Exploring Curaçao – Sept. 15, 2012

Tonight I’m sitting on my parents’ sofa back in Kitchener after a delicious homemade meal. I’ll be completing my Bonaire blog with Saturday’s and Sunday’s blogs.

Photos here

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Saturday morning began with me waking up at 6:30, but Joanna wanted to sleep longer. We were at the Clarion Hotel in Curaçao after we had been forced to travel to Curaçao a day early due to the cancellation of the Saturday morning flight from Bonaire.

I decided to go downstairs to do the Friday blog,  and ended up sitting beside Clarion’s attractive pool. By the time I got back upstairs, Joanna was up, and we went down to the poolside restaurant. The breakfast was included in our bill, and was actually very good.

We discussed how we would spend our day, as we didn’t have to fly out of Curaçao until 3:40 in the afternoon. We decided to rent a car and explore the island, after which we would park the rental at the hotel. When we inquired about this at the front desk, she said she knew just the company that could do this, and made a call. The rental car man said he would be there in 25 minutes, so we decided to pack up and leave right away. After we had tidied up and brought our suitcases downstairs, we eventually met a young Curaçaoian man who said he was with the rental company. Joanna had stepped around the corner for a few moments, and he said he needed me to bring the car back from an adjacent parking lot. I jumped in what looked like his personal car, and drove about four blocks away, where I got in a small Hyundai vehicle. The clutch took a bit of getting used to, but in a few minutes, we were back at the hotel.

This is where it got a bit strange. From what I could tell, he ran his own rental company, with probably only a couple of cars in the fleet. It looked like this was his personal vehicle that we were renting. He wanted us to pay in cash, which we agreed to. It was $55 for the day, plus gas. The tank was on empty, so we had to fill up right away.

After we sat down in the car, I said to Joanna that the situation looked a bit odd, as we hadn’t checked for possible damage or insurance. I asked if she wanted to continue, and we both agreed that while it was a bit unusual, we would go ahead. He agreed to meet us at the airport around 2:00 p.m., and told us to just park it in the parking lot, and he would find us, which seemed a different way of doing things.

Soon we were flying down the road, admiring the sights! The first thing we noticed was the the World Trade Centre, situated beside the Clarion Hotel.

As we drove along the coastal road, we came across what looked like gigantic desalination plants. Just like Bonaire, all the water used on the island is desalinated sea water.

We then passed a huge oil rig ship docked nearby. It towered over the landscape, and was quite impressive.

Before we knew it, we arrived at the Otra Banda tourist section of Curaçao. We parked the car and decided to walk across the pontoon bridge.

The Renaissance Hotel was on the far side of the channel, with the old fort beside that. The pontoon bridge itself is actually a floating bridge, supported by a bunch of pontoons that look like little boats. It creaked and swayed as we walked onto it. The camera was put to good use, taking lots of photos of the picturesque old Dutch-style buildings that make up this area.

The main traffic bridge is about a kilometre further up the channel, with this area being strictly for pedestrians.

When we got to the other side, we decided to walk around a few blocks. Joanna was able to pick up an SD card in order to transfer some of my pictures to for her to take home. We came across some beautifully decorated alleyways, with sculptures of sunflowers, etc. There was a bell clarion on the side of one of the buildings. This downtown section is very attractive, with some beautiful old gingerbread architecture and ornate roof peaks.

After we had walked through a few alleyways, we came out to the fruit market area which is still along a canal. These vendors are most likely from Venezuela, and their produce looked very good. We also passed a group of Boy Scouts. Apparently the Boy Scout movement is very big in Curaçao. There were also a few boats selling fish.

We rounded the corner and came back to the water’s edge, intending to walk back across to our car. I asked Joanna what she thought the motor noise was across the water, and she pointed to the pontoon bridge, which was now folded up against the far side of the channel! We weren’t going to be crossing on the pontoon bridge any time soon. We browsed in a few more shops, and then discovered that there was a ferry that could take us to the far side. It only took five minutes for it to arrive back on our side, and another five minutes for it to cross the channel. It is quite a handy system they have, and the tourists seem to love it.

We figured that a large ship must be approaching the harbour from beyond, and, sure enough, a container ship soon appeared around the corner of the bay. It had two large tugs and a pilot boat accompanying it.

We also noticed that the entire pontoon bridge was made almost completely out of wood. Years ago, Curaçao was the favourite vacation spot for the TWR staff working on Bonaire. It now seems that both sides of the channel have been cleaned up, and are very attractive, with various statues and concert venues on the plaza.

Soon it was time to carry on. We hopped in the car, and crossed the large bridge to the other side, heading eastward on the island. The trick was that we had no GPS, and only a fold-out map to go by. Joanna assumed the job of navigator, and found it very challenging. Here the street signs indicate the destination of a particular road, and not the name of the road itself. Nonetheless, we only had to turn around once.

