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Archive for the ‘Aruba’ Category

The Wonders of Aruba

Posted by Dan Vanderboom on September 22, 2009

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This morning, after being awoken at 5:30am by a rooster living nearby, I went for a walk to the northern tip of the island where beautiful homes are surrounded by lush tropical flowers and various palm trees, ferns, and cacti.  Clouds with serious character muddied the early morning sky, and large birds hovered playfully in the air above the beautiful homes on J. E. Irasquin Blvd—not covering any ground, simply enjoying the feeling of the strong ocean wind, gliding without effort or purpose, hovering in place just above the tallest trees.

It’s surprising to me that humans consider such aimless delight a luxury.  I’m in Aruba for the month September in part because I disagree; I think from time to time, it’s an absolute necessity to stay sane and keep a healthy perspective and sense of balance.  When so many of our moments are goal-directed and serious, and as Americans we have less time off work than virtually every country on Earth, it’s only a matter of time before the intelligence of our own bodies revolts against us in protest, a petition against the undue stress and unrealistic expectations we often have of ourselves.

An hour later, I was following the winding road past Arushi beach, onto the part of Aruba that isn’t polluted much by light at night, where you can see thousands of stars and galaxies and the colorful dust of the Milky Way.  The road curves back and forth several times and climbs steeply toward the California Lighthouse where I normally turn around and head back.  Except today, to my surprise, I came across a herd of goats!

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I first spotted them on the road and let them cross in front of me.  A baby lagged behind, and I followed as closely as possible to get some better pictures.  When I got within 20 feet, the little one bolted ahead, sprinting over ground that was treacherously uneven volcanic rock.  The goats didn’t seem to have any problem running over this terrain, however, nor did they seem to mind me following them around for a half hour.  Here you can see the little one in mid stride of a dashing pace, and notice how well it blends in with the ground’s color.  I also enjoy seeing all the lizards here.  I’ve seen several kinds and most of them are small, but this large one was hanging out at the Raddisson hotel by the pool.

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I had the pleasure of going to a huge DJ party called something like Maj 4 Stix.  The DJ rig was enormous, with thick outdoor smoke effects, blasts of fire and bright lights of every color, and thumping dance music.  There were acrobats running in translucent plastic balls in the water that surrounded the dance stage like a moat, and hundreds of people dancing to really great music.

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Every few days, I head to Oranjestad to work: the capital of Aruba.  The best shopping seems to be there, since that’s where the cruise ships stop.  The pictures below are of a shopping area in Oranjestad, and a church and graveyard in Noord where many people are buried in elaborate above-ground stone tombs.

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Finally, here are two pictures of me: one in front of the rock waterfalls at the Raddisson Hotel from a video I made to wish my niece Ava a happy birthday, and a fun picture of me at Confession Club in Palm Beach.

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I’ve hiked through the unpopulated countryside of Aruba; I’ve gone to the big parties and night clubs, spent a lot of time tanning on the beaches, enjoyed Dutch food (Cafe Rembrandt is my favorite), and went on a Jeep tour (through ABC Tours) to the natural pools, the gold mine buildings, and the old Indian-painted caves; and somehow have still managed to be very productive writing software for my current client as well as some personal projects I have in the works.  I don’t often give advice, but I would definitely recommend enjoying life as much as possible while it lasts.  Travel, work remotely, start a business, or do whatever makes sense in your life to follow your dreams, but don’t wait to do it!

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Living & Working in Sunny Aruba

Posted by Dan Vanderboom on September 5, 2009

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I am thrilled to finally be living in Aruba, at least for the month of September.  This is an experiment in remote working, and an experiment in living outside the United States.  “Why Aruba?” you ask.  Why not?  Aruba has weather that’s perfect for the beach year round, lies safely outside the hurricane belt, and has one of the highest per capita incomes in the Caribbean, making it a very safe and happy place.  In fact, their license plate tag line is “One Happy Island”.

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Indeed it is!  Everyone here has been extremely friendly.  The population is ethnically diverse and many languages can be heard.  Residents speak Papiamento, Spanish, English, and Dutch generally, and I often hear German, French, Japanese, and other languages I can’t yet identify.  It seems common for people living here to speak six or more languages.  Being a lover of languages, I hope to pick up as much as I can while I have the opportunity.

I planned many months ahead of time, but found a paucity of information available online and have had to wing-it for many aspects of the trip, which just makes it more of an adventure.  Aruban websites are geared toward mainstream tourism and high-profile resort hotel-casinos (many of which are beautiful), but I was looking for longer-term residency, and a bargain at that.  I settled for a cheap room off the beaten path, which was about the same rate for a month as a hotel room would be for a week.  As it turned out, I was upgraded for free to a nice two-bedroom condominium due to last-minute rescheduling of my original room.  I’m a ten-minute walk from Palm Beach, a two-hour walk from the capital of Oranjestad, and at about 20 miles by 5 miles, Aruba is large enough to keep me busy exploring but small enough to make exploring most areas of it possible within my month here.

Do You Ever Work?

Yes, I work on projects for several customers while I’m here.  I found a fantastic free-Internet Dutch cafe called Cafe Rembrandt with a wonderful staff.  I have plugs to power my laptop, and use Skype or iCall to make calls to customers.  Both of these have applications for iPhone.  With them, I pay $0.20 – $0.27 per minute for calls.  Without them, through AT&T (and through SETAR, who is the cell and wi-fi provider for the island), I’d be paying an outrageous $1.69 per minute.  This limits me to making calls from free Internet hotspots, or I could pay SETAR $70 per month for unlimited access to their wireless access that blankets the popular parts of the island.

From a technical communication perspective, it’s all working well so far.  Because I’m working on smaller projects and my customers are geographically distributed anyway, I’m not running up against many of the hurdles that would appear on larger projects, so it’s a good way to dip one foot into the water without jumping in all the way on day one.  Working side-by-side in person with other members on larger projects is always the highest-bandwidth method of communicating, but remote working scenarios are becoming more and more common and have many benefits.  The only real way to identify the challenges these scenarios impose is to put yourself into them again and again, and deal with the issues as they come up, finding solutions to problems, working around limitations, and exploiting the advantages that decentralization provides.

Getting Around & Communicating

Being an avid running and hiker, I’ve walked about four hours a day since I’ve been here, pushing myself as I usually do.  The busses, however, are air-conditioned, cheap (about $1.30 per trip just about anywhere), clean and safe, so I always have an easy way home when I’m completely exhausted.  They’ll go anywhere you need them to, so renting a vehicle is unnecessary, but car rentals are reasonable if you need one.  If you want to rent one, make sure to go to your local AAA and get an International Driver’s License before coming.  Also check AAA and tourist books for coupons, which can be 10-20% off of listed rates.

Phones are available for rent, or you can use your existing phone as long as your carrier allows international roaming (you may have to call them to authorize that feature).  AT&T customers need to sign up for their World Traveler plan.  I use mine only for Google Maps to navigate and to check for email periodically, as the data plans are outrageously expensive if you go over your limit (over $5 per MB).

Wrapping Up

I could write many pages more about my few days here already, but instead I’ll conclude with a few of the pictures I’ve taken from my iPhone.  If you have your own stories about Aruba, or living and working abroad or remotely in general and the lessons you learned, I’d love to hear about them.

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Posted in Aruba, Remote Working | 5 Comments »