The bathwater was turning cold. The Epsom salt, bay leaves and fennel didn’t make me feel like I was “releasing negative energies,”. As my self-proclaimed psychic acquaintance had insisted. Instead, I felt like I was sitting in a bowl of soup that someone had forgotten.
My friends and I had experienced such a volume of bad luck and misfortune in the last year that I found myself asking aloud, multiple times if we were cursed. What started as a joke had turned into a somewhat serious question. I asked a woman I had met who was an expert on the subject of my bad luck.
She advised me to take a bath with the mentioned ingredients and to close my eyes. I burned a candle for good measure. She told me that if we were actually cursed, as the water drained out I would feel lighter.
I only felt foolish and chilled. Apparently it was just life, and when it rains sometimes it really does pour.
In the course of a year, my best friend, Sam, had been diagnosed and treated for cancer. Another friend of mine, Alyssa, had her seizures increase suddenly in frequency and severity. It felt like we should rent a room at the hospital.
I felt powerless. In the past year, I had escaped an abusive relationship that caused me to suffer mentally and physically, and I had been burdened with the medical expenses.
We needed a getaway and things were feeling like if they piled any heavier, we might break. When my friend Sam got a week off that overlapped with time off that I and our other friend, Alyssa, had, we jumped on the opportunity. If the world wouldn’t give us a break, we’d just make one for ourselves.
The three of us, along with our friend, Dylan, started planning our trip, dubbed our Squadcation in the Caribbean. With hurricane season in full swing, our goal of sitting on a beach with each other and a drink in hand ended on one of the most beautiful places in the world, Aruba.
Getting to Aruba
Aruba is a small Dutch Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela that is a popular stop for cruise ships.
Many people hop off to stretch their legs, look around the shops and then get back on the ship. But there is so much more to Aruba, and you could easily spend weeks here.
We traveled from Austin, Texas to New York. We spent the night roaming the streets of NY, getting food, drinks and heading to Times Square.
(By the way, Blossom du Jour had the best vegan food I’ve ever had, and O’ Brian’s Irish Pub is always a great late-night spot.)
From there, we had an easy four-hour flight from JFK to Oranjestad, Aruba on JetBlue.
Where to Stay in Aruba
One easy travel tip is to choose a resort that is inland. While there are plenty of large resorts right on the beaches of Aruba, there is also charm to be found by moving inland. Solar Villa is a small hotel five minutes from Eagle Beach. It has an intimate feel and is painted a sunny yellow.
The rooms border a pool, which is charming enough to spend the whole day at. Each guest gets a free cup of coffee in the morning, and there is a hot breakfast available.
The hosts at Solar Villa were friendly and they even picked us up from the airport. We found them to be helpful, and it felt like we were staying at someone’s house and not a large chain hotel.
The water at Solar Villa is heated by solar power and the rooms have a rustic charm. All the rooms have a private bathroom and shower, toiletries, flat-screen TV, air conditioning, mini-fridge/ fridge, free Wi-Fi and daily basic cleaning service.
Budget travel is possible if you book a room with all the amenities to cook. The Deluxe king studio and one-bedroom apartments have a kitchen and pots and pans. We stayed in one bedroom and there was plenty of room for four of us.
The Beaches of Aruba
This white-sanded island is outside the hurricane belt, experiences lovely weather and had those picturesque beaches we had dreamed of. We could feel our problems wash away.
Eagle Beach is ranked 2017 TripAdvisor Traveler Award for 3rd Best Beach in the World, and every beach on the island is public.
What to Do in Aruba
During our first day in Aruba, we happily spent the day lounging near the pool and napping. There is a supermarket within easy walking distance to Solar Villa.
We stocked up on food and drinks. You could easily spend an entire trip hanging out at Solar Villa.
By our second day, however, we were ready for some excitement. We had each bought a snorkeling set from Walmart to pack in our luggage.
While you can find places to rent snorkeling equipment on the island, they are expensive and usually require you to go on a tour or hire travel guides on a supervised expedition.
We caught a taxi to Moomba Beach and walked along with the crowded resort-lined shore, hoping for a patch of calm water.
