(19th – 21st)
When you share a tin can with 1800 people for any length of time you are bound to come across some interesting individuals. Past cruises have shown us that the human form can certainly attain eye-watering proportions in both size and body shape, living on a food conveyor belt doesn’t help matters, but on the Columbus, there are very few of these individuals, perhaps this may be because there is a dearth of North Americans on board, this may also account for the lack of whooping and inappropriate applause during showtime. However, the one couple onboard that could benefit the most from a crash diet of biblical proportions are in fact British, come from the west country and have a down-to-earth and amiable nature that is a characteristic of this part of the UK.
The real interest is in the stories regarding the reasons for passage on our medium-sized cruiser of unadulterated luxury. Sue seems to have the knack of eliciting some extraordinary tales from our fellow mariners, usually when I am off doing some other activity. A couple of days ago she was sitting with a couple from Scotland who were complaining bitterly about their circumstances. It seems that they were unhappy with their stateroom consisting of a lounge, bedroom, dressing room, toilet and bathroom, large balcony and personal cabin boy. Champagne in the room and clothing washed when required was not good enough for the £55 000 they had paid and though this was a world cruise they were going to demonstrate their unhappiness by disembarking in Australia and flying home. Now the story was related to Sue in one of the dining rooms, with the main grumble being, why should they have to dine in the same restaurants as the other passengers? It was a shame that when I eventually joined Sue for lunch, the pair had left, I think they may have benefitted from my input into the conversation.
Another tale was related to Sue whilst leaving port in Aruba. This time the story was told by an American who had moved to Perth in Scotland after marrying a Scots lassie 17 years ago. He had left his wife behind as she didn’t fancy being away from home for 120 days. What???? He had just completed a phone call to her and had disturbed her beans on toast lunch, he continued that she was younger than him at 64yrs, he was in his 70s. Sue retorted that she too was 64yrs old and can understand that she wouldn’t be bothered to cook a meal just for one person. His gracious reply was that she was an old 64yrs and set in her ways, while Sue clearly was not. Changing the subject he told her that he had booked tours in each port, two of the trips costing in the region of £1 500. Is his wife mad, or is this not the full story?
We arrived in Oranjestad, the port and capital of the Dutch island of Aruba during breakfast. It’s a small island with the most prominent feature visible from the ship being a volcanic-shaped hill some miles inshore, we learned later that despite looking like a volcano, it isn’t. Another gorgeous Caribbean day greeted us, not as hot as Barbados due to a gentle cooling breeze lowering the temperature to somewhere below 30.
We had a trip booked for this island called ‘Sea and See’, disembarked, ‘stickered up’ we left the port by air-conditioned coach by 8.45am. Our guide for the day was an Abba fan called Fernando, yes, inevitably it was played over the sound system. After making our way along the coastal road passing by many huge and modern hotel complexes we progressed through to the outskirts where we had a glimpse of where the locals lived. We were informed that you could buy a house on the island from as little as $30 000 up to $500 000 for something quite plush on the beach. The local currency is in Florins.
The striking thing about the landscape is not the white sandy beaches (they call it sugar sand here) but the abundant cacti that tower upright on every scrap of land that has not been built on or farmed. It could easily be the set for a Hollywood western and wouldn’t take too much imagination to envisage the Lone Ranger and Tonto galloping away over the hill.
The coastline of Venezuela is visible from Aruba, but there appears to be very little love lost between the two peoples. The main industry on the island apart from tourism (mostly American) and the Alovera plant is the Venezuelan oil refinery, which apparently hasn’t paid its dues to the island government for a number of years now. They also seem to resent the rule from the Netherlands, the president in protest to one particular imposition went on a hunger strike to have the ruling overturned, however, the Dutch were not overly impressed and he gave up when he realised he was going to have to die to make his point.
Our first stop was at the Island’s only lighthouse. It was built after the SS California foundered on the nearby rocks with the loss of several lives. It is now appropriately called the California Lighthouse. For $5 there was an opportunity to climb the structure but with only a 15-minute stop no one took advantage. The views from the base were as good as those from the top, I guess!
Next was a short drive to a monstrosity of a hotel. It is part of the RIU chain, easily the largest, whitest and tallest building we have seen on the island and designed to look like an Indian temple complex. What on earth had the architects in mind? It would have looked fine in Mumbai, but Aruba? I think not. Thankfully we only visited its pier so that we could catch our boat to the semi-submersible craft somewhere out to sea. I took advantage of its WiFi and chatted with Sarah for a while until we sailed out of range.
The submarine was anchored near to the wreck of a German freighter that had been scuttled at the start of WW2, to prevent it from being of use to the allies. It is now a popular diving spot (there were plenty of scuba divers in the surrounding water). We boarded the sub without any difficulty and descended into its depth, each of us taking a seat, crocodile fashion next to our own window with a view below the waterline. For the next hour, we traversed back and forth over the wreck, spotting the different varieties of fish swimming lazily by. We finished by passing over the reef to see even more colourful varieties. Returning to the pier we boarded the coach for the next stage of our island adventure.
The Baby Bridge isn’t much of an erosion feature worthy of more than a brief visit but it is the best they have as a few years ago its nearby bigger brother collapsed during the night, giving the restaurant and gift shop a bit of a problem that this smaller replica seems to have solved, for now.
Our final visit was to another rocky feature. The Casibari Rock Formation is formed of quartz diorite and there is supposed to be evidence of prehistoric rock drawings, but they must have hidden them well. However, they do afford good views and are quite photogenic. Again, it wouldn’t seem out of place to see the Lone Ranger and Silver galloping around the rocks at any moment. It was quite breezy at the top and Sue became parted from her headwear. Despite my best efforts, clambering over the building-size boulders I couldn’t find it. It was probably lodged in a crevice alongside the rock paintings, waiting to be discovered again by a future generation.
Returning to the ship, Sue bought a new hat from one of the gift shops that are inevitably housed in the terminal all ports that cruises visit.
We sailed at 3.30pm. A short visit, but if you are here for just a day, it is long enough. Apart from chilling out on a perfect Caribbean sugar beach and topping up your tan, there is not much else to distract you for long, not even the Divi Divi tree, famed on the island for always pointing to the west. Would we visit again, probably not, the abundance of mega hotels along idyllic beaches doesn’t sit well with the conscience and comes perilously close to an up-market Benidorm?