Ursula Sadiq

"Hey, how did I get here?", asks the once and future geek. "Each step made sense along the way, didn't it?" Didn't it?

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So, Aruba. I spent 14 days in Aruba with my 10 year old. Here’s my thoughts about the trip, mostly from a things to do perspective.

TLDR - Recommended things to do

  1. The Rancho Loco Horseback ride to the Natural Pool. 

  2. Reflexions beach club

  3. Petroglyphs in the National Park

  4. Book a Snorkeling cruise 

  5. Climb California Lighthouse

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You can certainly go to Aruba and just lounge on the beach the whole time. There are certainly tourists who do that, and hotel resorts that cater to that. But I’m the type of traveler that wants to do stuff. So this is stuff to do. There are lots of good places to eat/explore on the island. Do get a rental car to facilitate this exploring. 

Recognize that Aruba is a small island. 100k people, 20 miles long (the long way!) Like 6 miles across. Still, you probably want to rent a car. 

Also it’s a desert. Think Arizona climate (if you’re familiar with AZ), that also happens to have beaches. Beautiful beaches. On one side of the island (the west) are lovely swimming beaches. On the other side, they are super rough/rugged/don’t even think about getting in the water beaches. (Sad story: while I was there, apparently a vistor went into the water on the rough side after the tour guide said it would be ok. And drowned. Just don’t.) It’s always 80-90 degrees. Year round. And breezy. Super breezy. Make sure your hat fits tight, or has a chin strap. And bring a hat - it’s hella sunny out there!

There are lots of cool lizards out and about. Little ones, big ones.  I especially like the blue ones. And some sizable iguanas. The cat sized one that hung out by our condo we named Big Liz. They have the goofiest run. There are a bunch of birds around too which are fun to watch. In particular we saw Magnificent Frigatebirds (which we call demon birds because of their silhouette), brown pelicans, cool orange-black Troupials, and a wacky looking large bird which I think was a Crested caracara. Aruba’s national bird is a burrowing owl, but we didn’t come across any. 

^^ These bird pics aren't my photos, just ones I found that look better than the photos I took ^^

There is no fresh water source on the island, unless you count the occasional rains. Beats me how people used to live here in the precolonial/colonial times. We did see a cistern from colonial times that supposedly held 3-4months of water. But it barely rained while we were there. Again, not sure how they made it work way back then, maybe it rains more than I recognize? Today they have a desalination plant, and the tap water here is some of the best I’ve ever had. They even bottle it.

The main industry here is tourism. And like 70% of the tourists are from the US. (Even though it’s just 15 miles from Venezuela - you can even see the mainland on a clear day.) English is spoken everywhere. US dollars are accepted everywhere. I mostly used my visa, except for tips and that one bakery that was cash only.

Packing tip: you’re going to want to bring snorkel gear to look at all the cool aquatic life. Or at least a great pair of swim goggles. Bring sun protection. Bring water shoes. 

The highlight:

We booked an afternoon horseback tour at Rancho Loco to the Natural Pool. After about an hour on a horse, you get to a natural pool. It is the only(?) protected place to swim on the east side. And it was fabulous. Rough waves hitting the other side of the protected rock wall, spraying water high. And a calm pool to hang in. This is 100% bucket list material. It doesn’t get any better than this. 10/10 would go again.  This makes Ursula's "Best Of" list (a list that I've just decided to start).

If horses aren’t your thing, you can hike in for about an 1.5 hours each way. So 3 hours roundtrip. Or rent a off road capable vehicle like an ATV. ATVs are icky IMHO, and walking would be arduous in this climate for me, let alone for my 10 year old. But the horses, that was awesome, and the payoff of the natural pool was so worth it. I also liked the romanticism of pretending it was cowboy times while on the horse. Even if my butt was sore for 2 days after. (Note, the horses only take people who weigh less than 235 lbs. Even though technically the horses can carry larger people, the ranch doesn’t want to stress them.)

Other things to do:

And then some days you just want to sit at a beach club and chill. I didn’t really check out the options; I found one I liked and went there twice. It is called Reflexions, and it’s just a few minutes north of the airport. You can watch the planes land - the airport is close but not obnoxiously so. Sometimes people wait on this beach until they see the plane land before they go on a pickup run. We'd get there around 1pm, stay till sunset. Sometimes they have DJs or bands. There is a small swimming pool in the bar (which frankly got gross later in the day, but the kid loved it), lots of chairs with umbrellas or covers to be had. And some excellent drinks. And good food, a step up from your typical bar fare. 

