IT’S our fourth day in Curaçao and we’re finally starting to get settled in a bit. After any passage, there’s so much to do – check in, get fresh food, clean the boat, do laundry, find your bearings in a new place, dispose of trash, get water – that the first few days afterwards can be a little exhausting.
Monday, we got some great advice from our neighbour Don on Asseance about busses, customs/immigration/port authority, etc, and so decided to put off clearing in to the next morning and instead just focus on getting the boat back in shipshape condition and catching up on sleep. This extreme helpfulness is typical of the cruising community – you really end up relying on others, like when Per from Abeline dove on and reset our anchor when our boat was dragging in Carriacou. Another example: When I asked Don where I could get money to pay for the local bus into town, Don explained that there wasn’t an ATM before the bus stop and just handed me the fare for the two of us.
Philip and I continued to marvel at the amazing anchorage we found – we are totally sheltered from wind and waves, even more so than in the other anchorages, as we are 200 feet from a tall mesa which blocks a lot of the wind and keeps the water here flat, flat, flat – not even the tiny waves of the main anchorage.
The day after arrival, we headed into town to clear in. At 35 minutes, it’s a pretty long bus ride, but simple, and cheap – only about $.90 per ride. The bus was full of white people – very white (or rather pink) people – who were pretty obviously tourists, mostly Dutch. (DC folks: Every time we get on a bus that’s mostly white people, Philip whispers to me, “I feel like I’m riding the Circulator.”) We love travelling around countries by local bus – it’s a great way to get a nearly free tour of the place, and you generally can meet locals as well.
Willemstad, the main city on Curacao, is utterly charming. I didn’t take my camera, and will take shots when the new camera comes in three weeks (yay!) but you just have to see this, so I “borrowed” this shot from the internet. It’s Rotterdam, decorated by a 6-year old girl: fairly traditional Dutch buildings on canals, but the buildings are startlingly-bright Caribbean colors and the canals are brilliant blue. There are pitch-perfect European-style cafes along the waterfront by the Queen Anna Bridge, a floating pedestrian bridge that swings aside when marine traffic passes through the channel from harbor to sea.
We cleared in at customs first, then headed across the pedestrian bridge to immigration, but when we tried to clear in with the port authority, we found out that they were out for a colleague’s funeral and wouldn’t be back until 2:30 or so. It’s good that one of the immigration officers saw our confusion trying to get in; the port authority hadn’t left any sign that the office was closed or when they would get back, and there was a poor couple when we got back at 2:00 who had been waiting for ages and ages.
We decided to go explore the city a bit. The bridge was open for a boat when we headed back, so we hopped on the free ferry, which was a fun little adventure in itself, as ferries just kind of rock in the first place, and this one was good and decrepit, so it was extra fun.
The old town, Punda, is chock full of shops, and while most are geared toward tourists/cruise ship passengers with their big brand names and copious watches/jewelry/handbags, the streets were charming and full of life. We explored the “floating market,” where vendors from Venezuela sell fresh veggies brought in from the mainland from stalls, behind which are moored the boats they live on, and the new market, a covered concrete monstrosity built by the European community in 1975 but actually epitomizing the worst of communist-era African architecture. In the new market, local vendors sell veggies, fish, random goods and tourist tat. The “old market” was far more interesting, having been converted into stalls where cooks prepare Creole, or “krioyo” dishes in huge, steaming vats for the crowd of city workers that gathers at lunchtime every day. For about $7 apiece, we had huge plates of food – Philip the goat stew, me the king fish – accompanied by mashed potatoes, salad, rice and beans and fried plantains. Mmmmm.
As we were walking around and checking in, we realized that people were speaking a whole mix of languages. Curacao is part of what used to be known as the Netherlands Antilles, or the ABCs (Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire), and is technically a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which means that the Netherlands handles defense, foreign policy and finance. So there are a lot of Dutch people here, and Dutch is widely spoken. However, while Spanish and English are also widely spoken, the local language, spoken by 85% of the population, is called Papiamentu and is a mix of all of the above, plus French. It’s pretty funny, actually, if you know some of these languages:
Good morning: Bon dia
Please: Por fabor
Thank you: Danki
Basically, though, everyone speaks English, though I did demonstrate just how non-existent my Spanish is in a halting conversation with a Venezuelan vendor about whether I needed to refrigerate the cheese he had out (unrefrigerated). It went something like this:
Me: Que es?
Him: Es queso.
Me: Ah. Need frigo?
Him: [Something long and complicated in Spanish I totally didn’t understand.}
Me: Oh, no habla espangol!
Him: Si, un pequito!
Me: No, soy Americana. Un pequito pequito.
It was kind of hysterical. Pretty much all my Spanish has been absorbed through Sesame Street and popular culture. Time to hit the Rosetta Stone before we head to South and Central America!
Anyway, we spent a lovely afternoon exploring the town and getting a cellular wifi thingie (yay! Internet on the boat!!!) before heading back across the pedestrian bridge to the port authority to finalize checking in. On the way back to the other side of town, the bridge was open so we took the ferry again, then hit the floating market for veggies and headed toward the bus station – at which point I realized that we had left the internet stick thingie in the port authority office. Back across the channel we went, on the ferry again as a huge tanker was about to enter the channel.
It was an amazing display of skill as two tug boats brought the tanker into the channel against the incredibly strong wind and current; the tugs – one fore, one aft -- were off at an almost-90 degree angle from the tanker to keep it moving forwards, and heeled way over on their sides. The rear tug was also pulling backwards to keep the stern from swinging around. As the three boats entered the channel, the tugs had to adjust the angle at which they were pulling as the current and wind dropped, until they were each aligned pulling straight forward and back. It was amazing to watch: the boats were so close to the sides of the channel , and it was clearly an incredibly difficult operation, but it was so well done it looked easy.
One more trip on the ferry (that makes 2 pedestrian bridge crossings, 4 ferry crossings and six hours of walking for those playing the home game) and we were back at the bus station, exhausted but happy to have serendipitously landed in such a cool place for the hurricane season.
Yesterday morning, we caught the awesome FREE bus that runs at 10 every morning to the grocery/marine stores and replenished our provisions. I’m in love with the grocery store here. It’s literally the best grocery store I’ve been in during our entire trip in the Caribbean. Things aren’t expensive, and there’s an astounding variety; far more than the urban DC markets I was used to. It’s amazing how much it matters to have access to good food when you are no longer adventuring; I am fine with limited selection and eating local foods when I’m exploring a new place, but sitting somewhere for 3 months and working necessitates a bit more comfort in my book.
In the afternoon, we explored the shore, wandering amongst the cacti, thorn bushes and deadly-sharp rock outcrops, terrified we’d trip and end up losing an eye or all the skin on a limb. Although we weren’t able to see any of the parrots we watch from the boat up close, we did see a hummingbird, these adorable tiny doves, and a sweet little yellow warbler. The path along the shore is a bit schizophrenic, with scrub and cacti on one side and mangrove swamp on the other. On the peninsula between us and the next bay, there was an amazing series of salt ponds with huge pink boulders looming above them (a bit like the lakes in Prescott, for the AZ folks), but right next to a tropical beach complete with azure water, palm trees and sparkling white sand.
Yeah, Curacao doesn’t suck.