“Take your time, but hurry up!” our enthusiastically extroverted tour guide yelled to our scattered group during our jeep tour of Aruba. I chuckled as I wistfully thought about how this statement so often applies to us moms when we fake being patient while waiting for our little ones to perform their next task. Well, time did hurry up. My firstborn, and only daughter, is headed to college. But not before we squeezed in one more mother daughter adventure in Aruba.
You may naturally assume spas and shopping when you think of a perfect trip for moms and daughters. But we live in Atlanta, where spas are as numerous as Starbucks, and we have just about every store imaginable, from Ikea to Jimmy Choo. So we were looking for something a little more adventurous – hence our journey to Aruba.[See related story: The Best Mother Daughter Trips and Tips to Make Them Amazing]
As hard as it is for me to believe that my little girl is 18, there were definite advantages in traveling with her as a young adult. We stayed at an adult resort, for one. Although young kids are allowed at Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, they aren’t encouraged, so we were awash in quiet and tranquility as we lounged under our own private Tiki umbrella on the blazingly white sand.
Our newly redecorated room overlooked the beach where we could hangout on the balcony and watch the iguanas lumber along. Our room rate included breakfast and we opted to start each day in the new Tara Suites spa wing with fresh pastries, cheeses, juices and cereal.
We loved that the resort is environmentally friendly. Owners Susan and Ewald Biemans recycle and reuse everything possible. Even the furniture in the Tara Suites dining room is made out of recycled plastic!
And now a few entries from daughter Catherine’s travel journal about our mother daughter adventure in Aruba.
From Laxatives to Lotions
A tour of the Aruba Aloe Museum may be the best alternative to an expensive spa treatment. You get the nice smells, the creams and lotions, the pumped-up AC, plus a mini history lesson – the only downside is that a massage isn’t included. Our tour started outside, where our guide began a well-rehearsed spiel by pointing out a few acres covered with a squatty, red plant: aloe in a crimson disguise. Then she cut up a piece of the plant to collect a stinky, yellow liquid that she told us was once used as laxative: “Six drops of this and you’ll be running to the bathroom all day!”
Inside we strolled through a small history exhibit, and then headed upstairs to spy on the aloe products factory where women in lab coats stirred big vats of lotion and wrapped gift baskets. Our tour ended, of course, in the gift shop, where we couldn’t resist the enticing aloe-filled chocolates.
Come to Papa!
My favorite part of our mother daughter adventure in Aruba, by far, was the jeep tour with De Palm Tours. I whined a little about having to get out of bed early, but I was wide-awake when I realized how the tour was going to work. I had just assumed that our driver would be someone who worked for the tour company, but the man in charge — who asked everyone to call him “Papa” — simply asked to see drivers’ licenses and, just like that, another tourist was taking us off-roading. No wonder we signed waivers, I thought as my stomach turned over.
Papa and his son rode in front in a pick-up truck, and we tourists followed in four bright yellow, tiger-striped jeeps. Papa played Who Let the Dogs Out and gave instructions over the radio in both English and Spanish. In a jeep with couples from Brazil and Venezuela, Mom and I were the only ones in the bunch who weren’t talking about our vacaciones.
Our first stop was the California Lighthouse, so named for a ship that wrecked in the surrounding waters before it was built in 1917. We had a few minutes to take in the view before Papa told us to “shake our yo yo’s” because it was time to get back in the jeeps for the real ride.
And into the wilderness we went, 50 mph over hills, through puddles, and around sharp curves. At first I held on for dear life, trying to remember what The Worst Case Scenario Guide had said to do when your jeep flips over, but soon I was having too much fun to care.
The part of Aruba we explored was nothing like the resort area. This end of the island was barren and rocky, and waves exploded violently against the cliff shoreline. But you could tell we weren’t the first ones there: Thousands of stacks of small rocks sat near the water. Papa said that visitors believed that if you wished for something and then built a tower of rocks that didn’t topple down, your wish would come true. The locals, on the other hand, believed this was a bunch of hooey.
Our next stop was the Alta Vista Chapel, a small but pretty church that all the local Catholics walk to on Good Friday. This can take hours, and since Aruba is so hot, they start this journey very early in the morning.
After another lively jeep ride, we took a brief stop at an abandoned gold mine. Then we moved on to what once was Aruba’s greatest attraction: the Natural Bridge. Unfortunately, the bridge collapsed in September of 2005, a sad day for Aruba. “It was like losing our Eiffel Tower!” a guide told us. We inspected the ruins and a smaller bridge that survived (along with a few other busloads of tourists who seemed just as happy to climb across the rubble).
Our last stop before lunch was at the Aruba Ostrich Farm. As we walked down the path, our guide at the farm explained that it was ostrich mating season. The females were laying eggs, which he personally had to collect to put in an incubator. A male ostrich came up to the fence to look at us, and the guide told a child in the group to get closer. The ostrich merely looked at her. Then the guide cleared us away. “Watch what happens when I get close to him,” the guide instructed. “He knows me, knows I’m the egg snatcher.” And, sure enough, as he approached the fence, the ostrich puffed out his wings and made a horrible noise, ready to attack. “Tomorrow he won’t remember a thing,” the guide told us. “His brain is too small.” Just so I could say I did it, I fed a female ostrich out of a bowl.
