Archive for November, 2008

November 10, 2008

Sitting on the dock of the bay

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Just returned from a dinner with Susan of Bucuti that I am absolutely certain will remain the highlight of my trip. When I stayed at the Tara Suites which she kindly offered me she was too busy for us to sit down for any length of time but this evening at Marandi we managed to have a great conversation in beautiful surroundings. Actually, that is not entirely correct as it started when I got in her car and ended only after she dropped me back at Amsterdam Manor. We are from very different backgrounds but share many similar thoughts on life and the planet. The fact we are what Dubya  would categorize as bleeding heart pinko liberals only helps matters and now that Obama is going to be president of the USA I believe we are on the A-OK list.

Susan has had a fascinating life and learning about her life process was anything but dull listening. You just know that anyone who has a story about falling afoul of Israeli border police in her youth will have me tuned in. I also realize now that being of a similar age can make a meaningful conversation much more relaxed as there are points of reference. I don’t have to explain who Nixon was and she didn’t have to explain to me what Thatcherite Economics was all about. Off the top of my head a few of the subjects covered were, the internet, DOS, US Politics, New York, London, Aruba politics, the hotel business, relationships, cutting dog toenails with a device that looks alarmingly like a vibrator and the environment. As to the details of any of those conversational topics..well..I am keeping those close to my puny chest. I am just glad that I came to Aruba a year ago and connected to someone who is truly a citizen of the world.

In other news…well…let’s see. I was up early and then surrounded by flies, mosquitoes and other airborne wildlife , in what seemed to be an outtake from The Exorcist as i waited to get on a horse. My request for an aged equine that had been tranquilized was turned down as was my request for a valium IV. The horse I was asked to mount ( and how decidedly vulgar those words look in type) was laughingly named Excalibur. What the snorting brown creature had to do with Arthurian legend I cannot tell you but it may have been some inside joke. I got on with little problem and shortly after the whole posse of 8 of us started off on a pee and manure peppered trek through the wilds of Aruba’s landscape. All I can say is that while I know the horse was instrumental in the development of the US West and of European civilization they must all have had sore asses. I can see now why they invented the car and I promise I will kiss my misbehaving Mondeo when I see her next.

We finished that ordeal adventure and proceeded to the Westin for lunch with Patrick Donovan the Marketing Guy. I managed a fair cleanup of the dust on my face thanks to my ever present St. Ives blemish fighting wipes .It was nice seeing him again and I have to say that I am impressed with the changes at the Westin Aruba. They inherited the current property from another hotel and they have finally succeded in de-Wyndhamizing it and making it their own. Patrick is a great conversationalist and along with my ATA pal Ricardo we had a lovely lunch at their Asian restaurant Blossoms. I loved my General Tso chicken but honest to Abe those portions could have fed a Vietnamese family for a week. I am not a fan of high-rise hotels but if I had to pick one on Aruba the Westin would be it.

Upon returning to my hotel I ran to the shower to wash off whatever horse and dust remained on me but as I proceeded to disrobe …and I apologize for the lack of delicacy here Dear Reader,…an insect lodged in my clothing bit me on the ass. It hurt about as much as a bee sting and I got an immediate welt. Susan told me in the car it was most likely a scorpion and she has survived being stung by one. The life of a Fodor’s writer is not as pretty as it seems I can assure you.

I also ventured to the local supermarket area with the ostensible aim of getting some extra coffee and maybe suntan lotion at non-hotel prices. I did eventually get those items but somewhere along the line I also got a lovely pair of deck shoes, a shoulder bag and a decidedly non-Vern pair of Puma Fluxion II training shoes. I hope this serves as a cautionary tale to all that it is never safe to think “Oh look a shoe shop I wonder if they have sports socks?” because the next words you say will be “Do you have these in a size 10?”.

Tomorrow I am on a submarine which should be most interesting and, at any rate, will not result in any scorpions in my underwear.

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November 9, 2008

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Just back in from a rather wonderful dinner at Passions Restaurant on the beach in front Amsterdam Manor my new hotel. It was fun sitting with my toes in the and i was pleasantly surprised with the excellent quality of the food. The watermelon salad with carambola, greens and a chili dressing was a great way to start and the Seven Seas Parade may not have been parading but the lobster, grouper, catch of the day and assorted accouterments were all certainly having a very good time. This is the third romantic dinner i have had and I regret that I was , once again, not able to cash in at all. Michelle from Amsterdam Manor was great company for me and Ricardo though.

 

Speaking of Amsterdam Manor..and I was..they have really upgraded the rooms. They now have that sleek Euro look favoured by a lot of the more fashionable hotels. I rather liked the old A M but I have to say thsi new look is quite cool as well. It is still one of the best mid sized hotels on the island.

Tomorrow is the much dreaded horseback riding through the bush. As I am not known to be one for either large smelly animals ( though I have dated a few) or bush this may be a challenge. The big question is will I rise to it? Ah well, at least if I live I will have something to laugh with Susan with over dinner.

