In all my travels abroad and in the US, I have never actually been embarrassed to be an ‘American’ tourist, I suppose there is a first time for everything. As we sat quietly waiting for our dinner at a lovely restaurant in Aruba, Sam and I wished we could simply snap our fingers and be ANYTHING but American!! Sam’s lucky he can pass as ‘non-American’ with relative ease simply due to his coloring…me on the other hand….it’s not so easy!
Many countries rip on American tourists–France is notorious for their dislike of Americans and the British Customs agent I encountered with Sam on our trip to London in 2009 was rather insulted by my American slang and accent. But still I have never actually wished I wasn’t an American tourist…..until we sat quietly in a restaurant in Aruba next to a table of vacationing American tourists.
As I noted in earlier postings, Aruba seems to be a very popular vacation spot for east-coasters. Many of the tourists we encountered were from upstate NY, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Boston—all of them were rich, retirement age, rude, loud white people!!
Tonight we had dinner at a relatively inexpensive restaurant called Salt ‘n Peppers (S & P’s) which was right next to our hotel. It’s a great restaurant with outdoor dining, a relaxed but romantic atmosphere, with a varied menu (Sam recommends the hamburger with pineapple he said it was AMAZING!)….oh and if you bring in salt and pepper shakers (not ‘borrowed’ from your hotel, and leave the shakers there) they will give you a free glass of wine.
Dinning in Aruba is EXPENSIVE (in my opinion anyway) and the service is so-so at best. When they say ‘island time’ they mean it….dining is an event in Aruba, the waiters don’t rush or bug you, and the whole experience is meant to be taken in an enjoyed, not rushed through.
People dress up a little more and dinner hour isn’t until about 7:30 or 8. I think we ate dinner around 8 every night (this is MUCH earlier than in the US, Sam and I usually eat around 5 or 6 back home). Typically in the US dinner runs anywhere from 45 mins to 1 hour if you go to a sit-down restaurant and you get fast service–get ‘em in and get ‘em out I guess!!
So the first night we stayed in Aruba, we went down to the restaurant at 5:30 and it was completely deserted. Most of the shops are open from like 10:00 am-1:00 pm and close till 7:00 pm but will stay open until 10:00 pm—ALL the shops, street vendors, and restaurants are like that which is weird for most tourists. Of course there are some places that don’t close like Hooters or the swimsuit stores, but for the most part things REALLY pick up at night.
So after a day a scuba diving melt down, couples spa day, and marathon walk (more on that soon) we decided on what we hoped would be a nice quiet dinner outside by candle light—WRONG. A group of four American tourists were seated at a table right next to ours on the patio, they were rich, older, loud east-coasters who complained through the ENTIRE dinner….about EVERYTHING!!
First one lady’s cell phone rang and she answered it and started talking LOUDLY in this quiet restaurant about tickets to a Michael Buble concert….her husband finally interrupted her and told her to get off the phone because they were being charged roaming. She hung up (thank God) but then they started arguing about roaming charges.
Then they started complaining about the wind–hello, its an island in an area famous for trade winds, what did you expect??? Next, they complained that the waiter hadn’t come by to take their order or bring them water (they had only been sitting for 15 mins). The finally ordered and before we did but we got our food first….OMG all hell broke loose!!! Anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows that four people–full dinners with salads–is going to take longer to prepare than two people who just want a burger!!
They complained LOUDLY about how we got our food first and acted like they were in a bubble where no one else could hear…..they were looking at us like WHO LET THE ‘LOCAL’ TRASH IN…..and kept staring at us and complaining like some how we managed to spoil EVERYTHING by sitting there. They talked randomly to other diners who were clearly trying to have a quiet dinner.
As we were eating they just kept complaining about EVERYTHING….one lady was like ‘OMG did that waiter just give me an attitude when I asked about our menus??’ ‘OMG what is taking so LONG??’ ‘OMG this guys playing the saxophone is playing SO off key I can’t stand it’ ‘Look at those two people (us), sitting there eating their food how DARE they???’. Then to add insult to injury, the waiter came by our table and was like how is everything are you enjoying it? Do you need anything else? I thought the lady was going to have a coronary right there.
She was like ‘OMG, now he’s just trying to insult us! He’s helping THEM and not us! We are PAYING good money here!!’. Finally the guy brought them their salads….which of course they complained about the dressing and salad–oh and the service again. The waiter still paid more attention to us and doted on everything we needed. Clearly we were American (the loud ass tourists were like OMG WTF why is he helping THEM and not US?!?!?!—one can only imagine LOL) and this group acted like we were from third world classless place not worthy of them.
