An Island Full of Green: Aruba's Parks, Reefs and Wind Turbines Are a Sight to Behold

Article excerpt

You can't drive fast on the northern coast of Aruba; the roads are narrow and rustic, signs are few, and it's easy to take a wrong turn. But we were happy to take our time. Driving slow, my girlfriend and I could admire the cliffs, the turquoise sky, the crashing waves. No vehicles in sight. Not even a hiker in the dusty outback.

"Look!" Kylan cried.

I followed her finger to the horizon, where windmills emerged. They looked large from a distance and colossal as we closed in. The tall white towers stood venerably on the rocky land, their blades silently spinning through the sun's glare. As sea breeze whipped through our open window, so did it move the turbines above.

Wind power, I marveled. Clean water. Giant national parks. Who knew Aruba was so progressive?

Hidden in Plain Sight

Until I arrived, I didn't know about Aruba's Dutch colonizers, nor its history of slavery, pirates, gold-diggers, and even its one U-boat attack. When a talkative cabbie drove us from the airport to our hotel, I couldn't even identify the language she spoke: Papiamento, a Creole combining at least five different vernaculars. All these things were new to us.

And it's green. For such a modest islet, known mostly as a port for cruise ships, Aruba has a conspicuous interest in the environment. Despite their desert landscape, Arubans boast that their drinking water is the tastiest in the Caribbean, thanks to the world's third-largest desalinization plant. The Vader Pier wind farm, completed in 2009, was designed to partially replace oil power. The 10 turbines generate power 24 hours a day and distribute it to the entire country. So far, the island gets 20% of its power from solar and wind. During the Rio + 20 conference in June, Aruba pledged to transition to 100% renewable energy in coming years, making it one of the summit's great success stories.

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Land and Sea

But Aruba's real triumph is its protected lands. Arikok National Park, Aruba's largest parkland, contains nearly 8,000 acres of undeveloped hills and seaboard. Kylan and I spent days in Aruba's northern coast, hiking through cactus forests, exploring caves and dipping into the Natural Pool--an enclosed circle of rocks and cliffs that's perfect for diving. There's the Natural Bridge, an arc of rock that stretches over the water (overhyped, Kylan and I decided). …