ARUBA'S A TREASURE; No Wonder Caribbean Pirates Loved It

Article excerpt

Byline: By ALAN HART

DURING an ideal holiday, there comes a time when you say to yourself: "It doesn't get any better than this."

On the Caribbean island of Aruba, that moment came as I sat on a palm-fringed beach with a glass of ice-cold Balashi beer in my hand and watched the pelicans crossing.

Their aeronautical displays as they fished along the shoreline a few yards away was top-class entertainment in a stunning setting.

The birds' technique was awesome.

First they carried out reconnaissance flights to check out where their prey was most plentiful. Then they returned, presumably licking their beaks.

As the thermal draughts allowed them to circle, the pelicans identified their targets and dived like hawks into the lapping waters. Then, standing in inches of surf, they gulped down their catch from expandable lower jaws with smiles of smug satisfaction.

Moments later they were back up there, riding the thermals again and looking for their next snack.

It's a joy to know that similar fresh fish are available to you a few hours later - without any effort on your part.

Aruba has rows of restaurants where the fruits of the sea top their menus. They also of fer mouthwatering steaks from Argentina and other treats to tickle your tastebuds from a cosmopolitan selection which reflects the island's colourful history.

Aruba emerged from the Caribbean Sea some 15 miles north of the South American coastline as a result of underwater volcanic activity millions of years ago. It's 19 miles long and only six miles across at its widest point.

In the late 17th Century, Aruba became a haven for the pirates of the Caribbean. Bloodthirsty buccaneers from Holland, England, France and America lurked in the lagoons waiting to pounce on passing Spanish galleons laden with gold.

This carried on until early in the 18th Century when the privateers were given a chance to abandon their reign of terror and accept a pardon. Those who carried on were hunted down with ruthless efficiency and scores ended their lives by dancing the pirates' jig at the end of a hangman's rope.

During the Napoleonic Wars, England controlled Aruba briefly, but it was returned to the Netherlands in 1816. Independent today, there's still a strong Dutch influence - as you see when you touch down at Queen Beatrix Airport.

You pass De Wit and Van Dorp Stores (not to mention the ubiquitous Hertz van rentals) on the way to Aruba's capital, Oranjestad. The island even has a token windmill.

LIKE their former colonists, Aruba's 100,000 inhabitants are multilingual. School lessons are carried out in Dutch, but the native tongue is Papiamento.

It's a language which has evolved over the years with flavours of Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Indian and French.

And English is understood everywhere.

It's hard to believe that Aruba's first hotel was built as recently as 1958. Now there are 30, mainly on the south and west coasts which have the best beaches.

With its perfect climate, Aruba is a natural tourist destination. They have only 20 inches of rainfall a year, coming mainly in short, sharp showers during November and December (Christmas revellers be warned).

The island lies outside the traditional hurricane route and is cooled by the trade winds from the nor th. But if you should overdo the sunbathing they even have their own remedy - the aloe plant - which is cultivated for the soothing effect of its gel.

The Aruba Aloe Factory was established in 1890 and processes 150 acres of plants to provide worldwide skincare treatment.

Since tourism replaced the aloe industry as the island's top moneys pinner, leisure facilities have expanded accordingly.

Swimming is the most popular activity, with sea temperatures around 82F (28C) all year round. The best beaches are Arashi, Palm, Eagle, Druif, Baby and Rodgers - even the flamingos love them! …