Rocks and Cacti in Aruba

Rocks and Cacti in Aruba

Aruba was a pleasant surprise. We didn’t expect to find so many interesting places on such a small (32 km x10 km) flat desert island. After visiting California Lighthouse, the Alto Vista Chapel and the northwest rocky shores, we decided to go for a hike in the desert in the interior of the island and to check out some more of the tourist attractions.

Мира в Казибари

Casibari Rock Formations

The Casibari Rock Formations, abut 3 km from the capital Oranjestad, are brownish- reddish boulders sticking out in the middle of the desert as if they had fallen from the sky, surrounded by cacti. It is still a mystery how this pile of huge rocks smooth and strangely shaped came to be on such a flat sandy island, where the tallest elevation is a hill barely reaching 189 m. One of the theories is that their origin is in fact extraterrestrial…

Скали в Казибари

The first inhabitants from the Arawak tribe would climb on top of the boulders and stare at the eastern horizons to see if a storm is approaching. Here, hundreds of years ago, they used to pray and perform rituals for the gods of rain and lightning.

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A narrow path through cacti and heavy rocks lead us to the steep steps of wood and stone. We climbed on top of a flat boulder. Aruba was stretching in our feet, surrounded by blue waters. On a clear day one can spot the shores of Venezuela in the south.

Скални формации Казибари, Аруба

From the top of one of the cacti which had invaded the entire island, a small orange-and-black bird was watching us. The Trоupial is one of the few rare birds native of Aruba.

Трупиал от Аруба

Arikok National Park

 

The next day, we packed water and sandwiches, put on shoes good for hiking in a salty desert surrounded by sea, and went to Arikok National Park.

Мая и Иво в парк Арикок

 

The Arikok Park occupies a huge territory on the island, almost 20 percent of Aruba. It is one of the main tourist destinations offering a variety of attractions and landscapes to the visitors: caves with pertroglyphs, sandy dunes, volcanic formations, abandoned gold mines, ruins of old traditional farms, rock formations, a natural pool and many beaches.

Северните брегове на Аруба, част от парк Арикок

 

We paid 11 US$ per adult (free for kids under 17) admission fee, we got a map of the area and we were warned to watch out for snakes.  Among the most common snakes in Aruba are the boa and the casabel- a type of rattlesnake endemic to Aruba, which you will not see anywhere else in the world. We’ve been told to stay on the paths in order to avoid stepping on a cactus or a rattlesnake.

– What do we do if a snake bites us?, we asked.

– You start counting, because you have 20 min to live, was the answer.

We decided to keep to the paths…

Мая в парк Арикок

 

Yet, a few times we did step off the path, mainly to take pictures of interesting things.

кактус

 

We didn’t step on a snake, but Mira did step on a cactus…

Мира стъпа на кактус.

 

In the park there are many hiking trails, as well as roads accessible by cars and off-roads accessible only by foot or 4×4 vehicles. The off-road safaris with jeeps and buggies are activities very popular with the tourists.

Оф-роуд сафари

 

We started on foot towards the natural pool. The park rangers told us that the hike is approximately 1.5 hrs. But we got lost, even though the paths are very well marked and there are signs at every crossroad. We just took the wrong turn at the beginning and after 1 hour of walking in the heat we got to a small traditional plantation house built in the cas di torto style.

Canucu Arikok

 

We had to turn back and walk another hour almost to the park entrance and when we got to the fatal crossroad with the sign we turned right and continued on to Natural Pool or Conchi.  But the deviation was worth it, as we enjoyed the monotonous rigid nature of this part of the park. We walked through forests of cacti and met a few goat families roaming in the shadows of the big boulders. We even encountered two caracara hawks perched on a rock in the company of big brown goat.

Двойка соколи и козел

 

The time was advancing, yet we were still far from destination. The sun hung low on top of our heads as if its greatest ambition was to start a fire in our hats. We climbed one hill from where we could see the sea and the northern shores of the island and from there was just downhill on a dusty rocky road accessible by 4×4 vehicles and hikers. Maya started complaining of her shoes…

Път към естественият басейн

We decided to hitchhike. A jeep with two girls from Boston passed by and the first thing they saw must have been Ivo’s beard, as they were not sure if they wanted to pick us up, but they finally did and saved us at lest one more hour of walking on rocks in the heat of the desert. What followed was the bumpiest ride we have experienced since the beginning of our adventure two years ago, except maybe when we had to drive on the mountain roads destroyed by landslides in the Dominican Republic countryside.

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Conchi- Natural Pool

 

We finally got to the natural pool- number one destination in the park. We were lucky and got there before all the off-road safaris with jeeps and buggies unloaded hundreds of noisy visitors, whose only wish was to jump in the cool waters of the pool and quickly transformed a secluded place into a soup of tourists.

