We were spared by Matthew
I remember one night when the phone rang at 3am, Aki Wiggins on the line, Rona she asked, did you hear anything about a coming storm. I lifted my head off the pillow and looked out the window. The palm trees were swaying like pendulums. In a rush, I threw on a wrap, and stepped out of the house into the yard and onto the street to be greeted by local Police there to help evacuate all neighborhood residents for fear of the ocean, which was about to check into our homes. The boulevard was coral and shell strewn, littered with large rocks, spat by the rolling waves onto the asphalted street. The sea was raging. A heavy blanket of dark clouds and drizzle hug overhead.
That was the tail of Hurricane Lenny, in 1999, producing high winds and rough surf, or maybe it was Ivan in September of 2004, who was far away north, but still managed to piss on our heads. We listened to the radio during Emily in 2005, biting our nails, but she just dumped water in the far distance and went to Mexico. Felix was the closest, 78km north of the island, in September of 2007, but he was more interested in Jamaican than in Aruba. Thank you Felix. I remember washing my dogs in honor of Lenny, Ivan, Emily and Felix, just in case they had to huddle/cuddle in bed with me; I wanted them to be freshly shampooed! We bought some bottled waters and batteries for a radio, and that was the extent of my preparation.
I met Aki in the supermarket, on Thursday, she was stocking on apples, pre-Matthew. We reminisced. In those days, we had no weatherman and your guess was as good as my guess, weather just materialized, it was never predicted, let alone accurately.
We have DMA now, an organized Meteorological Department, with Marc Oduber, the official weatherman. We love to hate him, because a man whose job is to predict the fickle weather cannot always be right.
When Mathew started forming, early last week and it became apparent it was heading in our direction, the MinPres and the MinTour nationalized the weather business, taking reporting over from as early as Wednesday. We called Meteo that day, and were told that the 12noon bulletin still needs to be approved by the MinPres and the MinTour, before being release. One of my readers commented that in the U.S. they called that a “Chamber of Commerce” weather forecast, when things are monitored and screened a la 1984, a novel by George Orwell, in which the government rearranges the information.
The MinPres hosted a few press conferences to dramatically discuss the weather and finally asked commerce’s cooperation to give everyone a day off. Then the storm became a national holiday, and really took on a festive, fun air. The drama queens wanted us all to batten down the thatches, nail everything to the floor and prepare for the worst. One of my friends a school principle described drama at school where parents were taking their kids home, calling him irresponsible, while the sky was still clear, and no sign of bad weather, yet.
Naturally, with the threat in the air business slowed down from Wednesday midday. Then Thursday, hardware stores hit the jackpot, and on Friday, businesses who insisted on opening were blasted as inhumane exploiters.
With everyone off, cruising around, and taking selfies by the ocean, the MinPres’ popularity soared. Let my people go, he said, and government offices, banks and Setar remained off, through a long weekend, though we had no cable, no internet, for quite a few hours Friday, no biggie.
While all this was going on, our meteo man, Marc Oduber, continued to stick to the facts. Some rain he said, some winds, the tempest is a few degrees north of us, so “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
As time told, he was right, and felt vindicated by Matthew’s spin north of us. The hurricane dumped some rain, then decided to tackle old favorites, as he’s on route to Haiti, Cuba and Jamaica.
The beach at the Divi is hit the hardest, for the 20th time, and they will rebuild, they are veterans of many storms, and with the government help, it will happen sooner than you think.
MANIC MONDAY TALENT SHOW
Instead of watching the presidential debate, last Monday, I went to Cas di Cultura for this month’s edition of the Manic Monday Talent Show. Why didn’t I watch the debate? Because I knew I would be made to watch it the-morning-after, all highlights, and endless re-runs anyway!
The Manic Monday Talent Show is an original local production, an initiative of Cas Di Cultura, with the director of the hall, Vicky Arens Tjon a Tjoe as producer and stage manager. The program started last month, and will be staged once a month until the finale on December 19th. Think about it as Aruba’s version of America’s Got Talent, not all acts are great but the idea is excellent, to showcase and nurture budding island talent. Besides, it’s a modest source of income for our financially strapped for cash home of culture. It needs to generate income in order to stay alive.
While at Cas di Cultura I had a delicious vegetarian quiche by D’abaru Dushi Pasaboca and also tasted a complimentary drink made of the watapana tree bark, mixed with Sprite. Super refreshing.
In conversation with Vicky, she said she was planning to talk to CSJF, Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival to see if the event would like return to Cas di Cultura where it was held for 6 years, I believe. It belongs here, she said.
I also asked her about the Evelino Fingal mural, now a blank wall. Vicky explained it needed to be refreshed, and the artist was not forthcoming, besides the design must revert to the original geometrical pattern from the late fifties, because of the status of the building as a monument. She is planning to raise some funds for that purpose!
Among judges last Monday, Michael Lampe, our own child-wonder, who revives traditional local music, and the use of traditional instruments. One of Aruba’s most popular and charming singers Edjean Semeleer was on the judges’ panel, besides a drama coach. Crooner Rocco Flava will be joining the next edition on October 24th, for the MANIC MONDAY TALENT SHOW, so prepare for a full house!