From the beach, we could see something sticking out of the water far in the distance – a shipwreck. One we made our way toward it and dropped our things.
It was bordered by a street, and cars would occasionally come and park to look at the rusted wreck protruding so close to the shoreline.
Just off the coast of Moomba beach in Aruba is a shipwreck that you can easily swim to and is a great snorkel or scuba diving destination, though usually overlooked for the wreck of the SS Antilla. In fact, if this is your first time in Aruba this spot is perfect for all types of water sports.
I am not a strong swimmer, and the shore in front of the ship was sharp and rocky. We started off toward the ship, the fins making it easier to stay afloat.
When we got closer to the wreck, we could see it was covered in a thick layer of rust. Fish swam in and over the ship, and as we got braver, we realized we could stand on part of the ship. Eventually, we carefully climbed up crumbling parts of the rusting metal and leaped off into the ocean.
When we swam back to shore, and the older couple told us they had been looking everywhere for snorkeling gear to rent and couldn’t find anything. It seemed like everything had come together perfectly for that moment.
Later in the day, we got ready to board a pirate ship. The Jolly Pirates cruise has an affordable two-hour sunset cruise that sails out to a peaceful cove.
Here, with an open bar, you can sit anywhere on the ship (we climbed the netting and nestled in at the front of the ship’s mast) and watch the sunset.
The best part is the rope swing. You can swing off the side of the ship into the ocean and climb back onto the ship to dry off.
Afterward, I stopped at a small cigar shop on Moomba beach where the ship had picked us up and purchased two Cuban cigars to enjoy later.
We spent the next day living out our best beach life. We got a taxi to Eagle Beach and understood why it was ranked so highly. Long soft white sand stretched endlessly on each side, and the water was warm and calm.
After making each other into sand mermaids and swimming around, we sat near the shore as the waves lapped lazily at our feet. It was incredible that not long ago I felt like nothing good was happening to us, and here we were. Sometimes it really just takes a change of scenery to make you realize that nothing is ever as bad as it seems.
Distance has a way of shrinking the problems you have back home. It was like we had pushed a reset button. Ships like this take visitors to some of the best spots on the island.
After returning to Solar Villa to nap and shower, we made our way to the downtown area of Oranjestad. We found a movie theater called The Cinemas, and we saw the newest Thor movie for only $8 per ticket.
The theater downtown has a good selection of movies that are in theaters in the U.S. and is a great place to end the day.
What to Do in Oranjestad, Aruba
Aruba’s downtown area near the Royal Plaza Mall is a great shopping and eating destination amidst colorful Caribbean buildings. The downtown area in Oranjestad is a great spot to head if you don’t have any concrete plans.
There are high-end shops that cater to the cruise ship clientele, as well as locals selling their wares.
While downtown, you can visit Fort Zoutman and tour the oldest building in the city. And at night, you can get gussied up and try your luck at the casinos, of which we didn’t have much. You can smoke in the casinos, and we lit up a Cuban cigar and pulled the slots, feeling glamorous despite our lack of winnings.
It was dark when we returned to our hotel, and I floated on my back smoking the last Cuban cigar in the warm water and looking up at the sky, marveling at how much had changed in a week.
We were sad to pack up the next morning but felt fresh energy for returning home. We couldn’t truly be unlucky after the wonderful week we had just had.
If You Go to Aruba:
Where to stay: Aruba Solar Villa I can’t recommend them enough. This was one of my favorite places I have ever stayed, and it was the perfect place for those trying to budget travel for a fun getaway.
Where to eat: There are a lot of American classics nearby, like Taco Bell and pizza joints.
We found the Chinese food place around the corner from Solar Villa to be generous with the portions and affordable.
I tried to cook some plantains from the supermarket but struggled. A better cook than I would have more luck making home-cooked meals with the fresh local ingredients.
Some great local food spots are The Dutch Pancake House (think light fluffy pancakes made sweet or savory) and Fred Restaurant. Fred Restaurant is possibly the best food on the island, so book ahead of time.
Author Bio: Kelsey is a journalist based in Austin, Texas. She is the assistant editor at Go World Travel Magazine and has contributed to a wide variety of publications, including Bustle and The Huffington Post.