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Trip 24 -- Aruba Walk

Day 3: Kudawecha to Santa Cruz
Thursday, December 24, 2020

Today: 25222 steps/20.80 km/12.92 mi/3h 59m
Total: 68871 steps/56.06 km/34.83 mi/11h 2m

I picked at the leftover Chinese food for breakfast; the sauces had infused it with a bit more flavor overnight. I timed my departure so as to arrive at the Aruba Ostrich Farm one minute before its opening time.

A woman brought me to the shop and collected my $14 admission fee. "There's a tour starting" -- she checked her watch -- "now!" she said, a bit dramatically and urgently considering that the place was just opening and I was the only visitor.

Harold was my guide. He wore a wide hat whose brim was curled at the sides. "If you see me running," he said, "what should you do?"

"Help you?"

"Run faster!"

He brought me out to the animals. There are 15 ostriches and 12 emus on the grounds, plus a few peacocks. They are the world's largest and second-largest birds, respectively. Emus have three toes on each foot and ostriches have two.

"An ostrich can rip a human body apart with its toes!" Harold said. "And it has no teeth, like my mother-in-law."

I laughed.

"Ostriches can run forty-five miles an hour," he went on. "For an hour continuously!" Emus clock in at a relatively glacial 25 miles an hour.

Harold had a thick accent and had seemingly learned how to give the tour by memorizing it all as one long string of syllables. When I didn't catch something and asked him to repeat it, he had to restart from the beginning of that section.

"Do they have names?" I asked.

"No. They hear, but they don't listen. See the small heads? They have small brains. But they can see for up to two miles, and they protect each other. If they see lions, they'll run away together. But the lions are smarter, and there will be other lions waiting for them in ambush, on the other side."

The females are gray; the males have black bodies and white wing tips. One of the males was thrashing about, standing in place but swiveling violently from side to side.

"He wants to mate," Harold said. He let me feed the ostrich from a metal bowl; the bird pecked at the feed by smacking his nose into the bowl.

"That doesn't hurt his beak?"

"No. It's like that since birth."

The ostriches at the farm are there purely for tourists. There's also an ostrich farm in CuraƧao, where they're raised for meat, but Aruba's ostriches are on display only.

Harold showed me a giant white ostrich egg and a somewhat smaller emu egg. The ostrich egg can bear the weight of the 300-pound adult. "The female sits on the egg all day. Then at night the male takes over and she goes to earn some money in the casino," Harold said. An ostrich lives for around 80 years. Humans can receive cornea transplants from ostriches. "Then the human can see for two miles!"

The farm doesn't serve emu or ostrich meat, but they do cook the eggs. I could have had an omelette or paid $75 for a hard-boiled ostrich egg (too much for one person). I was ready to move on, though.

I made my way to the shore once again. Not far from the ostrich farm are the stone ruins of the Bushiribana gold mill, which processed the metal during Aruba's 19th-century gold rush. It now resembles a bombed-out house, but the rectangular windows frame the sea nicely.

Farther south along the shore used to be a natural bridge, formed from centuries of water eating away at the limestone. The main bridge collapsed 15 years ago, but a smaller section of it remains. I crossed it before I knew I was on it; the view was more impressive a short distance away, where I could see the sea -- and some associated debris -- flowing underneath.

To continue along the shore I had to climb around the old bridge site and then across Shark Bay, being careful not to cut my hands and legs on the jagged limestone. I reached Andicuri Beach, where the water has carved a shelf out of the rock, resulting in a place where people can swim in natural shade. I walked uphill away from the shore, along a rocky road hemmed in by giant cactus, until I reached the Ayo rock formations. The indigenous Arawak people sheltered at Ayo and left petroglyphs.

It was a lovely place to explore. A well-marked trail led upward and through the rocks, some of which bore the curved forms of goblins or thrones. Tame goats roamed the grounds. The cactus had its own shapes; one resembled a camel. All was serene, until a pair of goats feuded and started head-butting each other. A brown goat surveyed the scene from high up on a rock and sang out.

From here it was an hour's walk along a main road and down a side street to the Donkey Sanctuary Aruba, where I made friends with the hundred-plus animals. They're like golden retrievers, those donkeys. They just want to love everyone and eat.

My lodging, Mammaloe's, is a rustic space near the sanctuary, with small individual cabins, plenty of cactus, a pool, and an outdoor communal kitchen. I'm here for two nights so that I can do a loop around Arikok National Park tomorrow, and I've stocked up on food for the holiday (probably too much, as usual).

I took a dip in the pool and had the romantic notion of sitting outdoors with wine and putting today's account together. The mosquitoes had other plans, however. But at least the dogs of Santa Cruz are less fussy than their counterparts over by the Alto Vista Chapel.

Go on to day 4