Pink flamingo in Aruba

PINK FLAMINGOS OR BUST

The mission for the summer of 2022 was to complete the 2023 beaches-from-around-the-world calendar and the Caribbean was on my target list. Back in my OWS (open water swimming) days, Barbados put on a great swim every year before Covid and through obsessive research Aruba is home to some pristine pink flamingos.  Let’s do this!

BARBADOS

Grand Kandooment ParadeWhen making my travel reservations, I try and do sufficient research on the destination and determine if there are festivals or events that are stock photography and experiential enough to participate or shoot.  Barbados’ biggest cultural event of the year is their Crop Over and Grand Kadooment parade held August 1st-ish over every year.  The pandemic canceled the festival in 2020 and 2021, but it was on like donkey kong in 2022!

The Crop Over summer festival is Barbados’ most popular and colorful festival. Its origins can be traced back to the 1780’s, a time when Barbados was the world’s largest producer of sugar. At the end of the sugar season, there was always a huge celebration to mark the culmination of another successful sugar cane harvest – the Crop Over celebration. As the sugar industry in Barbados declined, so too did the Crop Over festival and in the 1940’s the festival was terminated completely. However, the festival was revived in 1974 and other elements of Barbadian culture were infused to create the extravaganza that exists today – an event that attracts thousands of people from across the globe.

The Government of Barbados announced on 15 September 2020 that it intended to become a republic by 30 November 2021, the 55th anniversary of its independence, resulting in the replacement of the hereditary monarch of Barbados with an elected president. Barbados would then cease to be a Commonwealth realm, but could maintain membership in the Commonwealth of Nations, like Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

On 20 September 2021, just over a full year after the announcement for the transition was made, the Constitution (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2021 was introduced to the Parliament of Barbados. Passed on 6 October, the Bill made amendments to the Constitution of Barbados, introducing the office of the President of Barbados to replace the role of Elizabeth II, Queen of Barbados.[48] The following week, on 12 October 2021, incumbent Governor-General of Barbados Sandra Mason was jointly nominated by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition as candidate to be the first President of Barbados, and was subsequently elected on 20 October. Mason took office on 30 November 2021. Prince Charles, who was heir apparent to the Barbadian Crown, attended the swearing-in ceremony in Bridgetown at the invitation of the Government of Barbados.

Queen Elizabeth II (RIP) sent a message of congratulations to President Mason and the people of Barbados, saying: “As you celebrate this momentous day, I send you and all Barbadians my warmest good wishes for your happiness, peace and prosperity in the future.” A survey was taken between October 23, 2021, and November 10, 2021, by the University of the West Indies that showed 34% of respondents being in favor of transitioning to a republic, while 30% were indifferent. Notably, no overall majority was found in the survey; with 24% not indicating a preference, and the remaining 12% being opposed to the removal of Queen Elizabeth.

In January 2022, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s Labor Party got a landslide victory, winning all 30 legislative seats, in the first general election since Barbados became a republic.

Travel tips!  My first mistake was to book an “Air BNB” sort of apartment on the southeast end of the island.  This was a ghetto neighborhood with narrow streets and zero restaurants nearby.  My second mistake was not really understanding that this island with it’s British heritage you drive on the left side of the road.  Combine that new skill set with narrow, potholed roads with no street lights and it was terrifying driving experience!

My supplementary goal was to arrange three different local models to shoot and that ended up being in the area of Holetown.  BUT, before I understood the island, Google maps was taking me through the interior of the island versus just driving the coast and it was infuriatingly fearful!  I could have just driven the coast and it would have been alot less stress.  The shooting location was PERFECT around Holetown including an epic sunset shoot!  I did some research and ended up spending my last three nights at the Sweetfield Manor and that completely changed my mood and experience in Barbados.  Even though this lodging is in the middle of the island versus being on the beach, I rented their Carriage House, and it was beyond perfect!  The staff were super friendly, and it has the most serene vibe!

If I were to return to Barbados, I would probably try and find a beachside hotel similar to Cobblerscove.com!

ARUBA

With my recent trip to Barbados, I just assumed that Aruba was another British colony.  NOT SO JOE!  I also did not realize that Aruba is less than 20 miles from Venezuela!  Turns out, Aruba is one of four countries corporately known as the Kingdom of the Netherlands aka the Dutch! The other countries are Curaçau (pronouced CURE-A-SOW), Bonaire and St. Maarten.  Oranjestad is the capital of Aruba.

Aruba MapI had a ton of miles with Delta Air Lines and also was very close to achieving Diamond Medallion status, so I cashed in a bunch of miles and signed up for one of Delta’s Vacation packages in Aruba with the Ritz Carlton Aruba as my base camp.  I don’t necessarily stay at 5-star resorts when I travel, but in Europe, depending on the time of year, it is usually the best option.  Here in the states, I would probably never stay at a Ritz-Carlton, mostly because the clientele would be a little too highbrow in attitude for me.  I like nice experiences, but I despise oversized egos and braggadocios behaviors.

