A Travellerspoint blog

Curaçao

Curaçao’s Quaint Dutch Waterfront Enchants Under Stars & Sun

Trying NOT to lose possessions along the way...!

sunny 83 °F

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The Willemstad waterfront lit up at night

This was almost the spring break trip that never happened. At the last minute, things fell into place and I was winging my way to sunny, warm Curacao after all, while Columbus fought off the lingering clutches of winter. Although this would be country #87, I immediately proved some things never change. Upon unpacking at the Boutique Hotel t Klooster, I realized I’d left my iPad in the seat pocket of the plane. This was AFTER leavingit at the ticket counter in Columbus that morning and not realizing it till I was past The security checkpoint. Sigh. I guess I will never shake my inner Hansel and Gretyl, leaving a trail of my things across the world! Luckily, both worked out and I am able to type this blog entry on the iPad.

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Daytime view of the waterfront

After making sure my iPad was in safe hands and could get it tomorrow, it was off to get some supplies and find dinner. It was obvious that Cafe Old Dutch was popular with both locals and visitors. The food was excellent and the beers were tasty, too. A peculiarity of paying by credit card in Curaçao is all prices are first converted to U.S. dollars before charging. Supposedly, the former Dutch colony’s Guilder is pegged permanently to the dollar at 1.75. After dinner and a few beers, I walked to the Wilhelmina Bridge, a pontoon bridge that spans the ocean inlet which the capital city of Willemstad is built around. A cool feature is thaa it is lit up at night with changing colors. An even cooler and imminently practical feature is it is a swinging bridge. When a large ship needs to pass through to the inner harbor, it detaches from one side and a tug pushes in open, swinging like a door against the opposite shore. Once the ship passes, it swings shut, the gates open, and pedestrians can cross again.

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The Wilhelmina Bridge lit up at night

Many of the waterfront buildings are bright, Caribbean colors but colonial Duth in style. Their facades lit by floodlights, it is a pretty sight on a warm spring evening. The central town is very walkable with a handful of museums and sights - and of course shopping, as Curaçao is a frequent cruise ship atop. As in Holland, nearly everyone speaks English, so it is a convenient and easy destination for Americans. I think many Dutch also vacation (or live or work here as expats).

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A tugboat tows in a freighter past the waterfront towards the inner harbor

I would see evidence of that popularity the next day. Since the Hota Caves are a ten minute walk from the airport, it made sense to begin my sightseeing there. Afterwards, I could pick up my iPad and hopefully hold onto it from this point forward in the trip! Taxis are expensive on the island -the 20-30minute ride to the airport costs $35, flat fee. On the way back, I’d experiment with Curaçao’s bus system, which locals say is not well advertised nor easy to figure out. My short experience is that it operates on what is jokingly called “island time,” which means don’t expect punctuality! Still, if you have time to wait, it is vastly cheaper.

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The Hota Caves

I timed it right for the every hour on the hour cave tour. About 15 people were gathered for the English language tour, while there was a half-dozen for the Dutch one. The Caves were interesting, but certainly not spectacular. The no photography prohibition was annoying, and I snapped a few surreptitious shots with my iPhone. The guide’s jokes caused the cruise ship crowd to chortle, but seemed a little tired to me. It was cool when they flicked out the artificial lighting and let us see how truly pitch black it was that deep inside the Caves. Apparently, they were used as a hideout for runaway slaves until the Dutch caught on and barred the entrance. No Arawak Indian paintings or petroglyphs have been found inside the Caves, but carvings are on display outside the Caves down a signposted trail. They are very hard to detect or spot, and are not very interesting.

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Tourist can visit the Caves only by guided tour, but don’t need to book in advance

Upon returning to Willemstad, I picked up a SIM card for my phone because they are very useful for navigating a new country. After a late lunch, I explored the area around the Wilhelmina Bridge, where the bus had dropped me off. The waterfront was even more scenic with the late afternoon sun gleaming on the brightly colored buildings. I saw a tugboat pulling in an ocean-going freighter, and the bridge subsequently swinging closed. Lots of shoppers and tourists were out walking around. There were plenty of souvenir shops and booths all around downtown Willemstad to tempt them to spend their dollars or guilders.

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This gentleman was happy to pose for me outside the Caves

It was hot (83 degrees), and I felt it was time for a break. I headed back poolside to relax and cool off. I would have to figure out where to go for dinner eventually. There’s nothing wrong with a little relaxation, and besides, tomorrow would be a full day.

