way deemed acceptable when they arrive home, requires some practice. Meanwhile I noticed a continuous stream of big tankers moving East to West, and others West to East, along the horizon. I guess that it was oil from Chavez for his friends in Cuba. The world is a busy place indeed, also on the infinite oceans.

The coming days will be busy and radio-silent from my side. I will fly home on Saturday. Stay tune for a few reflections sometime next week! I hope that these stories have been as interesting for ye’all as the voyage has been for me.

Prinsendam, Day 64 – Thursday March 10th, 2011

Getting ready for the last “All Ashore”