They finally got their food…which they complained about….SURPRISE!!! And when the waitor brought the bill for us, we tipped him extra for having to deal with the rude Americans at the table next to us….since CLEARLY they were NOT going to tip him!! LOL. 🙂
It was clear this group thought were didn’t belong in this rich tourist spot and as I noted earlier, Aruba is an expensive island and there were not many young couples there. Even the other non-American tourists were clearly wealthy South American people (Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela) or rich Middle Easterners. I am sure Sammy and I looked really out of place to the ‘normal’ tourist but still I was blown away by how RUDE these people were and I was praying I could be brown and speak better Spanish so I could blend in like Sammy LOL. So from that point on I started looking around….like really looking around at the ‘American-isms’ on this vacation spot. I know many countries–particularly island countries with all the cruises etc–really cater to the ‘tacky Americans’ and Aruba is no different.
I think the tackiest American ideal that I saw while we were there was the ‘La Cucaracha’ bus as I like to call it :). It’s real name is actually almost as bad (Kukoo Kunuku was one–and yes there was more than ONE tacky tourist bus company on the island….The Banana Bus was another one I saw a lot of LOL)–it’s an old school bus with no windows and painted the most obscene colors you have ever SEEN!! Oh and the best part….every time it pulls into a hotel or stop the driver honks the horn which plays La Cucaracha…..it’s like a Mexi party bus….they even give you maracas to shake outside the windows as you drive around town. I wasn’t sure if we were in Mexico or Aruba whenever I saw the bus LOL. I about DIED laughing when I saw it. It was FULL of old, rich, white people looking for a ‘real island’ feel…..???!!! Sometimes there are no words….
Anyway needless to say we get excellent service where ever we go probably because everyone here seems to think Sam is a native or local and keep talking to him in their island language (Papiamento) which is a cross between Creole, Spanish, and Portuguese. Poor Sammy didn’t have a clue what they are saying but replies in Spanish and we manage to get along just fine.
Everyone in Aruba speaks at least five languages (Dutch, Papiamento, English, Spanish, and German or French) so language seems to be a big conversation starter among locals and tourists. We mostly hear lots of Spanish/Kumbia music coming from all the clubs and restaurants and the locals ask Sammy about all the languages he speaks (ya all two LOL) and they are curious about the US. It seems like they feel more comfortable asking Sam and I questions about the US than the other people there on vacation….I guess they recognize Sam as one of their ‘own’ LOL. Anyway they asked us about the education system, Sam’s family and culture etc., language, if we traveled and where….everything so that was cool, and we asked lots of questions too about the island itself and I felt like we got to know the island and culture in a way that most tourists don’t get to experience.
For example–I know this is lame but still, I thought it was interesting–there are only about 100,000 people on the island but roughly 200,000 cars. So license plates in Aruba are a BIG deal I guess.For a local resident the plates have a letter “A”, “V” for visitors (rental cars), and “T” for taxis followed by their numbers. The Governor of Aruba is the only person allowed to have the #1–so his plate looks like this: A-1. Apparently the smaller the number the more ‘status’ the person has. So someone who has the plate A-40 is considered a person with ‘status’. Plates are handed down through generations and in some cases are sold for A LOT of money.
Our taxi driver was telling us a friend of his had the plate A-540 and he sold it for $40,000.00 USD. The only ‘valuable’ plates are the ones with “A” not the “V” or “T” plates. Anyway this was a little piece of culture I feel fairly certain we would not get on the La Cucaracha bus LOL. Overall I just felt like everywhere we went we were surrounded by Americans who were loud, rude, and were impatient about EVERYTHING not to mention suffering from an entitlement complex!!!
Dinner and the “I can’t believe we are American tourists” was just the grande finale to our rather trying fifth day in Aruba though!! I feel like on every vacation….a major meltdown is inevitable….at least in my experience!! It’s either from jet lag, exhaustion, or simply having to navigate/communicate/interact with foreign cultures but inevitably…..a meltdown WILL happen LOL. And for me…..things usually begin to unravel around the fifth day…..so one would think I would expect the impending doom…..ya, nope!!!
So the meltdown begins when we saw this advertisement through De Palms Tour Company (which is like the ‘it’ place for tours on the island I guess…expensive but worth it) for an underwater scuba ‘sea trek’ and we REALLY wanted to do it! The helmet is like a cross between scuba diving, snorkeling, and a submarine….it’s like an astronaut helmet that you wear and walk around the sea floor and scuba dive–in a bubble– more or less.
So in order to do the sea trek you had to buy the all inclusive day pass to the island ($115 for full day per person) and then buy the sea trek at for an additional cost of $47.00 per person….so for over $300 we could see the wonders of the coral reefs in a bubble. Now you might be thinking….$300 to swim/scuba?!?!? WTF….HELL NO, for $50 per person we could actually SCUBA DIVE!!! I know, I know I was thinking the same thing…however I knew scuba diving was OUT for me.