There is a national park that takes up like 20% of the island. (That arid rugged east side mostly). You need a car or a tour to get there. In this park, about a 20 minutes drive inside the park is a cave with petroglyphs (and colonial graffiti). Also, bats inside. And lizards outside. It's cool, especially if you are keen on petroglyphs like I am. Definitely worth doing.  (Actually, that natural pool I mentioned above is also in this park. You’d ATV/hike from inside the park. The horses came up another way.) BTW: Google maps sent me to someplace that was certainly not the park entrance. Get close then follow the signs instead of wherever G sends you.

There is a lighthouse on the northern tip called the California Lighthouse. Not sure why it’s called that, something something about a ship called California that sank when it was being built? I’m sure you can google it. Anyway - Go! Pay the $5! Climb the zillion steep steps on the spiral staircase up! See the amazing windy views! Deal with your kid then being too terrified to climb back down! Good times. Also, at the bottom, get a fresh coconut from the coconut guy. And watch his pet parrot peck at your kid when she invades its personal space, terrifying the kid. Haha. More good times. Another $5 well spent. 

The final thing I really can recommend is take a snorkeling “cruise”. I did Jolly Pirates, but there are others. Some include lunch, some do not. Most all include an open bar. And they include your snorkeling gear. They almost all stop at the same 3 or 4 places. Though this one seems to have different spots https://www.tranquiloaruba.com/ (next time!) The snorkeling in Aruba is some of the best. One of the standard snorkeling spots called Tres Trapi is just offshore. You can actually drive to it, in case you want to go back and experience more snorkeling but not take a second cruise. 

We also visited the small free National Archaeological Museum Aruba. I like to hit these sort of historical museums at the beginning of a trip to get an awareness of a place’s backstory. It’s where we saw the cistern and learned about the petroglyphs, and about the pre colonial and colonial times.

Food:

No food recommendations - why? I’m not a foodie. I noted portions are large. I enjoyed everywhere I ate, but I’m so the opposite of picky. Also I was feeding a kid, so we didn’t try anything exotic. So we stuck with meals of burgers, pasta, chicken and poffertjes (dutch small puffy pancakes). So I don’t have much by way of food recommendations except ask around, and use your google-fu. The restaurants here are good, but it's not cheap. Expect US prices or maybe even a tad bit higher. 

We went to the closest burger joint called Local Store several times. It had this cool mural on the side that among other things, incorporated imagary from the island's petroglyphs. How cool is that! 

Other things:

Some things that we coulda shoulda done is 

  1. the gold mine ruins. 

  2. another rock & petroglyph site called Ayo Rock Formation..

  3. the butterfly house. If you go at the beginning of your trip, you can go back any time for the next 7 days. 

Saving these for next time!

There is also a “private” island beach club “De Palm Island”. It’s like $100 for a day of all-inclusive fun. I didn’t do it, but maybe next time. Maybe. I was pretty content at Reflexions. But on the other hand, seeing flamingos would have been cool.

There are on the southern side a few more beaches, and another town called San Nicolas. Baby beach is the big name, there is also a super deserted beach calle Boco Grandi. It looks very peaceful, but the kid had seen it before and said it was boring. So we didn’t go. San Nicolas has a bunch of cool murals, plus is known for the bar “Charlie’s” but I forget why. I do know the licence plate of my old camper is on the bar, as are a zillion other plates. It’s the Delaware tag that says “Guppy”. If you see it, send me a photo!

I didn’t really do any nightlife because I had my preteen in tow. I did get out for 1 night to the Renaissance downtown for a sunset DJ set and their rooftop (no kids allowed!) club. That was sweet, and would be cool to do again with adult friends. Assuming I can talk someone into traveling with me.

Links: 

Horse ranch https://www.rancholocoaruba.com/en

National Park http://www.arubanationalpark.org/main/

Reflexions Beach Club https://www.reflexionsaruba.com/

Jolly Pirates https://www.jolly-pirates.com/

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I’m unnaturally puzzled by A J C Henrique. “Went in 5201M”? With some sort of tripod? Did they measure 5 kilometers from the carving?
Great travel piece.
 

I take myself out and about to expand my horizons on a fairly regular basis. I'm retired, and mom only 50% of the time. Meaning even after house keeping, I have a lot of free time. In this year of not-leaving-the-country, and not willing to risk getting on a domesticc flight, I've been learning about things to do within driving distance.

