Together with neighboring Bonaire and Curacao, Aruba completes a trio known as the ABC islands.
But for the tiny Dutch Caribbean island that lies less than 30 miles off the coast of Venezuela, “A” could just as easily stand for aloe.
With its dry, arid climate and nearly year-round sunshine, Aruba offers ideal growing conditions for the desert-dwelling plant. In fact, so successful is aloe-growing on the island that the plant is Aruba’s top export.
The best place on the island to get up-close and personal with the potent, medicinal plant is the Aruba Aloe farm and factory in Hato, a short, 10- to 15-minute drive from Aruba’s main hotel zone.
Founded in 1890, Aruba Aloe is one of the oldest aloe companies in the world and remains an active site for growing, sorting and processing aloe, and incorporating it into local products — including those sold under the company’s own eponymous label.
Health and beauty benefits
Aruba Aloe offers free farm and factory tours, which are led by knowledgeable, local guides. Among them is Giovanni Thodé, a slim and sprightly native Aruban.
As Aruba Aloe guides do for each group that passes through the facility, Thodé — who on a sweltering Aruba afternoon is dressed in crisp denim, an olive-colored polo shirt and a red, polka-dotted necktie — is giving a presentation on an outdoor patio about aloe’s healthful benefits.
Standing behind a wooden table, Thodé props the long, severed leaf of an aloe plant on a tray in front of him. He names several aloe-containing goods, including bath products, burn aids and health drinks.
As he talks, he uses a small paring knife to sheer a thick green layer of skin from the leaf, revealing the clear, wet flesh within. He uses the same knife to curl the flesh free from the remaining, bottom layer of skin. He dangles the freed length of aloe flesh above the tray, eel-like and dripping with thick, clear slime.
“My grandmother sought leaves that had a lot of slime on them,” he says.
“This slime can get very thick and heavy in a way that she could just stroke it off of the leaf. It would literally stretch across and she could just position it on her face. My grandma used to put that slime-snot on her face and in her hair. She used to look like a snotty mess, but she never looked her age.”
You can drink it, too
Dropping the flesh into a bowl of water, Thodé rattles off aloe’s healthful properties to his audience.
It’s packed with 12 vitamins, 35 minerals and 20 amino acids, he tells them. “This is such an easy-to-grow vegetable, I’m surprised we’re not eating more of it,” he says.
But aloe isn’t all business. It also makes for a perfect party drink, Thodé explains, when cubed and soaked in boozy punch.
Before the tour moves on, Thodé shares a final anecdote about aloe.
To keep their husbands home when they didn’t want them out fraternizing with friends, Thodé’s grandmother and her cohorts learned to slip a spoonful of aloe into the men’s unguarded coffee cups. Aloe, it turns out, is a laxative, too.
The tour heads inside the factory for a peek into pristine spaces whose purposes include cutting, testing, filling and packing.
Here, too, guests see archived Aruba Aloe products, complete with retro packaging. Videos depicting the history of aloe, its domestication and its role in shaping Aruban agriculture play on wall-mounted monitors.
The tour concludes in the Aruba Aloe store, a brightly lit space brimming with colorful bottles, tubs and tins.
Newly excited about aloe, tour guests queue up at the cash wrap, their baskets nearly brimming. Several baskets, including my own, contain a bottle of Alcoholada gel, a does-it-all elixir that soothes sore muscles and tames itchy insect bites, among other feats.
It’s the only Aruba Aloe product not available via e-commerce, because of the presence of lidocaine, its key ingredient.
Soaking up aloe’s power
Happily for visitors, the Aruba Aloe boutique isn’t the only spot on the island to experience the healthful pleasures of aloe.
At the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino’s Mandara Spa, guests can check in for an aloe and milk bath wrap. The wrap’s aloe soothes and moisturizes skin, combats damage from sun exposure, and — as Thodé’s grandmother would likely attest — fights aging. Milk softens, smooths, treats dryness and promotes elasticity.
And those who want to put Thodé’s party punch theory to the test can do so at the same resort. Bartenders at the Aruba Marriott’s lobby bar will happily mix up an Aruba Mule, which contains, among other ingredients, two ounces of fresh aloe vera juice.
A powerful plant that delivers naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, amino acids and an arsenal of skin-soothing effects? That’s certainly something worth toasting to.