As reported by Kimberly Maduro: Coffee talent and passion take the stage at the annual Starbucks Barista Championship, Latin America & the Caribbean
Kimberly Maduro was picked by Starbucks Aruba to represent Aruba’s three busy stores, at the Starbucks Annual Barista Championship, Latin American and Caribbean, in Bogota, Colombia recently. She is a most charming young lady, 24, and I met her this week, at the Seaport Marketplace cafe, where she has been working for about three years.
Kimberly did not disappoint her colleagues in Colombia. She managed to beat most other competitors, coming into 2nd place for the finals, battling coffee masters from around the region, and career baristas, landing the coveted embroidered apron which will forever confirm her status, as a Champion Starbucks Barista.
She remembers applying for work at Starbucks, following her mother’s suggestion, and when she was immediately accepted, she reciprocated with great enthusiasm, learning all procedures in just two week, and handling the coffee bar and its endless options and variations like a pro, from the get go.
The experience in Colombia, she says, as guest of Starbucks, was a life changing event. While she was passionate about coffee before, now that she has witnessed the berry’s complex journey from a hillside bush to a delicious cup of coffee, she is more at awe and more appreciative of the effort and dedication that go into every one of the 400 craft beverages served at the café every day.
In Colombia, the fifteen invited baristas also spent some time in a Finca, a coffee growing plantation, where they participated in the life of the farmers, gaining insight into the intricacy of growing a superb bean that will deliver the coffee drinking experience Starbucks’ guests deserves.
Kimberly explains she will never forget those humble, hard-working farmers she met, and the lessons they taught her about perseverance, and tenacity. Their story resonated in her, because as a single mother, who also goes to school, her third year of Mavo, she intends to continue into Havo, juggling motherhood, work and studies, with equal determination.
While she truly embraces the science of coffee, she marries it with the passion of a consummate barista. It’s the attitude you invest in it, she says, it must always be perfect, hot or cold, fancy or plain, if made with love, it is immensely gratifying. As baristas, she states, it’s the passion for coffee that unites us.
Quito, Ecuador, in just 48 hours
Some adorable family members were trekking through Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia and I decided to hook up with them for 48 action-packed hours in Quito, Ecuador.
It would, naturally, not be possible without Insel air Aruba, on-time direct flights; unfortunately, there were just five passengers on board on the return, so please, read my column and then go to Ecuador, so we don’t lose the route!
First impression? A state-of-the-art, modern, spacious and efficient airport. I huffed and puffed getting off the plane and Googled the elevation. No wonder. It is almost 10.000 feet, 2,850m. Breathless I headed to the Change Booth and discovered that Ecuador has a dollar economy, the only such country in South America.
That surprise experience was compounded by the new web of incredible highways, complemented by expensive and complex infrastructure. Driving in Ecuador is very easy; it feels like Europe, with wide, well lit lanes, giant roundabouts, clear road signs, tunnels, toll booths, bridges, over- and underpasses. Who knew?
Ok, the city itself is annoyingly congested, but once you leave its boundaries it’s a piece of cake to navigate.
We visited Otavalo, a town blessed by three gorgeous volcanoes with eternal snow caps. Cotacachi, 4,995m, Imbabura, 4,630m and Mojanda, 13,986m. The town is known for a spectacular Artesan market which we visited, mixing with hundreds of charming small vendors from the neighboring communities in traditional dress making a wealth of jewelry pieces, ponchos, scarves, crocheted and embroidered, while taking care of babies, socializing and having lunch.
We visited Lago San Pablo in that area, a collapsed volcano, elevation 2,670m and enjoyed tea overlooking the serene, quiet, snowy peaks.
Cascada Peguche is in the neighborhood, an 18m waterfall within a protected forest of very tall eucalyptus and cedar trees. The mosquitoes were not happy with us. We were equipped with a good repellent. We also beat the burning sun at her game, being slathered with sunscreen. Reminder, equatorial sun in no joke. It’s merciless.
Lunch at a no name mom & pop dining room in town, $6, consisted of traditional potato, cheese and avocado soup, sautéed trout, a few salads including cabbage and red beet, and boiled potatoes. Our yummy, nicely plated, homemade meal was accompanied by fresh passion fruit juice.
We also stopped for coffee and buttery, slightly salty, bizcochos at Cayambe, a roadside panoramic spot. These bizcochos are world famous, I am told.
The following day saw us posing for silly pictures at a tourist trap, the equatorial museum which pays homage to the 18th century European engineers who visited Ecuador to mark latitude 00*00’00”. As it turned out they marked it in a slightly-off location, but never mind, the Mitar del Mundo monument is huge and impressive and we took a lift to the top to admire the view north of Quito. We also had hot chocolate with marshmallows at the Cacao Museum and snoozed a bit in the darkness of the planetarium, during a so-so Big Bang reenactment.