For lunch, we parked the jeeps and took a ferry to a private island with a water park and not one but three buffets. The water slides looked like fun, but Mom and I opted for snorkeling instead.
The next day we were once again up early for a half-day snorkeling trip with Red Sail Tours. We had three snorkel stops; our favorite was the Antilla Wreck, a 400-foot German freighter that’s been collecting barnacles at the bottom of the sea since 1940. In between stops we swam, sunned and slid down the boat’s slide. A yummy pasta salad made for a tasty lunch on board.
The Cuisine During our Mother Daughter Adventure in Aruba
First, Mom’s POV:
From an open-air restaurant with a zoo-full of livestock in the backyard to upscale steak houses, we had some amazing meals in Aruba. We had a delicious seafood dinner at Aqua Grill and I introduced Catherine to baked Alaska. One night we visited the gorgeous Renaissance Resort, right on the harbor in Oranjestad and had dinner at L.G Smith Steakhouse, where we enjoyed delicious steaks. Our two favorite restaurants were the locally owned family-run Nos Cunucu and a relative newcomer to the scene, Pinchos Bar & Grill.
At first I was disappointed to learn that Aruba doesn’t grow any significant produce of its own so there is not much of what can be considered local cuisine like you can get on neighboring, more lush islands. But these restaurateurs and chefs know how to shop and import ingredients. Our meals were fresh and delicious, with the prices fairly moderate, especially considering everything has to be shipped or flown in.
When selecting our restaurants we looked for variety and also took the recommendations of fellow travelers, who did not steer us wrong.
The drinking age is 18 in Aruba so Catherine was able to order her first legal drinks in a restaurant and enjoyed trying a Cosmopolitan and a glass of wine.
Catherine’s take on the dining scene in Aruba
At Nos Cunucu we were greeted by a monkey sitting on a fence post eating a chicken leg. I knew I was in a true local dining spot when, even after the menu was translated for me, I still didn’t recognize most of the dishes. Ready for an experience, I ordered the conch stew, trying not to think about the hermit crabs my friends used to keep as pets. The stew was good, a little chewy, but the best part of the meal was the pancake-like bread that came on the side, called panbati.
At our table, we had a roof over our heads but no walls to speak of. Just a few steps away was a sandy backyard, where most of the restaurant’s activity took place: A dozen goats fought for standing room on a piece of wood, a turtle crawled in circles in a doughnut-shaped cage, innumerable birds chirped and pecked for grain and a lone donkey rolled in the mud. (I’m sure the family who owned the restaurant had a good laugh at the city girl who was so fascinated by the goats.) On the drive out, we were charmed to see yet another monkey chewing away on a chicken wing!
Near the Aruba Surfside Marina lies Pinchos Grill and Bar — the product of a long-time dream of its owners, husband and wife Anabela Peterson de Sousa and Robby V. Peterson.
Built on a deck over Aruba’s sparkling blue water, the open-air restaurant is probably the most soothing place I’ve ever been. For my mom and me it was a great place for a relaxing conversation and to watch the sun set.
(We were not, of course, the first to enjoy the atmosphere. We found out that an episode of The Bachelor had been filmed there! My mom and I don’t watch the show, but apparently bachelor Chris O’Connell brought the last three women to Aruba. They each thought they were the only one!)
Another thing that sets Pinchos apart from most restaurants is that the food is not only delicious but it’s also healthy. My fish came with grilled veggies and the most delicious jasmine rice I’ve ever tasted. My mom and I left feeling satisfied, but not stuffed.
A final word from mom about our mother daughter adventure in Aruba.
We laughed when we handed in our customs forms at the airport: The agent asked what we had purchased. The only shopping we’d done had been for the men in our lives: an aloe gift basket for my husband, an iguana towel for my son and an iguana T-shirt for Catherine’s boyfriend.
We returned home with no baubles, trinkets or even freshly manicured nails to show off. But we didn’t care — we’d “shaked, baked and marinated” on a jeep trip, snorkeled at a sunken German boat, feasted on grouper and panbati, fed ostriches and just enjoyed our time together before Catherine heads off to begin her next adventure – as a freshman in college.
On the plane I thought about our final night of our mother daughter adventure Aruba. We had decided to gorge in a meat fest at The Amazonian, a Brazilian steakhouse where men in gauchos bring you meat until you cry uncle by turning over a disk to the red side to signal you need a break. Long after we finished our feast, we sat on the patio and talked. Just talked—about life, love and her impending departure for college.
At one point, I asked her if she was ready to go. “Let’s just sit here and talk some more, Mom,” she said. “Take your time,” I said. “Take your time.”
– Jan Schroder and Catherine Butsch Villarreal
This story on our mother daughter adventure in Aruba first appeared several years ago. For our most recent mother daughter trip, please see Mother Daughter Getaway to Tamaya Resort in New Mexico.