I've been thinking of my trips as Quests or Missions. These are the ones I'm currently working on:

1. Delaware State Park Passport Quest. One goes to each of 19 state parks, take a self at a designated location in each park, and submit the photos to the park system via an online form. I think you get a free pass for next year if you complete it. I've been to 13, 6 to go!  https://destateparks.com/Passport

2. Delaware Tourism has 5 "Trails" you can complete.

  • Delware on Tap, (I'd be 11/34th done if I'd know about this earlier)
  • Delaware Discoveries (3/9th done!),
  • Delaware History,
  • Delaware Outdoor, and
  • Delaware Culinary trail.

Frankly, I just learned that there were 5 of them. Like, today. I've been working on the Delaware Discoveries one, but now I think I'll work on all of them. At once! Yeah! https://www.visitdelaware.com/things-to-do/trails/

3. The Mason-Dixon markers: Ok, I made this one up. But there is the Tri-State Marker in White Clay Creek park (been there! twice!), a Mason-dixon crownstone marker across from a gas station in MaryDel, and a Middle Point Marker on Delaware's southern border near Delmar.  There may be another crownstone 10 miles north of the Marydel stone. It's a bit of a scavenger hunt. There is a site that documents all of the PA-MD stones, but not the Delaware ones.

4. For beyond Delaware: I found out last month that the National Park system has a Passport book. Like a real booklet that is setup for you to collect stamps. I have 4 stamps already! https://americasnationalparks.org/passport-to-your-national-parks/

Are there more quests? I'm sure there are. But theses are the ones I'm keen on just now. 

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10/24 '20 2 Comments
I've been wanting to make a project of getting to the 4 extreme points of the continental US for a while. I've only been to the northwesternmost point (cape flattery in WA) so far, but key west seems nice. and I'll be going to Maine with Ellynne pretty regularly for years to come, so I'm sure we can collect Grand Isle pretty easily. so then there's just Lompoc CA to work out.
CM Adams 10/25 '20
That sounds like an awesome quest.
Ursula Sadiq 10/26 '20
 

Ok, the previous Iceland post was all practical overview stuff. Now for some detailed recommendations  on things to do in Reykjavik

  1. Hallgrimskirkja - it's a newer catherdral (finished in the 1980s). Iconic building and on a clear day it's cool to take the elevator to the bell tower and look at everything. They ring the bells a lot. Especially on Witt Monday, when jet lagged tourists are trying to nap in a hostel next door.

  2. Walk around and shop and eat. In particular, on Laugavegur (which also has the supermarket Bonus) and Skolavordustigur (which deadends into the catherdral plaza) and their side streets are good for tourist shopping.

  3. IF YOU HAVE A CAT CRAZY CHILD (or if you are a cat fan yourself) there is a cat cafe called Kattakaffihusid. With good coffee and baked goods.

  4. There are public "swimming" pools which are really more lounging around in warm water pools. We went to the one called Sundhöllin. Very clean, and of course great for kids. But also if you just want to hang in the giant hot tub and experiance some local culture. It's like $8 to get in (kids are like $1), and they do rent towels if you forgot yours. But c'mon, didn't you read Hitchhikers? 

  5. You can take a boat tour to see Puffins or Whales. I'm scared of whales, so we did the 1-2hr puffin tour. Puffins are cool little birds, but not particularly impressive. Still, getting on the water for an hour or so was good fun. They told me whale cruises are 90% on spotting whales (NO THANK YOU), an even higher precentage of spotting dolphins. 

  6. There is a small natural history museum called Perlan with an ice cave a bit out of town. There is a free shuttle (though we didn't know that and took a city bus). The building has a enclosed rooftop cafe with great views of the city - and maybe the northern lights in the winter? Anyway, the cafe was just as good a reason to visit Perlan as the museum.

  7. There is this metal sculpture of boat ribs called 'Solfar' aka 'Sun Voyager' right on the harbor. There isn't much to do, but it does make for a great photo. Especially if you happen to catch a sunset sky.

  8. There is another iconic building called Harpa right on the harbor. It's the concert hall of everything from opera to rock concerts. There were nightly events and shows but we didn't catch any. You can go in and walk around. It's a brilliant architectural space.

