It's the last thing you'd expect to see on the tropical island of Aruba. The bright yellow Urataka Center, a former rum shop turned into a bar and grill on the small Caribbean island, fits right in with the brightly painted homes in the area. Once inside, you're surprised to find the walls decorated with Mustangs, from pictures and posters to a collection of die-cast Mustang models. The owner, Doque Croeze, explains that he's not only a long-time Mustang fan, he's also the president and cofounder of the Mustang Club of Aruba.
Yes, there is an MCA in Aruba. According to Doque, he and fellow Mustang lovers Eric De Cuba and Maky Kelly founded the organization in 1997. "Each of us had an old Mustang," says Doque, who owns a '67. "Eric sent out letters saying we were starting a club. Today we have more than 50 members who own more than 75 Mustangs. Most of them are newer models like 5.0s, but we also have several vintage cars."
Doque Croeze's Urataka Center...
Doque Croeze's Urataka Center serves as the gathering spot for Mustang Club of Aruba members. It doesn't hurt that the bar and grill is said to have the best pizza on the island.
For Mustang Club of Aruba...
For Mustang Club of Aruba president Doque Croeze, it's thumbs-up for Mustangs.
Doque's Urataka Center serves as the unofficial club gathering spot at least bimonthly, including special events, such as Christmas dinner. The bar and grill is the perfect location, with its TVs typically turned to American automotive shows and a front porch that overlooks the parking lot. It's located in the middle of the island, between Santa Cruz and the Arikok National Park, but location really doesn't matter on an island that's no more than 6 miles wide and 20 miles long.
Located just off the northern coast of Venezuela, tourists and cruise ship visitors know Aruba for its beautiful beaches, tropical climate, and friendly populace. But it's also a car-crazy island. In fact, drag racing is Aruba's number-one sport. If you're lucky enough to visit, be sure to stop by the Urataka Center for a pizza. Tell Doque that Mustang Monthly sent you.
Working For A Living
Francis Butler: "Would you like to come to Aruba for a drag race?"
Me: "Will there be Mustangs?"
It's a no-brainer when someone asks if you'd like to visit Aruba to cover a drag race. Of course, Mustang Monthly isn't a drag racing magazine, but when Francis told us about the Mustang Club of Aruba, the trip was on. But not without my wife, Pam.
Unless you've been there on vacation or as a cruise ship stop, you may group Aruba with other Caribbean destinations. But unlike most Caribbean islands, Aruba has a dry, desert-like climate. The south side is what people expect, with beautiful white beaches and crystal-clear water in shades of turquoise and blue. The northern coastline, however, is rugged with rock formations and pounding surf. In between, the island is more like a desert, with rocks and cacti everywhere. But don't worry about desert heat. Because of its location, Aruba boasts a year-round average temperature of 82 degrees, which feels even cooler due to the ever-present southwestern trade wind. The breeze is so prevalent that the island's famous Divi Divi trees are bent in a southwestern direction.
Pam and I were part of the invited media for the Caribbean Shootout at Aruba International Raceway Park. We were graciously hosted by Theo de Jongh (a Corvette owner, we learned, but we didn't hold it against him) from the Aruba Tourism Authority, who made sure we had plenty of down time to take in the island attractions, from historic sites such as the California lighthouse to the modern Revue show at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Oranjestad, Aruba's largest city and port for cruise ships. Pam discovered that the shopping is good, too.
Part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Aruba is a self-governing entity within the Dutch Antilles. Arubans come from a wide variety of backgrounds and most speak several languages, including English, Dutch, and Papiamento, a uniquely Aruban mix of Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese. Aruba's motto is "One Happy Island," as displayed on license plates; that must explain why the people there are so friendly and helpful.
The fact that it has a Mustang club is an added bonus.
It's a tough job, but some-body...
It's a tough job, but some-body has to do it. Our "working media" crew outside the hosting La Cabana Villas (recently changed to Aruba Resort), left to right: William Cruz, Francis Butler, Jon Asher, Cristobal Sanchez, John and Dotty Di Bartolomeo, and Donald and Pam Farr.
Surprisingly, drag racing...
Surprisingly, drag racing is the number-one sport in Aruba. Doque's son, Rigo, competes with his '65 Mustang at Aruba International Raceway Park. It's recognized as one of the fastest cars on the island.
Drag racing is Aruba's most...
Drag racing is Aruba's most popular sport, so it's no surprise that many of the Mustang Club of Aruba members participate in quarter-mile competition. This photo looks as though it could be from any NMRA or Fun Ford event, but it's actually from the Caribbean Shootout at Aruba International Raceway Park.
The view from our La Cabana...
The view from our La Cabana balcony. Pam says that Aruba is "The most beautiful place I've ever seen."
The clear waters around Aruba...
The clear waters around Aruba are ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving. A custom-built catamaran from Red Sail Sports takes underwater adventurers to two sites, including the shipwreck of a German World War II freighter.
Jon Asher makes a splash at...
Jon Asher makes a splash at the De Palm Island Water Park, a private island that features all types of water-related activities, including snorkeling with the blue parrotfish and other colorful marine life.
During our trip, we got the...
During our trip, we got the chance to visit the exclusive Renaissance Hotel to take in A Little Bit of Latin, one of Aruba's famous Revue shows.