Monday, May 9, 2011

the hitchhiker's guide to aruba: january 30 & 31

Finally, a bit more than three months after we arrived back home from a week in Aruba, I'm getting these photos edited and blogged (which for me is the first step in getting the trip album put together). For some reason getting everything out here helps me when I'm putting pages together later- maybe because it forces me to stop and write everything out first, or maybe because it's just a good reference for later. Whatever the reason, I'm having a great time going through these photos and am so excited to finally get started on sharing them!!

Our flight arrived in Oranjestad, Aruba a bit late in the afternoon (around 2 pm), and by the time we got off the plane, waited at baggage claim, processed through customs, and picked up our rental car it was already past the time when we could have really done any sightseeing. That turned out to be okay, though, because just getting to our hotel was an adventure all its own. You see, Aruba suffers from an acute lack of street signs, and we were also suffering from an acute lack of a map. Yes, silly me thought that we could just pick up a useful one at the airport. Wrong!! All we found were less-than-helpful tourism guides, so I got to spend quite a bit of time with this view while we searched for our hotel. Ah, but that's the fun part of travel, right? (No, seriously, we kind of enjoy getting lost.)

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We finally did find the place after stopping a couple of times to ask for directions. What we didn't realize was how out of the way the Aruba Harmony Apartments actually were, but when we finally did reach our destination we were pleasantly surprised to find it tucked back in a residential area, totally off the beaten path and away from the major tourist areas. Sweet!! At that point we were pretty hungry, so we dumped our bags in our room and headed out to eat at exotic...Subway. Yes, I said Subway. We were actually surprised at the number of American chain restaurants there were on the island- totally different from the Bahamas, but not unwelcome at all.

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On the way back to our hotel we stopped at a supermarket (I have yet to figure out why all the grocery stores on the island are Chinese) to pick up a few items so we could cook in our room (I'd purposely rented a place with a kitchen so we wouldn't have to eat out all the time).

January 30, 2011

I love foreign grocery stores. I mentioned it (a few times) when I wrote about our Bahamas trip in December, but when I looked back through my photos and realized how many of them I took in supermarkets, I knew I had to share it again.

I mean, where in the US do you see mussels for sale like this?

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Or aisles stocked with motor oil across from the cooking oil?

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Or prawn crackers?

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And I've never seen a Bounty bar in an American grocery store. Ever. Much to Darren's dismay.

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So we loaded up with a few items (none of which are pictured above- not even the Bounty Bars), and headed back to our hotel, where we immediately ran into a problem. You see, when we first arrived at Harmony the owner wasn't there and one of the staff let us into our room without doing a formal check-in (it's a really, really small place). As it turned out, the owner was out of the country entirely and had left a friend in charge while she was gone. And our reservations? Somehow they'd been lost (we booked through Hotels.com, and thank goodness I'd printed out our confirmation or it would have been a huge mess). The room we had been put in had already been promised to someone else, so we had to pack everything up and vacate. We were told that other arrangements had been made for our accommodations that night, and the owner of the new place would be arriving to pick us up shortly.

While we waited I snapped this photo of the pool and courtyard at Harmony, not knowing if we'd be back there or not (we'd been told that we had the option of staying at the other place, which was closer to the beach- not a priority for us- if we wanted). As we found out later in the week we weren't the only people this happened to, and we still don't know if our hotel just overbooked on purpose or if the Hotels.com reservations never got transferred to Harmony's system.

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After a few minutes of waiting Luis (who was very kind) arrived to take us to a very nice, new apartment building about ten minutes from Harmony. We immediately loved the place because it was much newer than where we'd originally booked to stay. New appliances in the kitchen...

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New furniture...

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And a pretty bathroom (yes, I do have a little obsession with photographing nice bathrooms), though it still didn't have hot water (that's apparently a huge luxury in Aruba, and I knew we wouldn't have it before I booked, so it wasn't a big deal).

