Did the pandemic change your life?
It certainly did for me. I went to the hospital and almost died, then I decided to quit my career in finance and launch my own business.
Whatever may have happened in your life, COVID’s potential lasting impact on society is a trending topic these days, with pundits pontificating about what will permanently change and what will revert back to “the way things used to be.”
Currently, I am in Aruba, and I believe I have witnessed at least one beneficial societal change while here. For background, please allow me to tell a quick story about me and the One Happy Island of Aruba.
My mom and I have been visiting this beautiful Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela every summer for over 30 years. The first time we visited, I would have been ten years old. Aruba is part of the Netherlands Antilles, and many Dutch tourists flock to its beautiful beaches.
Thirty years ago, Europeans tended to go topless at the beach (interestingly, not so much anymore), and it seemed to me at my tender age that clothing for either gender was optional.
My mom states she asked me if she could go topless; apparently, I was horrified at the idea at the time (now that I am older, wiser and more open-minded, I celebrate the fact that my mom achieved one of her pandemic goals of learning how to twerk and would support her unconditionally in any activity she wishes to pursue).
All I can say is that my pre-teenage eyes were popping out of my head, and it was not necessarily due to the stunning blue Caribbean Sea or plethora of unforgettable sunsets.
During this inaugural trip to Aruba, my mom and I yearned to dine at a luxury restaurant located at a new timeshare resort on the island. Since she was of more limited means, we did not have the budget to splurge at such an establishment; however, if we listened to the timeshare sales pitch, then we would receive a dinner voucher for two at their restaurant. Taking this thrifty approach (although, expensive in the end), we spent two hours listening to the salesperson drone on about the value of buying a timeshare at the resort.
At the end of the presentation, my mom turned to me and said, “Should we do it?” Thoughts of the nude beach from earlier in the trip were rushing through my head, and the words “UH-HUH” escaped my mouth as I nodded with vigorous affirmation.
Owning and operating my very own boutique hotel in Aruba used to be a life goal of mine. I spent over a year working on a business plan and meeting with the Aruba tourism authorities. Unfortunately, I never raised enough capital to be able to execute my concept, which was to provide highly curated and personalized Aruban experiences to my pampered guests. In my research and due diligence for the hotel, I spent a lot of time analyzing Aruban culture and the tourists who come to visit and appreciate it.
One trend I noticed in the past was that Arubans appreciate copious amounts of fried food (the line at the Wendy’s drive-thru was legendary, and yes, I have sat in it as well), and overall levels of diabetes as well as other diseases such as childhood obesity have trended higher over the past decade.
In the research study on Childhood Obesity from May 2021 (link above, see Table 2), the report mentions that Aruban children tend to be more obese than the other Caribbean nations in the study AND the United States, likely due to the prevalence of fast-food restaurants and the low price points of these establishments on the island of Aruba.
Furthermore, I noticed in my prior visits that there were a few gyms on the island, but they were not prominent, and it seemed like they were an afterthought, not a strong part of the Aruban culture.*
What a difference a global pandemic makes.
The biggest change I notice is that many Arubans have made significant strides in their personal health and fitness, and this really should be celebrated.
On my first night in Aruba, I drove from the Palm Beach resort area to the California Lighthouse, at the northernmost tip of the island. Driving toward Malmok from the Ritz Carlton, I was shocked at the sheer number of runners, cyclists and walkers enjoying the twilight hour on a paved trail hugging the coastline.
This trail is called the Malmok Boardwalk, which opened earlier this year, and I highly recommend using it for a sunset walk or jog along the beach. There were so many Arubans using the boardwalk for exercise that the scene reminded me of The Trail on Lady Bird Lake in my hometown of Austin, Texas, where throngs of healthy Austinites found solace through fresh air, outdoor exercise and camaraderie during lockdown.
I have never seen this before in Aruba. EVER.
Apparently, the government decided to build a network of hike-and-bike trails stretching across most of the island. I also observed Arubans hiking, biking and running on a trail from the airport to the Balashi Brewery along Highway 1B. This governmental policy is very similar to the one in fitness-enthusiast haven Austin, Texas, where the local government and private non-profits have constructed parks, trails and veloways all around the city. Kevin Costner said it best in the classic baseball movie Field of Dreams: "If you build it, they will come."
A few days later I visited the main area of Palm Beach where some of my favorite restaurants are located. In the parking lot, I discovered a brand new cross-fit facility in a shipping container, and dozens of Arubans were participating in a boot camp in a scene I have only seen rivaled by Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, Los Angeles.
What an inspirational surprise to witness!
So maybe we all can look into the future with hope as we heal from our pandemic-induced pain and anguish, and we can honor Aruba and the progress of its population to embrace physical fitness.
Bravo Aruba! Here is to your (and all of our) health!
When you have a moment, please check out my first ever music video, filmed at Mangel Halto beach on the island of Aruba, which is available on my social media accounts and on the BRAND NEW Social Musings by Austin YouTube Channel.
*Island Yoga in Noord has been around for quite some time, and according to certain advertisements is the largest yoga studio in the Caribbean.