As we drove along, we could see the large oil refinery ahead. Previously it had been owned by Shell, but was now leased to Venezuela to process their oil. I heard that the environmental upgrades had not yet been started. There was a considerable haze on the horizon as a result of what appeared to be a very busy refinery.

As we drove further east, we noticed that Curaçao seems to have a lot more medium-size mountains than Bonaire. We saw a few mango trees, and figured that in general, Curaçao gets more rainfall than Bonaire.

Another observation was that there was a great deal of industrial activity on Curaçao as compared to Bonaire. Curaçao has 150,000 people, and apparently very lax environmental laws.

Later on in the afternoon, we had some time to kill after we arrived at the airport, so we drove past it, and tried to find a dive site on the coast, as I wanted to see the ocean again. No sooner had we turned off the highway then we realized we were driving through what looked like a dump, with garbage strewn on either side of the road. My guess is this was an abandoned landfill area where people continued to throw out things at random.

When we arrived at the edge of the sea, there was already what looked like a septic-tank truck parked right near the edge of the ocean. To our horror, the driver got out and opened up a big spigot at the back of the truck, which spewed raw sewage into the ocean! It was really quite disconcerting to watch. Curaçao could certainly use an organization like STINAPA to protect the environment. It seems one of the basic differences between Curaçao and Bonaire is Curaçao’s lack of environmental concern.

But back to our travels.

Joanna had spotted some land houses along the map, a fair distance to the east. These are the old plantation houses from the colonial days. When we tried to reach them, we ended up on a private road and had to turn around. She then spotted some land houses past the airport, and so we decided to check them out instead. We stopped for lunch at a Subway, and brought the sandwiches with us to eat later. The land house we found was called Papaya Land house. Apparently hundreds of years ago, this used to be a papaya plantation. The building was a magnificent 150-year old stone structure that was now used by evangelical Christians as a drug rehabilitation centre. The manager was a very enthusiastic older man who was eager to show us around the facility.

They can house forty men here who are recovering drug addicts. They have various chores around the property, with about a quarter of them working in the community. There were chickens running throughout. In addition to the old servant quarters, they had built two more bunk houses at the rear of the property. They also had an old cistern which was unused. This is another paradox of these islands in that cisterns are outlawed. Apparently the excuse was that mosquitoes would breed in them. My sister, who owns a farm, found it incredible that they could not use rain water for irrigation.

The manager explained that they had a 70% success rate with the residents who stayed from between nine to eleven months. Of the thirty per cent, some would have to return up to five different times before they could kick their drug habits. Joanna wasn’t entirely convinced that the statistics were accurate.

We then headed up the road, and came across what we thought was a resort. It had a very large Las Vegas-style sign at the front bearing the words Campo Allegra. As we drove closer to it, we noticed that it was completely surrounded by a cement wall. It was then that we realized that the sign was a fig leaf, and this was a nudist colony. We headed back down the highway.

It was time to return to the airport, and wait to meet the owner of the vehicle. As we were a bit early, we decided to get our bags checked in, and then sat down in a restaurant to wait. I took the opportunity to dictate my blog from the previous day.

It took us half an hour to finally locate the owner, but it all turned out well in the end. Joanna commented later that some people wouldn’t have been willing to take this kind of risk in order to explore the island. The rental man was probably just an ambitious businessman who will likely do well in the future.

We went through security, and discovered that we were not allowed to take any liquids with us into the airport. This was a new rule from the previous year, and so we ended up a little thirsty throughout the rest of the day. They even refused water purchased in the airport lounge.

The flight left on schedule at 3:40, bound for Miami. We were able to get aisle seats beside each other, and spent most of the time reading our e-books.

When we arrived in Miami, they required us to pick up our baggage and go through security, and then take it to another baggage counter to put it on the next plane. Even with the extra security precautions, we still made our flight on time.

The flight from Miami to Toronto was uneventful, but a bit tiring. Joanna and I took turns playing Angry Birds on my iPad. Like myself, Joanna never has time for video games, and so rather enjoyed this distraction.

By the time we were off the plane in Toronto, it was ten minutes after midnight.

Joanna’s partner was there on schedule to meet her, and we exchanged hugs all the way around. I told Joanna that this had been one of the best birthdays I had ever had. In fact, I felt pretty good for being a half century old!

Soon I was aboard an Airways Transit van, heading back to Kitchener. When I entered my condo, my cat was there to greet me, which was wonderful. By the time I finally got to sleep, it was almost 2:30 on Sunday morning. I must admit, it sure feels good to be home!

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