Естествен басейн в Аруба

 

Mira in the Natural Pool

Mira in the Natural Pool

The Natural Pool is surrounded by rocks and protected by the stormy sea. It is like a small lake on the shore. They say that many years ago the islanders used the pool as “a prison” for sea turtles, who couldn’t escape in the sea.

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The place is excellent for swimming and snorkeling or just for hanging out in the clear waters heated by the sun. But when the waves are too big and crush high above the rocks, it is risky to go in.

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On the way back we hitchhiked again and got a ride in the back of one of the park’s 4×4 vehicles with three guys, one of whom was the park’s manager. He complained that the goats are eating up the vegetation and all there will be left soon are cacti. And by the way, we saw one goat eating a rotting cactus too.

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Arashi Beach

 

Another beautiful place we were fortunate to visit in Aruba is Arashi Beach. it is located near palm Beach and is just 15 minutes walk from our anchorage.

Араши плаж

 

This is the most picturesque rocky shore we have ever seen. On the backdrop of limestone carved by the sea and tall cacti standing on the edge of the rocks two pirate ships had dropped anchors. They bring tourists twice a day- in the morning and in the afternoon, to snorkel in the reefs.

Пиратски кораби, Аруба

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Easter Beach Camping in Aruba

Easter Camping in Aruba

or Los Locos Felices (The Happy Crazies)

by Mira Nencheva

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Palm Beach, Aruba

We sailed to Aruba in the middle of March and dropped anchor in front of Palm Beach, Aruba’s most popular white sand beach with tall palm trees and a strip of big sparkling hotels all lined up along the west coast, facing the Caribbean Sea and the spectacular sunsets. Radisson, Holiday Inn, Marriott’s, Global Suite, The Ritz, and the all-inclusive Riu Palace- the Caribbean Taj Mahal. With marble floors and crystal chandeliers, infinity swimming pools, artificial waterfalls and tropical gardens, restaurants surrounded by goldfish ponds with black swans, beach bars and every comfort and luxury the tourist might dream for, these resorts offer the ultimate beach experience for somewhere between 200 and 500 dollars per person per night. Maybe even more.

Hotel Riu, Aruba

Hotel Riu Palace, Aruba

Aruba is a world famous vacation destination for the rich and tourism is the country’s main industry. It is “Heaven on Earth” for those who can afford it…

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But imagine if you can fly to Aruba and pitch a tent on the beach, next to Marriott’s Resort, at a very low cost. Wouldn’t that be something! If you are a backpacker or a student, or anyone with limited financial means traveling on a budget and you still want to enjoy the same island, the same beach, and the same sun and sea as the rich and the privileged, why not camping for a week or two in Aruba? You just have to time it well and plan your Arubian camping trip around Easter.

Tents in front of Marriott Hotel, Palm Beach, Aruba

Tents in front of Marriott Hotel, Palm Beach, Aruba

Actually, camping in Aruba is a very popular activity among the locals. It is a decade old tradition which transforms the coastline of the island, especially the western side, into a huge camping ground but only for a couple of weeks in March or April, whenever Easter happens to be that year.

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Easter is among the most important holidays for the Arubans and “Easter Beach Camping” is a highly anticipated and very well organized event taking place every year since forever, even since before the first hotel in Aruba was built. Families gather on previously determined big camping sites on one of Aruba’s many beaches during the kids’ Easter vacation and pitch their tents and tarpaulins. But first, they have to apply for a special camping permit -one for one camping site which may include many tents, issued by the local police for 5 $US per tent. The biggest camping site I saw this year included 11 brothers and sisters and their families- about 70 people in total, of which 30% were children. The permit holder becomes the “president” of the camping site and has to ensure that everyone respects the strict rules, otherwise he might lose the permit: no excessive noise after 10 p.m., no littering, no fire, no BBQ, no driving and no animals on the beach.

Playing dominos

Playing dominos

Normally, they apply for a permit by filling in a form and paying the fee at the local police station a month before the event, to make sure they will get the desired spot on one of the many beaches all around Aruba: Arashi Beach, Eagle Beach, Baby Beach, and Palm Beach among others.

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The camping is perfectly organized with portable toilets and small open kitchens. Every compound includes many tents and a large common area where everyone gathers to eat and celebrate together. Every meal for the next two weeks is transformed into a party.

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I met and talked to a few of the campers. They were super welcoming and happy to share a beer and a nice meal with me, while telling me all about Easter camping in Aruba. And I must say, the chicken was fabulous!

