I started off with a visit to Santos coffee shop (J.E. Irausquin Blvd 51, Tel: +297 280 0303. www.santos-aruba.com), a three-minute walk down the street from the resort. I grabbed an ice tea and then stopped into the carry-out across the street for pastechi. Like an empanada, pastechi is a fried pocket filled with meats, and sometimes cheese and veggies, all mixed with a combination of sweet and savory seasonings. I was beginning to see that this was the way traditional Aruban food is made—the perfect balance of sweet and savory in every bite. Pastechi is a traditional breakfast food but is also commonly used as a snack because of its easy-to-carry nature. Think of pastechi as Aruban street food, and be sure to eat as many as you can during your visit (and might I recommend some papaya hot sauce on top?)
After I had my snacks, I went back to the resort, claiming a lounger underneath a palm umbrella. I was outfitted with my journal, my tea, the copy of On the Road I was reading, and a towel. The afternoon was spent reading, writing, and splashing around in the ocean. Dolce far niente.
That night, a very special dinner was arranged at The Secret Garden (Caya Frere Eduardo 7, Oranjestad, Tel: +297 730 4675. www.thesecretgardenaruba.com).The event was hosted by Tina Causey-Bislick in her gorgeous home. The dinner I went to was full of Aruba’s creative crowd to help give you a sense of the emerging arts scene on the island. At the dinner, I met some incredible people, all of whom continued to change my view of what Aruba is. I met the creators of Tangerine (Lloyd G. Smith Blvd 94, Oranjestad, Tel: +297 567 7668. www.wethebeachpeople.com), who make hand-stitched bags, totes, and wallets, all right on the island. I even learned that our host Tina had teamed up with local artist Vanessa Paulina and had just published a children’s book called The Search for Straya, which is currently for sale in stores around Aruba and will soon be available online.
For dinner, we were served an excellent vegan rendition of contemporary and traditional Aruban dishes. Butternut squash soup was followed with a crisp salad made with local herbs. That was followed by kasha yena, using the heartiness of cashews to substitute for the meat. For dessert came my new favorite dish, pan boyo, the delicious Aruban bread pudding. The cream was replaced with coconut cream and vanilla, giving this already-tropical dessert a whole new level of island flavor. It was a meal so big and filling that I didn’t even know it was vegan until someone told me afterward.
So, did I misjudge Aruba? Yes. Very much so. Aruba hasn’t been bought and sold and turned into a giant Ripley’s Believe it or Not like I was expecting. It’s beautiful, yet untamed, while also filled to the brim with a creative life and culture I had never expected. So pack your bags and let go of your expectations, because you’re in for one hell of a surprise.