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The next day, though, we decided to move back to Harmony after all. As nice as the apartments were, they were a bit noisy! It turned out that several college students lived in the other units, and let's just say that we didn't feel like sleeping in the party dorm all week...

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And, guess what? We got lost again on the way back to Harmony! :) If you ever go to Aruba (and when we go back again, because, oh, we are going back again), buy a good map before you go!

This time we got lost around lunch time since we'd been tired from the previous day's adventures and decided to be lazy all morning, so when we passed a Taco Bell in Santa Cruz (a bit away from Oranjestad, where our hotel was) we decided to pop in for lunch and get our bearings.

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We stopped at another grocery store (this was a common theme for the whole week) to pick up a few things we'd forgotten the night before (and also with the vain hope of finding an actual road map), and I couldn't help snapping a few more photos of the boxes and displays.

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Finally we arrived back at Harmony, were shown to our room (for real this time, and it was a different room than we'd had before), and got unpacked...again. Seriously, I've never packed and unpacked snorkeling gear so many times!

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After a bit of rest we decided to spend the remainder of the afternoon exploring and to stay out long enough to photograph the sunset over the ocean. Our destination? Arashi Beach.

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We originally parked near the groomed, tourist area of the beach, but since we like doing rather non-touristy things we quickly walked down to the less well-kept areas.

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Yes, the water really was that amazingly clear!!

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This is what Darren lives for- disturbing the local wildlife. :)

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The part of the ocean I'm standing in in the photo below was very, very shallow and jutted out fairly far from shore. The darker aqua color in the picture shows where the deeper water is, so this tiny little strip was like a shallow peninsula just under the water. We called it "the shallows" (we invented our own names for pretty much everything while we were there) all week.

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It was just covered in eel grass...and apparently eels! Darren got all excited when a speckled moray eel got spooked out of his hiding place and sped away.

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More disturbing of the local fauna...

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...and this one even came out to play for a bit!

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Lizard!! There were tons of them everywhere.

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And tons of cactus, too.

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And lots of cool colonies of little snails on rocks in tidepools.

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This is one of the other things that Darren lives for- climbing stuff.

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There were so many repeated themes for the week- cactus, angry ocean, walking across sharp rocks, climbing on big smooth rocks, sandy roads, tidepools (and resident snails)...in other words it was an absolutely perfect adventure for us.

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It's the sharp rocks that stick out the most in my mind when I look back (if I had to venture a guess, it would be cactus for Darren).

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The constant battering of the ocean also created several holes straight through the rocks- you can see the water through this one.

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Another critter- this little crab was fast!

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I might have tweaked the blue sky here just a touch in Lightroom.

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It's hard to say whether Darren was more excited about the earlier eel sighting or finding this cave. Before I knew it he'd scrambled inside (his love of climbing encompasses going both up and down) and shouted up to me to hand him my camera.

I was all, like, "ummm, excuse me? Jagged rocks? Big expensive lens that can't take a protective filter? Hello?"

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But I handed it to him despite my reservations, and he got this cool shot looking out of the cave to the ocean.

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More wandering down the beach. We like to wander. A lot.

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This is the "road" we were driving on. We figured out fairly early in the trip that we should have rented a four wheel drive, but our little car ended up getting up almost everywhere we wanted to go. Anywhere it couldn't go we simply walked, and there was only one place that we didn't go to at all (because we weren't willing to walk the several miles it would have taken to get there).

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Urchin!!!

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I spent a lot of time in awe of the massive groves of cacti (is grove the proper term?) that were right next to the water.

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And also being in awe of the really big rocks.

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And the waves that crashed over the really big rocks.

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We found a nice spot to hang out while waiting for sunset...

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This is one of my favorite shots from the whole trip.

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January 31, 2011

And finally the sun slipped below the horizon (and once it got started it sank really, really quickly).

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By the end of our first full day in Aruba we'd already declared it to be the best vacation we'd ever taken (oh, who'm I kidding- we said it as soon as we got out on the shallows). And there was so much more still to come!!