This year marked our third visit to the Netherland Antilles, otherwise known as the windward or ABC Islands: Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. I didn’t realize until last week that governance has changed dramatically in the past few years. Nonetheless, they are still very much Dutch and within the Kingdom of Netherlands. These islands are 15-60 miles off the coast of Venezuela and almost as far south as we’ve ventured to date. (I think Grenada is just a smidgin further?) Our final port of call this year was Curaçao.
On prior visits, we’ve enjoyed poking around picturesque Willemstad. It a delightful blend of Dutch Caribbean and absolutely lovely. I enjoy the floating market — although the Hubs prefers to keep a safe distance from stinky fish. Later in the day it is safer, just fruit and produce. ;=) But the drawbridge is currently undergoing repairs and pedestrians must use water taxis, so we didn’t even try to go there. We knew it was time to get out of Willemstad and see more of the place anyway. I was glad we had made alternate plans.
Once you get past the beautiful capital city, most people visit Curaçao to dive or snorkel. We were looking for an inland tour rather than an underwater adventure. I contacted Martin’s Travel Tours. Martin was helpful in laying out the options; we settled on Shete Boka. However, I really wanted to see both sea turtles and flamingos, if possible, please. And we left open the option for a swim as well. Martin met us at the pier as promised and we were off!
We made a few brief stops on our way north and west. First to a church with extensive crypt cemetery, volcanic rock prohibiting underground burial. Then to a humble two-room abode that once housed slaves. The bedroom, Martin explained, was reserved for the mother; the father and children slept in the other room. An enterprising woman born in this home has turned it into a museum. It is unique as the only remaining wooden structure of its kind on the island.
Then we stopped at a plantation house turned restaurant. In Curaçao, plantation owners had line of sight visibility from one to another across the island. We saw several of these beautiful old homes, all in very good repair, all situated on high ground. The surrounding countryside is completely overgrown now with cacti and scrub brush but Martin assured us this was once cropland. It’s hard to imagine. Old timers say rain was much more plentiful and many kept cattle then. Today, the countryside gives every appearance of desert — although Curaçao is not a desert island. We saw lots of little lizards, which don’t bother me too much, but I was quite relieved to hear there are only two snakes in Curacao, both scarce and only one venomous!
We drove on for awhile before turning down the narrow dirt road of the Turtle Trail at Boka Ascension. We scampered through a rock cave and climbed several sets of narrow wooden stairs built into the rock to find ourselves at the top, overlooking the cove. Cacti loomed large and prickly over the narrow path of sharp volcanic rock that we followed to the edge. From here, Martin thought we might see some turtles. And we did!
The water was so clear that we observed perhaps a half-dozen leatherbacks feeding on the bottom. Occasionally, they would surface, all too briefly. I managed to capture a couple shots (look center of photo far R, above) but sure was wishing I’d brought my zoom lens along. The current here is very strong and sea urchins plentiful, so only foolish tourists snorkel or swim. Locals fish for crabs and others find their way, as we did, hoping for a glimpse of the amazing turtles.
From there we drove on to Shete Boka, the park known for dramatic water sprays as the surf spouts through any of seven natural coves along the shoreline. We walked on narrow trails to view each, up close and personal. I was surprised and delighted to see an Inuksuit village at the first, reminding me of our Yukon Territory experience. “Those crazy Canadians,” Martin remarked.
Well-marked crushed stone pathways and viewing platforms help keep boka tourists out of trouble. Sharks, Martin noted, are ready and waiting otherwise. The shoreline landscape changed dramatically, so spare that it seemed like another planet. The last of the seven bokas was a short drive along a rutted, hard packed trail. Indeed,”the pistol” (below) sounded quite like a gun going off.
The sun was high and hot by then. I was quickly wilting and quite relieved for AC on the return loop — despite a missing rear window due to recent break-in. We stopped by Kanepa Grandi (“Kanep” to the locals, below, L), a favorite swimming spot and reportedly the “bluest water in Curaçao.” It was stunning. Who said Curaçao doesn’t have much for beaches? Maybe it’s not the silky soft sand of Aruba or Barbados, but these are beautiful beaches all the same. I think it’s a ruse — whether to help keep tourism manageable on Curaçao or entice tourists to other islands, I cannot say!
Martin made another brief photo stop (above, R) before driving on to Playa Lagun (below) and the Bahai Apartments and Diving establishment, where we settled in for lunch overlooking the gorgeous bay. From the restaurant high above, a steep staircase leads to the shore. We enjoyed a delicious lunch and tried another pair of local brews — the Venezuelan Polar and Curaçao’s Amstel Bright. (Although it’s kind of strange to think of Venezuela as local, eh? We got a kick out of their polar bear mascot.) Bright won the second round! Martin also noted that this is one of the best bays for snorkeling in Curaçao. (And we’ve an eye on those apartment villas for the next vacation!)
It would have been perfect if not for the creepy iguanas. I was vaguely aware of them, my chair in the corner against the stone wall, my back to the sea. As we ate lunch, the Hubs was watching them, watching them, watching them. However, he didn’t bother to mention until the last possible moment that, “You might want to move.” At which point, I turned to discover three huge monsters surrounding me and jumped with a yelp! He gritted his teeth and growled at me not to make a scene. “Too late!” I shot back.
The hostess appeared immediately to shoo them away. She patted my shoulder reassuringly, “They are our pets. Harmless.” The neighboring table returned to their lunch and we resumed eating in uneasy peace. It was the one small blemish on an otherwise beautiful day. But those fellas were big! One, I’m sure, was a grandaddy iguana (photo above L). I videoed from a safe distance as they slithered along the wall, posturing with head and neck to make sure we knew we were trespassing on their territory. This, I am also sure, serves as sufficient evidence for the grandchids of GiGi’s narrow escape!
Our tour wrapped up with a visit to the flamingos on the salt flats. I couldn’t get nearly close enough and, once again, wished for my zoom lens, tucked safely away at home. On the final leg, we stopped by a bright and familiar grocery store, whereby we discovered English was a bit of a hurdle. We came out empty handed while Martin bore a bucket of muffins. A few miles later, he dropped us off at the Rif Fort in Willemstad, a lovely collection of shops and restaurants and an open market not far away. I picked up calabash instruments for the grandboys and macrame shoes for the grandgirls. Finally, we found our way to a round of refreshing adult beverages before boarding the ship. All in all, it was a great day in Curaçao!
~ René Morley