SHARE THE SAND WITH A FEW NEW FEATHERED FRIENDS
By: MARI DE ARMAS
It was early November and the fall season air was already brisk. Sweaters and scarves, instead of sandals and spaghetti straps, were staples of my wardrobe. A few months prior I had moved to a new city and, for the first time in my life, I was four hours away from the nearest beach, instead of my usual hard-limit of no more than 45 minutes from door to sand. I needed an escape that required sun, swimming and frosty umbrella drinks, so I looked at a weather map, kept heading south until I read 85 degrees and discovered my next destination: Oranjestad.
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I packed a beach bag and headed to the Dutch Pancake House for sustenance. It had become my routine to start my Aruban mornings at this location before heading out to one of the island’s beaches. The staff was gracious and I enjoyed listening to them seamlessly switch from Papiamento to Dutch to English throughout the morning, plus their breakfast was outstanding. On this particular day, I hurriedly devoured my poffertjes (delicious Dutch-style silver dollar pancakes) because I had a boat to catch. It’s the only way to reach Renaissance Island, home of Flamingo Beach.
Flamingo Beach gets its name – not from pink sand or a bird-like shape – but because it quite literally has flamingos freely roaming the shore. This was too good to be true, so I had to see it for myself.
After a quick, 10-minute boat ride toward a lush little island in the middle of the clearest blue-green water I’ve seen in recent memory, I disembarked onto a charming dock surrounded by mangroves. A friendly island attendant welcomed our boat-load of 10 beachcombers with, “Flamingo Beach to the right, Iguana Beach to the left.” Every single one of us went right.
Along the boardwalk and through the mangroves, I caught my first glimpse of beach: three rows of perfectly arranged beach loungers over white powder sand, facing a calm shore…then two flamingos came into the frame. They were slowly walking away from the beach like a couple on a romantic stroll. While other guests moved toward them to snap pictures, I claimed a chair in the back row. I placed my towel down without lifting my gaze from the flamingos. Incredible. I reached into my bag for my phone to be ready to snap a picture, when I noticed a pair of odd looking, pink webbed feet next to mine.
“Oh, hello,” I said very much out loud. The flamingo didn’t respond, it was on its way to visit a friend who was standing in the mangroves directly behind my beach lounger.
The first thing that stood out to me wasn’t their color, but how tall they were. With their necks stretched out, they’re nearly my height (they can grow to almost 5 feet tall). And, when they’re that close, their beaks can look menacing, but they were actually quite gentle when taking food pellets from my hand. The ultimate flamingo encounter happened at the fresh-water showers, where they like to congregate. I went in to rinse off the salt after my swim, and two of my new feathered friends joined me, then bent their necks for a quick sip of my run-off water.
MORE THAN FLAMINGOS
After a few hours with the flamingos, I walked over to the other side of the island and set up camp at Iguana Beach. This adult-only side of the island offered a wider beach and every amenity I could ever want for a perfect beach day: drink service, water-activity rentals, extra towels, a shop, a bar, a restaurant, a gym, a spa, and the occasional iguana walking by you on its way to the mangroves.
After lunch, I went on a serene walk that led me through the lush jungle. Peaceful and shaded, it gave me a moment to feel present and relaxed. Then, I came upon an island attendant that was caring for three baby flamingos and my heart rate shot up all over again.
HOW TO GET THERE
Renaissance Island, with its Flamingo and Iguana Beaches, is a private island owned by Renaissance Hotel group. As a guest of one of their properties, you get the perk of coming and going from the island as you please. However, they do allow a limited number of outside guests to access the island on a first come, first served basis.
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