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Posted by world_wide_mike 14:36 Archived in Curaçao Comments (0)

Snorkeling a Shipwreck on Curaçao

Man-made sights compete with nature’s underwater display on snorkeling excursion

sunny 86 °F

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Curaçao’s coastline contains a bounty of snorkeling and dive spots

Curaçao is popular as a diving and snorkeling destination. While researching where to snorkel, I read about Tugboat. It is the sunken remains of a tugboat that sank more than 50 Years ago, and has been encrusted with coral and is a popular hangout for sea life. The pictures I’d seen were really cool - you can easily see the outline of the wreck and various rusted features of the boat. I have always thought it’d be cool to dive sunken World War II ships, but since I never learned to scuba, I have never had a chance. Here was a wreck in shallow enough water that snorkelers could experience it.

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Our first snorkeling stop was off of a calm beach

I had my hotel contact the company I’d picked out and book it. They would be coming by after breakfast, and the trip would last four-plus hours. It included two snorkeling stops and a visit to a colonial era fort. Unlike other snorkeling excursions I’d been on, this on was not by boat. Both spots are very close to the shore, and we traveled by van. Our guide arrived only a few minutes late, and we made one more stop to get pick up more participants. Half of those on the tour were from a cruise ship which had docked early that morning. The company provided all the equipment and had two guides in the water with us at all times.

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Not the landscape you expect for an amazing snorkeling experience!

I don’t consider myself an experienced snorkeler by any stretch of the imagination. I have found that key thing for me is to remain calm, and not panic. I am a more than a little bit paranoid in the ocean - I have “sharkaphobia,” or whatever the technical term for that is! The more nervous I get the more my mask tends to fog up, making me stress even more. The company had an interesting innovation to cut down on mask fogging: baby shampoo. The guide smeared the inside and outside lens pieces with baby shampoo. You rinse it off right as you get in the water and it cuts down on fogging up. It worked like a charm for me.

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Snorkelers returning from viewing Tugboat’s amazing sights

The first stop was at a section of coral maybe 30 yards offshore. The water was very clear and a nice temperature - chilly when you first get in, but fine after a minute or so. There were 5-10yards of rocks at the waterline, but once you got past that, it was a sandy ocean bottom. Lots of various colored fish clustered around the massive growths of brain coral, and other types that I don’t know the name of! Most of the fish were about the size of your hand or smaller, through there were a few brightly-colored wrasse (I believe), patrolling among the coral outcrops. I was pleased to find that I was able to remain calm and float above, around, and in between the outcrops. Previous snorkeling trips, I have to admit, would often see me glancing around nervously, expecting to see a shark looming out of the blue gloom. I was even able to violate my “never alone” rule and explored the coral and schools of fish without the safety blanket of somebody all but tethered nearby.

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Colonial era Fort Beekenberg overlooks turquoise waters

The next stop was the famous Tugboat, and I was surprised to see scuba divers gearing up in the parking lot, too. I have seen too many Jaws movies to probably ever try it, but the documentaries do make it look fascinating. It made me happy to think that, with the whole of Curaçao’s coastline open to scuba divers, Tugboat was considered interesting enough for them to dive this site. It was further out, our guides warned, and there would be more current. I resolved to stick close to the guides on the swim out to and back from the wreck (maybe a little less than 100 yards). I was proud of how I kept calm and never felt the “where’s the shark?” panic begin to rise. I focused on keeping sight of the guide and swimming and paddling with my flippers. I saw two returning scuba divers beneath me just before we arrived at the wreck. I realized it was the first time I’d ever seen someone scuba diving in the ocean with my own eyes. They looked bigger than I expected, strangely enough.

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NOT MY PHOTO! Internet image of Tugboat (I did not have an underwater camera

And there it was! Just like the pictures I’d seen on the internet - the rusted brown remains of the tugboat, clearly recognizable. It was encrusted with coral, and you could seee schools of brightly-colored fish all around and inside the wreck. Fields of brain coral, sea cucumbers, sea ferns, and other plant and marine life surrounded the tugboat. I floated above it, starting at the stern and exploring its entire outline in a slow loop. The superstructure of the boat was maybe 10 feet beneath me. I swam through clouds of fish, holding my hands out for them to cluster around me, and they even bumped into my fingers, hoping for handouts. This was amazing, I thought! Larger, solitary fish fed on the bottom, while the smaller schools swam together protectively. I even noticed schools hanging out near me, adopting me as a big brother.

