Thursday, August 14, 2008

Review Kini Kini Tours Aruba

This trip to Aruba, we had decided to take dd to see the Natural Pool. Dh and I had driven there twice previously on our own via 4 x 4. Dh hated driving there and did not want to do it again. He is allergic to horses so that was out. The new Tom Cars looked cool on the Aruba Off-Road website so we decided we would give that a shot. The day before we left for Aruba they emailed a confirmation and substituted Baby Beach for the Natural Pool. The reason we booked the tour was for the Natural Pool, so we cancelled.

We then booked an ATV tour with Rancho Daimari. By chance when a kind person on the Aruba bulletin board heard we had changed our plans to an ATV tour, he instead recommended Kini Kini Tours. Dh cancelled Rancho Daimari and called Kini Kini and booked a private ATV tour.

We awoke early Saturday morning to give ourselves enough time for breakfast. While dd and I were finishing up dh went to the concierge to make a dinner reservation. He got confused and saw the van for Daimari and went over and talked to the driver. The driver said, yes he was there to pick us up and if we were not all there within 5 minutes he was leaving without us. HE was 20 minutes early and even if we were "really" booked with them, I don't like being threatened when he was early. Dh ran and got us at the buffet, we high tailed back to the room for a last potty stop and to pick up our backpack and we were off. When I saw the van I immediately knew dh had gotten confused and Daimari's driver took advantage of this. We were later told by others that this is a common practice for Daimari. They see tourists at resort lobbies waiting for pick ups and they try to grab them for their tours instead. Shame on them!

I went straight up to the driver and told him that we had cancelled and there was no way we were going ANYWHERE with him and his attitude. So dd and I sit down to await our pick up from Kini Kini and lo and behold there is their driver recognizable by his "Kini Kini" t-shirt sitting on the bench across from us. We went over and introduced ourselves and he helped us into the van and we were off. A short ride down to the high rise hotels we picked up a couple who were taking a jeep tour.

Our driver Ray took us to Kini Kini's office. It was a house and we were instructed to walk through the house to the back and there was the office! This office is actually in the home of the owners Eloy and his wife Christine. We indeed felt as if we were being welcomed into their home. Our credit card information was processed and we were then taken to the ATV's for orientation and safety as well as fitting for our helmets. Eloy and Ray made us feel very comfortable and gave us a good run through before our butts even hit the seats. If the ATV's were not new, they were "like" new. During our stop at the Natural Bridge, a rider on a rented ATV from another company admired our ATV's saying, "We got the good ones."

I rode single and our 12 yo dd rode on the back of the ATV with dh. Following our guide Ray, we were off to visit the sites. I have to say dh and I had never rode ATV's previously and were slightly nervous given the prospect of riding some local roads prior to heading "off road" once past the tip of the island and the California Lighthouse. Our worries were for nothing. By the time we left the lighthouse we were of course off road and I know I personally was feeling very comfortable driving. Ray allowed us to drive at a speed comfortable to us, leading accordingly and offering up insight and history at each stop.

Our sites visited included: California Lighthouse, Wish Garden, Alto Vista Chapel, "Baby" Natural Bridge, Bushiribana Ruins, the Natural Bridge and Natural Pool. We have been to all the above sites previously and again, took the tour for access to the Natural Pool. We did give up the stop at the Ayo Rock Formations in order to be able to spend additional time at the Natural Pool. Our guide Ray was very happy to oblige. Dd was happy to be able to take a swim, cool off and rinse off some of the dirt.

On the back of his ATV, Ray carried a cooler with water as well as strapped our backpack carrying digital camera, video camera and towel and was happy to allow us as much time as necessary at each stop for photos and video.

I do have to say after visiting the Natural Pool twice previously by 4 x 4, getting there by ATV, was by far the easiest and quickest way in which to get there once we were "off road". It was still a little "hairy", as it was in a 4 x 4, but by following our guide Ray, we knew exactly where on the path to follow. I might add I was grateful the brakes worked! Never once did I fear for my life though. Imo it is more dangerous swimming in the Natural Pool than getting there via ATV. I cannot recommend this tour highly enough, especially as a way to see the Natural Pool. This was one of the best excursions we have ever taken on the island in the 13 years that we have been visiting.

Also, as many times as we have been over on the "other" side of the island, there were a couple of new things Ray showed us: 1. "Baby" Natural Bridge, always been there, we just drove by it, 2. the coolest blow hole you have ever seen, 3. Been to Alto Vista what about 15 times ? and never knew there was the Peace Labyrinth there. Dd and her friends took their turn through the Labyrinth when we stopped there later in the week.

Was there a downside? Dirty as anything. Riding behind our guide Ray, and then my dh, I literally know now where the expression, "eat my dust" comes from. Remembering how green the island was at Christmas, it was immediately noticeable that it was now so totally opposite. Brown as brown as can be. No significant rain since February, by June the island had become very very dry and DUSTY. As a side note, as I will mention later, the island did see significant rain June 24 and 25. In 17 visits I have never seen the island as dry as it was. If you prepare beforehand and wear junky clothes (think throw away) and shoes as we did, this will not be an issue. My t-shirt from that day just went into the trash; no amount of bleach was ever going to get out all of that dust.

Dd complained about everything under the sun during the ride, but this was her chance to see and swim in the Natural Pool. If you asked her now I think she would say she liked it but will tell you that she did not like the dirt and the dust. For dh and myself it was a unique experience and an opportunity to see Aruba from a different perspective.