This guest blog post is submitted by my good friend, Pat Kreitlow, who sadly did not offer to allow me to hide in his luggage for his latest journey. -RBG
Before my good friend’s transformation into a Rollerbag Goddess, she was just another Midwestern Gal with an itch to see more of the world and then all of the world. Her stories infected Midwestern boys like me with the travel bug and now I’ve been fortunate to stow that bug in my own carry-on as I scratch another destination off the mythical bucket list. My most recent destination was Aruba and an all-inclusive resort, the Riu Palace Aruba near the capital of Oranjestad.
As one of the Caribbean islands closest to the equator, it is much drier and rockier than many other destinations in the region. That also makes it one of the more tranquil island stops with the trade winds providing nearly constant northeasterly relief from sun and its consistent 80-85 degree highs.
Aruba is perfectly sized for exploration. At less than 20 miles long and 5 miles wide, excursions can be started in the morning and have you back at your deck chair or beach towel just after lunch. We chose to explore the northern coast of the island with one of the so-called Jeep tours. Copyrights be damned, they don’t actually use Jeeps, but Land Rover probably isn’t complaining since they’re getting the money for the endless parade of vehicles bouncing around the hills, ditches and dirt roads of Aruba’s desert features.
Each bright yellow truck has three rows of padded seats and tiny speakers that let the riders hear the guide who’s driving the first rig in the convoy of five not-Jeeps. The riders giggle and grunt with the various bumps and hairpin turns through a hilly national park. They ooh and ahh during the next phase which runs along a part of the coastline that features shallow, carved cliffs instead of sandy beaches. The lava and sandstone northern edges of the island are being endlessly carved by the waves and the result is a region with several miles of rough, flat ground punctuated by enough small hills to make it a dream landscape for anyone seeking publicity shots for Jeep, Land Rover and Hummer. (Yes, there was a single, shiny, tricked out Hummer also cruising the rugged neighborhood. It must have accidentally escaped from its photo shoot for Esquire and it looked like it wanted to return there quickly.)
Our resort is part of the Riu chain, now in its 60th year of ownership by the same Spanish family that maintains more than 100 properties in 16 countries. The Riu Palace Aruba has 450 rooms in three large towers. The centerpiece of the property is an enormous double pool with a swim-up bar. At ground level around the pools are five various restaurants varying from general buffet to specialties like Japanese and Italian.
At an all-inclusive resort, one price covers all the food and drinks as well as the room. In some places that might mean weak food and weaker drinks, but we never had a bad meal and the bars are stocked with just enough name brands to share shelf space with the generic labels. I couldn’t get Ketel One for my martini, but Skyy and Absolut were on hand. (Or, as George Thorogood might put it: Your pal Jack Daniels didn’t make the trip but his partner Jimmy Beam did.) The service was always friendly and the rooms and grounds were always clean during our 7-day stay.
We stayed on the western side of the island. The Palm Beach area is filled with shops, restaurants and watering holes of all sizes and types, all within walking distance. That’s assuming you get off the beach or leave any of the bars located on piers that guarantee a great view of the Caribbean sunset.
I write this entry on a day in Wisconsin that started with a temperature of 16 degrees and I cannot believe we ever left a place at 16 degrees latitude. Aruba was an economical and worthwhile destination for us and it will be for you as well. If nothing else, you can say you’ve started scratching off destinations in the Beach Boys song, “Kokomo.” Just don’t blame me if that damn tune keeps popping up in your head every so often. Drown it with a rum punch and steer your focus toward the caressing sound of the waves.
Pat Kreitlow lives in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin with his wife, Sharry, and a cockatiel named Chicken. Pat had previous careers in journalism and political campaigns, and he was once taken hostage by Al Gore aboard a Mississippi riverboat. With the successful launch of two daughters into adulthood, he plans to spend more time writing about a lifetime of visits to beaches, ballparks, newsrooms and backrooms.