Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, February, 29th, 2016

ALTERNATIVE ACCOMMODATION II

That entry from last week was an engaging post and many readers talked to me about the issue of alternative accommodations, they discussed what I included in the post, and what I have left out. So, what did I NOT say? I did not put the shoe on the other foot. Aruba’s hotels are a huge source of income for this country and we, as in the country of Aruba, will never be able to go on our merry way, providing education and healthcare at the level that we do, on taxes collected from budget tourism rates.

Of course, everyone has to contribute, big and small, but the big ones, Aruba large hotel operations pay for most of our national expenses, and that is why it is imperative to let them raise their rates, and command as much as they can for their vacation product. This is all Aruba has, beaches, nice weather, sweet people, we must ask as much as we can for these much-in-demand and globally scarce commodities because I like my life here, and the nice roads, and the up to date hospital, and in order to sustain this island financially, we need to enhance marketing activities geared towards attracting a more affluent visitor. The budget travelers will follow on their own; we do not need to invest any money in the promotion of our discount/budget tourism. So that the reserve funds for marketing, which MinTour just announced that he will be spending, mustn’t go in that direction.

Besides, just think about their scary utility bills, and the energy consumption of these air-conditioned palaces, and labor cost, and social benefits.  So we have to help those gold producing giants, in their gold production, by getting out of their way, and letting them do what they do best, with the government in a support function, not in the driver’s seat. And don’t go passing any laws encumbering their efforts, or restricting them in any way!  Yes, I heard the ALL INCLUSIVE regulatory law is going to parliament this week.

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From Zika Virus to Water Contamination

First there was no snow in December, and the temperatures remained unusually high, then the Zika virus awoke after 60 dormant years, and just last week an incident of water contamination occurred at Divi Village. What can I say, we’re not having a good time, but when the going gets tough, the tough get going. That green, smelly water story, and the consensus that Divi should have handled the issue better, only reinforces the fact that we have zero experience with how to deal with crisis. We were caught unprepared, because who would have thought there would ever be a problem with our pride and joy, our water. “Before this I would’ve given them a five star rating for the beauty of the resort and beach. Hopefully, they’re going to take action so that this will never happen again,” says a Trip Advisor entry. I can totally understand , when complains on water issues first arrived at the first defense line, the front office, they were met with disbelief and denial, how could that possibly be, this is not Mexico and Moctezuma’s  revenge, or traveler’s intestinal issues have never been reported here before. I asked around for some hoteliers’ feedback about the treatment of water on their properties and found out that in spite of the stellar reputation of WEB, human errors occur, and to prevent any chance of an accident quite a few properties UV treated or chlorinated their water before allowing it into their pipes. I now fully understand why extra caution should be taken, island wide. As for Divi Resorts, it is a very responsive and responsible company, and I am sure there will be full disclosure, and the responsible culprits, who were not paying attention, will be charged with extreme negligence. If there’s anything we learned from Bill Clinton is that honesty is best policy.

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Mining in Aruba for Aggregate Construction Materials

The little people won again. Commercial activities at Crystal Berg were stopped today by the government’s department, DIP, due to non compliance with ROP, Ruimtelijke Ordeningsplan, the zoning law, and it looks like enforcement, and legal action against offenders, on environmental and zoning issues, is the new trend. If the operators of the mine challenge the decision, a court will have to rule on the zoning infractions, i.e. the right and the obligation of the government to enforce its own policy. Our parliament, I understand, is inviting the MinInfra and DIP to explain about the excavations, in violation of ROP policies. That meeting was scheduled for Wednesday but the authorities decided to meanwhile to pull the plug, and take it from there. ROM, Ruimtelijke Ordeningsplan, the zoning law, has been a victim of much abuse. In the far past that area of Crystal Berg has been mined for construction aggregate materials. However about ten years ago, in the wake of a public outcry, companies stated importing crushed stone and sand, instead of mining it here. Then they went back to mining. I suggest a total ban on that ridiculous, the scarred landscape should be helped in the process of recovery, and all our sand and crush stones for construction, should be imported, just like anything else.

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What readers say about investigating alternative accommodations

That column got a lot of reactions and I am reprinting one, of a reader and a hotel executive: We are paying for our mistakes – exorbitant rates, poor service, average accommodations, shabby public facilities, flea markets everywhere combined with a strong belief that we are the greatest, all contribute to the challenge. People find alternatives or the alternatives are created by the people…We keep reading of record arrivals, of being the best and the greatest, but never asked ourselves what our weakness is, until record warm temperatures hit the snowbird countries and now that “e baka a hoga” we rush to fix the mess we created….We rush to explore markets that we neglected to look at for years – P.S. Mexico is not the solution, they have Cancun and the Riviera Maya and they are not coming here, the flights would be too expensive —  we will need to find airlift to bring these newly “sold” visitors in, BECAUSE the AIRBNB/HOMEAWAY guests, are occupying most of the current available seats. Overall, we need to renovate and resurface and remodel our dilapidated tourism structures and corridors. In the process  we could perhaps do a cleanup of the island and impose fines for illegal dumping, and the mistreatment of animals…. and ban all these street vendors who forcing the nice stores to close down for lack of business. An avalanche of issues will need to be addressed, and it should ALL be done now, to fix our current crisis —  la problema, ain’t going away, unless you take corrective steps, and it will take a while to fix, renovate, overhaul, retrain and restrain all partners, in time to welcome a fresh batch of visitors to “New & Improved One Happy Island.”

