MONDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2016
Although I loosely set my alarm clock, I woke up feeling pretty refreshed. I do not know how it is possible for a bed to feel that much more comfortable than your own, pillows and sheets included. If my bed felt like this, I could conquer the world every morning. Well, except for Mondays. Whenever I experience this supreme comfort at hotels, I tend to try to find a way to recreate it at home but I come up short. I would go to a store and take each plastic covered pillow in my hands and snuggle up to it, thinking that this is the one, only to get it home and discover in real life that it is either too soft or not soft enough. Goldilocks had it right. You really need to test these things out before you commit to a choice. There have been several times that I wondered what would happen if a hotel pillow accidentally went home with me. Worst-case scenario, I assume would be that the hotel would charge me for it. No biggie. Whatever they would charge is most likely still less than what I have paid for all the wrong pillows purchased. Perhaps next time I can test my theory. Don’t judge. They say that quality sleep is the key to a happy life.
Laying there, enjoying the comfort, it dawned on me that I was the only person in charge of my plans for the day and it was liberating and frightening at the same time. I didn’t know if I could trust myself to use this gift of unrestricted time wisely. Knowing that I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, however I wanted and not be under someone’s eye is not something I am used to. But I don’t want to squander it all. In a place like this I still want to map out at least a basic outline of the day. 1). Pick out bathing suit and cover up and get dressed 2). Once dressed, take obligatory selfie to consider distributing later, maybe 3). Get good coffee 4). Get to beach. Oh, and eating pizza on said beach. That was about as far as I was willing to plan this early in the morning. Getting good coffee was paramount for the day going well. This may have been mentioned earlier, but I drink coffee almost every day. It does not wake me up nor keep me up. For some reason I am unaffected by caffeine in that matter, except I discovered that I get headaches when I do not have coffee. With this in mind, I remembered seeing a Dunkin Donuts across the street on the drive to the resort. I’m aware that this was pedestrian and safe, but I was also trying to kill two birds with one stone by walking about to check out my surroundings. I missed a lot on the shuttle ride over the day before.
Hellos and holas to the friendly staff as I breezed through the grounds in my cover up and flip flops to leave the property. Being half dressed publicly was freeing, especially for December. The street was already bustling with vacationers and locals also in minimal clothing. Across the street I noticed that there was an entire shopping complex in addition to the restaurants and stores. I assumed that this was what those travel reviewers were talking about. There would have been absolutely no reason at all to select the all-inclusive option at the resort. While there were plenty of options for meals on site, you have all the culinary delights at your fingertips within steps of the resort entrance. Vendors were setting up their sidewalk kiosks of souvenir trinkets as I walked past. Dunkin Donuts was open and according to the sign on the door, cash only if it is exact change. Luckily, in Aruba, they will take our American dollar, but they make it known that they may not always have the proper change in return. That makes sense. You can only get what you give. One coffee and one bagel with cream cheese and I had just the right amount of cash and coin. I tucked the bagel in my beach bag, making a quick exploratory trip into the shopping complex before slowly strolling back to the resort. Overhead, I noticed the early morning clouds beginning to intensify in size and depth; the rain looked imminent. And as anxious as I was to get to the beach, I was equally anxious about not having to eat a rain soaked bagel or scrambling. With these suspicions in mind, I decided instead to sit under one of the gazebos, outfitted with nice plush seating and tables past the breezeway. The little table was just the right size for me to spread out, breakfast included. The entire ambiance was relaxing with the pumped in easy listening speaker music, palm trees in the surround, tropical flowers flitting in the wind and people carelessly swinging in the hammocks. No surprise that this part of the resort complex was called the “peace and harmony zone.”
Out of the corner of my left eye, at the moment that I sat back in the chair to take my first bite of bagel spread with cream cheese and jam (I’m on holiday), I see several small sets of eyes on me. Thank goodness for peripheral vision because I would have been easily startled had I not spotted them until they were much closer. Almost the same shade of lush green as the nearby grass and shrubs, were iguanas and their reptilian cousins appearing out of thin air. I have had this feeling before, this kind of immediate stalking. If you have a dog that has had a taste of table food, you know that animal sharking feeling when someone (animal) is after your meal. One by one, they kept their eyes on the bagel and me and walked up onto the gazebo floor. Had I been a different kind of person, I would have freaked out, screamed, or dramatically shooed them away. Instead I treated them like my parent’s dog and told them to scram and ignored them until they got too close. People must be feeding them. They were way too people friendly and the look on their tiny scaled faces said my food was there food.
