Long before the sun rises, I do, pull on one of my more aggressive pairs of leggings and hop in the back of Muhammed's black sedan where he sons me so hard discussing the six languages he speaks.
Make American educated again.
The ride to LGA is quick and painless and, just as I suspected, the line at security is long and winding.
No matter. My homeboy hooked me up with an upgrade to first class, so I feel confident my flight will be comfortable - and catered.
Arriving to Queen Beatrix airport was a slow process, as we waited o the tarmac for what seemed like an eternity. Stress mounted as I tried to plot the acquisition of my ag from rows back whilst not breaking very clear, if unwritten, airplane etiquette. In no way was this helped by the cheeky gentleman who literally declared - I'm a smart ass. I don't care how cute you are or how long your dreads are - self proclamation of sarcasm is not sexy.
The airport hands out plastic bags emblazoned with tourist propaganda as throngs of Long Islanders adjust their visors and start to lather with SPF 2000 before reaching customs.
With only a few days here I don't want to waste a minute, and I am eager for the travel portion of today to be over.
Heartbreak at immigration as for the second time this year I have not received a stamp in my passport for the price of an international flight and am instead met with an electronic system that scans me and sends me on my way. I don't care what Barney Stinson says, new is not always better.
A quick stop at Hertz and it is a beautiful drive up the 1B to Noord, through the congested streets of downtown - Disney for the old and affluent - with the radio blasting Stooshe's 'Black Heart,' and me listening to the lyrics far too intently.
I pass what I imagine is a shoe store called Me, My Sister, Shoes and Him and realize life just became so simple and complete.
I wasn't coming here expecting copious amounts of culture, but it does always sting a bit to see what you imagine was at one point a cornucopia of beautiful beach communities ruined by families like the Hiltons and the Trumps. After locating Aruba Beach Villas, that closes at 5 and is run by a man easily 210 years old, I find room S10 and unload, connect to wifi and take a deep breath.
Some time spent watching clouds and listening to the ocean lap against the rocky shore was spent before a rag tag race came through town with old, young, large and small all making their way down the 1B, accompanied by a truck with extra large speakers haphazardly affixed to the back. That was my cue to make a change and make my way to dinner. Only one small problem, the large rock path flanking my parking spot slipped my mind and I immediately pulled over a baby boulder and was immediately stranded. I managed to finagle one rock from behind the front left tire but the other was firmly wedged beneath the transmission (see:pretending like I know car stuff).
After some time spent struggling a kind man came over and investigated, deciding to utilize the jack from the trunk as his woman spoke rapid fire Papiamento to me in a tone that did not connote either helpfulness or irritation. Luckily some fellow guests at the hotel had had the same problem and climbed under the vehicle to dislodge the rock for me. True acts of kindness and patience were exhibited and appreciated as the sky melted into reds and yellows and I was finally able to make my way to my one true love... food.
A little shaken, I took my hotelier's advice and headed shortly down the road and took a right. Palm trees, neon lights and AARP catalog-ready interracial couples filled the streets of Palm Beach, but I needed grub so I took heed to the old adage and joined 'em. Smokey Joe's was Trapper Keeper colored and had outdoor seating - it fit the bill. The fact that my muy macho waiter was Dominican and I determined his orgin from hearing his accent was just an added bonus.
The host asked repeatedly if I was sure it was only one for dinner, which I almost found to be amusing. But as I sat at this Señor Frogs for seniors alone, listening to obscure classic rock I have to admit, a sadness within me grew. Each and every time I take a risk, try something new and figure it out - alone - I do feel proud of myself and have a moment of ... man, I am such a bad bitch. But when the adrenaline levels fall and the world becomes quiet I can't help but at least be a little melancholy that, yet again, I am solo dolo.
Anyway... alcohol arrived so within two sips the world would be a happier place.
While consuming all 7000 calories of my meal a young couple was seated next to me and seemingly ran out of things to say to one another within five minutes. And here, I sit with an internal dialogue that never ceases. Perhaps I am the best company I could ask for after all...
Now, back to Ta-Nehisi and the balmy air.
I luxuriated in my book and the breeze with one cocktail going straight to my head to remind me just why I don't drink. The host, who I was definitely old enough to have given birth to suggested he was 'old enough' and he came to check on me repeatedly, and I was flattered. As I surveyed the eatery in which I'd been seated it was clear why any youthful male attention was being thrown my way - I seemed to be the only women who didn't yet have issues with vaginal dryness or hot flashes.
