It’s very difficult to explain to people how and why Nick and I would be going to Aruba from Romania. Some of my colleagues have traveled around Europe but many people I know, my host family included, have never left Romania and the idea of traveling 7 hours by train to fly 12 hours to an island in the southern Caribbean is understandably crazy and financially unfeasible. For that reason, I avoided discussing it with some people at site and tried to be as vague as possible with others. Even living simply in the village, it can be hard to fight the stereotype that all Americans are wealthy and have it easy; I didn’t want to falsely confirm such a belief by telling too many people about such an amazing vacation. When I have told people though, I have tried to emphasize as much as possible how lucky I realize I am to have gone on such an incredible trip. Still, it’s hard to not feel a little guilty.
When Nick’s parents, Joe and Leslie, came to Romania in April last year, they decided that they weren’t going to let another year pass before they saw him again and were looking at a way to make a trip for Christmas work. At first they looked at coming back to Europe, but for them and Nick’s brother and sister to all come would have been really expensive and very cold. Nick was hesitant to go back home with only six months left in his service as we’ve heard too many stories about how difficult it can be leaving home again mid-service. For those reasons, his parents decided on neutral territory and went in search of somewhere warm and easy enough to get to. The choice was Aruba and I was lucky enough to be invited to come along.
Our journey began the morning after we got back from Cluj. We got on a very crowded train to Budapest and eight hours later, checked into our hotel near the airport. After a few hours of sleep, we were on the go again so we could check in for our 6:45 am flight to Amsterdam. Neither Nick nor I have much recollection of the Budapest airport after going through security but we somehow made it on our flight and arrived in time to catch our connection direct to Aruba. This flight was packed. There wasn’t a single empty seat and in every seat around us there was a small child. The two behind us liked to kick. The guy in front of Nick must have been 6’7” and immediately put his seat back and went to sleep, making for a very uncomfortable trip for 6’5” Nick. Needless to say, it was not a pleasant way to spend 10 hours, but we survived and were greeted at the airport by Nick’s family and our rented 12 passenger van, Goldie Hawn.
Nick’s parents found a great vacation home for the week that was fully-equipped with a patio, grill, and color-changing pool. Nick was already in the water while the rest of us were still unloading the luggage. The pool became a great hangout, especially before and after the beach. I can’t describe how good it felt to swim in clear water again! The beaches were also great. The first beach we went to was really flat and had a lot of silt on the sand, giving it a pudding consistency, but the next two beaches, Arashi and Eagle, were both winners.
Most days consisted of gorging ourselves on those breakfast staples we missed so much: bagels, pancakes, REAL bacon, and muffins, and then tanning and swimming before we went to the beach. Swimming in the ocean for the first time in 21 months was amazing. I missed being at the beach and in the ocean so much. Floating in the waves, I felt myself returning to my happy place and let all of the stress and winter blues fade away. After several hours in the sun, we would head back to the house and swim and hang out in the pool before getting ready for dinner.
I ate so well on this trip and had so many of the foods that I hadn’t had in ages. Sushi, fish, scallops, ribs, homemade meatballs and Italian sausage, hamburgers, hotdogs, Brazilian skewers, and ceviche were all on the menu. It was all so good but it is back to exercise and salads now.
Besides just lounging, Nick, his brother, Tom, and I went tubing as well. We were on a big round tube with hand grips tied to a motor boat doing fast turns and jolts, sending us flying. I was the first to go off after a sharp turn sent my body flying off the raft while my arms were still holding on. The second and third times, Nick was thrown off first and then Tom and I got thrown off the side skidding across the water and bumping into each other. My upper back was sore the next day and I still have a couple bruises, but it was so much fun I would have gone again the next day!
Nick and his dad also rented a Jeep to go off-roading. Because we can’t drive in Peace Corps countries as volunteers, this was the first time I got to see Nick behind the wheel. Unfortunately, it probably wasn’t the ideal driving situation for him because the Jeep was so rusty and old. We still had a good time with it and went driving around the island, jamming to a samba Gangnam Style remix after our sushi dinner.
The trip was also a great opportunity to meet Nick’s siblings, Tom and Grace, and to spend more time with his parents. I had so much fun with all of them and feel so fortunate to have been included in such a fantastic trip.
It was sad to say goodbye and hard to mentally prepare ourselves for the journey back to Romania and the start of a new semester. I’m still on that journey back to Sibiu as I write this, having flown from Aruba to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Budapest, spent a night in a gorgeous hotel room in Budapest, and have been on this train for the past nine and a half hours with one more to go. When my train comes in, I’ll find my way to the village, unpack, and go to sleep. Tomorrow, I’ll be back at school with less than six months left as a Peace Corps Volunteer and many more things to accomplish in that time.