Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bats, Snakes and Goats, Oh My!

Our designated "Tree of Life!"

We recently returned from a 10-day trip to Aruba. This was our first time visiting this tiny island located within 15 miles of Venezuela. It is a place that is well known for its beautiful white sandy beaches, turquoise water and constant trade winds that blow all day and all night. Aruba is located well outside of the hurricane belt so tourism is a trade that is year round. The locals provide every sort of artificial fun for the resort guests that are sure to thrill and amaze all who venture here. You can take snorkeling trips on a faux pirate vessel, be pulled along at break neck speed across the water on a large inflatable sofa called a "Big Mable," rent jet skis, wake boards, or water skis, and be propelled up to 20 feet in the air by sheer water pressure that makes you look a bit like Doc Ock of Spiderman fame as the jets of water splay around you, making you float in the air. This is but a small sampling of all the activities, which take place steps from your beachfront resort from 9 am to 5 pm daily. It is a constant 3-ring circus of water activity that many visitors seem to feel is a "must do" for their vacation pleasure.

Me? Well if you have been reading my blog for a while, then you know that this is not going to grab my attention. What I enjoyed the most about this trip is our venture out beyond the resort life, into the actual countryside, which took our breath away.

A place that truly captivated all of us is Arikok National Park. 7, 907 acres of some of the most breath-taking  and yet rugged terrain that you could spend days exploring and still not see it all. We took a day trip there in our rental car and were not disappointed! Many of the blogs about the park warn visitors that you need a jeep to visit this place, but that is simply not true. Most of the roads are paved throughout the park and if they are not, they are hard packed with dirt due to the very limited amount of rain this dessert island receives annually. Just drive slow and you are fine.

Iguana Aruba-Style!

We spoke to the park ranger located in the station entrance booth who gave us excellent tips on what trails to hike. We decided to take their advice and headed out on a walk that would take us into the hills surrounding the park. What an adventure! We came across both lovely species of hummingbirds that thrive here, numerous lizards of all shades and varieties, geckos and yes, even a goat! Well, we did not actually see the wild goat but we heard it close by. In fact it startled us initially as only a day or two before we had seen a pack of wild goats climbing a large rock formation on another trip we took around the island. We were struck by the size and mass of their large horns. So as we heard this goat blaying in the woods around us, it was hard not to imagine this creature being territorial, perhaps charging from its hiding to chase us. Our goat companion remained HEARD but not SEEN

Cave Painting Arikok National Park

Next, we came across a cave of ancient paintings, preserved beautifully. The aroma around the mouth of the cave was quite pungent and acrid. As we aimed our cameras at the cave we discovered only too soon the source of the odor. Bats! And lots of them. They fluttered and resettled as we snapped our pictures. My son even had the good sense to film them in flight! It was truly a fun discovery as this bat loving family was enthralled!

We also encountered  literally hundreds of birds perched in the tree pictured above at the top of this blog post. It was filled with hummingbirds as well as birds of all shapes and sizes. Now the ironic thing was you could hear them and catch flashes of them but they were so well hidden in the shade and lush foliage that you could not always see them. But the sound they made was incredible! We nicknamed it the "Tree of Life" as the cacaphony of life literally resonated all around is. We stood under this tree mesmerized by the beauty and scope of its abundant wild life. Amazing!

Much to my sons great delight, as we were coming down the hill on the trail back toward the visitor center he saw a dead Boa Constrictor. His camera at the ready, photos was snapped of this creature. They are not venomous, but are known for their powerful grip that constricts the breathing of their victims. They are not native to the island but were pets turned loose into the wild when they became too large and expensive to feed. Now they have adapted to the harsh environment here and are thriving. 

Beach Front At Arikok National Park

I stopped back at the ranger station on our way down the trail to find out what they suggested we do next. My son was quite wiped from our trek, he minds the heat terribly, so we wanted something we could do driving. He told us to travel 4 miles or so down the road and there we would find the rugged coastline and of all things, a place to eat! We were shocked as this area was so well preserved and natural that we never expected a restaurant to be within its confines. But it was! It was located in a VERY windy spot. So windy in fact that the menus were glued and laminated onto heavy wood boards. All your drinks and food came weighted down in heavy clay pots and earthenware plates so as not to blow away. The food? Simple and incredibly delicious. An argentine grill located out back insured that the food was tasty and tender. I literally had my favorite meal here of the entire trip and was quite taken with this spot. An oasis on the edge of the coast. We watched the waves crashing onto the coral outcroppings causing geysers of spray to reach high up into the air while we ate and relaxed in the wind.

A funny thing happened! As we sat there a group of 6 or 7 wild goats paraded along the edge of the rocky coastline. It made us all laugh as we thought of our unseen goat companion that we heard but did not encounter along our hike. They moved along at a fairly slow pace and were long gone by the time we finished our meal and walked over toward the water to snap photos and be taken in by all the beauty around us.

This is a must-see spot for those of you, who like me, prefer to experience the beauty of a vacation away from the resort. This was the highlight of our trip and easily ranks high up in my favorite parks of all time. 
Divi Divi Tree looking like a fantasy creature!

We have no burning urge to return to Aruba anytime soon, as so many people do, repeatedly from what we learned. It is gorgeous, and the park, well the park is incredible. But the entire island exists as little more then place to sip your tropical drinks and park your self at a hotel along the water. Nice for awhile, but it gets old for this family really quickly. We like to find those places apart from the crowds and away from the constant piped in music, party atmosphere and afternoon poolside samba lessons. I mean really! 

There is great beauty in Aruba and if you are lucky enough to venture away from your cushions or palapas you will find it! Bon bini!

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