Speaking of which I did meet the nicest couple from Staten Island who spoke kindly to me about marriage and children and this island they love to much (Aruba, not Long) they've been here 8 times. Finally prying myself from the pastel chair I decided to work the strip and made my way down the open air markets and bistros with live cover bands until I picked up a doll for my niece (only to find one I liked even better a few blocks down) and decided to stop for dessert at this exotic little shop called... Baskin Robbins. Sure, I dropped my ice cream cone immediately after existing the established, but the cruise home with the windows down and Steve Perry warbling allowed the day to wash away and my to await yet another...
I woke to a stuffy sunlit room and dragged myself out of bed, out of my terribly dehydrated stopper and showered and dressed. I'd decided I would take Dad to the California lighthouse on the North end of the island for his birthday and that's just what I did.
Thankfully the opportunity to purchase a bottle of water was also available there only by way of a truck that's generator runs loudly and houses a beautiful parrot who wass chatty while chewing on plastic. I waited patiently for my bottle of water as a group of tourists greedily consumed their smoothies, exclaiming de nada when handed the fruity beverages. Sigh.
Evidently for the first time in 100 years you can buy a ticket to travel to the top of California Lighthouse, named after a shipwreck here many moons ago, and I felt the $10 entrance fee purchased within the tranquil Faro Blanco restaurant was worth the cost on this trip, on this day.
Young Rigo brought me to the top of California Lighthouse and was kind and informative; stressing the multicultural aspect of this small Caribbean island when I think what that really means is people visit and expat from all over the world here. The $10 was well spent, as I'd felt like I'd engaged in some ,at least semi authentic cultural experience offered here. Having seen the dunes off in the Northern distance I'd determined my compact rental car could handle the trek and traversed the bumpy unpaved roads to what seemed to be fishing country, finding my own private Idaho nestled between the errant fishermen for my own quiet ritual. I turned on Neil Young, tuned out the world and said goodbye, as I do each and every time I perform this secluded ceremony, to a tiny piece of my Dad on what would have been his 67th birthday.
Now he can rest at 'California beach' for all eternity. A few moments on the rocks, and a few repeats of 'Old Man' and I was done.
Happy birthday, Daddy.
I was glad I'd chosen to do this early in the day, c as it appeared the weekend warriors were caravaning in the opposite direction as I drove out of the thorny wilderness and into the Arashi Beach, known for its tourist friendly shallow beaches and bartenders avant garde hair styling choices.
I made my way down the beach with a bottle of water and packet of peanuts as far from civilization as I could before entering too rocky a terrain and set up shop. Just me, my peanuts and 'Between the World and Me.'
I'm painfully aware that I am late to the game with this book; and I am equally aware that it was not written for a white woman to search her soul, per se, but alas I did.
As dark and stormy clouds approached I watched a man very gently teach his dogs to swim and was overcome with the beauty that life and the world that houses it possess.
His patience and care gave me hope, but also left me feeling blue.
Melancholia is my middle name and I lay on the pristine white sand beaches I thought to myself - I don't remember what it feels like to be in love anymore. Maybe I never knew, as my associations with that emotion at this point in life are tied to so much pain and turmoil I feel confused about what it's 'supposed' to be - what the people on this beach right now, silently sitting side by side, lathering one another's back and frolicking in the waves playfully must be feeling. They can't possibly feel as alone as me, after all - they aren't. But who am I to presume. Each one of us has a whole world; an entire civilization living within us and no one outside the city walls really knows what's going on.
A rain storm approaches and leaves the sky half dark and half light, like a black and white cookie from the deli in the sky. Lightening bolts insert themselves into the landscape and I begin to wonder, should I seek cover or ride it out?
I made the move just in time and slid into the driver's seat the skies opened up and didn't let up. I thought I'd make my way downtown while the sun was playing hide and seek but it seems the infrastructure of Aruba is not set up for the weather patterns in Aruba, as the roadways almost immediately began to flood and having already fucked this car up more than I'd like to admit I realized it was a fruitless challenge and headed back toward Playa Linda, as food was no longer a want, it was a need.
Dushi Bagels - yes pronounced just like you think, but unlike most eateries 'round here (see Counting Crows) was open before 5, so a purple table up front under a moderately patched umbrella allowed me to sit and eat and write.
