RACE AND RE­LAX ON ONE HAPPY IS­LAND

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FUEL - BY HOLLY BEN­NETT

Long­ing for a taste of the trop­ics and an end of sea­son Oc­to­ber race-cation? You can knock your­self out try­ing to qual­ify for Kona. Or, you can eas­ily reg­is­ter for Chal­lenge Aruba and dis­cover how this itty-bitty Dutch Caribbean is­land de­liv­ers big on triathlon and tourism ac­tiv­i­ties alike. Bon­bini! That’s “wel­come” in Papi­a­mento, Aruba’s na­tive tongue (a mix of Por­tuguese, Dutch, Span­ish, French, English and South Amer­i­can Arawak). It’s a greet­ing you’re sure to hear reg­u­larly from the warm and friendly in­hab­i­tants of this Dutch Caribbean out­post. Aptly dubbed “One Happy Is­land,” Aruba hosted its first long-course triathlon – Chal­lenge Aruba – in 2016 and aims to be­come a well­known world-class race des­ti­na­tion in the years to come. The in­au­gu­ral Chal­lenge Aruba of­fered half- and sprint­dis­tance races, plus a re­lay di­vi­sion. The event pro­vided an invit­ing at­mos­phere for in­ter­na­tional com­peti­tors, friends and fam­ily mem­bers to min­gle with lo­cal en­durance ath­letes and en­joy a re­lax­ing is­land-style hol­i­day.

The Venue

Don’t even think about pack­ing a wet­suit for Aruba – the av­er­age Oc­to­ber wa­ter tem­per­a­ture is 29 C. The sea is calm as can be, too, with un­usual clar­ity, shal­low depth and a pris­tine white sand bot­tom along the en­tire course. You’ll swim a sin­gle loop in front of the high-rise ho­tel area’s Palm Beach, start­ing at the Hy­att Re­gency and end­ing at the Hil­ton Aruba Caribbean, where the tran­si­tion area awaits just beyond the sand. For pre-race swim train­ing, sim­ply step out your ho­tel door into the crys­tal clear sea, or try Aruba’s Piscina Olimpica Roly Bis­lik, an Olympic-sized swim­ming pool lo­cated 20 km from the ho­tel strip.

Wind is a con­stant in Aruba and you’ll no­tice it most while on the bike. The balmy trade winds pro­vide an added chal­lenge to the pre­dom­i­nantly flat course, but they also ease the op­pres­sive hu­mid­ity that plagues many trop­i­cal race des­ti­na­tions. (Note: The 2016 Chal­lenge Aruba race saw un­usu­ally high hu­mid­ity due to dis­rupted weather pat­terns and lighter than nor­mal winds fol­low­ing hur­ri­cane Matthew.) The wind is sure to in­crease dur­ing each of the bike’s three coastal loops, which take you south from tran­si­tion to­ward Ea­gle Beach, then re­turn north­ward to the Cal­i­for­nia Light­house, one of Aruba’s most rec­og­niz­able and his­toric land­marks. Two short climbs – the first lead­ing up to the Tierra Del Sol Golf Re­sort and the sec­ond lead­ing to the light­house – pro­vide out-of-sad­dle breaks from the oth­er­wise aero po­si­tion ride. This north­ern por­tion of the course (from the ho­tel area to the light­house) sees only light ve­hi­cle traf­fic and, there­fore, is your best bet for ta­per week bike train­ing on the is­land.

Off the bike, you’ll hit the roads and beach path (mostly paved, save for a few short jaunts through the sand) for a three-loop run course thick with spec­ta­tors. You’ll

also find a plethora of well-stocked aid sta­tions where the end­less cups full of ice pro­vide a wel­come rem­edy to combat the mid­day sun. Your pre-race run train­ing takes place on this same route – or you can stretch your legs along the road­side path lead­ing to the light­house, the fa­vorite venue of lo­cal run­ners, boot camp groups and yoga prac­ti­tion­ers.

