Sunday 12th December 2010
Aruba is not like the other islands that we have visited.
Our tour took us straight from the town of Oranjestad where we had docked to a string of hotels and resorts including the Westin, Radisson, Sheraton, Hilton etc. There are high rise buildings as well as condos and timeshares. Tourism is Number 1 in Aruba and in its bid to secure visitors, we felt that it has gone too far for our own taste. It is not overcrowded as there are many large open areas but certainly the hotel development has made a major impact. When we walked round the town in the afternoon, we felt it has strayed into a Las Vegas style tackiness.
The island is coral and at times we were walking over what had once been many coral reefs and is now just a part of the landscape. We visited the California Lighthouse (in teeming rain). We then moved on to an area where there are many large boulders, sometimes having most unusual shapes. We climbed up one rocky outcrop and were able to see much of the island which is only 20 miles by 8. A major feature is the multitude of cacti, many growing as high as 20 feet. The land is fairly lush although it is rocky and has sand dunes in part. The rainfall is only 18 to 20 inches per year and so they are heavily dependent on their desalination plant which is the second largest in the world. The landscape is generally low but there are one or two hills rising to over 500 ft and having a volcanic shape – although we were told that they were not volcanic.
The population of the island is 100,000.
Buildings vary from modern smart bungalows to slightly older but still substantial houses. Our guide pointed out to us a couple of houses (Cunucu) made from mud and having walls sixteen inches thick. They are tiled on the roofs and in many ways do not appear greatly different to more conventional house. The owners collect rainwater from the roof which provides for all of their needs. There is a 17th century church with graves painted with the same sort of colours as the brightly painted houses.
Again there is evidence of Chinese influence, but this time it seems to take the form of a monopoly in supermarkets and restaurants.
At Andicouri we saw a natural bridge carved by the sea out of the coral. We were told that this had been used by vehicles on the coastal track until 2005 when it collapsed as a result of an earthquake. A small similar bridge remains adjacent to it.
Our tour concluded with a visit to a factory extracting the gel from aloes and using it to make cosmetics and creams.
We noted three things that we did not visit and which may be worth going to next time
· Petroglyphs at Arikok National Park and at Fontein
· A Ghost Gold Mining town at Balashi
· A Bible Museum in the main town