I thought 'while in Rome,' but my meal only confirmed that I'd already known for some time - I don't like fish - even when it is fried and drenched in ketchup.
With the rain still coming down and the temperatures dropping I took this opportunity to write my Dad a long and thoughtful birthday letter. I told him what I'd been up to, expressed my hope that he wouldn't be too disappointed by some of the choices I've made in his absence and thanked him profusely not only for being authentically him, but also for loving me in a way I've yet to experience elsewhere. And likely never will.
Elton John cued up and my face became a rainstorm of it's own and I just sat. I didn't search or think or talk. I just 'be'd.'
I took a quick drive back to my villa to warm up and chill until the rain ended, but a siesta never took place as I became far too fascinated by the train wreck that is Kathy Griffin's 15 minute shorn diatribe about the underbelly of Hollywood - as if this is breaking news.
While cruisin' (see Smokey Robinson OR Huey Lewis and GOOP), I finally came across some inspiration of the trip and was quickly, directly dissuaded from hanging out in the abandoned dilapidated buildings with both graffiti and street art - a distinction I choose to make on my own here. set back from the Sea, behind the main roadway. Though discouraged I respected that this kind woman in the minivan was looking out for me and thought ... I could find some more inspiration, by way of BBM Idris Elba. 'The Mountain Between Us' had a 7 pm showing at the local Cineplex and I knew my dad would want to spend his birthday ogling Stringer Bell, so I acquiesced. Sadly, I also spent almost an hour circling for parking and nearly $30 for the flick and refreshments in the process.
As soon as I entered the intimate theatre I immediately proceeded to dump my untouched popcorn all over the floor, before previews even began! Last night I dropped my ice cream cone while existing the ice cream parlor and now this, I am batting 1000 in the game of empty calories.
As if to confirm my aloneness - like Alexander the underage host from the night before and Rigo the guide had that morning - the theatre was completely empty, save for me and my spilled popcorn
2 hours older I emerged and with total certainty can declare that I would gladly be stuck on a mountain for a month if jack of every trade hot heartbroken Idris was there to get me to the finish line. What is it about a man who can fix your broken leg, save you from hypothermia and then bang you after 3 weeks without a shower that is just so damn sexy!?!
After a satisfying movie watching experience I headed back north to the Palm Beach Plaza in what turned out to be a futile attempt to purchased an artisnal good I had seen the night before but was on the fence about but decided to make the best of it, pick up a couple of postcards and ideally some water.The women from whom I bought my 5 cards was no help when I asked if I could get a bottle of water in these here parts and she shook her head furiously, coupling it with a very stern no.
Imagine my surprise when 2 doors down an Arubian bodega was found, replete with candy and bottled beverages.
I'm often in awe of these locals living in 2 car towns who don't know where things are. Why is it I have a better handle on all 5 boroughs of New York City than you do of this postage stamp country from which you hale? And she was listening to Christian easy listening so my assumption is that being kind to others is one of her guiding principals... Jesus would have told me where to buy some Crystal Geiser and a snack for sure!
Now sleepy time. Without the tea.
At 10 to 8 I was picked up in an 8 pass van by a tall drink of water with golden flax toppled upon her head and a strong Dutch accent. It looks like Happy Divers will be 4 women today.
My trips are becoming estrogen filled - is God trying to tell me something?
I chatted amiably with the two Dutch women and American, with a full face of makeup on - replete with crayon arched eyebrows ... to go scuba diving during the short ride to our diving destination.
Whilst chattering away I have come to realize that, through I have not yet become certified - as many have suggested - instead I have done an ala cart of underwater explorations in Australia, Vietnam, Hawaii, Egypt, and now Aruba!
As we go through the perfunctory lessons of how not to die when many meters underwater I cannot help but make note of the clear, fresh face of our guide for the day - whom I later find out is a spritely 21.
35 is the point of no return. Youth was on my side until I turned that corner and there is no choice but to let go, and breath. Much like the lesson presented in front of me. You might be able to admire the beauty of youth, but my god life is not easy and I've earned my wrinkles and grey hair. So you have to respect a woman who has lived.
Admire the beauty of youth but respect the beauty of wisdom.
After many delays due to eyebrows deeply rooted fear of submerging herself, despite having signed up for the certification course to scuba dive, I finally sink beneath the horizon line of water and down to the bottom of the sea.
