Happiness for every taste: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness

There was a crisis here once. To stop him, the locals decided to become happy. They added cordiality and wise decisions to the nature of the Caribbean Islands – this is where it all began …

A tiny bird with a sharp thin beak, yellow chest and a black “cap” flies to the table under a pink beach umbrella and sits down in the middle of a fruit plates. I wave my hand, trying to drive her away. The bird jumps slightly and, ignoring me, pierces the nearest grape with its beak.

Happiness for every taste: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness< /p>

I look around for the owners of the plate. Here they are: a guy and a girl are splashing near the shore, where turquoise-hued Caribbean waves lick on the marshmallow-white sand of Eagle Beach in Aruba. Low, bonsai-like trees of caesalpinia, or divi-divi, grow straight out of the sand and stretch their flat crowns towards the sea over curved trunks twisted by the wind. These trees are always tilted to the southwest due to the local trade winds that blow from the northeast.

The couple, holding hands, emerge from the sea, laughing and trying to spray each other again.

“Now they will show you!” I say to the bird. Zero attention, too delicious grapes.

A guy and a girl run up to the table. These are not tourists at all, as it might seem. I know a girl: she sells wooden figurines inlaid with the resin of the mopa-mopa plant (genus Elaeagia in a shop on the waterfront). Aruba master carvers adopted this ancient craft from the Colombians. The guy is also local. He wears the white uniform of a miniature submarine sailor that takes tourists along the coast of Aruba to sunken ships and coral reefs.

The yellow bird takes off, sits on an umbrella and looks at the fruit, tilting its head to one side. The girl puts a few grapes from the plate to the edge of the table. The bird immediately returns to the meal.

– This is a banana songbird, – the guy explains to me, – on our island he is called “sugar thief”. Happy when drinking flower nectar and eating sweets.

Happiness for every taste: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness

A girl takes a flower from a vase, resembling a large yellow bell, and hands it to me:

– Take allamanda for good luck, in our opinion the flower of the wanglo. Come to the torch parade on Saturday night! Aruba has happiness for every taste.

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Everyone dances

The island-state of Aruba, 31 km long and less than nine wide, is located in the south of the Caribbean Sea and is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. They say that in good weather and armed with binoculars, you can see the coast of Venezuela from here. But no one does this, because the inhabitants of Aruba are satisfied with life, and about a million annual visitors to the island try to partake of local benefits during their holidays, the main of which is happiness.

For more than forty years, Aruba has been using the slogan One Happy Island (translated from English as “that very happy island”, “the only happy island”), and a few years ago she even managed to confirm its validity with facts.

Happiness for all tastes: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness

— The Aruba Tourism Authority and the University of Central Florida have studied our island's happiness index for five years,  – says Roselyn Malaves, Happy Information Officer who works with tourists. – The methods were consistent with those used by the UN in research for the annual World Happiness Report. The results were published in 2016 at the international conference “Happiness 360°”, which was held in Aruba. In 2016, Denmark ranked first in the UN ranking, but these studies do not include small island states. Although in the same year, 78% of Aruba residents said they were happy. This is 2.7% more than in Denmark!

In the evening, Roselin, together with Geordi, her colleague and part-time folk dancer, takes me to Fort Zutman in Oranjestad, the capital of the island, to the Bon Bini festival .

Happiness for all tastes: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness

Bon bini means “welcome” in papiamento , the native language of the Arubans, – explains Geordie. – The Bon Bini Festival is a welcome party for guests of the island, they arrange it every week.

We pass through a door in Willem III's quadrangular tower, painted white, blue, and burgundy. From 1868 until the middle of the last century, a lighthouse worked on the top of the tower, now only the city clock remains. Inside the fort, there are ruins of walls and a one-story house in the traditional Kunuku style, squat and elongated. Under its triangular roof is the History Museum.

Happiness for every taste: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness

What happens in the courtyard of the fort is like a carnival and a family picnic at the same time. An orchestra with guitars, steel drums and Caribbean instruments whose names Roselyn and Geordie can't remember plays salsa. Dancers in yellow-red outfits with frills – the girls on wide skirts, the guys on the sleeves – dance on the stage. The audience of island guests in shiny hats with feathers and wide smiles on their faces also does not stand still. Jordie, famously “fooling” me with the same hat, grabs me by the waist and drags me to the stage.

Happiness for every taste: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness

At the edge of the yard, cooks are frying bagels with meat and fish. The trays on the tables are filled with coconut and tamarind sweets. Guests taste wine from local grapes and fruits, rum and Aruban beer. The music reaches a climax and stops, then hits again. “One-two-three, one-two-three,” Geordie prompts. Waltz! The crowd exclaims in surprise, but soon plunges into the dance cycle with delight.

Happiness for every taste: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness


5 postulates of the philosophy of the islanders

    Be happy.

    Happiness is for everyone.

    Share your happiness, it will multiply and return.

    Help others to achieve happiness.

