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Trip 24 -- Aruba Walk

Day 2: Oranjestad to Kudawecha
Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Today: 35913 steps/28.91 km/17.96 mi/5h 47m
Total: 43649 steps/35.26 km/21.91 mi/7h 3m

I woke to the dogs of northern Oranjestad, unaware how much their cousins would influence my day.

I picked up a couple of empanadas, one fish and one ham and cheese, and snacked on them as I headed north. The fish was mild until I neared the end, at which point a sneaky pepper made me cry out. "Whoa-ho-ho!" It was wonderful, just so unexpected, and it took a few minutes for my body and mind to recover. I also purchased a liter bottle of water. It seemed expensive at nearly $2, but thanks to Aruba's renowned desalination efforts the island converts seawater into excellent tap water, so the bottle will be refilled often.

I walked along a street called Musica and passed its intersections with Danza, Mazurka, and Harmonia. After almost an hour I turned onto the main highway leading past the glitzy high-rise resorts and casinos of Palm Beach. A short distance ahead and out to sea were a trio of tourist boats. That must be the location of the Antilla, I thought. As Germany was preparing to invade Holland in 1940, the German cargo ship Antilla tried to escape Aruba's waters but was blocked by a British destroyer. The German crew flooded and burned the ship from within, and snorkeling and diving tours now take people to its underwater remains.

The hotels gave way to posh residences with flat roofs, giant windows, and electronic gates. The paved road veered inland toward the 104-year-old California Lighthouse, named for an American ship that sank just offshore in 1898. I kept to the dirt road along the coast until I reached the inlet (boca) at Westpunt, near the island's northern tip.

At Westpunt the water gushed under a limestone shelf and, a few seconds later, got sprayed out as if exhaled by a dragon. Stubby bits of porous rock lined the shore like discarded wine corks. Farther along was a haphazard cluster of boulders. Behind me were small sand dunes, and beyond them was the lighthouse.

Two Americans came along, probably a mother and her daughter. "We're OK!' said the mother. 'We've got no bag, no water, but we'll be fine."

I suppose I looked somewhat more prepared for a walk in the heat, with my backpack and bottle. "This is all I've got," I said, showing them the quarter-liter or so that remained. Immediately I regretted that answer. It was meant in solidarity, to show that none of us was carrying much of use against the elements for what was admittedly not a very remote journey, but it may have come across as selfish. If they'd needed the water I'd have given them what I had.

They didn't know whether I could get up the hill to the lighthouse without doubling back, but I soon realized that I could make my own way around the dunes. I climbed the lighthouse's 117 steps. The caretaker had warned me that it was windy up there, and I was grateful for the railing and the tall mesh fence. I could see for miles, miles I'd just covered on foot.

A mango smoothie refreshed me as I returned to continue following the shore. For the next hour it was a lonely but easy walk, with tall cacti, rocks, dunes, and a couple more boca formations. Every 15 minutes or so a car would come by, or a group on an ATV tour, but mostly I had that sandy road to myself. There were a few food shacks where I'd have welcomed a chance to rest and eat; none were open.

Around 90 minutes after I'd left the lighthouse I reached the Alto Vista Chapel, a 1952 replacement for the island's oldest church, built in 1750. The modest yellow building isn't so impressive on its own; what was striking was how it appeared out of nowhere, framed by the cacti as I reached the top of a dirt road. From the other direction, the road is paved and lined with white crosses bearing depictions of the stations of the cross.

I realized I was near Philip's Animal Garden, and if only his were the next animals I saw. The site was on the opposite side of a loop off the main road. I headed in the clockwise direction and soon all the street's dogs were alerting each other to my arrival. Most were tied up, but a few stood in the street, challenging me to pass. Usually I'm reassured by the presence of people, but there was no one.

I retreated and followed the loop in the other direction, and I arrived at Philip's Animal Garden safely. The entrance fee is usually $10, but the guy at the entrance asked for only $5.

"The dogs around here -- are they OK?"

"I don't know," he said. "I'm not from this neighborhood. But you know the saying: A barking dog never bites."

I didn't respond with the customary answer: You mean he never barks while he's biting.