A seventy mile drive delivered us to the volcanic hot springs of Papallacta, high in the Andes, 3,250m, where we spent some hours in the steaming open air pools. The rural mountain town features a number of termas, we picked a popular one, $3 per person, and if we ever return to that piece of paradise, we will pick the Papallacta Spa & Resort at the end of the mountain road, a boutique hotel with gorgeous jungle grounds and manicured thermal pools, $8 per person, and might even consider staying overnight.
Did I mention that on the way up we stopped at an unfinished mom & pop restaurant/shack with chicken, babies and dogs crawling the dining room floor for a $3 lunch – the customary three course with fresh yellow tomato juice, thin chicken soup flavored with herbs, sautéed river trout, mashed plantain and boiled potatoes.
Back to Las Termas de Papallacta: Having traced the hot water line to its remote source, hidden in foliage, across river beds, deep in the forest in our beaten up rental, we turned around satisfied, to drive back to Quito, early in the evening.
Once we emerged from the forest, the recently carved-into-the-steep-mountain-side highway was completely engulfed in thick fog, visibility less than one meter. We inched forward, and I prayed. I become religious in hair-raising moments.
And naturally, as soon as the fog eased in lower elevations, our front tire blew to smithereens. All that was left was a black gummy paste and I was standing on the highway with my phone’s flashlight playing emergency road warning triangle, while the guys changed the tire, into another one, equally flat and gummy.
So we ditched the rental, and took at taxi back to Traveler’s Inn, where we were staying — an excellent choice, clean and cozy, great value for money, manned by a caring, helpful host.
In the evening hours, we walked the Historic City Center, so clean, so well kept, so dramatically lit, a 300 city block square with 300 eighteen-century churches, convents, cathedrals and monasteries. The Spanish conquistadors were consummate builders, and Quito takes good care of its heritage.
At Calle La Ronda at the edge of the historic quarter, within the Bohemian, fun street with music and bars, we found some more traditional food. All restaurants look the same at Calle La Ronda, and serve the exact same food but it is a gorgeous, romantic street.
What did we eat? Tamales, corn wrapped stuffed wonders. Empanadas de Viento, fried and sprinkled with sugar, also empanadas de morocho, and popcorn as garnish for soups; choclo, the dry roasted corn, the quintessential locro, potato and cheese soup, floating an avocado moon; plantain mashed, fried, sliced and stuffed, sometimes with cheese; hot chocolate, tasty coffee once I learned to control how much milk they poured into it, papaya; three kinds of banana including the sweet midget ones, tart gooseberries, fresh squeezed orange juice, maracuya and guananaba juices, fresh river trout, slightly salted queso fresco, the bizcochos that melt in your mouth, scrambled eggs for breakfast.
We noticed street food is king, and at night entire plazas were dedicated to local chefs who serve out of uniform stainless steel kitchens, lined with meat pinchos on the charcoal grill.
Why go? Because the countryside is gorgeous with 4 distinct regions, the Amazonas, the Andes, the Galapagos Island, and the coastal communities, all different, all colorful, and amazingly affordable, just over three-hours from here….
Watch the guy with the red guayabera
The opening speeches of the refinery in San Nicholas were interesting, especially the one by the man with the red guayabera. He is very charismatic, and he gave a high-energy speech, in the spirit of the revolution. While the rest of the Venezuelan delegation wore white, he wore red, and talked about socialism, the enlighten government of the Republica Bolivariana; he mentioned doctrine, Simon Bolivar, Chavez, the flag, and the Mother Country, delivering a pure political speech, peppered with many left-wing Chavimo sound bites, which meant to reassure us he will be contributing to this island’s happiness factor.
I beg to differ. I will never put a man in a red guayabera, who talks about socialism, in charge of my own happiness. But I wouldn’t mind having direct delivery of cooking gas to my home, and a gas operated car, as promised in his speech!
I have one question: Where was the MinPres. His conspicuous absence was noted. The opening ceremony of the refinery was supposed to be the crowning glory of his term in government, and he was nowhere to be seen. I did not see the MinEdu, she stayed away. Smart. Twenty years from now, when we scrutinize the pictures, they will be able to say, see, we were nowhere to be found; we knew it was a bad idea.
The man with the red guayabera, Jesus Luongo, also used the PDVSA refinery in Curacao as an example of his company’s excellent, long term management and commitment, with thirty one years on that island, helping improve that neighboring country.
Jesus, you must be kiddin’. If only from an air pollution viewpoint. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that Curacao is not happy with the Isla Refinery stuck in its throat. And there is a mountain in evidence to suggest that you have not been doing a good job in Venezuela.
We heard some talk about gas, and reduced emissions, and a lot about the socio-economic ties between Venezuela and Aruba, practically sister-countries. It gave me a bit of shudder, while I love arepas, I wouldn’t want to convert Aruba into a mini Venezuela.
Bottom line, I am not jealous of Alvin Koolman’s job, in charge of the refinery operation, he can have it, and good luck, I really mean it, good luck.