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BEST THAI RESTAURAT IN MIAMI

Friends recommended a Thai restaurant in Little Havana and we set out to find it. Calle 8 looks exactly like San Nicholas in the evening hours, so we felt at home and found Lung Yai Thai Tapas easily. We parked, crossed the street and scribbled our name on a sheet of paper, left outside the closed restaurant door on a bench, waiting for our turn to get in. The place is tiny, with just 17 seats at the bar. Two tables for two inside, a few tables for four outside, in what can be mistaken for a patio, overlooking rusty air-conditioners and electric wires. Ten minutes into the waiting in the street experience, the door opened and we were told to go to the al fresco area, to a rudimentary wooden table, flanked by two crooked benches. Then the menu arrived, green curry, red curry, rice, noodles, a mysterious culinary world with a strange alphabet and in several degrees of heat. We ordered. We each got a bowl of steaming hot broth with meats, vegetables, mushrooms, flavored with lemongrass, chillies, and coconut milk. It was most amazing. The most delicious food we’ve ever eaten. I visited Thailand before and I remember how fond I was of their cuisine but dinner at the little hole in the wall in Miami, no reservations, just walk in, brought it all back. Really worth the trip and the abuse of the waitress – what you want, 45 minutes if you want something else – really recommended.

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IN FAVOR OF HOME COOKING

We had a pot luck gathering over the weekend. The host baked Salmon Vera Cruz, a Bobby Flay recipe, with green olives and capers. One of the guests delivered giant pasta shells with homemade pesto, a tray of Mediterranean-style roasted vegetables, greens salads, a make your own shoarma wrap station, with a fragrant garlic sauce, at least two chocolate decadence desserts, spicy guacamole, with crunchy tortilla triangles, a strange but yummy corn & rosemary cake with ginger frosting. I made Tahine, no big deal, but I got many compliments on the texture and flavor. My point? No restaurant could have possibly produced such a feast, as far as freshness and variety. The bottomless sangria pitcher was not too sweet, and went well with everything on the eclectic menu. It was a great afternoon. The music was Cuban, the hosts Canadians, the guests Aruban, American and Mexican. Does it get any better than that??

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ARIKOK PARK AND THE ISSUE OF TRANSPARENCY

We were told this week that the Director of Arikok National Park was placed on non-active duty. It means that you cannot fire the guy. It also means that he continues to make his money, but doesn’t have to work for it. Honestly, if you were going to be vague and wishy-washy about what exactly happened there, then keep it out of the press, just hide it, don’t tell us anything about it. Just like the government does. If you’re not going to tell us something of substance, don’t waste our time reading the fluff. It’s either you dish out the news, or keep quiet. Additionally, a dry Dutchman at the helm of the park would be perfectly fine if the park didn’t have to earn a living. But the park needs to become sustainable, marketing mainly to American tourists. Get someone with a marketing background, who understands the needs and wants of those park visitors. I believe the park is getting sufficient visitors, but it’s having difficulties, with the commercial exploitation aspect of the experience.

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TRY SOMETHING NEW EVERY WEEK

In the spirit of trying something new we stopped at La Focaccia, Renaissance Marketplace, for what was going to be a light lunch, just soup. Between Potato Soup and French Onion, guess what we ordered?! We got a nicely satisfying soup as far as the flavor of the beef broth and the caramelized onions, but the soup was poured into a flat soup dish, not a bowl. It was layered with sliced Gouda, not aged Gruyère, and topped with soggy bread, not toasted baguette! So it was a tasty cousin, but not the real deal. Coffee on the other hand was excellent, Italian Lavazza, now available on the island from the S&D crew, and the pastries were good-looking. We should go back for the shortbread fruit tarts or the Sacher torte. I saw lovely cannoli in two different sizes, which means you can order a mini on low-cal days, croissants, Danish pastry, apple tart and appelflaps, focaccia with rosemary and sundried tomato and assorted breads, some healthy some sinful.

