Dearest Rachel –
Just last week, one of the girls asked if I would be doing city reports on this cruise like the family used to do on so many of the European trips, and like I planned to do with the Viking cruise up the Rhine. In all honesty, I hadn’t actually considered it as recently as then – most of the Caribbean trips we took weren’t actually with the family (there was the one with Ellen on the Liberty back in 2007 – we really need to do that again, for the sake of appreciating someone else’s wonder, but I understand her wanting to reserve her vacation days for seeing her mom while she can – our anniversary trip in 2017, and the one with the SeaBronies just a few months before Covid hit and the world shut down), and the one time we did go as a family, it was somewhat similar to this trip insofar as the ship itself – the Oasis of the Seas, at the time the largest such vessel afloat, was more the destination than the actual ports of call. So no, we never did reports on the ports of the Caribbean.
This was probably due to the fact that most of these ports don’t exactly have the same kind of history that the great cities of Europe have. Probably the most famous Caribbean port from a historical perspective, Port Royal, Jamaica, was all but destroyed by an earthquake in 1692 – and while rebuilt from that, suffered another quake in 1907 – and while it still technically exists as a town, it’s a mere shadow of its former self. There’s apparently some talk of rebuilding to accommodate cruise ships in the future there, but with a population of less than 2,000, the odds of that happening any time soon seem slim.
Still, given that I’ve been asked about it, there’s no reason to not go into details about the places we’re visiting, particularly since there aren’t that many stop we’re making along the way; it’s not as if I have to come up with an essay for every day I’m abroad.
So… we’re starting with Aruba, and its capital, Oranjestad. The island’s name comes – supposedly, as there are several different possible etymologies, and this is just the most plausible – from the (extinct) native language term Oruba, meaning ‘well-situated island.’ Given that it’s climate, unlike most of the rest of the Caribbean, is arid and dry (yes, it’s a ‘dry heat’ they have here), making it an ideal tourist destination, it’s not badly named, if this is true. Now, there is some suggestion that the name came from the Spanish phrase oro hubo, meaning ‘there was gold,’ but this is untrue. The Spanish actually found no gold here, and in fact nicknamed Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao (the so-called ‘ABC Islands,’ for reasons that should be obvious) Islas Inútiles, or ‘Useless Islands,’ because of that. Ironically, gold was discovered on Aruba in 1824, but by then, it had been in Dutch hands for nearly two centuries, so the Spanish were pretty much out of luck, the poor schmucks.
The Dutch took all three of the ABC Islands from the Spanish at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, modifying the spelling of this island’s name to Aruba, possibly for each of pronunciation? In any event, the island is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (which is a separate concept from the Netherlands, which itself is also a constituent country within the Kingdom. This makes Aruba and Curaçao actually part of the European Union, despite being part of the Americas. It’s… complicated); however, the local language is not Dutch (although it is the official language of the island) but a creole of Spanish and Portuguese called Papiamento. In that language, Oranjestad (literally ‘Orange City,’ in reference to the principality and royal line that rules the Kingdom of the Netherlands) is referred to as ‘Playa,’ essentially, the ‘beach.’ Slightly more than a quarter of the island’s population of over a hundred thousand people live here, making it the largest city on the island. To put the island in perspective with home, it would be approximately Arlington Heights and Mount Prospect combined, with Oranjestad being just a little larger than Rolling Meadows. In terms of size, though, Aruba is considerably larger than the suburbs, amounting to just over sixty-nine square miles (fine, go ahead and say it if you want to) in comparison to the mere twenty-seven that A.H. and M.P. take up. Of course, Aruba has some substantial hills and mountains (rising as high as 617 feet from sea level in an island barely four or five miles wide and about fifteen miles long) that would preclude significant urban buildup.
Due to its unusual climate for its location, Aruba contains various flora and fauna that are unique to itself, particularly lizards and birds. Its vegetation tends toward cactus, shrubs and evergreens, rather than the typical tropical rainforest found on most Caribbean islands. Interestingly, aloe vera is a common plant on the island, and was significant enough to its economy to have its place on the national coat of arms.
Now, bear in mind, I’ve already armed myself with sunscreen, so hopefully I won’t have any need for the stuff tomorrow. But hey, it’s nice to know that it might well be available if I need it. Anyway, I’ll report on my day later, assuming I have the connections to do so.
Until then, honey, wish me luck… I’m sure I’ll still need it.