We are in the area of the Caribbean known as the Dutch Antilles or the ABC’s. Having spent an enjoyable 9 nights in the “B” island of Bonaire, snorkelling every day and slotting easily into the very laid back atmosphere of the island we knew it was time to move west and on to the next letter of the alphabet!, and so, along with our cruising buddies on Bandit, we were headed for the “C” island of Curacao just over the horizon. We had a very pleasant sail, blue skies, 15 – 20 knots from the east, 1.5 metre seas. We both made the comment that had this been in the Mediterranean we might still have considered this a sporty days sail, but after the seas and winds we have become accustomed to in the Atlantic and Caribbean it was positively lovely. Bandit once again took line honours…(Skippers note…more blatant use of illegal sized headsail…sigh !!!)
Our ABC Island Cruising Guide mentioned the entrance to our chosen anchorage of Spanish Waters as being deceptively small…. well there was no deception there – it is very small (and no channel markers)! Add to that the fact that the Hyatt Hotel has popped up since the guide was written and “built” a beach with swimmers happily paddling around as well as installing some docks with large boats tied up, then there are the shallow spots to avoid and, as luck would have it, a stream of large power boats out enjoying the sunny Saturday afternoon and they all wanted to pass – at speed. Oh well!, there was nothing for it but to breath in and hope for the best. As is often the way all went without incident but it sure kept us on our toes for a while.
We thought in Bonaire there was a touch of Holland, well in downtown Willemstad the capital of Curacao you truly could be forgiven for thinking you were in Holland. Our first day trip into town was to complete Customs and Immigration procedures, all straightforward but we got in plenty of exercise walking from one to the other, then we didn’t quite time it right for the Harbour Authorities lunch break so had to go off and have our own lunch break and return to them later. We normally allow a day to check in to a country, if its quicker then that is always a bonus.
Wandering around Willemstad is a very colourful experience. Candy coloured buildings line the harbour on both sides. Cafes with umbrella shaded outdoor tables serve a blend of Caribbean, Dutch and American food. Venezuelan vendors run a floating market on a nearby canal – their stalls were overflowing with fresh produce of all shapes, sizes, flavours, colours and prices. Both sides of the harbour are connected by the unique swinging, floating Queen Emma Bridge.
Then there are the people - what a diverse cultural blend. Initially, way back in the year dot the Arawak Indians lived here, then along came the Spanish in 1499, followed by the Dutch in 1634. Both tried to do what the Europeans were so good at doing during that time of new world discovery …. attempt to wipe out the indigenous race and steal anything worth stealing!!! So not many Arawaks survived which created a manpower shortage duly solved by shipping African slaves to do all the work. Curacao then became a major port for slave trading for many years. More recently you need to throw in a few Venezuelans, well it is just down the road and major oil refineries were built here for processing Venezuelan Oil, hence importing Venezuelan labour. So all in all it is somewhat of a melting pot culturally speaking, and if you sit back and people watch you would never ever guess what country you were in.
We spent a day out and about exploring by hire car, we shared it with Brenda and David from Bandit again. The island is much bigger than Bonaire, but the vegetation and landscape are very similar. We found some wonderful sheltered coves on the northwestern coast, the water so clear, the sand a brilliant white, the surrounding colours so sharp they almost didn’t look real. We stopped at Playa Knip for a picnic lunch, followed by a snorkel and swim, the clarity of the water was outstanding, there were some lovely corals and a good selection of tropical fish to entertain us for quite some time.
Across on the windy east coast at Shete Boca National Park it was an entirely different picture. No shelter from the 25–30 knot trade winds here. We visited an impressive natural bridge carved and shaped by the relentless ocean waves crashing onto the rocky shore line. The surrounding landscape felt weather beaten and raw, only cacti and thorn bushes thrive here. It seems everything comes with sharp edges in such a hostile environment. What a contrast to the sheltered western coastline just 10 miles away.
We ended our sightseeing day with a little luxury, Curacao cocktails on the terrace of the Hyatt Hotel. Brenda chose a Blue Curacao Margarita while I opted for a Roman Crush with Orange Curacao as an ingredient. Well …. when in Curacao it would be downright rude not to drink Curacao (the liquor)! They were both excellent. Luckily for the budget David and Mark stuck to beer.
We have enjoyed our time here and will move on in a day or 2, we plan to have only a short stop in the “A” island of Aruba before heading to Colombia. We have a relatively settled weather window coming up and want to make the most of it, hopefully getting to Colombia for Easter.