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INTELLECTUAL MIDGETS 

I got a message on FB from an intellectual midget by the name of Filomena Croes, advising me I should write my Bati Bleki column in her “Materno Lega.” Lucky for her, I am intelligent, I understand her gibberish, she wants me to write in Papiamento. I have been writing on the island since the early 90s, always in English. I got my start in the NEWS with the late Sonia Schouten as the capable editor, and that’s where I am still at. If Filomena Croes doen’t like my choice of language, she can avoid the Bati Bleki Buzz web page. Everyone deserves to have a voice on this island, in whatever language they choose. Gone are the days in which you are required to blend and assimilate to become a new person, in the mold of your adoptive country; against today’s eclectic landscape you may retain your identity, and continue to be who you are, albeit, at a new address. In the words of the late Jamaica Mi Krazy’s Daniel T. Wilson, “Aruba allows you to be who you is.”

Admittedly, it was our Dia Internacional di Lenga Materno on February 22nd and in honor of the day I suggested the following: The time has come to establish a Papiamento Language Academy, made of local writers and scholars, teachers and poets, let them come up with new words and structures weekly, in order to develop and formulize Papiamento further. A language cannot be left to fend against English and Spanish without intellectual help. A Papiamento Language Academy, affiliated with the Minister of Culture, or the Minister or Education is greatly needed to enrich and supplement the existing vocabulary and syntax.

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NEW BOARD MEMBER

Having resigned as a director from the public/private sector supervisory board of the Aruba Tourism Authority, local restaurateur and businessman Harry Koeman was replaced by Simon R. Arends, a family member of the MinTour, but to his defense I will say he knows about aviation, business and tourism, having been involved with Reina Beatrix Airport and ERA Real Estate for many years, in addition to serving as Senior Advisor to the MinTour. Simon is used to sitting in meetings, and serving on boards, so it’s a good fit! Harry on the other hand will be continue to watch over his business, Aruba Wine & Dine, a group operating popular bars and eateries on the island and hopefully remain the generous sponsor of this blog.

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TORTURING GUESTS EVERY DAY

One of my friends, a long-time retailer from downtown called me on the phone, fighting back tears of anger and frustration. The parking situation in town is ridiculous, she said. The other day on Schelpstraat, a handicapped tourist found his car clamped. Naturally, he couldn’t walk the entire Via Dolorosa to the parking office on crutches, and had to be helped by empathetic locals. Dear nincompoop AruParking: Why don’t you listen? Tourists do not distinguish between yellow and white spaces; they just park and attempt to go shopping, visit the Pharmacy, or go for lunch. We should valet their cars and for them, in gratitude, instead of harassing them. Shame on you and the lame way you instituted parking downtown, you are endangering our livelihood, and endangering retail. And sadly, you know what’s going on, and you know how many visitors you inconvenienced, yet you don’t mend your ways to make it EASIER on them. Figure it out how NOT to torture tourist downtown every day, make it pleasant, not dreadful!

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ARUBA DOET 2016

I went on the website www.arubadoet.com, and in spite of the fact that I am technologically impaired, managed to peruse all jobs available for volunteers on Friday 3/11 and Saturday 3/12. Finally, I found a perfect job for me, photography! Imagine, they needed a volunteer photographer from 8am to 5pm. That job had my name all over it. So I signed up on line and also called Mariëlle Hoeijmakers, whose name was listed on the “job application,” as coordinator

ARUBA DOET 2016, is the fourth edition of the grass root, volunteer event, taking place on Friday, March 11th & Saturday 12th. Organized by CEDE Aruba in cooperation with Oranje Fonds, it’s the largest volunteer event on the island. Should you also want to participate as a volunteer, sign up today and help a social organization or a good cause together with friends or colleagues, your school or company. Yes, you may sign up as an individual or as a company. Whether you help painting, repairing playgrounds or spoil a group of elderly, you will always have fun!

This year, 155 projects registered to receive help and 1,684 volunteers rose to the challenge, including me!

Aruba Doet: Caya Appeldam 2, Aruba, tel: (+297)5827666 / (+297)7342305, fax: (+297)5839076, email:i[email protected]

website: www.arubadoet.com, facebook: www.facebook.com/arubadoet

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BEACH POLICY, TBA, to be advised…

We welcomed the idea of having a beach policy with great enthusiasm, because there is an urgent need to regulate Aruba’s #1 attraction, the beach. But to date, we haven’t seen the new document, and I understand we have to wait patiently until it is distributed in the near future, meanwhile the MinTour already announced that it will be enforced. Really? Without letting the stakeholders read it, in its final version, first?

My friends tell me that the resorts would ask the government’s help in curbing the watersports and activity operators’ appetite, in three distinct areas: 1. Check for business permits, and licenses, from the Chamber of Commerce and from Economic Affairs. 2. Check insurance papers, and verify they carry sufficient insurance for the type of business they are in. Remember, we had an unfortunate Wave Runner incident this week, in which an older visitor drowned on Eagle Beach, falling off his ride. 3. Check the fact that they are indeed paying taxes as suggested by the government, and that they comply with all tax authority requirements.