When I was diagnosed with a large rare–saddle pulmonary embolisms back in 2008, the doctor told me no one in their right mind would let me scuba dive because the pressure from the water might kill me as I have diffuse scaring in my lung and decreased lung capacity. So I KNEW scuba was out, but at the time it just didn’t occure to me that I would ever ACTUALLY be in a place where I could go scuba diving so I didn’t much care but then of course you only live once and I am all for at least TRYING something. Now while we were in Aruba, we didn’t go snorkeling–I have tried to snorkel but try as I might, I could never breath through the tube thingy right and always got water down the breathing tube), Sam wasn’t really into the whole snorkeling thing either but ironically we BOTH wanted to do either scuba diving or the sea trek….go figure!! Anyway, I thought the sea trek would be a nice compromise….not really scuba diving but not really snorkeling and I was ready to pay the money because this was the one thing I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to do.
Sammy went over to the De Palms tour place to reserve our trip for the day while I finished getting ready. He came back and reluctantly told me I couldn’t do the sea trek either….they wouldn’t allow anyone to do it who had problems with clots, bleeding disorders, and decreased lung function…..yes and as luck would have it, I have ALL those things!!! I was heart broken and started crying on the spot and not just crying…..SOBBING!! Between sobs I promised Sam I would not have an ‘incident’ and if I couldn’t breath I would ask them to take me back up….I just really wanted to TRY. He said I needed to sign a waiver and I had to be able to answer ‘no’ to all the medical questions which he knew I couldn’t, and I told him I would just put ‘yes’ so I could go. He’s like UMMMMM NO besides he already told the lady at the ticket counter I couldn’t do it as I am sure he anticipated my lying about the medical problems. More tears…..more sobbing…..more pleading…..more tears.
I have never felt like my medical problems have ever really slowed me down or hindered me….I’m pretty stubborn. I mean I fly long distances and travel a lot, I’ve done a ropes course where I also had to scale a 20 foot tree and fly down a zip line (2 months after my initial blood clot incident mind you), ridden horses (hunter jumper and dressage not just trail riding), raced cars, ridden motorcycles and ATV’s…..not to mention all the other random abuses my body has taken from falls, hiking, and random daily living….I said I wasn’t an outdoors-y girl I know but I never said I had never DONE adventurous things mind you :). So I have never felt like I COUDN’T do something…..this was the first time I felt like my body had limits and I was crushed. Plus I felt like I was also limiting Sam’s adventure but he assures me I didn’t.
Finally I just had to come to terms with it as there was nothing I could do about it and move on and find another way of fulfilling my dream to see the mysterious ocean depths. Our solution was in the form of a submarine tour….apparently a pressureized cabin is fine for my lung problems–though I still struggled with my breathing I managed to make it through the sub tour ok….even when I fly I have trouble breathing. Compressed air doesn’t agree with me but I wasn’t about to SAY that to anyone before I got on the sub, I figured once I was on good luck getting me off!!
The Atlantis Submarine cost just about as much as the sea trek mind you–$99.00 per person and the trip is about 1.50 hrs–oh and BTW, there are only like 2 of these tours a day, one at 10 and one at 1….that’s it, but it was worth it. Now I get horribly sea sick so I was anxious about the sub as we had to take a 10 min boat ride to dock with the sub, climb on the sub in the middle of the ocean and then dive to 140 feet. I know I know…..I was more scared of throwing up from sea sickness than I was of a slow death by asphyxiation from the pressure…..I’m just not smart sometimes but that’s part of my charm I guess :). Surprisingly I was NOT sick at all!! We docked with the sub and climbed aboard (that was a little scarry) and found a seat promptly starting our underwater adventure.
We saw lots of really cool coral and bright colored fish right up close and didn’t even have to get wet!! There were two plane wrecks that we saw which was a little erie but lots of fish activity, it’s also a popular dive spot according to our tour guide. One thing I thought was interesting was that everything had a blue hue….I couldn’t really see all the colors of the fish or coral as I thought I would be able to see them. The guide said that underwater, all the colors are muted and ‘absorbed’ by the blue in the water meaning many underwater photos come out ‘bad’ because everything is blue. You have to be CLOSE and use a flash to do your pics justice which we couldn’t use a flash in the sub so our pics weren’t too great but I suppose that’s ok. And in all our pics Sam and I look like smurfs too LOL.
