Paddleboarding Aruba: The Spanish Lagoon

Paddleboarding Aruba The Spanish Lagoon
I paddled myself from Aruba’s turquoise waters off of the southwestern coast into the black saltwater of the Spanish Lagoon. The channel was still and opaque. Suddenly, a miniature geyser broke the surface. The shock unbalanced me. I steadied myself and watched as a black tube periscoped up. A swollen body followed. The man, who had been submerged for at least two minutes, finally took a few Vaderish breaths through his snorkel. A thin metal spike floated up beside him.

 

“He’s hunting for lobster,” Dennis Martinez told me.

 

Martinez, the owner of Aruba Surf and Paddleboarding School, was a local, and if not out at sea fishing from his paddleboard, he was usually here, paddling his favorite place on the island.

 

The lobster hunter lifted his face and spotted Martinez. The men struck up a conversation in Papiamento, the language of Aruba, and when enough information had been exchanged, the lobster hunter used his weight to sink himself.

 

“He has three lobsters,” Martinez said. “He lives on that dock right there.” Martinez pointed to a small hut. Standing before it was a wall that blocked the lobster hunter’s patio. The wall had an open square cut into it, where a mattress had been strung up over the hole either to block out sunlight or to serve as some jury-rigged Murphy bed. “I always see him eat well.”

 

On the dock, a half dozen men paced among the fifteen-foot criollos, or sea-beaten fishing boats, waiting for the ones that were not anchored to return with fish.

 

Just ahead of us, cutting through the Spanish Lagoon, was a road. Martinez and I paddled toward it, where I could see just slivers of archway. These gaps between water and road belonged to about a dozen tunnels that were now completely blocked off.

 

“I’ve never seen the tide this high,” said Martinez. “Normally, we just crouch down and paddle through the tunnels. I think only three times this year has the tide ever prevented us from paddling through. Even when it’s really high we can at least push our boards through and get them to the other side. But I don’t think that will work.”

 

We attempted it, nonetheless, but the first one got stuck about halfway and we had to wait for the light offshore winds to push it back toward us. Cars drove past on the road above. We climbed the wall and lifted the boards up onto the bridge. When the winds went light and the traffic calmed, we ran the boards over the road and re-entered the lagoon on the other side.

 

Paddleboarding in Aruba The Spanish Lagoon

 

Paddleboarding into the Spanish Lagoon

 

It took another hundred yards of paddling to distance ourself from the traffic and an underpass where graffitied messages marred the beauty of place. But once all of that was behind us we were lost in the turns of the lagoon, enveloped by the bulwarks of mangroves standing on both sides, where the sounds of birds and their prey twittered and chirped, cricketed and sung. When the watery trail narrowed, we dodged branches in order to squeeze through spaces cramped by the mangrove’s exposed roots.

 

The dark waters looked green as the trees reflected off of the calm afternoon waters. The only movement were the butterflies. They looked like fallen mangrove leaves that had found themselves caught in an erratic wind, which spiraled them across the lagoon without effecting the stillness of water.

 

“There’s another area like this that we don’t want to go to,” Martinez told me. “It’s a beautiful paddle, but it’s where they burn all the plastic on the island.”

 

When we reached the end of the Spanish Lagoon, a bit shy of one mile from the shoreline, we spun around and paddled back to the dock. The men still waited for the fishing boats to return. With the tides as high as they were, we just stepped from board to wood and sat down with the fishermen to wait. One old fisherman refused to engage in the trite tales of life on the sea and instead offered up the gossip of the docks.

 

He pointed out the men whose brothers had never returned from the sea and other men who had never caught a fish in their lives.

 

“Those two coming in,” the old man began, referring to the pair of fishermen who were pulling into the dock, “one’s a cage fighter and the other is a customs agent. They brothers from the island.”

 

When the brothers docked their boat, it was hard to distinguish between the cage fighter and the customs agent as both had scars and tattoos and biceps that split the seams of their highlighter-orange t-shirts. Despite their strength, they struggled to lift the coolers from the boat and opted to slide the white boxes across the dock instead. The lids came off and a miniature fish auction for massive grouper and yellow-eyed red snapper took place. Martinez and I grabbed our boards and left the Spanish Lagoon, where men bid on fish and the lobster hunter devoured his three prizes.

 

***

 

Photos by Dennis Martinez

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Surf & Snow

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