We are “locos felices” (happy crazies), they said proudly. We have been getting together every year for Easter in this same spot for twenty years now. We are a big family, about 30-40 people. The children love it, and this activity is mainly for them! The little cousins play together on the beach all day long and sleep in the tents at night. On Easter morning we do Egg Hunt on the beach. The grown-ups, we don’t sleep in the tents, they are for the kids. We sleep all under this tarpaulin in hammocks, all together, in open air. It’s all about spending time together, as a family, living as one with the peaceful nature.

Maria, 85 with four of her children

Maria, 85 (right) with her three daughters and a son

At age 85 Maria is the oldest camper. She only spends the days in the camp and returns to sleep in her house at night. But in her younger days, 20 years ago when she was only 65, she used to stay overnight as well.

This year, she has four out of five of her children, as well as many of her grand and great-grandchildren camping together just north of hotel Marriott on Palm Beach. Her son is the “president”, or the “chief”.

 

Maria and her daughters in the common area. Behind Maria is the area where the adults spread their hammocks and sleep at night together.

Maria and two of her daughters in the common area. Behind Maria is the area where the adults spread their hammocks and sleep at night together.

Marriott is the newest hotel on Palm Beach and was finished just months ago. Before, the campers used the beach area which is now reserved for the hotel, and they got pushed away. Their grounds are becoming smaller because of the large resorts which are taking over.

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When I asked them if visitors to the island can also apply for a permit and camp in Aruba on Easter, some told me sure, but others replied it is just for the locals.

And even if it was permitted, they said, we wouldn’t like it for tourists to do it. Imagine everyone instead of going in the hotels, pitching a tent on the beach. There wouldn’t be space left for us!

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Yet, as confirmed by VisitAuba.com, everyone is allowed to apply for a camping permit from the local Police Station in Noord (Call+297 587-0009) for two week around Holy Week on Easter, locals and tourists alike, and as long as there is space available and the permit is granted 10 days in advance, you can camp in Aruba! The cost of the permit is $5 per tent for the entire period (1-2 weeks).

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The problem is, you have to apply for a permit in person in the police station and preferably one month in advance… So I guess, Easter camping in Aruba will remain predominantly a local tradition.

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Author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off the grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in their Facebook page Facebook/The Life Nomadik where Mira is publishing stories and pictures.

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Pilar Rossi: A Boat Story

Pilar Rossi: A Boat Story

By Mira Nencheva

This article was first published in the April 2015 issue #235 of Caribbean Compass on page 21

Pilar Rossi in Grenada

Pilar Rossi in Grenada

Some stories begin with a dream. Such is this story.

We arrived in Grenada in mid-October, after spending almost the entire hurricane season sailing slowly down the Caribbean Island Chain. It was our first year of cruising; our first time visiting the region. Every place was new and unfamiliar to us and everything seemed wonderful and magical. Yet, I remember one particular moment when we were so amazed that our jaws literally dropped like in the old animation films and we went:

“Woooow! Look! Have you ever imagined, have you ever dreamed about anything like this!?”

View from the mast- Anchorage in St Barths photo by Tomaz A. Christovao

View from the mast- Anchorage in St Barths
photo by Tomaz A. Christovao

And it wasn’t the crater of a bubbling volcano beneath our feet, or a family of green monkeys watching us from the trees in the late afternoon, or an infinite pink beach where the only footsteps are those of sea turtles crawling out of the ocean to lay eggs at night, or an old fort built up on top of a hill facing the sunset; not even a waterfall booming amidst insane tropical vegetation.

It was a boat. A most extraordinary boat.

Pilar Rossi- view from the mast photo by Tomaz Cristovao

Pilar Rossi- view from the mast
photo by Tomaz A. Christovao

We dropped anchor in the wide anchorage outside of St George’s Bay and with our orange kayak started for the Port Luis Marina. As we paddled pass the channel, keeping near to the south shore, we saw two masts sticking high above the hills, reaching for the clouds. Slowly, we turned the corner.

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And there she was looming above us like a giant white bird from a different world- Pilar Rossi , one of the top 10 biggest megayachts in the world.

Pilar Rossi in Grenada

Pilar Rossi in Grenada

Pilar Rossi is a 211-foot steel luxury megayacht with aluminum superstructure, width of 46 feet, and draught of only 7 feet. With such glorious proportions and unique design, there isn’t a single person who remains calm at the first sight of the ship. A magnificent enchantress.

But even more amazing and unbelievable is her story.

Aboard Pilar Rossi

Aboard Pilar Rossi

You see, Pilar Rossi wasn’t always as big and impressive as she is today. Like in the story of the little duckling who transformed as he grew older into a beautiful white swan because such was his destiny, so did Pilar Rossi change with time.

In the 1980s one person who believed in himself, a daring man for whom limits do not exist, or if they do, he goes beyond them, and dreams are a matter of passion and dedication, decided to build a boat.