    Act in the spirit of bon bini (translated from papiamento “welcome”).

Chicken and egg

< p>“Our happiness works in a closed loop,” says Cornelius, bartender at Charlie’s Barin the city of San Nicolás. He draws a circle on a napkin and two dots on it. – The first dot: the natives, that is, me and all the inhabitants of the island. The second point: guests, that is, you and all tourists. The islanders live well, they are happy and… – Cornelius draws a pencil around the circle from the first point to the second, – ready to share happiness. The guests receive a portion of happiness, so … & nbsp; – the pencil makes a circle and returns to the first point, & nbsp; – they, that is, you, are ready to thank us financially. We become even happier, and so again and again, on the rise.

— Then tell me what came first: the chicken or the egg? Happy Aruba or tourists?

—First there was oil.

From the 1920s to the mid-1950s, Aruba was the center of the oil boom in the Caribbean. There were two oil refineries from Venezuela operating on the island. Factory Lago, the most powerful, employed about 10,000 people, most of whom lived in San Nicolás, where drinking establishments, banks and brothels flourished. When Dutch couple Charlie and Maria Browns opened a bar in the city in 1941, factory workers, sailors and the military were among their regular customers.

Happiness for every taste : how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness

In 1953, one of the factories was closed, serving mostly military needs. Lago lasted until the mid-1980s. It accounted for nearly half of Aruba's GDP. After Lago closed, 900 people lost their jobs.

— In the second half of the 1980s, there were many unemployed people and few tourists on the island, — says Cornelius. — Then our prime minister Minister made a decision that saved Aruba. The Netherlands helped with money to build new hotels with thousands of jobs.

Aruba introduced its own currency, the Aruban florin, created a Central Bank and opened a university. During the first 10 years, the number of tourists has increased three and a half times. Now about a million people rest on the island every year, and the country's income from tourism has surpassed the former indicators of the oil industry: more than 60% of GDP.

Happiness for every taste: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness

Modern San Nicolás is a fine city with art galleries, craft workshops and shops. The “red light district”, according to the Dutch tradition, has been preserved, but also reoriented from factory workers to tourists. Charlie's Barwith walls hung with diving helmets, boxing gloves, kerosene lamps, cowboy hats, sports team flags and other souvenirs of the last century, has become a landmark.  – says Cornelius.

Happiness for every taste: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness

Today, Aruba has the highest standard of living, security and literacy among the Caribbean islands. 98% of the adult population is educated. There are only four faculties at the University of Aruba, and one of them teaches management in the field of hospitality and tourism.

The “happiness – money – happiness” scheme works flawlessly, but it's not just about the economy. Aruba, whose nature was not appreciated by the Spanish conquistadors 500 years ago, adds happiness to its residents and visitors thanks to its climate and ecology.

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The weather whispers

When in 1499 the Spaniards, led by Alonso de Ojeda, a former member of the Columbus expedition, landed in Aruba, then we saw a landscape that is not similar to the nature of other Caribbean islands.

Instead of mountains and valleys with jungles, rivers and waterfalls, the conquistadors faced a desert area with small hills and bare rocks, with thickets of bushes and cacti. Not finding gold in Aruba, the Spaniards were upset and sent local Indians to the mines of Hispaniola, and they set up a livestock ranch in Aruba.

Happiness for every taste: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness

Over the centuries, Aruba passed from the Spaniards to the Dutch, to the British, and again to the Dutch. In 1824, gold was discovered on the island, but at the beginning of the 20th century, the profitability of its production fell.

“But happiness is not only in gold,” says Olga van Batelan, a yoga teacher who moved to Aruba from Russian St. Petersburg. “Since 1840, aloe has been grown on the island. The country even received the nickname Aloe Island, and in 1966 became one of the first to produce cosmetics based on this plant. Since there is almost no rain here, and the temperature is around +28 degrees all year round, both islanders and tourists grab moisturizing and protective creams. Many people take away cosmetics from here as gifts.

Olga and I ride horses from Daimari Ranch through the Arikok National Park. It occupies almost 20% of the island's area and, in addition to preserving nature, plays the role of a grandiose attraction for guests. Underground caves with thousand-year-old petroglyphs, an old Dutch farm and the remains of a gold mine where owls settle, rabbits run, iguanas and smaller lizards crawl. Wild goats and donkeys graze on the hills, the descendants of those brought by the Spaniards.

Happiness for every taste: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness< /p>

First, our path goes along the seashore, then along the path through thickets of cacti and aloe. The sand dunes are already visible ahead, and behind them it is a stone's throw to the Concha natural pool. The volcanic rock formed on the coast a bowl-shaped depression with sea water (conchi  – “bowl” in the Papiamento language), protected from strong surf. The water in the pool is calm, but outside the waves crash against the wall, spraying the bathers.

Olga hands me a bottle of clear liquid:

— Try the Balashi cocktail, the most delicious on the island!

