By Renate Strub, Epicure & Culture Contributor
You’ve probably been there; the daily grind just has a way of wearing you down. Suddenly, day-to-day responsibilities loomed larger with each passing day. I badly needed some downtime. Like, now.
My husband must know me well, as he surprised me with tickets to Aruba (talk about a pick-me-up!). The funny thing was I wasn’t super excited about the trip. You see, the memories I had from a trip to Aruba 15 years before were of an arid island, with not much to do or see. We also stayed at a large hotel in an area constantly battered by high winds. By the way, incessantly having sand blown in your face on the beach is not much fun.
Well, were, my negative outlook and my wearied soul in for a surprise!
A Chill Boutique Stay
Beginning with the stay.
Our small 72-room boutique hotel, the Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa, was located in the Low-Rise Hotel District — far away from the “Big Hotels” — right on the famous white-sand Eagle Beach. Rated as one of the top beaches in the Caribbean, it enticed me to take extended early-morning walks followed by dips in the warm Caribbean Sea. No high waves, no sand blowing in my face.
It was already late afternoon, so we went for an early dinner at Ricardo’s (recommended!), a 10-minute walk away. We were looking forward to eating seafood — I had a sumptuous grouper filet with a mango-creole sauce — while enjoying the sunset. An early rest was vital, as the next morning we were set to explore all that Aruba had to offer. So far, it seemed like this “Take Two” of Aruba would be a better experience for me.Wondering where to stay in #Aruba? This boutique #island #hotel is amazing! Click To Tweet
Wellness & Relaxation
“Meditation in motion.” That’s how our instructor, Dagmara, described yoga. At 8am we met her at the resort’s outdoor pavilion, overlooking coconut trees on the beach and the blue sea beyond. This pure paradise blended perfectly with gentle Vinyasa poses, soft oriental-sounding music and Dagmara’s gentle guidance.
“Concentrate on breathing and your movements, and let go of everything else,” she spoke softly.
Moving through Sun Salutations and Cat-Cow, I breathed in relaxation and out the negative energy that had been inside of me. My husband and I hadn’t even left the property yet, and already I was feeling like a new woman. A breeze billowed a palm tree nearby, and the light wind left me awash with fragrances of salt water and orchids. Seriously, how could one not relax here?
By the way, if you’re into wellness Manchebo also has Pilates workouts as well as sunset yoga classes on the oceanfront Yoga Deck. Oh, and don’t forget soothing massages at the Spa del Sol.
While we could have lapped up the curative relaxation all day, we decided it was time to get away from the property and explore the island.
Moving Sites For Animal Lovers
We started by exploring local animal volunteer opportunities. Stop #1: Philip’s Animal Garden. Following his life-long love of animals, Philip Conrad Merryweather created this habitat. They specialize in rescuing and rehabilitating exotic animals from Aruba and many areas of the world. From camels to alpacas to colorful birds — and even large snakes — they all find a home here.
Next we visited Donkey Sanctuary Aruba, home to 132 wild donkeys. Buricos, as the locals lovingly call them, are descendants of the donkeys brought to Aruba by the Spaniards some 500 years ago. Each donkey is given a name and receives food, shelter, medical care. And, equally as important, plenty of love from their volunteer caretakers.
Being among so many donkeys made me nervous at first, but that feeling soon disappeared. The donkeys’ sweet disposition captivated me. I couldn’t believe that before visiting Aruba I hadn’t wanted to come, as now I wanted to stay longer to spend more time with these playful creatures.
Seeing all these animals so passionately cared for made me realize just how powerful love can be, and the importance of nurturing ourselves as well as those around us (including animals!). Surrounded by donkeys, I hoped my caring presence brought them as much comfort as they did me.In #Aruba, #yoga, #wildlife & cultural immersion all led to the perfect trip. Here's how Click To Tweet
Alto Vista Chapel
Next, we were off to explore Aruba history, though what I found was much more internal than simply learning facts.
A winding road framed by white crosses indicating the Stations of the Cross led us to Aruba’s first Roman Catholic Church, dating back to 1750. A small yellow church with a red-tiled roof, Alto Vista Chapel sits on top of a hill, surrounded by large rocks and Yatu cacti.