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The ruined quarantine ward not far from our snorkeling spots

One of the highlights was the foot-long octopus that scurried across the bow of the ship, then wedged himself away in a coral outcrop. My favorite fish were the school of deep purple colored ones that gracefully changed directions as one. I don’t know my fish breeds that well, so can’t rattle off the types that I saw. However, it was definitely the coolest snorkeling experience I have ever had. I could feel the current, but it never made me nervous. I was so focused on circling and exploring the wreck and watching - and swimming among - the fish that I never had a chance to let my imagination runaway with me.

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Fort Nassau, which we did visit, overlooks Willemstad’s harbor

One of the oddities of snorkeling Tugboat is the industrial look to the area. Ther are two oil rigs right off the rocky shore. Neither appear to be in operation anymore, but it is not what you expect to see as you snorkel turquoise Caribbean waters! On a headland overlooking the cove is colonial era Fort Beekenberg. It’s ruined round ramparts gleam ruddy in the afternoon sun, providing yet more man-made contrast to the underwater nature scenery. The tour reviews I’d read said we visit the fort, but oddly, we drove right by it to visit the ruined husk of colonial era quarantine ward for sailors carrying contagious diseases. And after that, we did stop by hilltop Fort Nassau, which has a 360-degree view of Willemstad and its expansive harbor.

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Curaçao’s working, industrial coastline

One of the caveats about Curaçao is how industry intrudes on idyllic landscapes. Curaçao’s oil refinery is a sprawling eyesore. Also, we were told it’s harbor is in the top seven of the world’s natural, deep-water harbors, and it is lined with industry. This is no quaint, traditional island of grass hits and palm trees. Instead, it is a prosperous working island whose perfect temperatures and dependable sunshine tempt visitors to its shores from around the world. And on this day’s sightseeing, I saw that it’s environment beneath the seas is equally tempting.

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Despite its industry, Curaçao’s natural beauty and climate beckons visitors from around the world

Posted by world_wide_mike 14:02 Archived in Curaçao Comments (0)

Two Days of Relaxation

Allowing myself to slow down in Curaçao

snow 86 °F

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Say hello to my little friends!

One of my plans for this trip was to not be as go-go-go as I normally am on overseas adventures. The last six weeks have been a bit rough, and I needed the relaxation time, too. So, following the awesome snorkeling excursion, Monday and Tuesday in Curaçao were fairly relaxed. There was a lot of wandering around Willemstad, searching out interesting historical sights and museums, as well as plenty of strolling through shops to see if anything caught my eye. After meeting the Iguana Brothers at Hato Caves, I was tempted by a really cool, green, iguana t-shirt. And wouldn’t you know it? A guy carrying around two take iguanas and getting tourists to pose for pictures with them came along within an hour.

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The sea wall protecting Fort Amsterdam’s battery, which guarded the harbor

On the historical side, neither of the forts guarding Willemstad’s harbor are very interesting. Fort Amsterdam is now the government’s offices. The former barracks are spiffed up and the whole thing gleams with fresh paint. There is a historic church inside you can visit, but at $10 and with so-so reviews, I passed. The battery’s sea wall looks historic in its golden-colored stone shining in the sunlight and fresh ocean spray, but other than that it’s is fairly ho-hum. On the opposite shore, the Rif Fort has been converted into a modern shopping mall. It also has its historic sea wall protecting its battery, but inside is a slice of modern suburbia. How it attained UNESCO World Heritage site status is a mystery to me!

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Flamingos in the Curaçao countryside

One cool little side trip out of town was to see salt flats about a half hour away that are home to pink flamingos. I’ve seen them at the zoo, of course, but it was neat to see a wild flock. The best part was when a half-dozen that we’re in a different section suddenly took off and circled the water, landing next to the rest of their community. I had just put my camera away to pull out my iPhone, when the movement occurred. feature you see a half-second of video. I regretted deciding NOT to bring my new camera’s zoom lens. I haven bought a new camera bag and really didn’t have room for it. While waiting for the bus back to town, I talked to an elderly local, asking if he knew bus times. When his wife drove up, she generously gave me a ride back to Willemstad. It certainly helps being friendly with the locals!

