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We Spent our 15th Wedding Anniversary in post-COVID Aruba

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We spent a glorious week in post- COVID Aruba with no crowds, no cruise ships, and terrific hospitality.

Panoramic photograph of the Aruba Sunset on Palm Beach, 6/3/2021

Breezy Afternoons readers know by now that my husband and I are best friends. We not only love each other like crazy, but we like each other, too. When my brother-in-law and his new wife offered to spend a week with our children so that we could get away for a week, we were out the door before they could say, “but, wait!”

I started this blog several months into the COVID-19 shut-down. Like so many others, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. Most of my posts have focused on books and gardening, blogging and writing, and of course, food. Our true passion and hobby is travel. Now that we’re fully vaccinated, I’ll be sharing quite a few posts about where we go and what we do.

I travel for the same reason I read: to see how the rest of the world lives. I have a never-ending curiosity about other humans. What do they eat? What do they wear? What is the history like? What are their traditions? Music? Language? All of it. Humanity carries with it beauty and ugliness; good and evil – the human struggle to resist the evil and ugly and appeal to good and beauty is infinite. No matter how far one travels, they’ll never even scrape the surface.

Aruba: June 2021

Joel and Kelly in Aruba on their 15th Wedding Anniversary

Joel and I happened to have a year’s worth of hotel points to cash in, so we stayed at the Hilton Aruba Resort & Casino. The service at the hotel was incredible. Everyone there was kind, efficient, and seemed as happy to be there as we were. This was not an all inclusive vacation, but I quit drinking completely a few years back so I didn’t have any cocktails. Joel had a few drinks here and there, but even he was drinking the delicious tap water. Aruba has safe, clean, delicious drinking water. Our room was right next to the ice/water machine on our floor so I was very hydrated all week.

Day One

We rented a car, as Aruba is a fully developed island and one of the safest tourist destinations on the planet. We drove to the hotel the first day, checked in, and took a nap. It was glorious. After our nap, we took an evening walk on the beach. We walked across the street from the hotel to a restaurant called “Tango Argentine Grill.”

Tango Argentine Grill Empanada

I had the chicken empanadas. The recipe was savory with a hint of curry, and the most delicious empanada I’d ever eaten. The island is still below 80% its normal tourism levels so there was no wait and we chose where we wanted to sit. My husband had a delicious steak with a fresh chimichurri sauce that exploded with flavor. It was an incredible first meal at the island. We returned to the hotel after and headed to the casino. We both lost some cash and decided it was time for bed. It was a great, easygoing first day.

Day 2

Day 2 was spent in a chair at one of these shaded “Palapas” with an old paperback novel I bought at a used book sale for 5 cents. It was called “A Body to Die For” by Katie White and it was absolutely perfect. There was sex, drama, murder, a million suspects and it was all resolved nicely in the end. Perfect for a day at the beach.

My actions this day were as follows: Get in the water, lay in the shade, repeat. For six hours. I ate fruit and drank water. I read an entire book. The beach was quiet. The palapas near us were mostly full but not crowded and it wasn’t a spring break crowd. It was actually like a Yankees Red Sox crowd. There are a LOT of folks from New England in Aruba. We basically felt like foreigners among the tourists because of our non-Yankee accents. My husband is from California and has the quintessential “non-accent” of American TV newscasters, and I have mostly a slight Texas accent, which is way different from a Southern accent. The only way to describe a Texas accent to the masses is to say “Like George W. Bush but less showy.”

That evening, I think Joel went down to the casino, and I went to the hotel room with a chocolate bar and another 5 cent paperback novel. If I recall, we ate at a restaurant right next to the Tango Argentine Grill called “Salt and Pepper.” They brought us a cake with a sparkler. The live music played our song (“I’m Yours by Jason Mraz) and we stood up and danced together at the restaurant, in the middle of everyone. It was ridiculously romantic, and embarrassing since we’re really awful dancers. But we are very much in love, and that is all that mattered at that moment.

Salt and Pepper Aruba Anniversary Cake

Day 3

Day 3 we had a “Poolapa” which is a shaded cabana by the pool. I was feeling pretty tired from all of the sun and the late nights at the casino, so Joel went down to the pool while I took a long, long nap after breakfast. I didn’t come down until late in the day, and I do not regret it. Later that night we went to a fancy restaurant on property at the Hilton. It was called the Sunset Grille. We ate on a beautiful balcony. It was a nice meal, but nothing special.