Literally within seconds of me trying to determine what my next plan of defensive action would be before I would see how far these lizards were willing to go to get my bagel, the sky opened up. For some reason, they didn’t seem as eager to make their way up to the gazebo in the rain. Any 4-legged stragglers were shooed and scorned. In the meantime, I gained a new guest. This one had only two legs and had jumped off her hammock to get cover from the rain. I noticed her earlier when I first sat down. She was a middle aged African American woman with only a book in hand. She was the first person of color like myself that I had seen so far at the property. Naturally we began to talk, first about the quick change of weather. She assured me that the rain would not last too long. Unlike me, enjoying my first day in Aruba, she was on her way out. Her flight was that afternoon. She was here with her friend and they had been there for about a week. In the usual small world synopsis, she was from the Washington, DC area, a federal worker and she had been to Aruba before with this same friend. While the rain poured, we exchanged stories of what brought us here and our lives back home. She has a daughter and will think about bringing her instead this time next year after we discussed how it made sense that this place was getting busy from people spending their Christmas holiday here; spend the money on the experience, not a bunch of gifts. We discussed me being there on my own and she commended me for taking the solo trip. She also was kind enough to give me suggestions on what to do and where to go while on the island. The pier bar was highly recommended for happy hour frivolity. I appreciated her advice and kind spirit. The rain stopped, I was finished eating and she had more of her book to read before she left. We shook hands, exchanged names and holiday well wishes before we parted.
Since I had collected my towels for the day at the hut on the way out, the only thing I needed to do now was walk to the beach. All the beach chairs were not set up yet, but they were stacked up nearby. I put my items on the sand behind the restaurant again. It was awkward, but I managed to pull a chair off the top and dragged it over to the place I had already claimed. There were not a lot of people out on the chairs yet. The palapas were full to the left of me, but a reservation is required and most of those people plan on being posted up all day, if for no other reason, to make sure some other guest doesn’t try to get sneaky and squat. Palapas for those of you scratching your head are defined as “a traditional Mexican shelter roofed with palm leaves or branches,” or a beach hut. The ones here occupy most of the beachfront. Unbeknownst to most guests at the resort, you have to make a reservation for them the afternoon before. Due to their popularity, that wait in the reservation line would take away from your time on the beach. Originally I did consider it but the only two things that it would be worth the wait for are the wait service for food and drinks and the shade. Since I had already been successful the day before with having immediate and close access to drink at the Sea Breeze restaurant behind me, the shade was the only benefit left to consider. Quite frankly, having shade was no longer something I was concerned about. I came for the sun and the sea and I am going to go all in and get as much as I can. I have a fresh bottle of sunblock and getting a tan is not something I worry about.
Here is the thing about complexion. This one thing alone about us, as people, is that how we are perceived, simply based on this characteristic of color/complexion, is such a historically rich quagmire on so many levels. Out of my immediate family of four, there is a split right down the color line. I take after my darker skinned father (Browns) while my sister takes after my lighter skinned mother (Grahams/Ralphs). Growing up, my paternal grandmother, whose skin was almost as brown as mine, would comment every summer about how dark I had gotten. I have heard it a lot. It never bothered me. If anything, it always made me question what the big deal was. She wasn't the only person I heard it from, but looking back, I do think it is generational. I have never given much thought to the change in my complexion except that it was the visual evidence of the success of my summer. I love the warm weather and all it encompasses. More importantly I don't feel that the intensity of complexion is a negative thing. In fact, I think it is a positive thing that I should embrace because it is who I am. My dark skin is what the rest of these coconut oiled, fair skinned sunbathers are after.
The rain soaked morning turned into a beautiful sunny day. I had in my bag only the following: a book, water, phone (for telling the time and taking pictures) and a business card holder that I refashioned into a tiny wallet that held cash, credit, room key and my guest charge card. It was not quite noon yet when I decided it was time for a refreshing adult drink; I thought of it as more of brunch time and determined it would at least include orange juice. Now I was officially set for my first full day at the beach. While I was posted up, I didn’t have a care in the world, except one smallish thought. Did I look as cliché as I thought I did with a drink, sitting there alone and reading a book, whose title clearly indicated that I am going through something? This was only a smallish thought as the day progressed as couples, families and groups of friends surrounded me. But in the end, I didn’t care too much about it. I was enjoying myself and what other people thought or presumed didn’t matter.
Originally, my goal was to get this book finished before the trip was over, and I tried to focus on the reading. Between the drink and staring at the ocean, then getting in the ocean, I did my best. There were a lot of heady sentences and thoughts and things that I wasn’t sure I wanted to think about. The purpose of the trip was to relax and find some inner peace, and attacking the issues that were partly responsible for bringing here to this exact moment was difficult. Yet, I acknowledged that these feelings and thoughts weren’t going to disappear on their own. I pushed through the chapters and reflected. I thought about a lot without trying to be a complete mess on the beach. Time had lazily crept by and I was starting to get hungry. There was a bit of an intentional pace to my eating schedule, although I was not “planning,” I did put some thought into the time of happy hour. Earlier that same day on one of the walks here and there, a guest talked me up and said he vacations at this resort frequently. He too told me as a new guest, that the pier for happy hour was a must. He also suggested that I go for the sunset, and to make sure I take a picture of the sunset every night because it is always different. I checked the time and headed over to the bar and grill for the pizza. This was more casual and the only place I thought at the time I could order the pizza. It was a typical bar with the large screen tvs with NFL on ESPN, only outside. I ordered and had a drink while I waited and caught up on the football haps.