I take a sip: water. Soft and fresh, with a pleasant taste. Olga laughs:

– I got it in the bathroom from the tap. Sea water is desalinated and purified in Aruba at a plant in the Balashi region. The balance of minerals in it is maintained. You can drink without filtering. The local brewery runs on the same water.

Aruba is outside the zone of hurricanes that plague other Caribbean islands every year.

– We are spared from the sweltering humidity and heat, – says Olga. – It's noon now, the sun is at its zenith. Walk barefoot!

I step carefully onto the dazzling white sand, expecting to get burned. But the feet feel like they're drenched in warm powder.

Happiness for every taste: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness

“Aruba has a dry tropical climate with constant cooling trade winds,” Olga explains. I will show you a place where any inhabitant of the planet can meet someone who understands him.

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Caribbean Babylon< /h2>

Most people in Aruba are fluent in four languages: Dutch, Papiamento, English and Spanish. Descendants of the Arawak Indians live on the island, and besides them, representatives of 95 nationalities from more than 130 countries. Russian and Portuguese, Chinese and French are not uncommon.

On the main street of Oranjestad, in a smart pink and white building that looks like an Abricotine cake, Iguana Joe's Caribbean Bar and Grill is open. This portion of meat, prepared according to an old recipe of the East India Company, is easy to feed five hungry pirates.

The menu features dishes and cocktails based on recipes from all over the world. According to the team of waiters two Germans, three Thais, a Malay, a Sicilian and an American from California                       for every taste: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness jpg” alt=”Happiness for all tastes: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness” />

A mob of bikers tumble into the dining room and occupy at least half the tables.

– Americans?  – check with Olga.

– Locals!

Next comes a team of elegant gentlemen, some with ladies in evening dresses, others on their own. Vintage car owners. They had just driven ancient Chryslers and Mustangs under the Iguana Joe's balcony and now stopped by for a cocktail. Olga nods at my dumb question: “Also, everyone is from Aruba.”

Dutch yachtsmen, a native fortune-telling grandmother, a bunch of shopaholic girls with shopping mall bags, a couple in love – my beach acquaintances who fed the sugar thief. A man who looks like a grown-up Huckleberry Finn in a shabby raincoat and a tattered hat enters in the company of a shaggy, once white dog. He had just moored a shabby wooden boat with two plank benches in the city harbour. All these people found what to order and with whom to talk, everyone greeted us, each in their own language.

– Will you come to the parade of torches? – the lovers remind.

– Where am I going to go?

— Are you at the parade? I'll give you a ride, – Huckleberry calls. – I have a ship here.

From January to February, sometimes with the capture of March, Aruba is carnival season. Every day, cities across the island host one or two large events like street costume processions, and with them concerts, competitions, children's parties and adult parties. You don't have to be an artist, native, or buy a ticket to participate. Everyone who is ready to dance and have fun is welcome at the local carnival.

The torch parade in Oranjestad opens the series of carnival processions a few days after the New Year. Toward evening, the sidewalks of the main street of the capital are not overcrowded. Families pull up locals with their chairs, baskets of food and dogs. Guests of the island come in companies, one by one or in pairs. Conversations immediately start, people laugh, try to shout over the general hubbub when they see a friend on the other side of the street.

Happiness for every taste: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness

The action begins after sunset. Previously, teams of participants carried burning torches, now they use colorful neon sticks. They are attached to clothes, hats and even shoes, carried in the hands and distributed to the audience.

A metallic rhythm of drums is heard, accompanied by whistles and rattles. Sometimes a saxophone wedges in with jazz. People jump up, forgetting about the chairs, and dance. Soon it will be impossible to make out where the spectators are, where the participants are, who are from Aruba, and who arrived two days ago, who generously shares happiness in a businesslike way, and who came to get at least a drop of it. Friends and strangers embrace, laugh and say how happy they are. The cycle of reciprocity will not disappear with the end of carnivals. And there is no reason to think that one day it will be different.

Happiness for every taste: how the island of Aruba found peace and carelessness

Aruba, a state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Area 178.91 km² (188th in the world)
Population ~ 117,000 people (193rd place)
Population density 624 people/km²

ATTRACTIONSCalifornia Lighthouse, Alto Vista Chapel, Donkey Farm, Bubali Bird Sanctuary, Balashi Brewery, Ayo Rock.
TRADITIONAL DISHESpastechi—bagels stuffed with chicken, meat, fish, cheese and ham; coconut candy kokada; hot sauce pica di papaya.
TRADITIONAL DRINKS Aruban wine, rum, cream punch, yolks, rum and spices.
SOUVENIRS wooden figurines and boxes made using the mopa-mopa technique.

DISTANCE from Moscow to Oranjestad ~ 9930 km (from 14 hours in flight excluding transfers)
TIME< /strong> is 7 hours behind Moscow
VISA issued at the Dutch consulate
CURRENCY Aruban florin (10 AWG ~ 5.6 USD)< /em>


Material published in Vokrug Sveta No. 1, January 2020, partially updated in November 2022

Marina Matvienko

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