Aruba requires masks indoors, except when eating.

We went to the Casino and I won all the money I had lost to date. Whenever I go to a location where I can gamble, I stick to blackjack or slot machines. I plan to lose any money I play with, and I usually do. But by day 3 on the vacation, I’d broken even, and I consider that a win.

Day 4

On the fourth day, we decided to see a different part of the island. We wanted Cuban food, so we headed to a restaurant called Cuba’s Cookin’ a few miles across the island. This restaurant is where the cruise ships usually let out, and there were three ships in the bay. Curiously, there were no tourists roaming around. Aruba will not let anyone disembark without a negative PCR covid test. Many gift shops were completely closed, as were most of the major restaurants at the Royal Plaza.

At Cuba’s Cookin’ I had the empanada appetizer, and they were delicious. There were three types, a potato, a chicken, and a beef. All were perfect. The main meal was Abuela’s chicken soup – and who can really ever turn down Abuela’s chicken soup?? It was delicious. Sadly, we were one of only two tables full at the huge restaurant. While this is great for the tourists enjoying the quiet, it’s terrible for the people in Aruba that depend on tourism dollars.

Abuela’s Chicken Soup at Cuba’s Cookin’ – Aruba

After our bellies were full, we walked over to the Royal Plaza, a somewhat infamous shopping center near Aruba. I took a few photographs in the gallery below. We had coffee in the square. I had an iced mocha and Joel had a coconut lemonade. He drank way too fast and got a brain freeze, causing the lovely woman in the coffee stand to rush out and fuss over him until he was ok. It was lovely, honestly. It’s so nice to be fussed over.

Most of the shops were open, so we finished our souvenir shopping while we were there. We try to find thoughtful gifts that are handmade and found a great shop – I can’t remember the name – but it’s on the 2nd floor of the Royal Plaza and sells beautiful hand-painted dishware. We purchased a bowl for our kitchen.

From the Royal Plaza we walked to a small casino on the Marina, where I won $200.00 on a $1 bet. We cashed out and went back to the hotel with more money than we had left with.

Day 5 – our Anniversary

Day 5, we started off by visiting a clinic a few blocks away to get the COVID-19 tests we needed to have to be allowed into America. I’m pretty sure we both secretly hoped we’d get a false positive so we would have to stay. On the way I took a ridiculous fall on the uneven pavement. I wasn’t hurt but I was so embarrassed. If anyone filmed that fall, it will surely go viral. Have you ever started to fall, but then you catch yourself? In this case, I stumbled forward, and I caught myself before falling. Seven times. but I still fell, after seven very dramatic foot stomps on the pavement. Here’s how it went: Stumble; foot smack; foot smack; foot smack; foot smack; foot smack; foot smack; foot smack; knee hits ground, hip hits ground; side hits ground. I immediately sat up and looked at my hands and legs and arms to make sure everything was still there. Then I burst into laughter at how RIDICULOUS that fall was. Anyway, we made it and the COVID tests were negative. I still have a bruised knee, five days later.

After the dramatic morning, we rested at the beach. All day. Joel took a wave runner out on the water and I read yet another book in the shade. We went inside and changed for our anniversary d inner on the beach. We were one of only two couples on the beach, and we sat together and watched the sunset. It was magical.

After dinner, we went back to the onsite casino and I hit a Royal Flush on a poker machine. I turned .07 cents into $40.00. Imagine if I actually bet real money!

Day 6

Day 6 was our last day in Aruba. We were not at all ready to leave. It was peaceful, the food was fresh and delicious, and there was nothing but beauty everywhere. We went to the pool that morning and I finished my last paperback. The last day of any vacation is sad. After pool time, we showered and headed out to a different resort and casino on the island – the Renaissance. They had a little bigger casino. We had a nice dinner at their restaurant and headed back to the hotel. I do not have any pictures or anecdotes about this day, just that Joel and I really enjoyed all of our time together. We didn’t lose that much money and spent hours gambling, which we really enjoy.

Day 7: Travel

Oh, man. IF you are traveling from Aruba on a Saturday, get there four hours early. We arrived two and a half hours early, and after we went through security and customs, we barely made our plane. We boarded last, after final boarding was called. Thank goodness we made it. We came home, unpacked, and have nothing but wonderful things to say about the island.

Our next vacation will be a road trip through the US from Dallas to Pittsburgh, to Philadelphia, to Arlington/DC.

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