Family Vacation | Savaneta, Aruba

We’ve been to Aruba several times now but this trip was unlike any other experience we’ve had. We decided to try staying outside of the high-rise, northern side of the island where we had stayed many times and instead rent out some space on the outskirts called Savaneta, at the “Coral Reef Aruba Apartment”. The trip was supposed to be a more genuine and rustic experience but on first impression we were more than disappointed.

Perhaps it was because we were spoiled by our comparatively extravagant prior vacations or maybe we were fantasizing a bit while planning this trip, or maybe this was what we wanted all along-whatever it was it was certainly surprising.

I just remember passing by the rows of homes and commercial buildings as we left the airport and gradually there we less floors, more dirt, and an abundance of dogs. To be honest, the Coral Reef Apartment really reminded me of homes from “that side” of town with the paint peeling, uneven flooring, and truly authentic supply of used-in furniture.

The kids weren’t happy nor was my wife. I remember walking through the home toward the back and maybe it looked a little better than the front. I remember feeling uncomfortable at my children and wife’s discontentment but soon found myself falling in love with everything…

The decoration and style of the home was rich with tradition and personality. The residents/employees were real and genuine. No amount of outward “poverty” marred the people that lived here. The more I opened my eyes the more I could see. I knew it would take me many days to process all that I saw here.

The weather was classic Aruba. Pleasantly warm, the sun high and bright in the air, with breaks of clouds here and there and a gentle breeze that caressed the floor sometimes picking up dust.

By the time we unpacked and got settled in the sun was beginning to set and cast a warm orange glow over everything. I must say, being away from the city with all the smog both in the air and the people, was a refreshing breath of fresh air.

Before hitting up the local restaurant next door we went to the market and bought some food for the week to come.

The next day, we woke up early to take advantage of the empty beaches although in retrospect we pretty much had the beach to ourselves the whole day! Swimming there I was a bit scared that the beach near our apartment was very deep but the water not too clear and there were many large fish swimming all around but somehow when we went back around noon the water had cleared up a lot and the fish we had seen in the morning were nowhere to be seen and it felt much more comforting with the sun fully risen and shining into the waters.

I think one of the things I immediately perceived was the lack of people. There was plenty of life just… not so many people and it was so peaceful. Rather than feeling isolated, I felt freed and I think as my children and wife spent more time getting used to the environment they too really accepted the newfound freedom. It only took a day or two before everyone was enjoying themselves and really appreciating the vacation!

On the third day, we found ourselves outside again this time snorkeling in a nearby local, less-known beach that was very rocky. It’s a beach that we like to visit every time we go to Aruba. Although private didn’t really mean less people cause well, there was so little people elsewhere too. We found ourselves at “DELIMAR” (another favorite that we always hit up) a local Peruvian restaurant for lunch and this time we went downtown to grab some food and also to see if we could grab some souvenirs as well. The day panned out pretty similarly to the other days and we went back to Zeerover for dinner.

Zeerover, another local restaurant, gets their fish fresh every day and they even sell this seafood raw if you want! The fresh red snapper and even tuna was absolutely delicious and knowing it came from the waters right beside you was nice as well.

The next couple days were more of the same but on the sixth day I had a little bit of an adventure. Madi, our tour guide during this trip told us of a nice tour that she could take us on but after just 10 minutes on the van, a rusted old Humvee style jeep with no real doors, seats, seatbelts or much of anything, it broke down. To be honest, I thought the jeep was pretty nice with lots of character but eventually after a long wait another bus came to pick us up.

However, while we were waiting, Madi was telling us about a particular dish that the people enjoy in Aruba. Although illegal, iguana soup is apparently a delicacy that is common to the area.

Preparing the iguana consists of cutting off the various unnecessary appendages and hanging them high on a tree (to keep them away from dogs, to which iguanas are dangerous). Unfortunately, I didn’t have an opportunity to try the soup as it is only commercially sold in two restaurants. While we were talking, Stella got to learn how to strip aloe and apply it to your skin.

By then however, our bus arrived and we went on our way again.

Later that day I got to meet Jenni, Madi’s brother, a painter by trade. He apparently studied art in Holland and as I looked around his studio it was filled with paintings and art of all kinds. However, something was off and soon enough I realized that he was mostly paralyzed. Madi explained to me that he painted with just a single finger dipped in paint. Tedious and difficult no doubt but definitely not limiting considering what I saw!

As an artist I took great inspiration from his devotion to his works and I have a feeling Jenni was not born paralyzed but from what I could tell something happened and yet through that tragedy he had the strength to keep pushing forward.

I like to think that I would stick with photography no matter the cost but seeing someone like Jenni who wasn’t just a “what if” but rather an example of “what did” was really inspiring to me. It gave me a renewed passion for my art with all its difficulties and benefits!

We also managed to stop by Madi’s mother’s home whose house was wonderfully colorful and full of life. I got to meet her and I noticed that on her entrance gate there was a sign that said, “You promised to come back but you didn’t.” I didn’t even have to ask, once Madi saw me looking at the gate, she explained to us about her younger brother who was 29 at the time and two nephews 12 and 14 respectively who died in the bay area. I was surprised because the water there was so calm but that’s when Madi told me about how the calmer the water the more dangerous it really was. Just like in people, when emotion is hidden from view, you cannot tell what is going on and people that don’t show enough emotion can be hard to connect to.

I think Stella and I are very much not the calm waters and for the better. We are comfortable and free to show each other what is on our hearts and it enables us to communicate and work out differences and conflicts. If we had instead bottled up these emotions I think that in many ways our relationship and marriage would not be as healthy as it is today!

As we left, Madi showed us to some very ancient caves with some cave paintings along with a really cool natural bridge and other secret spots around the beach. Before bidding us goodbye, Madi gave me a warm hug and reminded me to never trust calm oceans.

While we spent some great time eating delicious food, tanning, shipwreck snorkeling and jet skiing, I will never forget that little tour we took with Madi and the people I met. I think that more than spending thousands on a comfortable hotel and various “fun” activities. Getting to meet such amazing people, and even photograph them was far more meaningful to me and a great honor.

I believe that that is why I enjoy photography so much. I may not be the best writer but my photographs always speak much louder than words.

TJ JEONG

Photographer