Caribbean editor Gay Nagle Myers was in Aruba for the opening of the Ritz-Carlton Aruba. While there, she also sampled locally caught red snapper, downed a Balashi beer, perched on the bow of a 72-foot catamaran, “almost” met the king and queen of the Netherlands on a state visit, and learned some key phrases in Papiamento. Her first dispatch follows.
Bibiana, Terrence, Jean Carlo, Shak, Carmen, Gilberto, Junior, Joel, Soria. These are just a few of the 90,000 names and faces of Arubans that I’ve met.
Aruba touts itself as “One Happy Island,” and while I tend to cast a cynical eye on slogans and hype, I’m happily on board with this one.
Maybe it’s the mix of so many origins and backgrounds melded into a fascinating melting pot of dialects, languages and customs that make this island work so well as a tourist destination.
Take Jean Carlo for instance. He’s Aruban, but his mother is from Holland, his father from Israel. His wife is Cuban.
His daughter at age 3 already is speaking Dutch, Spanish, English and, of course, Papiamento.
Colombian-born Gilberto lived in Suriname, moved to Aruba four years ago with his family and now has his first job in the sports activities department at the Ritz-Carlton. He speaks Spanish, “some Dutch, a lot of English and every day I learn more Papiamento.”
We stood under a “fish,” Gilberto’s own word for umbrella, while a 30-second mini-raincloud passed over the beach.
“When we say ‘Bon bini,’ that’s Papiamento for ‘welcome,’ we mean it,” he said.
Shak, my taxi driver, put it this way. “Everyone fits in here. There’s no problems, mon.”
I sensed a Caribbean accent.
“Are you originally from Jamaica?” I asked.
“No, my parents are from Suriname, but I was born and raised in Amsterdam. Aruba’s my home for 20 years, but my wife is Jamaican,” Shak said.
I met Mr. Coco in downtown Oranjestad. He's a born-and-bred Aruban, but he did live in Florida for a few years when he worked on cruise ships.
He welcomed me to Aruba. "This is your second home now. You are very welcome here," he said.
"Masha danki, Mr. Coco," I replied. That's “thank you” in Papiamento.
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.