Services on Tuesdays are held in the musical Creole language Papiamento at 5:30pm. A peaceful and spiritual place that’s always open, it invites you to sit down. Looking at a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus against a brilliant blue background made me feel introspective; I closed my eyes and listened to my thoughts, something I didn’t do nearly enough at home. This place was so peaceful though, so movingly beautiful, I couldn’t help but sit in silence and look inward.
By the way, one of the locals informed us that seeing the sunrise or sunset from the chapel was spectacular. They weren’t lying. Hey, they don’t call this “Alto Vista” or “High View” for nothing. If you ever visit Aruba, you shouldn’t miss this.
Rancho Clemente Fishermen
The next day was another adventure: meeting the locals, an essential part of any trip. Halfway between our hotel and Aruba’s second largest city, San Nicolas, we stopped at Rancho Clemente. Here is where we hoped to meet the local fishermen, who go out on their boats in the middle of the night and bring back and sell their haul early in the morning.
From the road I could see a shack down at the waterline. It didn’t look terribly inviting, but I was determined to see whether I could meet someone. While my husband stayed behind, I gingerly walked down some wooden steps — more like remnants of steps — careful to not fall through one of the many gaps.
Having safely negotiated the last step, my courage was rewarded and led to the highlight of my trip. Clearly, Francisco and Antonio were not expecting any visitors, let alone a foreign red-haired woman carrying a camera. The look of utter surprise on their faces was priceless, though they were extremely welcoming.
We chatted for a quite a while. Francisco informed me that high winds the day before had prevented them from going out, so this morning they had no fresh fish to sell. He stated this matter-of-factly, with no sadness or worries in his voice. Life is taken as it comes and you deal with it. In my travels I’ve come across so many people who faced local adversities with a positive attitude, finding happiness and joy in their daily lives even in trying circumstances. Francisco was yet again showing me the power of travel beyond laying on the beach and seeing the sites.
My eyes wandered over to the red-on-white domino tiles scattered on a table. The setup seemed to occupy center stage in their sparsely furnished open room.
“Do you play Domino?” I asked, excited to find some common ground.
Francisco’s eyes lit up. “Oh, yes, and we also play a tournament.” He pointed to a large board on a wall, listing the names and scores of all participants.
By that time, my husband had decided he should see where his wife was. Jumping into the conversation, he asked if they had female Domino players.
“Yes, last year we had one,” Francisco proudly said.
We chatted a bit longer, and Francisco gave me his mailing address. It looked like I would be leaving Aruba with a new penpal.
A Spectacular Sunset
That evening, back at our hotel, my husband and I ambled towards the beach. We found a lovely spot under a lone palapa tree amid a grove of coconut palms. From here the glowing red and orange clouds illuminated by the sun sinking far out on the horizon looked spectacular.
It also offered the perfect setting to reflect. I was lost in contemplation about my impressions of the last two days, and how glad I was that my husband had booked this trip. Observing how local people interact with their surroundings and their universe made me look at my life from a different perspective. After just two days, I felt rejuvenated and filled with a positive energy, and vowed, from then on I would make time for myself to just be in the moment.
And from now on when I thought of Aruba I would no longer think of sand blowing in my face, but instead a single word: dushi. This is a Papiamento word meaning sweet, nice, and good; it is applied to people, tasty food, good things in life. I couldn’t think of a better description.
Things To Do:
Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa. E. Irausquin Blvd. 55, Palm – Eagle Beach. Rooms range from Deluxe Garden View to Deluxe One Bedroom Suite. Rates vary according to the season.
Ricardo’s. J.E.Irausquin Blvd 53. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Live entertainment Mon – Fri during happy hour between 4 pm and 6 pm.
Philip’s Animal Garden. Alto Vista 116, Noord. Admission fees: $10 for adults, $5 for children 13 years and up. Children between 3 and 13 years are free. Tours are offered every half-hour between 9 am to 5 pm seven days a week. The tours last about one hour, but visitors can stay for as long as they want. Admission fee includes a bag of carrots and compressed grass pellets.
Donkey Sanctuary Aruba. Bringamosa 2-Z, Sta Cruz. Open every day from 9 am to 4 pm. No entrance fee.
- Fodor’s In Focus Aruba (Full-color Travel Guide)
- Travel as Transformation: Conquer the Limits of Culture to Discover Your Own Identity
- The Wander Year: One Couple’s Journey Around the World
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