I am sitting on a bench outside of the Ling and Sons grocery store in Oranjestad, Aruba. It is on the shady side, thank goodness. There is a nice breeze today since the trade winds have picked up a little. The trade winds, besides having a cooling effect, keep the mosquitoes at bay. Sometimes the wind blows so hard I swear all the mosquitoes are blown to Panama. I am finding the mosquitoes here to be very aggressive. While they are not nearly as bad as the giant flies we encountered in the Chesapeake Bay, they appear to be very hungry. A single coating of Off-Spray doesn’t seem to deter them. In fact, I think they are attracted to it. In the mornings when I do the crossword and drink my tea in Cream Puff’s cockpit, I need at least two coats of spray. Even then, I get a couple of bites. As the day progresses and the winds pick up, the number of mosquitoes diminishes. Here on the bench outside of the store my only concern is staying out of the hot sun.
People watching is a favorite past-time of mine. I guess it developed during all the years of air travel I did when I was in the corporate rat race. If I had a dollar for every hour I spent stuck in an airport terminal, I’d have a much bigger boat. People watching is free and very entertaining. I noticed a couple of things about the Aruban people. First of all, they are very patient. If someone is holding up traffic they do not throw their arms up in the air or honk. They patiently wait. We have found this true when driving around Aruba. There is no angry honking, no aggressive driving, they stop at red lights and they yield to just about every car or pedestrian regardless of who has the right-of-way. In heavy traffic, Arubans just sort of slowly roll into an intersection or line of cars. No one moves up to close off the space. They yield and wave the approaching car in with a smile. If we are crossing the street the traffic will stop and someone will wave us across regardless if there is a crosswalk, or not.
From my bench outside of Ling and Sons I see a lady start to cross the parking lot in front of me. She stepped out in front of a car that was looking for a space to park. When the pedestrian and driver made eye contact their faces both lit up. They obviously know each other. The pedestrian walked to the driver’s side window and they started to chat. Three cars pulled up behind them and they continued to chat. This went on for a couple of minutes. Nobody honked the horn. In some places in the USA this same scenario might have ended in gunfire. At the very least a few choice words would be exchanged. But here in Aruba, it’s not a big deal.
People here put the shopping carts back. Once they have loaded the groceries into the car, they wheel the cart to the designated storage areas. On a few of the other Caribbean islands we have visited the grocery carts are released by inserting a coin. When the cart is returned, the coin is released. Here, there isn’t a need for a coin and there isn’t a single cart abandoned in the parking lot.
Most people don’t seem to buy very much. When Cindy and I worked and lived in Atlanta, we shopped once per month at Costco and once per week at a grocery store for perishables. Buying a full cart of groceries was the norm. I noticed about half the people walking out of the store carried one, maybe two shopping bags. Arubans can shop more frequently. When you don’t have to deal with an hour commute each way to and from work, there is a lot more time to do some errands.
Ling and Sons seems to be the store where most of the locals shop. Toward the hotel area of Aruba there is another store called Super Foods. Super Foods advertise they have the best prices on the island. We have learned the best prices don’t necessarily mean the lowest prices. At any given time, this store is jammed full of American tourists who are vacationing nearby. This is the beach area of Aruba and there are tons of time-shares and VRBOs. Shopping in this store is a completely different experience than Ling and Sons. Because the tourists are shopping on the first day of their vacation, they have not yet slowed to the island pace of life. A couple of helpful hints for people thinking about traveling here and who plan to grocery shop on their first day:
- Be nice. Greet someone before asking for help.
- Bring your own shopping bags or be prepared to purchase cloth re-usable bags. The stores do not provide the environmentally unfriendly plastic disposable bags.
- You may have to bag your own groceries.
- Return the shopping cart to the designated area. Abandoning it in the lot is considered very rude.
- You will have sticker shock at the register. Everything is imported and can cost up to 3 times more than USA or European stores. For example: Milk here is about US$8.00 per gallon. Cindy and I calculated our groceries for a month here cost about US$800 for just the basics.
- If you happen to make eye contact with a stranger, don’t look away. Smile and say, “Bon Dia” or “Bon tardi” (good morning or good afternoon). The response you get back will help you understand why the island’s official slogan is, One Happy Island.
Cindy and I are now starting to look closely at the weather for our passage west to Colombia. This next passage can be a little tricky. We know several people who have circumnavigated and say the passage from the ABC’s to Colombia was one of the hardest to sail in their entire trip around the world. The winds are typically not as forecasted due to the mountain ranges and the waves can be huge due to the ocean shelves. Strong ocean currents also play a role. We use several weather resources to make our decisions and will wait in Aruba until we see the right three day window allowing a dull but safe passage. I’m not sure that we really mind if we have to stay here for quite some time but the weather gurus say October – November is the best time to make this passage. I think we are pushing our luck. November is passing quickly so we rented a car allowing us to stock up on groceries and stuff we know we cannot purchase in Colombia. We are preparing to leave.
I returned our rental car to the Avis location at the airport. Rose behind the counter was catching her breath after being slammed by tourists returning cars for the afternoon flight rush. As I approached the counter and said, “Bon Dia”. She recognized me from our previous rental and we chatted for a little while. Even something as simple as returning a rental car can be a pleasant experience on Aruba so long as you are not in a hurry.
I caught a minibus across the street from the airport back to the marina in Oranjestad. After I hopped in and paid my three florins (about US$1.65 or 1.50 €) I assumed my normal position in the back seat. I like to sit in the back on the minibuses since passengers are constantly having to move about to let others off and on. It is about a ten minute ride from the airport to the terminal in town. I watched as passengers got on and off. Every person getting on the bus acknowledged the other passengers with a greeting; most responded. Everyone said, “Masha danki” as they exited the bus, Papiamento for “thank you very much”. About halfway to Oranjestad, I realized I forgot to greet the other passengers when I entered the minibus. Rats! I still have a long way to go before I find the level of calmness and tranquility exhibited by the Aruban people.