Thursday, March 12, 2015

Warm Welcome

Officially, you can only get a tourist visa here on Aruba for 30 days, to stay longer than that you need to meet certain special criteria, or "at the discretion of the immigration official."  Which was an issue keeping me up at night, because we wanted to stay longer -- all winter.  Our whole point was to rent an apartment so we could live like and hang out with ordinary local people, not other Americans and Canadians on vacation.  One of the criteria that lets you stay longer is that you're living aboard a boat of more than 14 meters (46 feet).  Although lots of friends and acquaintances asked if we were sailing here when we said we were going on a tropical vacation, our boat is only 10 meters (33 feet), so that exemption wouldn't apply.  And though the trip to sail here might be fun, the return trip would involve a lot of bashing to weather that we would find not fun.  Another possible exception to the 30-day rule is if you own property on the island.  Um, errr, that's not exactly our case either. And there's a special category for timeshare owners, where I thought I saw a loophole.

So, armed with printouts and copies of letters and the title to our timeshare and a smile that (I imagined to myself) didn't reflect my weariness after a plane ride and lots of standing in long lines, we got in the line, the one that would end when we faced the immigration officer.  And just our luck (I'm thinking), we managed to get an older guy who seemed to be taking a lot longer processing each person in front of him than the lines to either side.  Aaaack!  Was he going to be a stickler?  Slowly, the line continued to move forward as I clenched the packet of my carefully researched and prepared paperwork including the form boldly requesting a visa for essentially the entire winter, and reviewed the few politeness words we knew in Papiamento. Why was our line moving slower than everyone else's?

Finally we reached the head of the line and he motioned us forward.  No real expression from him when we wished him bon tarde ("good afternoon,") and handed over our passports and visa forms.  He silently looked at the form and drew a circle around the number we had filled in  in answer to the question "How many nights will you stay on Aruba?" (That really big number, waaay more than 30). More silence.  I took a deep breath, waiting for the questions. Then he flipped through the pages of our passports, stamped the next blank spot, smiled hugely, and said, "Welcome home."

That was it.  Nothing.  No need for my carefully rehearsed explanations or my internet research or the packet of printouts and copies of letters and titles I was carrying.  "Discretion of the immigration officer," indeed!  The only thing I could assume is that he saw the proofs of our visits in previous years, and decided that a couple of retired civil engineers escaping winter are not a major security threat or likely drain on the public services.  We were in!

Our welcome at the apartment we had rented was equally warm.  The place had been remodeled since we'd seen it last year and was even more charming than the photos we'd seen over the summer.  The  thoughtful hosts had left us a bottle of wine and a snack of cashews; in the fridge was our first breakfast: juice, apples, grapes, a loaf of bread, butter, eggs, and some of that spectacular Dutch cheese. Actually enough food for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning.  We'd only been on the island a couple of hours, our greeting was warm in both the hospitality sense by the friendly people, and the temperature sense (82F/28C) and already we were totally relaxed.  Perfect!

What the weary traveler appreciates!


  1. jaye... that sounds perfect!!! enjoy your lovely stay, and feel right at home!! the lines in cayman seemed soooo much longer than anywhere else we had been and when you are tired after a long flight it seems even more daunting! keep us posted on your stay! over here we are wishing for cooler temps... its been v v hot here, and we are weary!

  2. Hi Krissie, hope you cool off soon! Too much heat exhausts me, even worse than too much cold.

  3. Yay! Being prepared worked well for you! Welcome home, indeed!

  4. Thanx RoseAnn, interacting with officialdom is definitely one place where I like to err on the side of over-caution!

  5. Thanx RoseAnn, interacting with officialdom is definitely one place where I like to err on the side of over-caution!