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West African masks and drums at the Hura Hulanda Museum

One unexpected discovery was the Kura Hulanda slavery museum in Willemstad. I was certainly not expecting the sprawling, world-class sight that it is. The breadth of excellently displayed items is amazing: Sumerian cuneiform tablets; Bronze Age weapons, pottery, and metalwork; Islamic artifacts like the doors from the Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu; cast bronze statues from Benin; wooden and fabric African masks and statues; and so much more! The first-hand writings and pictures detailing the slavery experience in Curaçao (and the world) was intense and fascinating, yet repelling. Many artifacts were displayed - chains, shackles, uniforms, weapons, period paintings and drawings - all brought home man’s inhumanity to man in graphic detail. I really liked how the exhibits detailed its lesson while celebrating the cultural achievements of people involved in the experience at the same time. There was even the front page of a newspaper from Springfield, Ohio, talking about African-Americans struggles for rights in post-Civil War United States!

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Artifacts from Curaçao’s slavery past are touchingly displayed

I spent more than an hour exploring every room of the sprawling Kura Hulanda. For a History buff like me, this was a great find. I really liked how it told the story of everyone involved in a detailed, non-preaching way. The museum let the facts and exhibits speak for themselves. It was the perfect example of how to show something, rather than tell.

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Medieval manuscripts are displayed along with Colonial ones from slavery days to tell the story of the various cultures involved in the world slave trade

After visiting a tasty local barbecue spot for lunch, I went back to my hotel for a quick nap. A post-nap visit to the Maritime Museum couldn’t hope to compare with the Kura Hulanda. Definitely a place visitors could skip. I also checked out a local art gallery, relaxed in a breezy square, and generally enjoyed a coup lazy days. I have more exiting things on tap - kayaking, hiking, and swimming with sea turtles. These last couple days were a chance to wind down from a hectic and stressful end to Winiter. My goal of having some down time was achieved, and it was a pleasant two days.

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World-class artifacts from Sumerian, Assyrian, Persian, Roman, Ethiopian, and more are part of Kura Hulanda’s stunning collection

Posted by world_wide_mike 14:14 Archived in Curaçao Comments (0)

Kayaking the Green and Blue Waters

Helping save Curaçao one tree at a time

sunny 83 °F

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Standing proudly with my paddle, after my day with Ryan de Jomgh’s Kayaking Expeditions

One of the reasons that I iike to read other people’s travel blogs is they often give you ideas about what to do in a country you’re planning to visit. I was so busy leading up to my Curacao trip that I essentially did no research ahead of time. I knew I had never been there, and I knew there was lots more to do than lay on a beach. And that was about it. So, while waiting out my four-hour layover in Toronto, I took advantage of the free airport WiFi to read up some about my destination. More and more each year, I have found TripAdvisor to be a good “crowdsource” of information. One thread led me to the blog “Curacao in 91Days” (http://curacao.for91days.com) - written by a German and American pair of travelers. One of the things Juergen and Mike did was go kayaking in Curacao’s mangrove swamps.

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Curaçao’s rocky coastline, where the second half of my kayaking would take place

I try to seek out new experiences when traveling, and though I’d been kayaking before , this sounded different. An internet search revealed their guide’s Facebook page, Ryan de Jongh’s Kayak Experience (https://www.facebook.com/Ryan-de-Jonghs-Kayak-Experience005-999-561-0813-131252130259872/). The 47-year old Ryan is a competitive sport kayaker and adventurer who has dedicated himself to protecting Curaçao’s environment. His signature cause was to replant and reestablish Curacao’s mangrove forests. Many of these vital marine ecosystems had been cut down and destroyed by industry throughout Curacao’s colonial and more modern past. He began a project to literally replant these one tree at a time. He would load up his kayak, and a second one that he towed, with seedlings and then paddle along the coast to a new bay to replant them. It took a lot of trial and error, hours of sweat, and relentless dedication, but he has succeeded. The mangrove that we would paddle through today was nursed along by him and is now a thriving part of the island’s environment, again.

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The kayaks, next to a section of the mangrove forest we would tour

I reached Ryan by phone and he said that he was available this week to lead a tour. I selected the tour that began at Santa Cruz’s mangrove because it also included a visit to the Blue Room - a sea cave I’d read and seen videos about and was very interested in visiting. Ryan showed up in his doughty van painted with his company’s advertisement, along with his sister and niece, who were visiting from Aruba and wanted to go along. After a quick stop at the marine institute, which he helped fund, to pick up another kayak, we were zipping along toward Curaçao’s western coast. Along the way, he told me the story of his amazing life -which, honestly, was worth the price of the tour itself. One of the most astounding aspects of it is his adopted sport of long-range kayaking. He has solo kayaked across the Caribbean Sea from St. Maarten to Curaçao - a 22-day journey that stopped at 17 islands along the way (many tiny, uninhabited one-night camping stops). I didn’t even know long-range kayaking was a sport, but at one time, Ryan said he was ranked number two in the world. He also circled the coastline of Curaçao as a fund-raising stunt for the marine institute, taking 36 consecutive hours to complete it. His next adventure is to row across the Atlantic Ocean in a specially-constructed craft, which he estimates will take him two months.

