A Travellerspoint blog

March 2018

In Search of Flippy the Sea Turtle

Snorkeling in Curaçao again

sunny 85 °F

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Scuba divers leaving the surf at Playa Piskado - a popular haunt for sea turtles

It was a no-brainer to book another snorkeling trip on Curaçao. I had seen two of my top three sights I’d wanted to see (Tugboat, Blue Room), so I searched the web for an outfitter who could nail number three for me. I wanted to visit Playa Piskado, in hopes of swimming with sea turtles. This is no aquarium experience, but a beach where sea turtles frequently swim offshore. I booked Yellow Adventures to take me there (no guarantee of turtles appearing). Would Flippy appear? That was the question. Oh, Flippy is a reference to an imaginary sea turtle dreamed up by some of my Model United Nations students to illustrate their resolution.

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The crashing surf at Shete Boka National Park

I was picked up at 8:45 am and whisked off to the Hilton, where Yellow Adventures has their desk. The eight of us who’d signed up checked out snorkel equipment, paid our fees, signed our waivers (in case Flippy was in a surly mood?),and were off to our first stop. Twenty plus minutes of bouncing around in the back of a tricked up pickup truck and we arrived at Shete Boka National Park. It is known for its gorgeous sea views, and we hiked to a couple of overlooks to watch the deep blue sea crashing against the rocky north coast of Curaçao. I had fun trying to time my camera shots with the explosions of spray which greeted the bigger waves smashing into the shore. I love rocky coastlines - one of my favorite trips was hiking England’s Cornish Coastal Path.

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Catching the explosion of spray as wave meets rocky shore

Next up was the main event: Playa Piskado. Would Flippy appear? Or would my $89 be all but wasted? Much to my surprise, our guide informed us she would not be accompanying us into the water. I asked her which was the best place to see the turtles, and she gave us some tips. We grabbed our snorkel gear and walked to the beach from the parking lot. As we’d pulled in, I had seen scuba divers gearing up. I remarked to the young Dutch couple in our group that I considered that a good sign. With the multitude of sites that scuba divers can access, to see them going to one that snorkelers could get to meant it must be pretty good. I put on my fins and waddled awkwardly into the surf, stumbling where the rocks and sand drop off steeply. Not 100% sure where to go, I decided to follow the scuba divers. The water was fairly murky because of the surf near the shore and the sand on the bottom stirred up by the scuba divers. As we got further out, it cleared noticeably.

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Playa Piskado - where sea turtles swim

Eventually, I decided to push ahead of the scuba divers as they were moving so slowly, I felt. I paddled my flippers into the blue gloom of the water. I saw very few fish, instead noticing the ocean floor littered with anchors, rope, occasional coral, and sea weed. As I ventured further out, I chuckled to myself. Here was Mr. Sharkaphobia leading the charge ahead of everyone. Just to be safe, I made a 90 degree left turn and swam parallel to the shore. I swiveled my head constantly, looking for Flippy (or you-know-what, which I tried to keep out of my mind. My mask was clear and my breathing good - no leakage or fogging. Ahead of me, I saw a shape headed directly towards me. Could it be? YES! Flippy!!!

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Playa Knip -home to the bluest water I saw on Curaçao

He wasn’t the biggest guy - maybe a foot and a half to two feet long. He swam right by me, so I changed directions and followed. We swam together for 15 minutes. We were told not to touch the turtles. So, I remained motionless whenever he got close. Once he swam within a foot of me, his dark eyes looking into mine. He surfaced every few minutes or so to take a breath of air. It was so cool to see him gliding along. Suddenly, I caught sight of movement on the ocean floor. A massive sea turtle was rising towards the surface. I abandoned Flippy to follow his grandpa for awhile. After Gramps disappeared into the gloom, I headed back towards the beach. As I passed the pier, I ran into a number of sea turtles feeding. I ended up losing count of how many turtles I saw. Truly, a moving experience, though I was saddened by the amount of trash I saw in the water. I thought back to my students’ cause, which was cleaning the oceans of garbage that turtles and other marine life ingest accidentally, often leading to them choking and dying. I would hate to think of my real Flippy or his Grandpa dying from eating plastic or some other human trash.

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My first real relaxing at the beach in Curaçao

Our next stop (as if we truly needed one after that experience!), was at Playa Knip. The Dutch couple had been there earlier in their trip and said the water was amazingly blue. Sure enough, one look at the beach made you want to run full speed and dive into its aquamarine, gemlike waters. It was definitely the most beautiful beach I had seen in Curaçao. If I ever come back, I WILL swim there!

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Although I haven’t talked about the, much, Curaçao DOES have beautiful beaches!

Our final stop was for lunch and swimming at Playa Portomari. This was another stunning Curaçao beach. In the end, I was very happy we stopped there. As surprising as it may seem, I had yet to “hit the beach”on this trip, yet. The sand was white and soft, the water was a gorgeous pale blue, and the vibe was as relaxed as you can imagine. It was a perfect way to end the day - reclining on a beach chair, soaking up the sun, and looking around at the amazing scenery. Although Flippy and his family made my day, this was the perfect end to the afternoon. Truly, today had been a no-brained, and I was glad I’d booked this trip!

