The trade winds explain a lot.
They are residents of the parched south of the Caribbean Sea. They blow with such vigor that they undo the few clouds that venture there.
This is one of the reasons why, over Aruba, the sky remains clear and blue, because the sun shines with tropical power and contributes to making Aruba the “Happy Island”, as it is also known.
Half an hour after leaving the capital Orangestad, we arrive at Eagle Beach, on the edge of the Bubali Bird Sanctuary.
We turn west and towards the seaside. Jonathan, the guide who was leading us, parks on the side of an uneven sand.
From the Fofoti Zigzag Trees to the Sasariwichi Dunes
A limestone rock threshold separates the sand from the Caribbean Sea.
The protection it affords from the Atlantic fury and the gale against the direction of the surf smooth the sea. They turn it into an emerald lake.
The expressions of the trades do not stop there.
Two almost twin trees stand out from the sand, with twisted trunks in a strange contortion.
On an island full of cacti and thorny bushes, these are the fometi trees (conocarpus erectus) and its counterparts in the interior divide divide (watapanas), have become emblematic, an unavoidable symbol of Aruba.
Over time, the natives still got used to using them as a compass. Today, they continue to point to the Southwest, so that utility remains intact.
In a few minutes, the beach is composed. A few bathers sprawl out on chairs, sheltered from the wind, with their backs to the sea and a rare, shortened rainbow.
From Eagle Beach, we go around the Bubali Sanctuary. We progress towards the northern domain of Arasji, passing through salt pans and other beaches, Hadicurari, Malmok, Boca Catalina and Arashi, the latter at the entrance to the vastness of the Sasariwichi dunes that extends to the northwest tip of the island.
The California Lighthouse Nautical Monument and the Cactus Forest that Surrounds it
We detour to the high middle of the peninsula.
From there, a six-storey lighthouse emerges, crowned by a reinforced bell against the wind that, at that height, is blowing more furiously than ever.
The lighthouse was inaugurated in 1916. The name it bears has a nautical and tragic reason for being.
Honors the steam"California” which, on the 23rd of September 1891, shaken by the treacherous currents and the swell off the coast, ended up sinking.
The navigation of those who visit the lighthouse proves to be complicated. Too many bathing tourists come in flip-flops or similar fragile footwear.
They come across a ground of sharp coral rock, as if that weren't enough, full of cacti of different species.
We stay on the lookout.
We avoid the opuntia, the devil's fig trees popularized by guides as Mickey Mouse cactus due to the rounded leaf tips, similar to the Disney character's ears.
Above these, hedges of the ever-erect cadushi, (cereus repandus), the predominant ones in Aruba, as in neighboring Curaçao e Bonaire.
At ground level, authentic vegetable mines, there are still the most dangerous ones, the peach cactus, equipped with large sharp spines, arranged in a star shape.
We circled around the lighthouse, determined to photograph it surrounded by cacti.
Completing the mission costs us time we didn't expect to remove spikes from the soles of hiking sandals, feet and hands.
We return to LGSmith Boulevard, the last paved road north of the lighthouse.
From there, we wander through the sandy and wavy immensity of the Sasariwichi (arashi) dunes, attentive to the flora that decorates them.
Jonathan sees us lost in photos. Rescue us.
It takes us to Boca Westpunt and to the fountain generated by the fury of the waves that break against the jagged slab of the coast.
We had reached the northern end of Aruba and the ABC archipelago.
To the north, just an empty stretch of the Caribbean Sea that stretched close to the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo, in which, by mere coincidence, more than four months ago, we had inaugurated our tour of the Antilles.
The Demand of the Secular Chapel of Alto Vista
The dead end of Aruba forces us to turn around. This time, we went down the east coast, as exposed or more exposed to the Atlantic than Westpunt.
We pass in the vicinity of a Druif Beach, with rough waters, but which, whenever the wind and sea give a truce, turns into an almost turquoise lagoon.
We continued down. We left the Aruba Shack beach and the multicolored Ranchero Curason behind.
Finally, we return to the middle of the island, in search of the Alta Vista area and the Catholic chapel that blesses it.
