A day in DePalm-adise on the Natural Pool Jeep Adventure (pt. 1)
I’ve just left my office at the De Palm Tours headquarters only to walk a mere 20 steps to the jeep port. From outside of the building it looks small, but looks truly can be deceiving. Sure, it’s only one story tall, but the place holds almost 300 employees, a jeep port, an all-service garage and bus port, and over 20 offices.
When I reach the jeep port to await the adrenaline-pumping, off-road Natural Pool Jeep Adventure, I take my seat on the sepia-colored wooden benches with my newly acquired Nikon camera in one hand (lucky for me, it comes with the position because as a fresh-out-of-college pioneer, I’m still eating Ramon noodles), and a pad of paper and pen in the other hand. I look around and notice the laxness De Palm Tours wants to evoke with zebra stripes painted across the wall (their signature pattern) and concession containers with goodies like Goldfish, Welch’s Fruit Snacks, and Austin Cheese Crackers with Creamy Peanut Butter oozed in the middle. As I wait, one of the guides introduces himself to me – Rocky. Full of smiles and with a jovial presence, he explains the logistics of the trip. There are 16 people total and we’re heading to Aruba’s National Park (Arikok), the Natural Pool (also known as Conchi), the Natural (not-so-anymore) Bridge – I’ll explain later, Aruba’s first chapel, and ending at the California Lighthouse.
The time for pickup noted on my ticket voucher says 1:30pm and it is 1:40, yet I’m the only person waiting. Well, then again, I’ve left the comforts of punctuality that North Carolinians have instilled in me, and the U.S. in general, to the easy-going, “we’ll get there when we get there” mentality of the Caribbean islanders – a.k.a. island time. But, what rush am I in? It gives me more time to make notes, and the guides are probably stuck in island traffic as they pick up the guests.
Finally, two jeeps arrive to the port after picking up the venturers from their hotels, and out walk 16 people. I hear the sound of flip flops sanding against the pavement, and I see nothing but everyone’s “dress to impress” beach gear – tank tops coated with flashy rhinestones that say “I love Aruba,” Gucci sunglasses (I personally prefer the bling bling sunglasses Target sells for $14– no one would ever guess!), pinks, purples, and pearl-colored pedicures, surf branded board shorts like Quicksilver and Volcom, and last but not least – what every tourist dreads… skin peeling from having been given too big of a kiss from the Sun.
As the passengers get situated with filling out forms and picking out water booties for the afternoon snorkel trip, I notice quite the diverse group we have when I hear chatter in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch. I grew up in Aruba, and the local language is Papiamento, which is a mixture of English, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese – hence that’s how I could pick up bits and pieces from the conversations going on. As if we are back in high school, everyone has formed their own group, and “woah is me” as I sit alone, like the kid who always got picked last to play kickball. I introduce myself to one of the groups, four Americans from Connecticut. They caught on right away that I was not native to Aruba when I dropped my jaw and asked, “Now where are y’aaall from?”
Like momma hens with their chicks, or rather two papa hens, Rocky and Nardin (the other jeep guide) assemble everyone in their prospective jeeps, and off we go. Rocky chimes in over the p.a. system, “We are going to be your bartenders, guiders, photographers, and translators on this trip. Aruba Ariba!”
*Aruba Ariba is Aruba’s signature sunset-pink “whoohoo!” rum-punch drink that hypes people up – everyone gets a kick out of it and turns it into a catchy saying.
Stay tuned for next week’s part 2 of the trip!