The pizza took a little while, but the breeze was delightful enough that instinctually I closed my eyes, almost as a way to savor it. I talked to the bartender, who I had already gotten to know the night before at dinner. I hadn’t figured out where I was going to eat this thing but I knew that I had to at least try to see if there was a palapa open. When I searched the beach with the box in hand, I double-checked with one of the beach attendants if it was ok to sit at an empty palapa. He said yes, if they aren’t there, which it appeared a lot of people no longer were, it was mine. I carefully placed my pièce de résistance down on the tabletop and put my belongings down. I did a quick double check to make sure there wasn’t someone in the water I hadn’t seen looking outraged that I sat down. Now with the box top open, and the pizza and ocean were in view, I was in heaven. As simple as this seems, this was exactly what sold me on this specific destination in the first place. It was one picture that I wanted to duplicate; one freshly baked! On the inside I couldn’t have been more pleased.
Each bite became an act within itself. The pizza was very tasty and I sat perched above the surf watching all the swimmers. Right at the shore there was a huge drop off in the sand that was taking its toll on the people. Since you couldn’t see it, many people fell victim to it, casually strolling in shallow water until they abruptly found themselves chest high. The other victims at this time were the shoes and towels of those who had their belongings close to the water’s edge. The tide started to come in and laid claim to whatever was in its path. There were a few near misses. After I finished the pizza, I read some more and even tried to close my eyes as the warmth of the shifting sun began to extend itself onto me and the sound of the ocean rocked me. The clouds started to come into view and the sun was heading away. This was my cue to start heading over to the pier.
The resort is fairly large and pretty self-contained. The pier is public and is the home base for a company that offers different types of cruises and water activities. It also has a bar and a restaurant. When I got to the pier, the happy hour was almost winding down. The party music was pumping and there was a fair share of young adults, grouped up with their friends. This was pretty much what I expected and I am on a different page, at least at this moment and I wasn’t interested in mingling. I ordered a mojito and found a seat on the side overlooking the ocean. At the bottom of my mason jar glass was freshly muddled mint that made the drink superbly refreshing. And instead I cloud watched from the rail side. People were coming and going on the beach, heading in or out. The ocean grew quieter in the distance as all the boats motored and sailed swiftly on their way. By far, this was one the best Mondays I have had and definitely one of the better days I have had recently.
The glass was empty and it was time for the real show. Tonight, I decided to do something different and take a walk along the beach as the sun started to set. Crowds gathered, and one by one, the lights were turned on. One pink, one purple, one dark blue, and then light blue. The clouds danced across the sky and the principal dancer started his big, closing bow. The further I walked, the more I wanted to go because there was a much different life on the beachside. It was an autopilot reaction. When I got a distance away, somewhat close to the shore was a solitary boat moored for the night. Not big, maybe a fishing boat, but sizable enough that in the quickly darkening horizon, it was still visible. It stood out like a sore thumb among the flat, empty body of water. Here, I had passed a lot of kitesurfing, jetskiing, and all the other water activities huts. This was a much less densely populated part of the beach because it was the end of the road for the hotels and resorts. It looked like the reason there were only huts and sheds were because there no physical land for anything larger. I could see the road not too far behind the huts and small parking lots and decided it would be a good place to turn around. I am all for being curious but I am not going to cross the line when it gets closer to being dumb.
The walk back was as visually stunning as it was on the way out. The number of people began to grow, as I got closer to the string of hotels and resorts. Some people were dining, some shell collecting, some walking, some hand in hand with their loved one, and then there was me. I was ready to wash the long, salty day off of me and headed back to my room. As usual, I will always be a horrible abuser of water as I take my long showers. What can I say? We can’t all be perfect. There was hair to wash and condition too. In what I now know as typical Aruba style, the sky opened up again and made the palm trees tremble. This downpour put a small hitch in my plans, but nothing major. I found peace in watching and listening as the earth refreshed itself.
Things quieted down and I headed back out. Eventually, I found my way back over to the peace and harmony zone. I wanted to spend the rest of my evening in the cradle of a hammock. They were very popular, so I was happy to find one open. And because the support is sturdy and firmly planted on the ground, I did not have the usual concern of security while hammocking. My experience in the past with hammocks camping had been excellent until the one time it snapped and I fell right on my back. When I adjusted myself and laid down, I was staring right up into the starry night and Maurice Sendak-esq palm trees. White lights were strung around the base of the trees, adding even more stimulation for relaxing. The speaker pumped music was at its best as the wind off the ocean swung me. Almost as if it were my personal playlist, Old Blue Eyes, Mr. Frank Sinatra came on and sang one of my favorites, “Best is Yet to Come.” Albeit, my current situation is quite contrary to the actual lyrics, but at face value, I internalized the song as if I weren’t singing about the love of someone else, instead it’s for the love of myself...
Best is yet to come and babe won't that be fine
You think you've seen the sun
But you ain't seen it shine