Curacao, July-December 2007 (photos)
spent almost four months in Curacao, first coming there to avoid the
Caribbean hurricanes (we came south to the island in late August when
Hurricane Dean threatened) then staying until December because it's
a nice place and was a convenient protected (and free) anchorage in
which to leave Akka when we traveled to the US and, later, Brazil.
Here are some of our impressions of our life there.
one of the so-called "ABC" islands: Aruba, Bonaire and
Curacao. They're located about 20 miles from the Venezuelan coast,
at 12 degrees latitude. They're low-lying and dry; all island water
is provided by huge reverse-osmosis plants.
the capital of Curacao, is also the capital of the Netherlands Antilles,
which, in addition to Curacao and Bonaire, consist of Sint Maarten,
Sint Eustatius, and Saba. The Netherlands Antilles were given autonomous
status in the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1954, and Aruba, originally
part of the conglomerate, seceded in 1986. Given that Bonaire and
Curacao are separated from the rest of the Netherlands Antilles
by about 500 nautical miles of Caribbean, and that they have virtually
nothing in common in the way of climate (the northern islands are
in "hurricane alley" and the southern ones are not), resources
(gold and oil in the south, nothing much in the north), and economy
(Curacao has oil refineries and Bonaire has diving, while St. Maarten
depends on cruise ships and duty-free shops), it's amazing that
they've stayed together this long. They're due to break up completely
sometime soon, but exactly how soon is an open question. We read
that the date was December 2008, but later we talked to a TV video
crew that was taping some advertisements in favor of autonomy --
so we guess the issue is still open.
is divided into two towns, Punda and Otrabanda, by a large canal;
during the whole time we were in Curacao we never heard anybody
refer to Willemstad by name, only Punda or Otrabanda. Punda is the
original settlement, and the waterfront buildings are all classical
Dutch, with those curly clock roof lines They're painted in intense
pastels -- gold and yellow, aqua to royal blues, greens and corals.
The effect is quite charming, especially when viewed from across
the canal in Otrabanda or from the pedestrian swing-pontoon bridge,
said to be the longest such bridge in the west (in the world?).
The bridge opens for ship traffic by swinging to one side, and while
it's open, a free ferry service carries people between Punda and
Otrabanda. Otrabanda was a run-down neighborhood until the 90's,
when a local foundation began renovation of some of the fine old
buildings. The neighborhood also benefits from the presence of the
beautiful 5-star Kura-Hulanda Hotel, with its associated Slavery
Museum, which we visited and recommend highly.
Along the Punda
waterfront is the Floating Market, a fish and produce market that's
been a part of the local scene for hundreds of years. The vendors
are fishermen and farmers from Venezuela, who sail over to sell
their goods from their boats. There are now stalls on the sidewalk
by the boats, so most of the market isn't literally floating, but
the Venezuelans live on their boats for the time they're there.
The canal opens into a huge lagoon or "gut," a highly
industrialized area inland from Punda and Otrabanda, where the oil
refineries are located. (The refineries, by the way, appear not
to follow EPA standards, but fortunately the tradewinds blow the
pollution away. Open flames brighten the nights, and the pollution
makes for lovely sunsets.)
Like all of
the Caribbean islands, Curacao has an "indigenous" Creole
language that comes out of slavery, combining words and features
of African languages blended with the languages of European countries
that owned the islands. Unlike the rest of the islands, however,
the Curacao argot, called Papiamento, is a respected, if not official,
language. While other islands try to repress their Creole vernaculars
(Antigua, for example, forbids the use of "dialect" in
public schools), or at the very least relegate them to use by the
lower classes, in Curacao there are public schools in which the
teaching language is Papiamento, speeches are given in Papiamento
by members of the Government, and some radio and TV stations use
it exclusively. Signs are variously in Papiamento, Dutch, and English.
The use of Papiamento is somewhat racially determined -- every black
person we know speaks it (at least as a second language), but some
of the white Dutch residents speak almost none. One of our Dutch
friends said "I think it's crazy that they continue to speak
Papiamento. Nobody else in the world speaks this language -- so
why learn it?" Considering the role of the Dutch language in
world affairs, there's some irony there.
We were fascinated
by Papiamento (especially Andi, with her background in linguistics).
The vocabulary derives mainly from African, Portuguese, Spanish,
Dutch, and of course for modern technology, English. Other than
words for "hello", "please" and "thank
you", we couldn't understand any spoken Papiamento. But the
written language is phonetic, using essentially English phonetic
constructs. The result looks amusingly like a novelist's rendition
of illiterate spelling, as in the roadside danger sign: "Obstakels!"
By pronouncing out written Papiamento we could generally get the
sense of it. One of our favorite examples is a church we saw every
time we took the bus, with a big sign saying "Resurekshon i
Bida". Resurekshon is easy enough, but Bida? For that, one
has to remember the Spanish pronunciation of "V" as a
sort of fricative "B": Bida is the way a Spanish speaker
pronounces "Vida", or life. Similarly, "Bo"
means "you" (consider the Spanish stem "vo"
in vos, vosotros, etc.), and "Bon Bini" means "Welcome".