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Looking towards the sea from where we launched the kayaks

When we arrived at Santa Cruz, we offloaded the kayaks into a small creek that led to the ocean. However, we would be going the other way, through what looked like an impenetrable wall of mangrove trees. There was a “tunnel,”of sorts, though, and Ryan taught me that you don’t paddle through, but instead pull yourself through by grabbing onto branches and roots. My first thought was that my friend Keith Finn, an avid kayaker, would love this excursion. A couple minutes of pulling ourselves through the mangrove tunnel and we were in an open patch of water, completely surrounded by vibrant green mangrove trees. We paddled a ways, then pulled ourselves through another, longer passageway. We emerged in a pristine waterway, like a small pond. Here, he stopped us and told us the story of how he replanted Curaçao’s mangroves. We saw a sea hawk and other bird life, but otherwise, it was a quiet waterway, nature’s filtering system at work.

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The beach at Santa Cruz bay

Next, we took up our paddles again and return to our starting spot, where we lifted the kayaks across a tiny embankment so we could reach the sea. Our two kayaks began the slow paddle out to sea, and then across Santa Cruz bay. The waves were not that bad, and I never felt that I was about to be swamped or overturned. We used the wind at our backs to cross the bay and paddle along the rocky coastline towards the natural cave called the Blue Room. We could see a small yacht anchored ahead, and I guessed that was where the cave would be. Kayaking is hard work - for me, the toughest part is finding a comfortable position. I had to keep shifting myself during the paddle. With no back support in the multi-person kayaks, I never really found a spot for my legs and butt that was truly comfortable. It took awhile for me and my fellow novice to find a good rhythm and to avoid paddling in a zig-zag path. The experience paddling with the wind would come in handy on a return journey against it.

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The kayaks, pulled up onto the beach, after our journey to the Blue Room and back

After maybe 15-20minutes of paddling, we arrived at the Blue Room, and Ryan anchored our canoes. He explained how to enter the cave safely without scraping your head against the jagged rocks. Then, it was overboard into the warm Curaçao surf and its clear blue water. We followed Ryan to the entrance, watched him enter, and then ducked under the water to make our way into the cave. The interior was batched in a vibrant blue color. As the tiny opening was covered up by the ocean swells, the water and light would become an even deeper blue. Most of the floor is sandy, which reflects and intensifies the color. I wished I had brought snorkeling gear or even goggles so that I could open my eyes underwater for the full effect. If any readers happen upon this entry prior to going, definitely take some sort of gear. With my contact lenses in, I couldn’t risk opening my eyes and losing them. Still, it was an eerie, otherworldly experience in that small, fluorescent Blue Room.

For a video of what it looks like in here, check out this YouTube link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?vl=en&v=zReLUHyuo4E

It was somewhat entertaining watching me try to clamber back into my kayak - even with Ryan steadying it. Thank goodness for the floating, waterproof bag, otherwise my camera would have gone to the bottom! Yes, I tipped the kayak and plunged back into the water, spilling hat, water bottles, and the bag into the water. We retrieved it all and started over, this time successfully. The 20-minute paddle back to the beach wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. We stayed close to the rocky shoreline - Ryan pointing out nesting iguanas - where we were sheltered from the wind. When we finally had to cut across the open expanse of the bay, our novice paddling team kept up with Ryan and his sister. My dignity was spared the ignominy of being towed back by Ryan - which he offered several times if we felt we were tiring. Honestly, kayaking would be easier (I feel), if the seat had a back rest and was elevated slightly so my legs could be lower than the level of my butt. I will have to ask Keith about that, but I understood this was a beginner’s multiperson kayak, not one tailored to an individual’s body.

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It was a great day listening to Ryan’s stories and his efforts to help Curaçao’s environment. He is a fascinating person and is truly living the life he chooses. I learned a lot this day on the water, and was so glad I’d read the blog entry about his expeditions and was able to join one!

Posted by world_wide_mike 16:33 Archived in Curaçao Comments (0)

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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