It is always the same. How many times since 1951 have I stepped off the plane to be hit with that explosion of warm Trade Winds? Dozens of times that wind has brushed against my face. It always fills me with anticipation. I am home. When I was a kid growing up on Aruba, the wind was a force in our daily life. I remember the clear glass domed paper weights that held papers on desks. I remember covering my carefully combed teen aged hair with nylon scarves tied under my chin. I remember walking into the wind, my ears amplifying the sound. Wind is a constant on these islands.
Always I pause at the top of the plane's stair steps to feel that warm wind. I steady myself, before taking those steps down for that walk across tarmac into a breeze filled airport. The pace is immediately slower and my anticipation rises when I hear the voices of the people around me. Language flows from Papiamentu to English, to Dutch and back to Papiamentu, that robust island Creole language (hear the NYT video) that the The New York Times describes as "influenced over the centuries by African slaves, Sephardic merchants and Dutch colonists...now spoken by 250,000 people on the islands of Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba."
I know from listening to Papiamentu in Bonaire this week that it is a little different than that spoken in Aruba. I remember when our whole family spent two weeks in Aruba in 1989, the maid who came to wash down the patio and make rainbow cakes, said there were three subtle variations of Papiamentu on this nineteen mile long island. I made an audio tape of her renditions as she spoke each with a slightly different lilt.
So, the constant wind and Papiamentu are two of the things I love about these islands. But there is more. And all the things I like best about the three Caribbean islands off the coast of Venezuela remain, even with the influx of cruise ships and tourists and the changing role of the Dutch.
The sea and the sky are always there. A given. The hues of the sea move from the aquamarine of a gem stone at the shore to sparkling turquoise and then to the cobalt blue of the deep.
Sea blues are different than sky blues. But all are brilliant and in constant motion. It's easy to sit on a rock to listen to the sounds of water rushing toward shore and then receding noisily through small bits of coral and rough sand.
Low cumulus clouds float quickly across the sky here. On the islands, I find myself following the movement of these clouds. It's a pastime.
The wind, the language, the sea and the sky are all constants in Bonaire and Aruba. So are what I call 'soft nights'. After the sun falls under the horizon, there is little or no change in the temperature. There is simply that warm wind and a gentleness in the air. Never a need for a light sweater or a shawl. There is dark sky with stars and the steady brightness of planets. There is the wind rushing through palm fronds, making them clap a gentle percussion. I like soft nights.