Real Life: Aruba

Ahhh, vacation. Isn’t it grand? You’re away from work, relaxing, exploring and feasting in a destination that’s exciting simply because it’s not your home. But sometimes while enjoying an escape, you get a glimpse of real life in that place. A glimpse without the façade put on for tourists. Sometimes it’s gritty and sometimes unpleasant.

When I was in Aruba recently I went for a walk through the neighborhoods in Oranjestad to check out what was new since I was there two years ago. As I walked farther from the tourist area, I smelled something burning and thought it might be someone having a good old fashioned garbage burn. Or perhaps it was smoke from one of the island’s oil refineries that had blown really far. But then, I saw it.

The sirens blared just seconds before I spotted black smoke pouring into the sky two blocks ahead. My stomach sank as I saw residents with mouths agape walking toward the scene with cameras. I reached the block where the smoke appeared to originate and felt a sudden wave of heat… which is incredible considering the 88 degree temp at the time. I looked to my right and spotted tall flames shooting through the alley as a frightened dog on the adjacent property kept its distance while barking non-stop at the blaze.

Police shut down the road on which the building burned as firefighters worked feverishly to stop the spread of flames. I believe at this point it was obvious to everyone watching that the fully engulfed building would be a loss, but the firefighters worked to prevent fire from sparking on the neighboring buildings. Sweat poured from their faces and supervisors at the scene who were not wearing head-to-toe gear checked on the frontline firefighters to make sure they weren’t too exhausted or heat stricken to continue.

Although I can’t fully understand Papiamento (the most widely spoken language in the ABC islands), from what I gathered at the scene and did my best to read in local papers, the building was empty and used as a haunted house. On the positive side, nobody was stuck inside and I did not see any ambulance called to the scene so it appears no firefighters needed medical attention. On the negative side, I’m guessing firefighters remained at the scene all night because hours later while watching the last slivers of the sunset from my hotel room balcony, I still could see wisps of smoke curling into the sky.

This is real life. People stopping what they’re doing to watch fire destroy an old building in their neighborhood. Real life, where firefighters spend hours in full gear battling a blaze in sweltering heat and don’t flinch when the charred building crumbles at their feet. Here’s a glimpse of real life in Aruba, and the brave firefighters who work to keep it real… and safe.

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