If the “California lighthouse was surrounded by an assorted fauna of cacti, the cactus forest around the chapel proved to be even denser.
They formed it, above all cadushi slim and tall.
Some cacti branched out in the form of spearheads, a genetic event that occurs in other cactus species (for example in saguaros of the Sonoran Desert) and which gives them an extra-surreal look.
The wind didn't give much rest in these parts. It made the cacti tremble. It dragged drifting bushes and raised irritating dust.
The western storm was such that it made even a bunch of stray dogs suffer.
The Alto Vista chapel is known as the pilgrims' church. Marks the end of a Painful way dictated by crosses on the homonymous road.
Visitors appear. Believing tourists, not so much true pilgrims. Part of them enters the Labyrinth of Peace drawn on the ground, behind the yellow temple. Others shudder through the unusual carpet of dogs at the door.
They are spread out on the checkered floor and appreciate the statue of Our Lady of the Rosary with the Christ child in her arms, nestled above the altar.
Others still sit down. Whisper your prayers.
One of the Longest Used Continuous Churches in the Caribbean
The Alto Vista chapel is said to be one of the oldest (if not the oldest) continuous used church in the Caribbean. The current version was erected in 1952.
It replaced the original building, built in stone and thatch, in 1750, by Domingo António Silvestre, a missionary from the Venezuelan city of Santa Ana de Coro, charged with converting the indigenous people of Aruba to Christianity.
Domingo Silvestre arrived in Aruba almost two hundred and fifty years after the discovery of Américo Vespucci and Alonso de Ojeda.
The Spanish Discovery and Subsequent Dutch Colonization
In 1499, navigators claimed the island for the Spanish crown. Impressed by the superlative stature of the Caquetío natives, they described it as an “island of giants.
Shortly after, enticed by the cotton and brazilwood samples displayed by the duo, the Spaniards inaugurated the colonization of Aruba.
But cotton and brazilwood were of little value compared to the gold and silver found on the island of Hispaniola.
In 1508, Ojeda was appointed governor. Five years later, the Spaniards began to enslave the caquetíos and to subject them to forced labor in the mines of Hispaniola.
That's how they kept a good part of the indigenous people until, in 1636, in the context of the Thirty Years' War, the Dutch captured the three ABC islands.
They appointed the famous Peter Stuyvesant governor, later governor of New Amsterdam.
And they used the native Caquetío who had survived the Spanish yoke in the creation of the cattle with which they happened to supply other Dutch colonies.
By the time of Domingo Silvestre's mission, however, the population of caquetíos had drastically decreased.
His successors housed and converted the natives on the windy top of Alto Vista when, unexpectedly, fate condemned the mission.
A plague spread among priests and natives. It proved so deadly that it forced the survivors to defect to Noord, where the second oldest church in Aruba, St. Anne's, had been erected.
From the ex-Lair of the Pirates of the Caribbean to the Dock of the Jolly Pirates
With Aruba in the hands of the Dutch – historical rivals of the growing Hispanic Empire – the new settlers made it possible for the island to be used as an operational base for pirates and privateers.
Dutch, English, French (later even Americans), all of them pursuers of Spanish ships and their valuable cargo.
Aruba remained a Dutch territory, today considered a constituent country of the Kingdom of Países Baixos.
It is by far the most Americanized of the three ABC islands.
We see this again when, in the afternoon, we enter the Palm Beach jetty, a beach surrounded by hotels of the inevitable multinational brands, at the pinecone of Gringos fleeing the northern hemisphere winter, hungry for sun and fun.
On that same beach, under opportunistic squadrons of pelicans, we boarded the pleasure boat of some Jolly Pirates. We walked along the nearest Aruba coast.
We disembark in secluded coves, swim among corals, gaudy shoals of fish and little elusive turtles.
When we disembark, we find a group of young Americans preparing their own expedition, carrying dozens of cases of beer, on a trailer and on their shoulders.
In Aruba, the sun, the blue sky and the emerald-turquoise sea were, as they always are, acquired.
They endeavored, with apparent exaggeration, to ensure that they did not lack the refreshing fuel of evasion.