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Touring Aruba 2002
By Bill Mills

One of my favorite places to go for a paintball tournament is the island of Aruba.  Tournament wise my late summer schedule is a busy time.  From late July into mid September, my wife Dawn and I are on the road constantly.  This year we only got one week at home, and a handful of two or three night stays where we have just enough time to do our laundry and re-pack before heading out to the next paintball event.

The end of summer means two things.  One, that we'll get to be home for a while, so things won't be so hectic, and two that we'll get to be home for a while so I'll be overloaded with catching up on work from my real job that I had put off while we were traveling.

At a typical paintball tournament, especially the massive summer events like the International Amateur Open we're up early in the morning, at the field all day, and working on our computers all night.  Aruba is a different story.  As a smaller event (in terms of numbers of teams) and due to the fact that it's in Aruba, things run at a much less hectic pace.  The night time games leave the day open to be tourists, and there's no need to wake up early for 8:00 am game starts because everyone's either still in bed, or hasn't quite gotten there yet.

Of course a large portion of each morning gets spent simple floating in the calm salt water or sitting on the beach talking to friends who are usually in a rush from field to field when we see them the rest of the year.

We arrived in Aruba the afternoon before the tournament, in time rent a car and get settled into our hotel before the captain's meeting.  The main tournament hotel is the Holiday Inn in Palm Beach (where most of the islands high rise hotels are located).  We've stayed there the last two years, and this year got away from the crowds by going to the Wyndham.  What a difference in luxury!  The goose down comforters and beautiful room made a great resting place each night.  They were doing some renovation while we were there which included direct internet access in every room via web browsers in the television sets.  The Wyndham also stepped up to the plate sponsoring a local team.  Wyndham Paintball competed with the hotel's logo emblazoned on their jerseys and made a 6th place finish in the novice division.

Once checked in we drove down the street to Hooters Aruba, where the captain's meeting was to be held.  This quickly turned into a pre-tournament party for all of the teams.  The simple step of having the captain's meeting there encouraged teams to have time to visit and talk to one another.  Some Caribbean and South American teams who hadn't been to the states were able to meet and talk to well known pro and amateur players, and everyone had a good time.

I really think all major tournaments should be relocated to tropical islands and played at night under lights.  The night play meant that the day was wide open.  We woke up at a reasonable hour, instead of scrambling out the door to make the field in time for first games.  After a short walk down the street we'd found some breakfast, and soon I was floating on my back, soaking up the sun in the azure blue waters.  Palm Beach is on the leeward side of the island, and though the winds blow constantly day or night, the island shelters the water, so waves are almost nonexistent.  The beaches are made of decomposed coral polished in the water's gentle lapping.  The sand is very white and surprisingly soft, almost the consistency of flour. 

It's surprising who you can run into on the beach in a foreign country.  Through the day I saw Debra and Ryan Krishke of Team Effort Events (whom I tried to convince to ditch the big trade show and move the IAO to a tropical island), Richmond Italia and Mike Ratko from Procaps/DraXxus (whom I tried to convince to move X-Ball tournaments to a tropical island), Todd Tammy and Tucker Adamson of Extreme Rage, Todd Martinez of Aftershock, Keely Watson and Lisa Harvey of Femmes Fatale, Frank Watson of The Family, Milt and Eileen Call of Brimstone Paintball (whom I tried to convince to send move the Ultimate Madness to a tropical island), and most of team Brimstone Smoke, including Jason "TF" Moulenbelt who was left behind to relax on the beach when the team went to walk fields.

"Walking fields," questioned Keely Watson?  "They don't get it.  Paintball is just the excuse to be here," she said paddling further out to sea on her lounge float.

By late afternoon it was time for lunch and to get cleaned up for the tournament.  Both Dawn and I had sunburns already, despite heavy use of sunblock.  When you're just 12 degrees off the equator, the sun can get you quick. 