We touched down on the sea floor (130 feet to be exact) and there was NOTHING on the sea floor, apparently the reefs and coral need lots of sun light to grow and after 80 feet or so not enough light can get through the water so there is not a lot to see after 80 feet in the way of coral etc. Which means there were no fish at 140 feet like there were at the 80 ft point….we did see some large stingrays on the sea floor though. He said that larger fish such as the Mahi Mahi (see other types of ‘deep sea’ fish in Aruba here) could be found farther out (300+ ft waters). Same with sharks…..most sharks wouldn’t get closer than 300 ft deep water I guess they ‘hear’ better in deeper water according to him?? Anyway, I would have loved to go deep sea fishing but sadly I don’t think my stomach would be able to take it.
After we surfaced from the sub, we got back on the boat and headed toward land. We wandered around the docks and saw lots of awesome creatures….some crabs around the dock, two LARGE iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks and a few baby ones along the way, a weird looking pelican fishing in the harbor, large parakeets, among other colorful birds–I am not a biologist so I apologize I don’t know the names of the species! It was REALLY cool to see ‘nature’ well ‘naturally’ LOL. After wandering, we took a cab to our ‘free’ spa day courtesy of the time share people from the day before at the Indulgence by the Sea Spa. We had scheduled a couples kelp wrap with sea salt scrub which included a head/neck massage. We were a little early (our appts weren’t till 5:00) so we went for a quick swim in the ocean and they laid on the beach till it was time to go for the appt.
The place was AMAZING and the staff were polite and made us feel comfortable right away by offering us some mimosas and a foot soak :). Our..???…. therapists????…came out to get us, one was a guy and one was a girl. Of course, I got the guy and Sam got the girl which was a little weird but we quickly got over the weirdness because it was SOOOOOOO relaxing!!! We felt completely rejuvinated after our treatment and it was sunset. We walked over to the beach from the spa and from the beach we could see all the way down to the
Occidental Hotel which it right by ours….the spa was in the ‘low rise’ hotel district and ours was in the ‘high rise’ hotel area but…..well since we could see it, we figured we could just walk there a long the beach rather than take a cab back. Not like we had anywhere else to go LOL!! So we started walking…..we left the spa at 6:15, we didn’t get to the resturant until 8:30!!!! Seriousally it was like 3 miles of walking….in the sand, in flip flops, FOREVER!!!! I was exhausted and literally ate my entire HUGE hamburger since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast at like 9:00 am and only had a mimosa to tide me over!!!
As we were walking on the beach, I told Sam I wanted to see if we were close to the ‘turtle beach‘ the taxi driver had shown us the day before. As luck would have it, it was RIGHT there–Eagle Beach–on our way toward out hotel! We saw the first turtle nest of the season which was roped off but I did snap a pic! We waited there till about 7:00 pm (the taxi guy said the best time to see the turtles was after 6:30 as they come ashore at dusk) but we didn’t see any….and I was STARVING, I didn’t want to sit and wait anymore. As we continued on, we saw a couple of ‘beach side’ dining resturants and more couples going for a romantic walk on the beach or an evening swim. We finally reached the ‘mid way point’ where we could no longer walk safely on the beach as there were rocks and trees blocking the way.
The Divi Divi tree is popular on lots of the beaches and when I saw one I thought it would be cool to have Sam take a pic of me sitting on it as the sun went down……BIG MISTAKE!! I went and sat on the tree trunk when all of a sudden I was like WTF my pinky finger is ON FIRE!!!! I look down and CHRIST ALMIGHTY my hand was covered in rather large black ants that were biting me!!! I freaked out….I didn’t even want to know where else the ants had managed to get into while I sat there…..luckily it was just my hand–though I did throw my camera into the sand, screamed, and contemplated tearing off my sundress and running into the ocean but I refrained as there was a very nice beachside dinning resturant RIGHT by the tree…..I thought it best NOT to scare the rich diners trying to have a romantic moment.
Luckily my camera was not damanged by the sand and I didn’t have any lingering problems save the mild itching and burning of said pinky finger for the rest of the night. I did hear my mom’s voice in my head for a moment…..’you probably have malaria or some other weird topical disease now!!’ she would probably say….and I was right she did say something like that when I told her about the ant attack!! Sam just stood there and laughed….he’s like ONLY YOU SARA!!!! Yep he’s right….it’s ME!!!! Although as he was standing there he was also attacked by ants in the sand so maybe it isn’t just me!!
After that we walked up to the road to avoid the rocks and uneven footing in the dark. We FINALLY made it to the hotel/restaurant at like 8:30 and my feet were KILLING ME. I wondered if I would be able to walk again….so much for the massage right?!?!?
Well I will leave off here Dear Reader and leave you in anticipation for the next post….my post about our last day in Aruba will be coming soon. So until next time Dear Reader….enjoy the pics and savor the adventures :).