By Dr. Jim Ferguson
I’m not a beach person; I’m more of a mountain guy, just not a back woodsman. So when it’s time to get away and recharge, the beach, the hot sun and sand are not my first choices. However, I’ve always liked to travel and when friends asked us to go with them to Aruba it sounded exotic and far away. So I said, “giddy up.” Perhaps I have a bit of hound dog in me, one who will jump in the truck if the driver yells, “Load up.”
In recent months I’ve been focused on the November election and its aftermath, the construction of our new home and getting my daughter’s family into the Big House, our current home. Sometimes you need to get away from responsibilities and it doesn’t matter where you go as long as you go. And by pushing myself out of my “discomfort” zone I rediscovered the wanderlust that I thought I had lost.
Woody Allen once said, “80% of life is showing up.” Similarly, my Dad taught me to “offer your services.” I doubt that my Dad and Woody Allen would share any other perspectives on successful living. However, they might agree with my corollary to their observations. “The best thing in life is being included.”
I haven’t done a travel essay since my bucket trip to the Adriatic in 2013. And for you purists who scream for medical topics, I want to remind you that this is a “health and wellness” column and getting away is sometimes healthful!
I had never been to Aruba, the westernmost and last island in the Lesser Antilles. This small Caribbean island of approximately seventy square miles is only nineteen miles from Venezuela and the northern coast of South America. Given the current state of the world, I may never realize my dream of seeing the Argentinian pampas or glimpsing the “girl from Ipanema.” The proximity of Venezuela and the failing socialism of Hugo Chavez and his protégée Mondaro, caused me some concern, but Arubans actually worry about Venezuela’s starving masses seeking sanctuary on their tiny island and overwhelming their limited resources.
Aruba’s only industry is tourism. This reality is reflected in the friendly and welcoming attitude I experienced in every local I met. Even their car license plates read, “One Happy Island,” – I believe it is more than just marketing.
I’ve been to many Caribbean islands, but this Dutch colony is very different. The climate is arid and the land abounds with cactus. Forty percent of the 100,000 people in Aruba are of Dutch ancestry, but other groups and languages intermingle freely and most of the population are multilingual. Fortunately for me, English is spoken everywhere and the greenback is welcome without the need of currency exchange.
Aruba receives little rainfall and has no rivers or aquifers. As a result Arubans must import all their food since farming is not possible. The island has advanced ocean desalination technology, the source of all potable water. And as a result the water supply is safe, unlike other places south of the American border.
You can count on sunshine in Aruba. Canadians flock to Aruba despite the distance in order to get away from snow and ice. And though this Knoxvillian prefers hot weather to cold, I still find Aruba far away and hot. If not for the southwest trade winds which blow constantly, the heat would be insufferable. In Aruba you don’t need a compass to know the direction of Central America and the Panama Canal. The common Devi Devi trees, which look a bit like large Japanese Bonsai trees, are all bent to the southwest by the constant wind.
Our hotel reminds me of ocean cruising. No, we don’t wake up each morning in a new port of call, but all inclusive meals, drinks and evening entertainment are analogous to cruising. Daily activities range from vegetating on the beautiful white sand beach, trying not to eat excessively and sightseeing venues like snorkeling or scuba diving.
Many years ago I used to scuba dive, but I would not attempt this without a vigorous refresher course. You may get sunburned snorkeling, but you can get into serious trouble 100 feet down with four atmospheres of pressure. If not managed correctly dissolved nitrogen in the bloodstream can form bubbles resulting in decompression sickness or Caisson’s disease.
Our Aruban hotel is full of young families with kids.When Becky and I were younger we often traveled with our children and friends who also had young kids. A prerequisite was inexpensive family friendly venues. We were fortunate to have my brother- and sister-in-law’s ranch in southwestern Colorado as a frequent economical option. One day the local newspaper featured a full page ad with the word CHEAP and SALE juxtaposing a Picasso-esque print of a woman’s large derrière. (The caption becomes “CHEAP A * * SALE.”) We now jokingly “book” travel through our CA Tour Group which boasts a Caribbean as well as a European division.
I’ve seen three oceans and sailed multiple seas, but the waters off Aruba are a stunning collage of green, turquoise and navy blue. I like sunsets and our beach just north of the capital of Oranjestad affords us a beautiful closure to each day.
I do have one beef; Arubans love soccer which I find boring. Televised soccer and basketball supplant baseball, and Becky and I, along with our Canadian friends, have to scramble to find the Stanley Cup playoffs. I probably never told you that I was once a “little pucker.” I played hockey through my second year in college, until it was time to hit the books instead of the boards. If you doubt me, look at my crooked nose!
We now leave recharged and ready to be home. At one time a week’s vacation seemed about right. Now a long weekend is enough. Perhaps it’s because I love my hometown of Knoxville. It’s big enough, but not too big. We have four seasons, mountains and lakes, the University and sports.
I’ve traveled on five continents and only Victoria, British Columbia and Wellington, New Zealand caused me to consider home anywhere but K-town. They say home is where the heart is. I agree. It’s good to go, but for me it’s better to come home, to God’s country.