There are a lot of food options on the island, many of which are familiar from the states, such as the Hooters and the Benehana next door.  We grabbed lunch at the Subway sandwich shop.  A number of people mentioned they were shocked at the high prices - until they realized they were in Aruba Florin (AFL), the local currency.

Like almost every shop on the island, US dollars were more than acceptable at the Subway, and after conversion lunch was less expensive than its equivalent back in the states.  Since a large part of the local economy is based on tourism, and most of that comes from the US, even the ATMs on the island dispense US dollars.  Change less than a dollar usually comes back in Aruban coin and tourists are encouraged to donate spare Aruban change to charities at the Queen Beatrix airport before departing. 

Following Dutch tradition, the Aruban Florin is conversationally called a Gilder.  I asked a Dutch friend of mine why people don't just call a Florin a Florin and he said, "I don't know, that's just the way we do it, but Holland switched to the Euro so we don't have to worry about it."

The tournament went well Friday night, and I got recruited by local radio station Cristal 101.7 to call play by play commentary on some of the games.  Ala from Cristal would tell everyone what was going on at the tournament in Papiamento, pass the mic to another staffer who would explain in Spanish, and then pass it off to me as a game started, for English play by play.  Aruba's official language is Dutch, but everyone I ran into spoke at least a little English.  Being so close to South America, Spanish is common, and most of the locals speak Papiamento which is a mish-mosh of other languages and is spoken on the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao though each island has its own dialect and accent (Aruba is slower and more fluid while Curacao is more precise, and Bonaire, like its geographic location is between the two).

After the tournament we headed back to Palm Beach and grabbed some sushi at Benehana with Chris Dilts and Chris Haas from P8nt magazine. 

Shortly after arriving on the island, we met up with Amira from the Aruba Tourism Authority.  In past years she's helped us find various activities on the island.  We've snorkeled in various locations, gone SCUBA diving, and horseback riding across some of the island's desert terrain.  This year a couple of Aruba's new attractions are the Palm Pleasure catamaran, and kiteboarding.  I've seen kiteboarders here in Florida using their parafoil kites to tow them through the surf on a board that is similar to a wakeboard, often jumping or being lifted 10-15 feet in the air. 

Unfortunately, the schedule didn't work out for that, but we spent the better part of Saturday morning cruising on the Palm Pleasure.  We went under sail power from Palm Beach to the Arashi reef, the wreck of the Antilla, and nearly to the beach inland of the wreck.  The Palm Pleasure is a rather massive catamaran, with an enclosed deck, open bar and lunch, and room to relax on the trampolines on the bow.  She has a relatively shallow draft which made getting in near the shore pretty easy.  The Arashi reef has some beautiful fan and elkhorn coral formations that are loaded with fish at a shallow depth.   The Antilla is a freighter that was scuttled during the second world war in 60 feet of water, parts of her hull and a mast still protrude from the surface.  The hull's protection draws in a lot of fish, making it a good site for SCUBA or snorkeling.  On our third dive location, I thought we'd see the least, but we got a surprise.  The sand and grass bottom was more sparsely inhabited by fish, but Dawn swam over to a buoy and found a school of 60 reef squid hovering around it.  We watched them for several minutes, and they changed color slightly, moving around and eying us warily.

More food, a cleanup, and we were back to the stadium with paintball games underway - and the confusion wrought by changing the schedule mid-tournament.  I called a few more games on the radio, including the final game between Brimstone Smoke and Bushwackers that decided the amateur title.  Ray Olarte manages the Hooters and Benehana restaurants, and had several plates of sushi delivered to the tournament for us and for the refs - talk about star treatment!  After the tournament wrapped, we were off to Hooters for some wings and shrimp.

Sunday, DePalm Tours (these guys are everywhere on the island, running bus service and various tour activities on the island) busses took everyone from the tournament to DaPalm Island for snorkeling, a buffet lunch, and the awards ceremony with an open bar.

So, with a couple of sunburns we're back home, vowing not to leave our SCUBA gear home again on any future trips to Aruba, and looking forward to getting back to the one happy island. 

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