There is a meditative nature to travel. Especially when it's difficult and a true adventure - you're there, you're in it. How am I going to get on the bus? Where is there a place to eat around here? How can I communicate my needs to this person who doesn't speak my language? One of my most favorite parts of travel is being IN it. Sadly, Aruba doesn't offer much of that as this is most definitely a vacation destination, designed to limit friction and allow luxuriating, but if you look hard enough there is always an element of surprise not afforded in your every day life.
It is while traveling that I make my most earnest attempts to live in the moment, as life has aggressively taught me, nothing is promised.
Scuba is much the same. It seems scary, it can be treacherous, as the coral that sliced open my knee proved, but if you slow down, breath and look around, it can be magical.
The sunken ship covered in algae and housing a cornucopia of sea creatures was most definitely a hybrid of Nemo and Titanic magic.
After many milliliters of oxygen the trio of ladies emerged and paddled our way back to shore where we disrobed in the afternoon sun and packed up our equipment - this was certainly a no frills scuba experience. A local comes by to say hello to the beautiful blonde instructor with legs up to her armpits and as we chat insists I am still holding it together at 36 - to which I am not sure if I should react with gratitude or offense.
A day with sun in precious, espeically as late fall descends upon New York City so, after paying up and bidding my ladies adieu I head straight to Eagle Beach to catch some rays and finish the Coate's book I have been voraciously consuming. As the sun lowers in the sky another sort of consumption is needed and I cruise Northward for food.
Along this meandering path I pass the Butterfly Farm and contemplate banging it out today, but decide instead to leave that for my last day, before my 3pm departure tomorrow.
I stop at the first eatery that I find open as most establishments seem to come alive as the candy colored sunsets begin to permeate the evening sky.
Amore Mio offers decent pizza and a front row view of two sisters who have fallen prey to the beach side braids so many white girls make the mistake of enjoying whilst abroad, let me just make a blanket statement here - though you think you look cool and Caribbean - you don't - you look a fool. And this is coming from someone who toes the line of cultural appropriation on a daily basis.
I relax, eat and enjoy the covered sunshine and the wifi before I head back 'home' to shower and change. And by change, I mean put on the same clothes I was wearing yesterday because my resort wear rivals homeless chic on a whole other level.
Having not drunk in the aforementioned candy colored sunsets, I choose tonight to head back to the Lighthouse and set up shop at Faro Blanco for a front row seat to this celestial cycle.
I'd be lying if I said I weren't a little disappointed in the lack of culture I've experienced here on this tiny Dutch nation, but while sitting in the bar at this swanky restaurant I stare at the patrons like forefingers with whom I have no experience and who I refuse to become.
The retirement lot.
No disrespect to the portly people of DesMoines and the greying gaggle from Jacksonville but this cavalcade of older, never beautiful people terrify me.
Don't get me wrong. I respect that they're getting out and that they've grabbed their favorite caftan and kitten heels to accompany them on their journey to the world of tour buses and Chopard shopping in a more humid climate - I just can't relate.
Aging scares me as it does everyone, the loss of opportunity; the loss of time. And as a woman I am particularly sensitive as any beauty I may or may not have once possessed diminishes as life wears away at you like the sea on the sandy shore, but these are people I do not recognize as older versions of my one time peers but as totally foreign folk; folks from my own country to whom I observe like a national geographic special on Geritol and banana clips.
Talk about a stranger in my own home.
Luckily my bar stool is perfectly posotioned, though partially obstructed by some panes of glass, for my last sunset in Aruba, the only one I've taken the time to enjoy.
As I make my way back down the island I decide not to stop again at Palm Beach or downtown, but to keep driving, to see what the Southies are like. And it is here that I find where the real Aruba lies. I only wish I'd spent my time here but late at night with my fresh tan and my large black appendage may not be he best time to explore alone.
Regardless, I ride with X-tina - crooning her 20 something jams speaking to my 30 something soul.
A glance into the front room of a random woman in her real life almost made me come to a screeching halt as her booty was so bountiful it made me wish I was a real Caribbean girl and not a pretend one.
I went back to see if I could find the vendor I saw the first night with colorful wares at the mid point in the island, but to no avail and I have to accept it was just not meant to be. I do wonder how any one stays in business when everything seems to be open for business between the hours of 5 and 6pm. In the daylight this place like an abandoned flea market and after the sun goes to bed so do all shops and most eateries come alive. I'm at a total loss. With limited options but endless calories I opt for ice cream for dinner and a new read. Starting the trip with daddy issues and ending with relationship woes seems all too appropriate.