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A happy me after swimming with Flippy

Posted by world_wide_mike 19:42 Archived in Curaçao Comments (0)

I’ve Been to the Mountain

Climbing Christoffel Mountain? Hill?

sunny 86 °F

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The view from atop Mt. Christoffel

So the first sight that I planned to see in Curaçao was actually the last one I visited. Back when I was first deciding whether to go to Curaçao or not, reading about the hiking in Christoffel National Park tipped the scale from “undecided” to “sure, let’s do it!” Most visitors to the park climb the 1,220-foot peak. Of course, the height prompts banter that it is a hill - not a Mountain. Well, the fact that they don’t let you start the ascent after 10am because of the heat and steepness of the trail tells you it can be grueling. This meant my alarm was set for its earliest time this vacation (5:30am), so that I could make the drive there and get there in the first hour after the visitors center opened at 6 am.

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The steep peak of Christoffel gleaming in the morning sun

All the reviews and reports that I had read said it should take you about an hour each way. Some said it was more like an hour and a half, so naturally I was interested to see how I stacked up against the average climber. I was wearing my closed-toe, hiking sandals, and had two water bottles in the pockets of my cargo shorts. I carried my camera bag, not a backpack, so I wasn’t equipped for speed. And no, I am not making excuses already...!

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the view looking north as you climb the path towards the summit

The Viaitors Centre and the road to the trailhead were easy to find. I would discover the trail up the Mountain was equally easy to follow. Bright yellow blazes, or dabs of spray paint in the shape of arrows or markings on rocks, roots, or branches meant that I never strayed from the trail once. The hiking started out fairly easy, and it was shady and, if not cool, at least not hot in the morning sun. As you ascended, though, it became more difficult. I had to be careful where I put my feet and how I braved myself as I leveraged my way up tight spots. It was a beautiful morning, though, and I felt like I was making good time. The view was nice and continued to get better and better as I made my way up. I did not snap so many pictures going up as the lighting wasn’t the best. When I reached a large rock spray painted “Half”, I looked at my watch. I gave myself a thumbs up - 30 minutes exactly.

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As you spit the TV/Radio toowers you’re almost there!

Navigating the pathway after that, though, changed from “where do I place my foot?” to “What do I hold onto to pull myself up that boulder?” I saw my first group going down shortly after. The third person had a leg that was pretty scraped up, so I felt good that I hadn’t had any troubles. Any pathway disappeared as I got to the top and it simply became a job of clambering across boulders, working your way ever upward and closer to the peak. The yellow arrows gave good suggestions where to pick your way upwards. Soon, I was there, and I could hear the ten or so hikers already there talking and laughing. I looked at my watch: 1 hour, ten minutes. What made that feel worse, though, was the family with this - I kid you not because I asked - 3-year old coming down as I reached the summit. Sigh. At 55, have I truly lost that ,any steps?

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Me atop Mt. Christoffel

The view from atop Christoffel was fantastic. There was no real flat platform, and being on top meant more clambering around to look at all the different vantage points. I’d read that you could see the entire island from atop, and other than some haze at the opposite Eastern end, I would agree that it is true. I took lots of pictures and breathed it all in. I enjoy hiking and always try to do at least one day hike on all my trips overseas. The top got steadily more crowded as later-starting hikers arrived. After perhaps 45 minutes atop, Christoffel, I began my hike down. I honestly feel clambering over rocks is harder going down than up. And to prove it, I slipped and fell early on my way down. I was stunned for a second, but worked my ankles and legs, discovering I hadn’t done any real damage. My left legs was scraped up a bit, though. I guess that with all the sharp rocks I was lucky to have only a few scrapes from my tumble. I was considerably more careful and slower the rest of the way down.

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Looking down on creation from the top of the world (at least in Curaçao)

Reading up on Christoffel, It had said there were driving trails (and other hiking trails...um, no thanks!) in the park. These turned out to be a real letdown. The scenery of Christoffel National Park is mainly scrub and thorn brush, with cacti thrown in for good measure. It honestly was not that exciting. The views out to the ocean were okay, and the hike to the Boka Grandi Bay was cool. Watching the deep blue swells of Curaçao’s northern coast crash against to rocks was fun. Of course, I had done that yesterday on my snorkeling expedition, so it did not have the same novelty it might have had otherwise. I would recommend visitors skip the rest of the park’s sights. Come for the climb, then head to a beach to soothe your aching limbs in the sea. There plenty of amazing beaches in the area, and you will enjoy your time there much more than circling around the park’s one lane road staring at the same sun-blasted thorn bushes.

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Hikers relax and enjoy the view from atop the mountain

I had climbed the mountain, though, and my body had that satisfied ache you get after a good hike. I could now call my trip to Curaçao quits, now that I had seen the fiat sight I planned.

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Boka Grandi Bay, the only other really worthwhile sight, in my opinion, in Christoffel National Park

Posted by world_wide_mike 17:05 Archived in Curaçao Comments (0)

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