I'm sure there are other things to do in Reykjavik. These are just the ones I experienced and recommend. I was traveling with my 8 year old, so I have nothing to report on nightlife/bars/fancy resturants. I'm sure they have them. These is a place called Chuck Norris Grill that I wish we would have eaten at. But you gotta save something for next time.

Some photos below. More photos in my google photo album here.

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6/21 '19 2 Comments
WOOOOOOOOWWWWW.....
That top photo (I'm assuming that's the cathedral?) looks like it's made out of Legos. :)

Your photos are gorgeous!
 

I took my 8year old to Iceland for a week. Early June. In a nut shell, there was jaw dropping scenery and it is very easy to be an English speaking tourist there. Very recommended. I do expect I'll go back someday.

I'd never been to Iceland before, and I was overdue in adding a new country to my list. I've traveled a bunch so I'm not intimidated by international travel, especially not to Europe where I've been to lots. I did some research, brunched with some Icelanders before I left, booked a hostel, some bus tours and a puffin watching harbor cruise, and embraced the idea that I'm on vacation and vacation is not a the time to be too frugal.

Early June is before all the tourists arrive, but it's building. We were there June 10-16. Tourist season officially begins June 15. It never gets dark in Iceland in June. The sun goes down for a few hours, but it is still dusk lit.

Flights were affordable - direct from Philly even. We flew Icelandair. No complaints, a basic uneventful flight. Gone are the days of endless drinks and amenity packs for everyone I guess. The 8 year old did get free meal and a play pack, and Icelandair has reduced kids airfare which I had assumed were extinct. I guess just domestically extict (sigh). The 8 year old also got a number of comps this trip. Free use of the "pay to use" public toilets, free seats on some of the tours, free transfer to the airport, next to free entry to the swimming pool. So yay, bring your kid if you got one. These freebies dissipate by the time they are 11 from what I can tell.

Something to know about Iceland - the county is about the size of Pennsylvania or of New York State. The coast is habitable, the interior not so much. About 340,000 people live in the entire country, and 2/3rds of them live around Reykjavik. The whole country has less people than Cleveland. Or about 60,000 less people as we have in here in lower, slower Delaware. To this country of 340,000 come over 2 million tourists a year. Its been growing like crazy, up from 1 million in 2014, or 0.5 million in 2010 when that volcano erupted making everyone think: Cool! Let's go see Iceland! So yeah, tourism is big there. It is Iceland's largest industry these days, eclipsing fishing industries. And in some ways the infrastructure is struggling to keep up - for example our the tour bus planned stops around acceptable toilet facilities. And hotels and tours do fill up. 

Hotels were pricey so I got us a hostel, which was still over $150 a night. Nothing against the hostel, it was a decent one, but next time I'll pay the extra $300+ for a proper hotel. Or an airBNB. But I'm naturally a penny pincher, so I got us a hostel. I just poked around booking.com again, and yeah, for an extra $300 we could have gotten an apartment. Maybe next year. (Though next year I kinda want to go to Spain.) 

Food was also pricey, and a picky 8 year old means we didn't explore the options much. I'm the opposite of picky, which also means I'm not into exploring. If it's edible, I'll eat it.

For food, we did a bunch of supermarket sandwiches. We had lots of pop-tarts, chocolate, bread, chips, crackers, chocolate crackers, cheese, & ice cream. We also split one banana, labeled as grown in Ecuador. For local food, they have a yogurt like thing called skyr (which tastes like yogurt, but apparently is made differently) that we liked. I really liked the lamb soup - kinda like beef stew but with lamb, found at overpriced tourist restaurants all over Iceland. I had 3 bowls on our 6 day trip. We tried the smoked lamb on flatbread and both (!!!) loved it - it's really rich though, more an hors d’oeuvres than something I could do a meal. We drank a lot of water, straight from the tap, like apparently everyone does in Iceland.

It is super easy to get around as an English speaker in Iceland. Every last Icelander I met spoke perfect English. And they were all very friendly - not Irish friendly who want to talk life story - Nordic friendly. So cheerful and happy to stop and help when asked. Contributing to the good cheer I'm sure was the unusually splendid weather we were having. The Icelanders were saying how it doesn't get better that what we had: 60 Fahrenheit and sunny all week.

<to be continued. gotta do some work now>

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6/18 '19 2 Comments
good lord. thanks for the heads up on the cost of lodging and food there. the airfares are so cheap that I've thought of going, but not for those sorts of rates on the ground.
CM Adams 6/18 '19
I love this.