"Sometimes people carry a rock," he went on.

Of course! I've done that before. Why had I forgotten? "Good idea," I said.

My admission fee included a bag of carrots and pellets to feed the animals. "Just the four-legged animals," he said. "Don't feed the birds, fish, or monkeys."

Philip's Animal Garden originated as a center for the protection and rehabilitation of older animals that were neglected by their owners. Now there are around 80 species of birds, mammals, fish, and reptiles, and of course they love to be fed. For the next half-hour I made Nigerian Dwarf goats, donkeys, Shetland ponies, and pot-bellied pigs very happy. I took note of the Aruban rattlesnakes and boa constrictors, the main animals I thought I'd have to look out for during this trip.

"Hello!" said a Moluccan cockatoo, a large light-pink bird.

"Hello!" I said.

"Hola!" it replied.

This bird was bilingual! And also very talented. It performed somersaults, chirped, whistled, and bowed.

"Goodbye!" we said to each other.

I returned to the street and continued toward the Palm Leaf Apartments. Once again, I forgot to carry a rock, and I didn't think of it until I made a turn and three fairly large dogs were after me. Usually when I back away, they do, too, but the one in front persisted. I didn't run, but I walked briskly, the dog close at my heels.

A driver was parked at the corner. "Get in," he said.

I didn't want to. On my second day of the Abecedarian Walks, I was going to enter a car? But it was the prudent thing to do, and it would have been rude to refuse based on a principle.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"Just over there," I said. "Then I can walk."

He drove me past the dogs, a distance of maybe 300 feet. I was in the car for about 15 seconds. "Thank you," I said. I continued down the perpendicular street toward my lodging.

I'd planned to tour the whole island without entering a vehicle (except maybe a boat), and already I'd cheated. But I decided I had to allow brief rides in the interest of safety. Better that it happened now, rather than sometime during walk number 25 or so, when I'd be crestfallen at breaking my streak. And heck, Bill Bryson didn't cover anywhere close to the entire Appalachian Trail when he wrote "A Walk in the Woods," and it's a bestseller. I can still claim to have walked Aruba.

I picked up two rocks. I showed them a couple of times. Twenty minutes later I arrived at the Palm Leaf Apartments.

Maud welcomed me. The property felt like a boutique hotel, a few white rooms around a secluded pool. My legs were dirty from the sand, and my chest was red; I'd put on sunscreen but forgotten to apply it to my front when I removed my shirt back near Westpunt. I couldn't wait to shower and get in the pool.

I explained that I'd been walking. "Did you have any trouble with dogs?" Maud asked.

"I did."

"Arubans sometimes carry a stick. Not to hit the dogs, but to make them go away."

"I'll have to try that."

"You're not my first walker. I had a woman once who was doing a lot of walking, but she didn't like the traffic on the narrow roads."

"The traffic doesn't bother me." I hadn't yet been on many busy roads, but there seemed to be ample space.

Maud taught me how to lock the room; it was a German model that required pulling the handle up, turning the key, pulling the handle all the way down, turning the key again, and returning the handle to center.

I'd arrived just in time. I entered the room and it suddenly rained heavily for a few minutes. When it stopped, the air was cooler. I lasted about a minute in the pool.

Maud had recommended a Colombian restaurant over a mile away, but I was tired, and the rain was off and on for a while. Across the street was a bar that served rudimentary Chinese food. The menu went to great lengths to explain that the large servings came with rice and that French fries would be charged separately.

I decided on a spring roll, a small order of chicken curry, and a small order of beef chop suey (I'm not even sure I've ever had chop suey, but this seemed to be the place for it). The minimum order of spring rolls was two, and when the other items arrived, they were both large portions, and both were accompanied by rice and French fries. There was enough food for three people.

It was bland; it needed that surprise pepper from this morning. I took a lot of it back to my room; I probably won't want it when I wake up, but maybe I'll be inspired. Or I could give it to a pack of dogs. As the old saying goes, a dog eating chop suey never bites.

I put on the TV. It was "Marley & Me," the story of...a rambunctious dog.

Go on to day 3