It seems that flights from New York to Aruba are almost like the L train….quite a few New Yorkers on the flight and I chatted with a few, and they affirmed the Ritz-Carlton was going to be a great experience.  I can now attest to that.  Based on location and the staff, this is one resort I would return to!  I rented a monster-sized jeep from Aruba Top Drive, and they were super easy to rent from.  Ideally, I need a rig that is photogenic because it will be part of any photos or videos I capture, and they had an open air jeep but when I described my needs they encouraged me to rent the convertible optional jeep, and I am so glad I did!  Aruba is located at the equator – even though the temps were only in the high 80’s, it just felt like the sun beat you down!

Aruba is a small island so, as far as an adventure list of things-to-do, that can be accomplished quickly.  Touring the Arikok National Park was a nice day excursion but, to be honest, not that thrilling.    If you head out that way, then, in the spirit of efficiency, head into downtown San Nicolas if you enjoy mural art.  100’s of artistic expressions throughout the small town, and there are several walking tours available. On the complete opposite end of the island is California Lighthouse and Arashi Beach.  No one told me this, but, I found out – Arashi Beach is the most popular beach for locals and tourists alike wanting the ultimate sunset experience!

Pink flamingos at the renaissance Wind Creek Aruba ResortBUT, the real reason I visited Aruba was I wanted a certain composition of a regal pink flamingo for my December 2023 calendar!  I had envisioned exactly the layout, but, now I had to get it!  I had done plenty of research online and vaguely understood the pink flamingos were at a private island that cost $100 to visit.  So, as soon as I checked into the Ritz-Carlton, I asked the Valet and she sort of gave me a quizzical look and asked if I had a family?  No, I said – I am a photographer and I want to shoot THE pink flamingos.  Ok, she said and she arranged for me to be picked up the next day.  Well, unbeknownst to me, I was heading to De Palm Island which is a family-centric water park on an island that does have pink flamingos…BUT!!!!  This park does have pink flamingos but, there are about five of them, and they look like they just got out of a crack cocaine rehab.  And, this place is sort of like Disneyland – The ticket gets you in the door but, everything else is an add-on.  Once I saw the pink flamingos, I returned on the first boat back and had to wait 45 minutes for a taxi to get back into town. I would NOT recommend this water park to anyone.

THE REAL PINK FLAMINGOS are located at on a private island managed by Renaissance Wind Creek Aruba Resort and hotel guests have first priority to transit to the island.  Limited tickets are available for non-hotel guests, and I was able to score a ticket on the Monday morning, as I was flying out that afternoon.  It was worth it, and my mission of PINK FLAMINGOS OR BUST was worth it!

In March 1983, Aruba reached an official agreement within the Kingdom for its independence, to be developed in a series of steps as the Crown granted increasing autonomy. In August 1985, Aruba drafted a constitution that was unanimously approved. On 1 January 1986, after elections were held for its first parliament, Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles, officially becoming a country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with full independence planned for 1996 However, Croes was seriously injured in a traffic accident in 1985, slipping into a coma. He died in 1986, never seeing the enacting of status aparte for Aruba for which he had worked over many years.

After his death, Croes was proclaimed Libertador di Aruba. Croes’ successor, Henny Eman, of the Aruban People’s Party (AVP), became the first Prime Minister of Aruba. In 1985, Aruba’s oil refinery had closed. It had provided Aruba with 30 percent of its real income and 50 percent of government revenue. The significant blow to the economy led to a push for a dramatic increase in tourism, and that sector has expanded to become the island’s largest industry. At a convention in The Hague in 1990, at the request of Aruba’s Prime Minister Nelson Oduber, the governments of Aruba, the Netherlands, and the Netherlands Antilles postponed indefinitely Aruba’s transition to full independence. The article scheduling Aruba’s complete independence was rescinded in 1995, although it was decided that the process could be revived after another referendum.

FINAL THOUGHTS ~ WHAT ABOUT MEXICO?

I love MexicoI CANNOT LIE! And, I have made a few friends in the Cancun area over the years.  BUT, the US State Department has this to say about Mexico and this warning has been in effect for years and things are getting worse – Country Summary: Violent crime – such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery – is widespread and common in Mexico. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in many areas of Mexico, as travel by U.S. government employees to certain areas is prohibited or restricted. In many states, local emergency services are limited outside the state capital or major cities.

I know how to travel safe but, it would be naive of me to think that randomly, and statistically I would NOT be a victim of some crime visiting Mexico.  In fact, I was a victim of two minor crimes on my last visit to Tulum in 2021. Personally, I do not want to spend any of my hard-earned money to a cartel state.  The cartel has strangled the entire Mexican culture, from the local shop owner to national hotel chains.  National hotel chains are forced to launder $millions of dollars through their hotels.  All credit card machines are suspect for identity theft. If you are driving a rental car, it is almost guaranteed you will be pulled for an “idiot tax”.

I miss Mexico, but I no longer seeing myself traveling there.  Belize is my next best option. But, after visiting Barbados and Aruba, 12+ hours of travel is required to travel there from Las Vegas. In short form, if I seek pristine beaches, culture and dining, Portugal and Spain will be my destinations in 2023 and 2024.

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ABOUT ROBERT BAKER

I have been shooting for $$ since 2000 opening my shop with a Nikon D1.  I am primarily interested in shooting adventure lifestyle and travel with a host of my  day-to-day clients being within the industrial sector.  Many of my editorial stock photos have been published in all major news outlets, with my primary focus is distributing my images on a client-by-client basis to ensure their branding is unique and compelling.

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