Pilar Rossi began her life at sea in Turkey in 1989, as a 112-foot Alucraft motor yacht with one hull and no masts. But some years later, her owner, the legendary three times Formula One World Champion Nelson Piquet from Brazil, together with his uncle Mauricio Piquet, a naval architect, drew up a new design. Another 100 feet of length was added in the back of the boat thus doubling her size, as well as two massive outriggers built with the semi-SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) concept which was at that time the best options for multihulls, minimizing the ship’s volume near the surface area of the sea, where wave energy is located, thus maximizing the vessel’s stability, even in high seas and at high speeds. Two new masts, one 148 feet and another 138 feet high, made by Formula Yacht Spars in Lymington, England, gave the boat her new sailing soul and transformed her into a mega-schooner-trimaran. With hydraulically operated genoa, fishman, staysail and mainsail, she now has 2,200 sq m of sail area, capable of 8 knots under sail and up to 15 knots when motor-sailing. The main engines are two 1360 HP / 530 Kilowatts MAN, and two John Deer engines with 90kw each one as generators. One of her advantages is that the new hull is built on top of the old one creating an air cushion and thus making her virtually unsinkable.

The Engine Room- Pilar Rossi

The Engine Room- Pilar Rossi

We walked around the pier at the marina admiring Pilar Rossi for some time and there we meet Tomaz A. Christovao, one of the boat’s crew members. A tall young guy from Brazil born in Ila Bella, Tomaz is a licensed yacht master with extensive sailing experience and a great passion for the sea. He invited us for a tour aboard Pilar Rossi and revealed some of her many secrets to us.

Pilar Rosi Crew

Part of Pilar Rosi’s Crew

Inside, the boat looked even bigger, especially compared to our 38-foot Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana. We walked around the teak decks. Everything seemed enormous: the winches, the cleats, the blocks, the shrouds. Looking up at the massive masts gave us vertigo.

Aboard Pilar Rossi

Aboard Pilar Rossi

Besides the private cabins which can accommodate up to 18 guests and the luxurious saloon, the boat is equipped with a helicopter landing pad, a cinema room, an outdoors Jacuzzi and an enormous gym occupying a big portion of the lower deck. One racing boat (Cigarrete) 39ft as tender, bigger than our catamaran, and another one contender 34ft were stationed on both sides of the main deck.

Main Saloon- Pilar Rossi

Main Saloon- Pilar Rossi

Even though Mr. Piquet spends aboard only a few weeks per year with family and friends, Pilar Rossi is home of 7 permanent crew members who maintain the boat and all of her systems at dock in Grenada and when at sea. Mechanics, electricians, welders, carpenters, fiberglass-workers and sailors, they are all from Brazil: Tomaz A. Christovao, Francisco Soares, Marcos Dutra, Adao Pereira, Genivaldo Silva, Franciele Bastos “The Warrior”, chef Maria do Carmo, and Captain Ricardo de Fretas .

Control room

Control room

One of them, Marcus Dutra, is the chief mechanic aboard Pilar Rossi since 14 years. He showed us the engine rooms deep inside the belly of the boat, a dark labyrinth populated by huge pipes, cables and instruments, some very old and surely impossible to operate or fix by anyone else but Marcus. He explains how the systems have been adapted to fit the new design, and what things have been added after the boat has been remodeled so drastically.

The Gym o the lower deck - Pilar Rossi

The Gym o the lower deck – Pilar Rossi

– But why did Mr. Piquet do this? Why did he have to go through all the trouble of adding and changing things on the boat, instead of selling the old one and getting a new one? –I ask the captain Ricardo de Fretas, a member of the Rio de Janeiro Sailing Club, a club with 4 Olympic regattas medals.

– Because he loves the boat. And he is a loyal guy. Maybe he even made a promise to her, and he is the kind of man who keeps his promises. But also, he wanted to create the perfect boat for him and his family and friends to enjoy. The boat is his creation. He is always focused on even the smallest of details. It is incredible how much he cares for Pilar Rossi. Sometimes he calls me from the other side of the world and wants to know if a specific battery in one of the bathrooms works. When Mr. Piquet is aboard Pilar Rossi, he spends much of his time sitting on the large main deck table thinking what will be the next improvement, the next project.

Captain Ricardo de Fretas aboard Pilar Rossi

Captain Ricardo de Fretas aboard Pilar Rossi

 

Yes, it is a love story between a race car driver and a boat.

 

*This article was only possible with the help and information provided by Tomaz A. Christovao, licensed yacht master and crew aboard Pilar Rossi. Thank you!

 

Disclaimer: All yacht specifications and information are displayed in good faith and CaribbeanCompass does not warrant or assume any legal liability or responsibility for the current accuracy, completeness, validity, or usefulness of the superyacht Pilar Rossi information and/or images displayed. All boat information is subject to change without prior notice and may not be current.

 

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