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All about Aruba


This semi-arid island outside the Caribbean hurricane belt has it all. "Black gold" in the form of oil refineries made Arubans among the wealthiest people in the Caribbean, if not the world.

This isle has a south "Gold Coast" lined with some of the globe's finest beaches and high-rise resorts.

As if that isn't enough, the island offers no end of fine restaurants, plenty of activities for families and children, world-class casinos, glitzy Las Vegas-style nightclub revues, and water sports galore. Aruba is also a shopper's Nirvana.

Under Dutch jurisdiction for most of the recent centuries, Aruba's towns and villages are neat, clean, pastel-hued versions of places in the mother country - The Netherlands.

The island's Arawak and Carib past is evoked by ancient petroglyph cave drawings in the many bat-filled caverns that visitors and locals like to explore. Aruba escaped most of the bloodshed and destruction of Caribbean wars as European powers sought to grab West Indian wealth. Peace and prosperity is the name of Aruba's game.

The local language, Papamiento, is a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Arawak and African. For example, cas, with Spanish roots as casa, means house. Other Latin American-derived words include por fabor for please, senora for Ms, di nada for you're welcome, and pica for hot - really hot, that is. Trankilo means quiet or OK.

Aruba's wealth provides the best in education and other government services, as well as special status as an entity within itself within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The Dutch first acquired Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao after Spain relinquished the islands in 1636. After the usual Caribbean exchange of colonial ownership, Aruba was placed under Dutch jurisdiction and remained Dutch from 1816 until the current era.

Dutch roots run deep in Aruba, and islanders celebrate the Dutch Queen's birthday with serious vim, verve and vitality.

One tends to think of Caribbean isles as lushly landscaped with coconut trees and other flora of the deep tropics variety. Not so in dry, sun-drenched Aruba. You are more apt to see various examples of spectacular, desert-type cactus plants - and most certainly the ubiquitous watapana, as the Arawaks called Aruba's divi-divi tree. The latter is an island symbol seen on t-shirts, postcards, hats, mugs and place names around and about Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, just off the coast of oil-rich Venezuela.

What's special about the divi-divi is the way prevailing breezes bend the trees at nearly a right angle. They look like what you would expect to see painted on a Chinese scroll depicting the hazy, dreamy scenery of Oriental mountain territory.

Despite not being entirely dependent on tourism, Arubans seem to have totally accepted their annual one million visitations by air and cruise ship. They remain a friendly lot, embracing with equal aplomb tourism and the piles of euros and Yankee dollars that go with the territory.

Arubans are a serene, contented people - as they should be, with a near-perfect climate, no hurricanes, and some of the cleanest, widest and most scenic beaches in all the Caribbean.

The most popular of Aruba beaches is world-famous Palm Beach, framed in high-rise mega-hotels and punctuated with long stretches of powder-soft sand. As for food, there is even a street popularly known as "Restaurant Road."

Aruba's restaurants serve everything from Dutch and West Indian-inspired dishes to culinary specialities imported from Italy, China, Germany, Japan, France, and Argentina. There is a wide range of North American fast food and chain restaurants as well.


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