November 8, 2008

Happy Hellos and sad farewells.

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The many wonders of Aruba continue to unfold as i cover the island for Fodor’s Caribbean Guide 2010. I have just returned to the Bucuti/Tara Suites after a truly enjoyable evening at Pinchos with owners Anabela and Robbie. The food was great, the atmosphere on a lit pier in the ocean was unbeatable and I had a wonderful conversation. Anabela is something of a friend and I would call her the restaurant equivalent of Susan at Bucuti in that we tend to gab the night away if given half a chance. I arrived, and though we haven;t seen each other for a couple of years, it was like old times. We hugged and then got to eating, talking and drinking. The food is as delicious and simple as I remember and the conversation was as scintillating. I was somewhat gratified to learn from Annabella that my granting them a coveted Fodor’s Choice star has resulted in real sales for her and she was ecstatic. Who knew?

Tomorrow I must deal with the trauma of leaving Bucuti and the Tara Suites to head to Amsterdam Manor. I love Amsterdam Manor as it it is a great and intimate hotel but honestly…leaving Bucuti? They should offer trauma counseling. I toured other hotels today including the exceptionally bizarre Riu Palace ( where I had lunch) which , on the outside, looks like a wedding cake baked by a cocaine addict and on the inside looks like  Disney meets Byzantium. I really don’t know what to think about it as it is really not my taste but some readers may like it. The lunch was good – I will  give them that. I dunno…I guess being in the Caribbean I expect a hotel to reflect its location and the RIU adheres to an international look that its fans expect.

I am now going to consider two problems as I sign off. How do I smuggle the Tara Suites bed out in my hand luggage and how do I fit a steering wheel on a horse on Monday?

November 7, 2008

Unfamiliar things.

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A pretty amazing day in Aruba and I am dead tired at 11pm. Let me get the most important thing out of the way off the bat. I have fallen deeply in love at Bucuti…with my bed at the Tara Suites. She is a lovely creature set on a platform base but her sleek insouciance is misleading as she has been created by some unearthly power or , more likely, Susan,  to be the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. Ignoring the obvious jokes I really have slept in many beds in my few years on the planet and this one is now the benchmark for that floating on a cloud feeling.

I left my cumulous sanctuary with reluctance this morning to venture into the world of off-roading with a Tomcar. We found Rancho del Campo and I looked at our Israeli Military designed vehicles with concern. They are strange. Essentially they are the illegitimate child of the unholy pairing of a dune buggy and a US military jeep. After a briefing from our guide Hiram we set off with me behind the wheel of the thing that sounded like we were in a blender. To cut a long story short I had the best time driving the Tomcar and no matter what I did the sucker refused to roll. The things are stable and other than the steering wheel banging your hands you would hardly know you were driving over rocks and climbing ridiculous hills. It was several hours of driving and at the end I missed the damned thing…I want one.

After the most exciting tour I have ever had in Aruba ( sorry ziplining in the Yucatan was slightly more exciting) I came back to stunning Bucuti. I had a couple of hours to kill so I walked around the property and realized that it is as beautiful as I remembered it. A walk on the beach with no shades also reminded me that Aruba sun plus white sand is a recipe for watering eyes and headache. Instead Bucuti made me do something I have never done in Aruba. I went and got towels from the towel hut and took off my shirt and tanned for 45 minutes. This hotel seems to be able to get me over my insecurities…talk about selling points.

Afterwards we went to a totally eyecatching new restaurant that I think will be a huge attraction for Aruba in the future…The Old Man and the Sea. When I entered I just loved the whole concept. It is a beach restaurant concept complete with light wrapped coconut trees and sand under your feet. I really like it and when we actually ate it was even better. We are not talking NYC food here as it wasn’t stacked and pilloried but it was tasty. It was seafood and it tasted pretty darned great. Then we met young Mr. Vieira who manages and owns the place and I was floored. A gentleman of 28 has no business being that clever and to make it more disturbing…he is also a local celebrity and pianist/producer/singer/judge of Aruban Idol and even would be actor. This place is more than deserving of Fodor’s accolades and so it shall be. 

This is weird. In two days I have stayed at one property that is more than deserving of a Fodor’s Choice ( Bucuti..and may I find a higher rating) and now a great restaurant that should and will get one. This has been a good day. I hope tomorrow can match.

November 6, 2008

I’ve died and gone to Bucuti

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Well after a singularly uneventful and actually pleasant flight with Surinam Airways to Curacao, a rather boring 3 hour layover and a hair raising flight on a 10 seater prop I am in Aruba.Ricardo whisked me through immigration and customs and we headed to TGI Friday’s of all places for lunch. I dealt with it with the stoicism i normally reserve for Republican wins and even posed for a picture with the staff to be put in the newspapers at some point in the next few days. I really can’t say it is the milieu I really wanted to have immortalized in print but what can i say…i can sell out with the best of them.

