Shelley and I have just returned from Aruba, and I want to tell you about it.
But first I want to share some thoughts on vacations in general.
I used to vacation for exploration more than recreation, using them as ways of discovering my inner landscape as much as the outer. And I’ve always been something of a glean machine, always looking for what I could learn and take away from the experience, to bring it all back home and hopefully make some good use of it. I would seek to extract some information about a better way, or a better place, to live.
In the past, journeys to (especially) California would inspire me towards a simpler, easier, or more natural (as in nature-infused) lifestyle: all lures to a New Yorker. The city, however, would usually suck me back into its ways within a matter of days.
In later years, and with Shelley’s influence, and with having more of a sense of hitting my stride, vacations have become more of a way to balance out my work life with leisurely recreation.
Plus when it comes to travel, there’s a fundamental difference between going it alone and going with a partner—just as there is in real life, only more so. I used to love traveling solo: the excitement, even drama, the danger and the possibilities. With Shelley it’s so much safer (I’m saved, for example, from loneliness and from sunburn, as in “you missed a spot”.) But it also turns out, in spite of Shelley’s explorational spirit, to be so much less adventurous. For one thing, if I were alone I’d feel more of a need and desire to speak to strangers, and get to meet all sorts of people, that with her I don’t feel because one of my favorite people is right there with me.
Shelley has turned me on these past several years to purely recreational places like cruise ships and Vegas and Disney World. And as much as I’ve been grateful to her and have lapped up these excursions, what they offer is the pleasurable relief of leisure that I’ve needed, but not much in the way of information, inspiration, or meaning. That’s why I want to take us to Europe next.
Maybe I’m asking too much from a vacation, but when I was younger and still roughing it, what I began to observe around me was that what more money bought when traveling was a greater distance from other people and greater safety and predictability. Adventure isn’t something you buy; it’s what’s left when the things you can buy are taken away. And while now I’m a bit too old to go hitchhiking around Europe, for example, and my body tolerates discomfort less than it used to, I still hunger for some real adventure for the two of us.
Which brings me to Aruba. When Shelley pined for a Caribbean vacation to celebrate her retirement, I recalled my father long ago returning from a trip raving about that island and urging me to go one day. When we arrived last week, it looked to me that the entire place was geared to the tourist trade. The motto on their license plates – One Happy Island – sounded to me like it was written by a Liberty Travel copywriter.
Also, I’ve found that any place where people go primarily for the weather is not a place to go primarily for the people. The others we met (or tried to) on or off our resort were either uninterested or uninteresting.
That said, we nevertheless had a wonderful time. We went to enjoy the island and each other and we did. Snorkeling, water slides, and some serious veging – Aruba is great for all that. And the weather, which is an almost perpetual 80 – something and windy (which keeps the humidity and bugs away) is pretty glorious.
The sea there is an ever-changing watercolor. The rich, dark blues and emerald greens interact constantly, shape-shifted by the wind: You can actually trace the swath the wind makes across the water, as it blows the blues into being.
Which is almost as mesmerizing as standing there within it all and feeling oneself being swayed by the swirling dance you’ve become a part of.
And speaking of water, there’s also the other kind. A desalinization and power plant supplies water and electricity to the entire island. I admit the thought of drinking de-salted liquid isn’t very appealing, but it’s just about the best water I’ve ever tasted.
So I loved Aruba but I yearn for the other stuff — the stuff of discovery — I know one can have when one goes on vacation.