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Ajo, Aruba :(

Well, I've finally left the lovely island of Aruba and I'm on my way to Detroit as I write this offline from 39000ft above the Caribbean Sea, wishing I was still down below on the island. I was there for a week, and there was so much to do and see there that I just didn't have time for. The local Arubans are as wonderful as the island itself; they call it "the friendly island," and it most certainly is that. Just about everyone is friendly and helpful. Also, most everyone speaks at least 4 languages! Papiamento is the local Aruban language, but being a former Dutch colony and part of the Netherlands Antilles now, Dutch is the official language. Venezuela is something like 50 miles to the south, so most people also speak Spanish since South America is so close, and of course speak English to deal with all of us American tourists that expect English to work everywhere. Papiamento is pretty much the de-facto language for communication between locals (though there seem to be a good number of islanders who use Spanish as their first language.) Papiamento is derived from Dutch, Spanish, French, some Native American languages, and other languages. It's funny seeing stuff from home with an Aruban flair; the Dunkin' Donuts near us had "Bon Bini" on their sign ("Welcome" in Papiamento,) and served guava donuts!

Up until Sunday, JJP (John Payne, Jezzibell, and Patrick for the confused), Sam, Noam, Gail, Liz, and Jim were around, as well as myself and my sister Gayathri (her birthday was on Friday so I brought her along as a birthday present.) John, Patrick, and Noam were there for the World Series of Poker, but the rest of us were just along for a vacation. Unfortunately none of them made it that far in the poker tournament, though Noam made out extremely well in a cash game. My sister and I were supposed to leave on Monday (me off to Detroit to continue my trip, her back home to Boston) but we were having lots of fun and it wasn't too expensive to change flights, so we stayed two more days!

As far as the island itself, it's hard to put into words how beautiful it is. Pristine beaches, clear water, and wonderful undeveloped areas that I didn't get nearly enough time to explore. 20% of the island has been permanently set aside as a national park-type area. The island is fairly commercialized, but not to the extent that it ruins its natural beauty. I'd still have to say Vieques is my favorite of the places I've been as far as natural beauty goes though; it's hard to beat the biobay and the near total lack of commercialization. Vieques is probably a lot more commercialized now though, since it's been two years since I went, and the tourist business was just starting to pick up when I was there (part of Vieques was used by our armed forces as a bombing range for planes until around 5 years ago when the protests finally rid the island of them.)

While in Aruba, I got to go snorkeling multiple times, which was great. I'll have to see how the pictures from my little digital camera in the underwater case came out. The last stop we made on the sail+snorkel cruise was at the site of two shipwrecks, which were extremely cool to see, and populated with lots of interesting fish. The ship also had an extremely cool rope swing that I got to go off of twice, flying off about 20' above the water. I wanted to go scuba diving (they do basic intro+shallow dive packages that are fairly cheap) but I didn't plan ahead well enough so I didn't get the chance. I want to actually get certified, which takes a lot more than that, but I plan on doing that when I get to Australia. Then I can do some real diving! My sister and I climbed Mt. Hooiberg (Haystack in Papiamento,) which is one of the highest points in Aruba at around 550', and found a geocache up top (my sister's first cache!) I also wanted to go sea kayaking off the eastern coast (we were in the high-rise hotel area on the western coast,) but all the tours left early in the morning and we never managed to do that. Apparently there are lots of extremely cool rock formations, mangrove forests, and other things along the western coast. Next time hopefully. Another very cool thing was a platform about 250' out from the beach in about 15' of water. We found it towards the end of our stay, but I swam out there 4 times in the last two days we were there (a couple times in the middle of night of course!) Much fun to dive off of, over and over. Another one of my favorite places was the Butterfly Farm, where they raise butterflies and let you walk amongst them. I took 550 pictures in about an hour and a half since there were so many cool butterflies fluttering around! (Of which probably about 50 pictures will be worth saving, of course.)

Anyways, that's about it, other than all the amazing food we ate there. Aruba certainly doesn't have a lack of extremely good restaurants, and being there with friends who enjoy good cuisine, we tried quite a few of them. Aruba is definitely high on my "must-go-back-and-visit-again" list, and anyone who hasn't been there definitely must go there on vacation sometime (or come with me next time!) I'll be in Detroit in a few hours, and we're going to Cedar Point on Friday. Then we're going to a NiN concert on Saturday (I'm not really a huge NiN fan, but Jason, Heather, and Mike are going so it'll be fun, and Queens of the Stone Age are playing as well, who I do like.) And Cedar Point again the next weekend! Yay.

I need to repack my bags and get rid of more junk too. On the way over my larger checked suitcase was 65lbs so I had to pay $25 in overage. My smaller checked suitcase was EXACTLY 50.0lbs (the limit before you have to pay overage) after the scale fluctuated back and forth between 50.0 and 50.5 a few times. My sister took some of my junk to stash away back in Boston, and I moved some stuff around, but when we got to the Aruba airport my big bag was ~60lbs and the smaller one was ~45lbs. The checking line was nonexistant, so I just opened my suitcases on the floor and shuffled some more stuff around, put a bit more into my carryons, and gave my sister a few more things, and I ended up with my large suitcase weighing 49.8lbs and the smaller one at 48.4lbs. :) It's hard to pack light when you're packing for a year!

(And yes I am STILL WORKING on uploading pictures. I'm slow. I suck. I know. I won't protest if anyone stabs me in the eyes with hot pokers, though that might make it harder for me to finish sorting pictures.)

Bye, Aruba. :( (As the title says in Papiamento.) I can only hope that the rest of my journey will be as fun and exciting as the last week was. I might not be visiting tropical islands for most of my trip, but I'll still be visiting good friends or family almost everywhere I go, so I'm sure it'll be a wonderful time.