From there it was off to my the Bucuti resort where I felt I was Barack Obama two minutes after being voted in. An attendant met me at the curb and walked me through to the Tara Suites reception area where they checked me in so quickly and pleasantly I was actually taken aback. Then co-owner Susan snuck up behind me and we hugged and promised to catch up properly after i recovered from my somewhat sweaty 10 seater experience. I was taken to my room and shown around by Mukesh the attendant/bell hop/guest services representative and then I was left alone to contemplate my room in all it’s environmentally friendly beauty. Quite simply it is gorgeous in the way that i would want to decorate my own place.It is sleek, comfortable, roomy and just plain stylish. The balcony…oh the balcony..it could easily be converted into an intimate 5 table restaurant without fear of crowding and has a view that would knock Sarah Palin’s toque off. I am in love with a room. Don’t get me wrong I have always loved the Bucuti with it’s beautiful grounds, exceptionally friendly staff and green ways but this room was just short of heaven. 

I say just short because I tried to get WiFi and found that it said I needed a card which I could get at the front desk. I walked down and handy dandy Mukesh ( from Surinam no less) came up to me most concerned that I seemed to be in need of something. He told me that had I scrolled down the page i would have seen that I could just use a credit card. That was useful enough but he then offered to assist me and followed me up to my room, scrolled the page down for me and told me that in future I need not do anything so stressful as coming down to the lobby but rather just call and Tara Suites/Bucuti would be up to my room to help. With WiFi enabled I can now say with no doubt in my head that I have died and gone to heaven.

As a reviewer  for a major publication I am supposed to be objective …and honestly i am…it really is that good. Small wonder this place has over 90% occupancy year round. This is high praise coming from me when I say I would actually pay to stay here.

After puttering around in the interstices of the net I showered and went down to meet Ricardo for our dinner at Mr. Jazz a new Cuban restaurant/Jazz club on the scene. Considering it is on the second story of a mall they did a great job transforming it into a realistic jazz club including a huge stage. I had a pork dish ( of course) which was a bit salty but it is a traditional dish and maybe it is supposed to be that way. Then we were treated to live music as the Marketing Manager/Jazz singer did his stuff belting out 70s, and 80s standards while patrons danced the night away. This really is one happy island. I told Ricardo on the way back to Bucuti ( how I smile at the very word) that I am sure Zoloft is one of the sponsors of Aruba.

November 5, 2008

The times they are a changing

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Eight years ago George W. Bush was elected President of the United States and I lost faith in the overall intelligence of citizens of that country to choose sensibly. I became more appalled  when they re-elected the idiot. Now I see that given enough time Americans can in fact make radical decisions and I am happy as a citizen of the world. I wish Barack Obama all the best as US President and, though I doubt he can make the changes he proposed completely, at least he has revitalised a new voter base in the United States.

 

On a side note I am pleased to see that my assessment of John McCain as a decent guy was correct as he has made one of the most  graceful and thoughtful concession speeches in recent memory. The US had a hard choice between two great candidates and I believe they chose wisely but as i said before….either choice would have been good.

November 3, 2008

Change is in the air.

I know this is a greatly delayed entry but there is a missing entry that never got posted. About a week ago I sat down and wrote a comprehensive entry about the US elections,  my excitement at seeing Bonaire again and my thoughts in general but the local power company had other ideas. At 11:30 pm, as I was about to upload the wretched thing the power went taking everything I had typed into oblivion. To say I was pissed would be a colossal understatement and is one of the reasons I haven;t posted in a while.

Anyhow, moving right along, I am gripped reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion lately. Of course the fact I agree with almost everything he writes makes me an easy grip candidate but I think it would be worth a read for anyone.I am also preparing myself for my Aruba/Bonaire/Curacao trip in terms of activities on the ground. My pal Ricardo in Aruba has set out an itinerary for me that seems designed to raise my insurance premiums and result in al least minor injury. I note with alarm that in the space of a few days I will be on horseback, careening around in an off-road vehicle called a Tomcar , riding a mountain bike in 100 degree heat in the bush and even snorkelling. Perhaps the Aruba Tourism Authority has finally decided to stop my frequent visits by ensuring my not too untimely demise. Thankfully I can recover in Bonaire afterwards and regain my city boy composure.

As I type this the world is facing the almost inevitable election of the first mixed race US President in the form of Barack Obama. I really wanted Hillary to win but given she isn’t now in the running I don’t feel disappointed. Actually, it amazes me that for the first time in a while the US is faced with a choice of two excellent candidates. I think McCain is basically a well meaning and nice guy and I think Obama is charismatic and transformative. All polls are showing a clear win for Obama at this point and possibly something close to a landslide. Only tomorrow will tell what will actually happen but if he does win I think the US will be in for interesting times. When a nation chooses such a radically different sort of leader they will be doing what they did with JFK and signalling that they want a national shot in the arm. A dose of audacious  hope if you will. The good news for the world in general that there is no Bush on the ballot and when  January 20th, 2009 comes the world can collectively un-grit its teeth.