Did I hear you laugh? Don’t laugh, we are dead serious. All businesses should be equal in the eyes of the law, the resorts regularly go to hell and back to secure permits and licenses, they pay through their noses for proper coverage and comply with all of their financial obligations. Why should the beach bums be exempt??

The above cat-out-of-the-bag announcement on behalf of the MinTour said the new beach policy includes monitoring hotel beaches, asking all hotels to conclude their permit acquisition and prepare for controls. This also counts for all beach vendors, the announcement added.

Dear Minister, you have it upside down, and inside out: The vendors are the ones in need of restraints, not the hotels. The pirates who rent chairs and endless umbrellas, and raise hell on the beach have to conclude their permit acquisition and prepare for controls. We realize that a lot of them are loyal voters of this minister or the other and that water sport licenses were granted as a form of political thank you to friends, as a classic example of small island favoritism. But we expect this beach policy to alleviate the situation for the hotels and not just empower the bums, by granting them more concessions.

I guess by now you know which side I am on. On the law and order side.

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NOBLE JEWELERS GOES OVER THE TOP

In the early day, Kan Jewelers and Spritzer & Fuhrman dominated the market of fine jewelry and luxury watches. We made pilgrimages to these bastions of craftsmanship every anniversary and birthday, scoring big, sometimes small, but always in good taste. Then the main street welcomed a newcomer, Ram’s electronics, and Ram’s Jewelers and my humble, hard-working girlfriends in the tourism business were all of a sudden transformed into Cinderella, dripping with jewels and gems, real ones. I soon learned there was a commission system put in place that rewarded the girls for their promotional efforts, once they directed visitors to that particular jewelry store, on the main street. I have to admit I never participated in the mush plan because I could not see myself wearing the oversize baubles, but many friends did, apparently business was good, and Nash Melwani became the undisputed King of Bling for many years, with oversized adz and billboards promoting his face, his brand, as he morphed into Noble Jewelers in the 90s. Fast forward to Thursday last week, Nash introduced Love Opulence to a small but select crowd at a reception street-side at Noble Jewelers, across Royal Plaza. As you realize, Nash has been designing fine jewelry on Aruba for over 30 years, and by now you understood he is a show-off and a dandy when it came to diamonds and gold. His wife, Dinisha, he told his invited guests at the reception, always accuses him of dressing her up to look like a Christmas tree. Kudos, the man has a healthy, self-deprecating sense of humor. Anyway, this time, with his new line Love Opulence Nash really went overboard. The pieces combine silver and Swarovski crystal. They were fashioned to resemble the crown jewels of Queen Elizabeth and/or the jewels commissioned by the House of Romanov, they are unapologetic, shameless huge pieces of sparkle, guaranteed to get you robbed, but then you can afford to replace every bit of your collection, because the pieces are super reasonably priced. I saw a pair of pearl earrings that Princess Di must have worn for $500 before discount. Nash reported to his guests that they get a discount, and the privilege of exchanging pieces every year. Yes, they may trade any Love Opulence item in, for a bigger or newer Love Opulence item. Only Nash can come up with a plan that good. I enjoyed the reception, the samosas were delicious, the wine nicely chilled, the store looked beautiful and I met some of Nash’ veteran employees who have worked for him for donkey years, which is a huge compliment. Where is the tiger I asked, eluding the old days, and the incredibly tacky images of the Bengal Tiger and family members in striking Bollywood compositions. You have to grow up sometimes, Nash said, and I now have a wife who is even fiercer than the tiger!

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DR PETER TARLOW visits Aruba.

A few years ago, Peter Tarlow was the star of a Safety and Security conference at the Wyndham Aruba, organized by AHATA and the Security Foundation. I remember it was well attended, and  informative. Dr. Tarlow is an expert on a variety of issues and he met parliament member Andin Bikker in Las Vegas at a similar security conference. Andin invited him to Aruba, and the good man delivered: “Pro-Active Strategies for Tourism Dependent Caribbean Islands to Prevent Crime and Terrorism.” The bottom line, we got to work together, private and public sector, to fend against the yet unimaginable. After the lecture over coffee and cake, a social hour in the court yard of the Universidad Di Aruba, was enjoyed by eclectic members of the community, including our own, home grown terrorists from the Group of Seven. Tarlow makes working together sound easy! After the lecture Andin took his guest to Que Pasa and on Friday evening Tarlow invited Andin to the synagogue where he held a discussion at the conclusion of the yearly study of the Book of Genesis, 47:28, dealing with the eternal struggle between father and son, between human beings, and between G’d and humanity. How very appropriate.

 

 

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February 28, 2016
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