Ice cream for dinner. A promenade around town and a FaceTime sesh with friend back home to check out the tourists and comment, rivaling that of Joan and her fashion police were all had before meandering my way back to the car. En route I ran into the NY couple who remembered me and how many countries I'd visited and relay that they had just been talking about me earlier in the day. This couple, who had been married 47 years and still walk down the road hand in hand - now that is #relationshipgoals. Never mind Jay and Bey or that Jo Bro who just proposed to his 21 year old girlfriend and proclaimed it on Instagram - this is real love. Such a lovely couple and so nice to be remembered. Kindness is truly contagious.
Early to bed and early to rise. I will be up early to see the Butterfly Farm and catch some rays before catching my flight and return to the arctic tundra of the Northeast.
When I awake I am greeted in the mirror by a woman I barely recognize, with frizzy grey hair and deep set creases intensified by sleep drawing from her nose all the way to the corners of her mouth. This is a truly disturbing experience and I think to myself who is this bitch and who invited her to the party?
Not so terribly long ago I had a very late night with a decidedly early morning. I rose after what couldn't have been more than an hour or two and was met with a genial face who expressed shock at how good I looked after so little sleep. The gesture was casual and brief but made me feel deeply beautiful and truly seen - it is small gestures like that that stick with you.
So thank you, friend, that meant more than you know.
At the Butterfly Farm, essentially in my pajamas, I arrive before the doors open so instead decide to head back down to eagle beach and get some quiet time on the white sands before the throngs of thongs arrive.
To the Eagle Beach.
It's just me, the senior citizen constituency for their morning walks and a lone Sea Gull ripping his (or her) way through the gently lapping waves for what appears to be a delicious breakfast.
There are many reasons to love the beach. One reason I love the beach - everyone is in varied states of shape and dress her were all here unabashedly near nude and golden brown beautiful. Somehow cellulite and stretch marks, age and disheveled hair all melt away and seem beautiful when relaxing on the sand or splashing about in waves or turquoise.
The Butterfly Farm is on all of the lists and a nod to my late Grandmother who adored the animal I soon discovered only ilves a couple of weeks. In the price of admission is a brief but informative tour on which I was accompanied by an old married couple, the wife making yummy noises of confirmation to our child instructor the whole time. I took some shots adn purchased some earrings and went back out into the world to seek a Post Office, an apparently mythical location on this island. Without a ton of luck I decided one more beach was in order before packing up and went to Ashanti beach, with no signs of Nelly!
After warming up I got in the water where I'd become the mother we all remember and mock as I didn't want to get anything above my clavicle wet for the plane ride later. Took a quick dip where I swam with the fishes mere feet from the shore which is not my favorite experience, but hey I was in their home, right!
I take one last gulp of Aruba before heading out and think...
Aruba: White people on white beaches
I have an encounter with the cleaning lady and muscle my way in to rinse off, pack up my bag and say goodbye to my humble abode.
It's always hard to say goodbye to a beautiful day but I persist and pack up the car in search of a Post Office.
I foolishly follow Google maps to a post office only to be ushered south where yet another trail runs cold. Finally I find stamps in a mini mart and go into the tres swanky Marriott to post mail. Success.
Sustenance is needed before boarding a 7 hour flight and the cute Dutch outdoor bar, The Paddock is situated perfectly for a quick bit before jetting to my jet.
A woman with indescribable accent serves with me a smile and that word every woman fears... Ma'am. Have I become a ma'am? When the fuck did that happen?
This country must not understand the beauty of ketchup because this is the second establishment at which packets are offered yet nary a bottle is to be found. If I'm going to eat french fries I'm gonna go a half bottle deep. What are these people thinking!
After loading back into my baking car and heading to Queen Beatrix I think - this is not experiencing culture. This is experiencing weather.
And that is ok. Weather needs love too.
Costumed employees ushered me through the double security checked precautions at the airport and a I grab a buttered pretzel and Auntie Anne's during my flight's Halloween delay, which immediately brings me back to a road trip through NOLA in the year 2000 Airport.
Before long I am boarding the plane and saying good bye to the tranquility of the sea of the Caribbean and welcoming the sea of Chaos, known as Manhattan.