Palm trees, sun-kissed skin, oceans clear as glass, sandy beaches, and rainbow-speckled sunsets were just some of the treasures that my family and I enjoyed during our vacation to Palm Beach, Aruba during winter break. Throughout my trip to Aruba, I welcomed ashore some great souvenirs and memories that will keep me happy as a clam in these first few weeks of the semester.

While some people may relish in the fact that on vacation they can sleep late every morning and wake up to sunshine just peeping through the shades, my family found that this was not the case. Every morning either my mom, dad, brother, or myself would wake up super early (4:30 a.m. to be exact) to reserve our straw-covered umbrella, known in Aruba as a palapa or chickie. It’s like a competition among different families to see who can get up the earliest to reserve their desired spot. In fact, my family has seen multiple verbal fights arise in the process, but hey, I’m not complaining. As an avid people-watcher, I enjoy the entertainment. Venturing out onto a pitch-black beach with only the help of a flashlight and watching the sunrise every morning was actually a lot more fun than it sounds, and I did manage to get some awesome pictures out of it.

If there’s one thing that anyone who knows me knows, it’s that I absolutely love seashells. I could spend hours walking up and down the beach collecting them and have buckets upon buckets of them in my garage. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I was to ever get a tattoo—which I won’t because I absolutely hate needles—no doubt, it’d be of a seashell. So, a trip to the Caribbean surely must have been heaven for me, right? Well, no—not until this year, at least. On prior vacations, I was lucky enough to find an upwards of three or four plain white shells and a few decent rocks; Aruba had always let me down in the seashell department. That was, until this year, however. One day, my dad and brother went for a run and came back holding not one but two glistening white conch shells. My smile was as big as a whale and only continued to grow once I found out that about a mile away was a beach filled with even more of these shells. It took me no time at all to pack up my stuff and start walking. When I say that the beach was filled with seashells, I seriously mean it. You couldn’t walk without stepping on any of the shells, and to do my part in clearing the beach, I packed up two shopping bags full of seashells to bring home. I guess I’m to blame for the fact that our suitcase was a pound over the weight limit. Oops, some things are just too irresistible!

And, finally, my favorite element of any trip: the food. We had always loved Aruba for its eclectic variety of restaurants featuring a multitude of different cuisines. Whether it was an Italian restaurant that flamed a huge wheel of cheese tableside or an outdoor, Americanized place called Salt and Pepper highlighting none other than an elaborate collection of salt and pepper shakers, Aruba does not miss the mark on its food. Yet, what I found to be my favorite food this time was not some fancy restaurant but a tiny hut located steps away from my beach chair. Eduardo’s Beach Shack had caught my attention when I noticed people walking around with giant bowls of fruit, stopping every few steps to find the perfect lighting for a picture. I soon discovered that these were no ordinary bowls but legendary acai bowls to which I would soon develop an addiction. For those who don’t know what an acai bowl is, acai is a berry that gets blended with a liquid of either juice or water and fresh fruit such as berries or bananas to produce a dark purple, smoothie-like consistency. It then gets topped with granola, fruit, and coconut. If it speaks anything to how good the bowl was, I willingly paid $10 per bowl and bought one every day of the trip. If you’re friends with me on Snapchat, you most likely saw it considering that like everyone else, I just couldn’t help but snap a picture. Upon returning home, I just had to bring this piece of Aruba back with me. So, I ventured to the frozen section of Whole Foods and purchased a jumbo packet of acai. Blending it with juice and fruit, topping it with granola, and decorating it with a variety of fruits, I had concocted my own bowl. I’m also guilty of snapping way too many pictures of my acai bowl, which in my opinion was just as pretty as the one in Aruba—minus the strategic placement of the ocean in the background.

My family vacation to Aruba definitely was a week of pure paradise. From the sand in my toes to the salt water in my hair and the cotton-candy skies to the spiraled sea shells, everything was picture-perfect and smile-worthy. Although I don’t have a blender in my dorm room to be able to make acai bowls, I did manage to pack a seashell to put on my desk. With this coming semester, these little reminders of sunshine are the perfect things to make the snow seem like sand, a puffy jacket like a bikini, and a hot chocolate like a piña colada!

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