Just past the Eastern coastline of Aruba lies the beautifully maintained Arikok National Park. This area is normally an oasis of peace unless, like me, you happen to arrive in the middle of a school trip.
From a distance, Arikok seems to be little more than an arid valley. But a closer look reveals otherwise: it is densely packed with cacti groves and the occasional divi-divi tree, a breathtaking place to wander endlessly and soak up the beauty of Aruba’s untouched natural environs. The centuries-old cacti, bent southwest by the trade winds, are a true testament to what the island looked like before the settlers – and the horses – arrived.
I leave the school children behind and try to locate the enormous boulders decorated with rock paintings, which lie hidden deep within the park. As I climb the sloping hillside bird song slowly replaces the happy chatter of kids and my senses start picking up on the scents of blossoming flowers and steaming earth.
The rock paintings are left by a group of indigenous Arawak indians called the Caiquetios whose last ancestor on Aruba died in 1862. There were some 600 Indians living on Aruba at the time of the Spanish arrival but most were transported as slaves to Hispaniola (Haiti/Dominican Republic) to work in the mines, although some were returned in 1526 to work on cutting wood for export.
I make my way around the boulders and as I turn a corner I suddenly face the most beautiful painting of all, a 1,000-year-old rock drawing of a bird that made it into the park logo. It is truly touching to see this familiar Aruban site of a pelican drying its wings on the wind, turned into such as a timeless work of art, hidden from view and protected by the overhanging rocks, as a precious gift passed down to future generations.
Aruba expert Joan recommends an amazing hotel, a 25-minute drive away from the park. Check it out!