Travel and At­trac­tions

The best flights be­tween Toronto or Mon­treal and Aruba call for seven to 11 hours of travel time with a sin­gle stop in New York, At­lanta or Mi­ami. Only one hour ahead of Eastern Canada, jet­lag for trav­ellers to Aruba (which ob­serves At­lantic Stan­dard Time) should be min­i­mal. Once on the is­land, you’ll find plenty to keep you and your sup­port crew of all ages hap­pily oc­cu­pied.

Though tiny (Aruba is a mere 31.5 kilo­me­tres long and 9.6 kilo­me­tres wide), the is­land packs a punch in terms of easy-ac­cess tourist at­trac­tions, mak­ing it a favourite for bridal par­ties, spring break booz­ers and snow­birds seek­ing a warm spot to re­lax in the win­ter months. First and fore­most are the sparkling white sand beaches, where you’ll want to park your race-weary mus­cles un­der a wa­ter­front palapa and soak up a sun­shine-filled day. Once you’re feel­ing rested and re­cov­ered, con­sider one of sev­eral lo­cal tour com­pa­nies (we rec­om­mend ABC Tours, Pel­i­can Ad­ven­tures and Depalm Tours) for a sight­see­ing or un­der­sea ad­ven­ture.

A half-day jeep tour to Aruba’s rugged eastern shore is a must for any thrill-lov­ing vis­i­tor. Be pre­pared to hold on tight – the ride in­cludes a num­ber of 4x4 only ac­cess roads and a few for­ays straight up and over the treach­er­ous rocky ter­rain in Arikok Na­tional Park (which cov­ers nearly 20 per cent of the is­land). The heartin-your-throat feel­ing will be worth it when you ar­rive at Aruba’s Nat­u­ral Pool, a pro­tected snor­kel­ing spot tucked into the rocks and chock full of colour­ful fish. Other high­lights of your tour in­clude the Nat­u­ral Bridge, the site of a gi­ant coral lime­stone arch which ac­tu­ally col­lapsed in 2005, but where the smaller “Son of a Bridge” re­mains, and the Bushirib­ana Gold Mill Ru­ins, where gold was dis­cov­ered on the is­land in 1824.

An­other half or full day is eas­ily spent snor­kel­ing with any of the nu­mer­ous cata­ma­ran tour op­er­a­tors. You can ex­plore the SS An­tilla ship­wreck, a Sec­ond World War Ger­man cargo ship sunk by its own crew to pre­vent be­ing cap­tured. The ship’s re­mains are sub­merged in 60 feet of wa­ter, with por­tions point­ing up­ward within a few feet of the sea’s sur­face. More tra­di­tional snor­kel­ing can be found at Boca Catalina reef; or go all-in with a scuba div­ing ex­cur­sion to an­other of the is­land’s in­fa­mous wrecks or reefs. If you en­joy be­ing on the wa­ter, there’s no bet­ter way to wind down a day in par­adise than with a sun­set sail, com­plete with open bar cock­tails to cel­e­brate your Chal­lenge Aruba achieve­ment.

All your swim­ming, cycling, run­ning, ex­plor­ing and par­ty­ing un­der the Caribbean sun is sure to work up an ap­petite and Aruba hosts a hand­ful of health-con­scious culi­nary gems amidst the stan­dard tourist fare and tra­di­tional fried foods. For quick and healthy bites near the beach, pick from among an ar­ray of acai bowls at Ed­uardo’s Beach Shack or cre­ate your own wrap or or­ganic in­gre­di­ent smoothie at Gar­den Fresh Café. For a more elab­o­rate Euro-caribbean din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, head into the cap­i­tal city Oran­jes­tad (a quick cab ride from your ho­tel) and en­joy a de­li­cious din­ner at Ye­manja Wood­fired Grill. Crav­ing a sa­vory splurge? Try pastechi, a fried pas­try dough filled with meat and cheese, most of­ten served at break­fast.

All told, Aruba pro­vides a pic­ture per­fect venue for a sea­son-end­ing race and plenty of hard-earned re­lax­ation and rev­elry, not too far from home. The sec­ond edi­tion of Chal­lenge Aruba is sched­uled for Oct. 22, 2017. Reg­is­ter at chal­lenge-aruba.com.

Holly Ben­nett is a free­lance jour­nal­ist based in Boul­der, Colo.

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