But you can't get too comfortable with just transliterating Spanish.
The morning greeting is "Bon dia", and by afternoon, it's
"Bon tarde"; but in the evening, it becomes "Bon
aben." After the fact, you can figure it out, but you can't
Much of our
Curacao experience is related to the anchorage we were in, a large
lagoon called Spanish Water (Spaanse Water). This lagoon is placid,
provided excellent holding for our anchors, and hosts a large cruising
community (about 50-80 boats) during the hurricane season (June-December).
A waterside bar called Sarifundy's, half on land and half floating,
caters to the cruising crowd, with Happy Hours every Monday and
Thursday and free busses to big supermarkets (and the chandlery,
Budget Marine) once a day except Sundays; but other than that, the
lagoon is quite isolated from the population and commerce of Curacao.
A public bus does run into Willemstad, but a round-trip into Willemstad
by bus generally took us about 1-1/2 hours, 2-1/2 if we had any
business to conduct away from the area of the bus station. Also,
the last bus from Punda was at 9:30 PM, making it impractical to
go into town for dinner or a movie. And if we missed the last bus,
the taxi fare -- around $15 US -- was punitive.
The net effect
of this circumstance is that we (like the rest of the cruisers)
tended to take the free busses to the supermarkets and chandlery
in preference to the public bus to town, and as a result we got
less involved with Curacao and its culture than we might have otherwise.
Our activities were directed more locally, and tended to feature,
in one way or another, our fellow cruisers -- either as participants
on the Morning Radio Net, companions on the bus rides, or drinking
companions at happy hour. This was enjoyable and comfortable, and
of course we made new friends whom we'll no doubt see again, but
it gave us little to write home about.
For us, the
most delightful feature of Spanish Waters is that it is a hotbed
of small boat sailing. There's a Sea Scout facility and 2-3 sailing
schools with active training fleets. Through Rob's judging activities,
we knew Cor Van Aanholt, a Dutch-born Curacaon with a home on Spanish
Water who is an International Judge and also the 1980 World Sunfish
Champion. Cor and his wife and their 4 kids are all avid sailors
-- one of their 2 sons was at the US Atlantic Coast Optimist Championships
in Norfolk, Virginia this fall. In September, Curacao held its Sunfish
Championship over 2 weekends, and with Cor's encouragement, Rob
rented a Sunfish from a local marina and managed to place 8th in
the fleet of 19. Cor, of course, won, going away. At the awards
ceremony, Andi got the job of presenting trophies and kissing the
winners. Actually, acknowledgment was given to practically everyone,
and since the Dutch custom is 3 kisses, she got in a lot of kisses!
After Rob told
his racing story at happy hour, the cruisers' community became interested
in Sunfish sailing, arranged a deal with the rental company, and
held a cruisers' Sunfish regatta. Ond Dutch cruiser asked, "We
know we can cross oceans in our 'houses', but who can race a tiny
boat?" Nineteen sailors signed up, and we held a 3-race regatta.
Everyone had a ball, and naturally, Rob won, going away. There was
such enthusiasm that this may become a regular event!
The Van Aanholts
were the driving force behind the establishment of a Youth Sailing
Center in Spanish Waters, and almost every afternoon there were
a dozen or more Optimists out sailing and practicing through the
anchorage. On Sundays, there were sometimes over 90 of them! The
kids all looked and sounded so happy, chattering back and forth
as they tacked around us. In addition to the Optis, the older kids
sail a dinghy called a Splash -- it's sort of a scaled down Laser
that provides a nice transition between the Opti and Laser.
also featured a very active sailboard center. Every afternoon as
the wind came up, the boardsailors came out, zipping from the shore
to the anchorage, doing amazing tacks and jibes, then zipping back
again. Kids also enjoyed the boards. It was amazing to see spindly
10-12 year olds with mini-sails, screeching along on the boards.
fleet was also active. Well, only 5 boats, but they raced 3 nights
a week, at around 5:30 until dark. (At 12 degrees latitude, the
days and nights were about equal, with sunup and sundown around
6:45.) They raced around set buoys, the first of which was some
100' to leeward of Akka's anchoring spot. So, they'd come around
the mark and harden up and have to decide if they could weather
us. There were lots of close calls but nobody ran into us, and we
had a lot of conversations with them as we critiqued their decision-making
while sipping our sundowners.
despite our long stay in Curacao we never got to sample much of
the features for which it's famous -- its diving, rugged and secluded
northern and southern ends, or Punda's cosmopolitan nightlife and
the island's casinos. On the other hand, we did get to enjoy life
in a fascinating multicultural island that's thriving and interesting.
We'd certainly recommend Spanish Water as a place for cruisers to
hide from hurricanes, and the whole island as a place to spend some