Curacao 2/05

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Reaching the top of a Caribbean mountain...

Top of the 1400ft. Christoffelberg hike

I had a February client engagement on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and extended the opportunity into another of my sanity vacations, where I get away by myself for a few days and pursue new experiences. Curaçao is the "C" in the Netherlands Antilles ABC islands, the others being Aruba and Bonaire, located roughly 30 miles off the coast of South America in the Caribbean. On this sanity trip I hiked a mountain and explored a diverse natural countryside. The weather was nearly perfect throughout with no rain, 85° F days, 75° F nights and cooling tradewinds.

Sunday Feb. 13th - Tuesday Feb. 15th

My trip began with a stop in Miami's South Beach where I strolled Washington St., grabbed dinner at Grillfish, did the 15th St. Beach Walk at night (first picture below) and then caught the Grammy awards live at a bar. On Monday, after a good breakfast at Jerry's Famous Deli, I headed to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands for the work portion of the trip at the Ritz Carlton. The Ritz was grand, with views of St. John and the British Virgin Islands from my suite (second and third pictures below). Tuesday after our work was done, I had an excellent sunset dinner with my partner Sheila at Oceana Restaurant & Wine Bar in Charlotte Amalie (view in fourth picture below).

 

Sunset from the "Blues" restaurant landing

Wednesday Feb. 16th and Thursday Feb. 17th

Wednesday was a relaxing beach morning at the Ritz and then a travel day, connecting through San Juan, Puerto Rico to arrive in Curaçao late in the night. I drove 6 easy miles from the airport to the Curaçao Marriott at Piscadera Bay, which was an excellent hotel in a great location. They had a deli open until 2am for a snack and a casino open to steal a 20 spot from me before bed. Waking up Thursday morning, I took some coffee time in a nice beach spot to begin reading my book (first picture below). I headed out in the late morning for a drive around the eastern portion of the island. The roads in Curaçao are good, better marked than in Aruba, and generally easy to navigate. The whole island is only 37 miles long and 7 miles wide, so getting around was quick.

 

Crossing the spectacular Queen Juliana Bridge headed east on the 'Ring' road, I got my first view of the Dutch-influenced main city of Willemstad, which I would explore later that afternoon. I stopped for lunch at Brasserie Passeniers Wineseller in the Promenade Shopping Center, where I ate the best $14 lunch I've ever had, including a delicious Cuban aged ham & exotic cheese sandwich and a very good glass of Chilean Undurraga Reserva Chardonnay 2002. The northeast coast was beautifully unspoiled with natural inlets (second picture below) and a wide variety of landscapes ranging from green forest (third picture below) to desert (fourth picture below).

By mid-afternoon I was headed back toward Willemstad and stopped at Landhuis Chobolobo, home to the original Curaçao Liqueur distillery. There's a small tasting room and sales area there, along with what looked like a demonstration of how the liqueur was made. It turned out that the small antique equipment (first picture below) was the entire manufacturing facility for the liqueur, in its many varieties. I picked up a Delft hand-painted bottle of original Curaçao as a souvenir.

 

The city of Willemstad is made up of two halves, Punda and Otrobanda, separated by Schottegat Bay and crossed at its entrance by the Queen Emma Pontoon walking bridge (second picture below, view from Otrobanda side). The architecture is Dutch and similar on both sides of the city, but the layout of the streets differ. Along the inner bay in Punda a floating market is set up every day where fresh fruits and vegetables brought over from Venezuela are sold (third picture below). After a long walk all around Punda, I headed 10 minutes east to Avila Beach, home of "Blues" Restaurant and Bar. I watched Thursday's sunset from the end of the landing there (large picture top of page right) "Blues" is a bit of a local legend, where they have live blues bands playing from 6pm on Thursday and Saturday nights (fourth picture below). The bartender gave me his drink recipe for a Bomibomi (meaning 'welcome'): 1 shot Blue Curaçao, 1 shot rum, 2 shots pineapple juice and 1 shot fresh squeezed lemon juice. The meal, drinks, music and views were wonderful and a fitting end to my first full day in Curaçao.

Friday Feb. 18th

After my morning beach coffee and reading, I grabbed a take-out lunch and water bottles from the Marriott's deli and headed out to the western portion of the island. The landscapes varied even more in this direction than toward the east. After passing a series of Landhuis landmarks, I took a scenic detour down to the beach at San Pedro where I saw a Plantation (first picture below with some of the residents blocking the road), cactus fields, the Kodela Wind Farm and a lot of wild horses and other animals (second picture below - animals grazing if you look closely).

Returning to the main road, I headed to Landhuis Savonet at the entrance to Christoffel National Park, which occupies 5000 acres near the western tip of the island. This park contains three one-way driving routes and many hiking trails. I drove up the mountain route making a few site and view stops before getting to the base of Christoffelberg, which at 1400ft. is the highest mountain in Curaçao. The view in the third picture above from the base of the hiking trail shows the imposing hike to come. The trail was well marked, but still a challenging climb in some spots (fourth picture above). The hike took about 45 minutes, passing different natural ecosystems and some dramatic views along the way (first picture below). What a rush it was to turn that last trail corner and pull myself up onto the peak of the mountain. It was the highlight of my trip both physically and emotionally. I stayed at the peak for some time eating the lunch I brought and taking in the 360° views which included Aruba, Bonaire and Venezuela (second and third pictures below and the large picture at the top left of this page). After a 40 minute hike back down to the base, I explored the rest of the park by car for a while and then headed back to the Marriott via the southern route. I was on the beach sipping a good Chardonnay, listening to a Caribbean band and reading my book again by sunset (fourth picture below, trying a more artsy silhouette view).

Saturday Feb. 19th and Sunday Feb. 20th

In every trip, I want at least one day to be completely unstructured, and that was Saturday. I woke up, did my beach coffee thing and then sat on my balcony to read my book, jot some notes and listen to music (first picture below). Around lunch time I drove into Willemstad and walked the Otrobanda side of the city (second picture below, view from the Punda side) which has a wonderful museum, the Kura Hulanda, focusing on black history and Curaçao's part in 18th and 19th century slave trading. The view of Punda's Fort Amsterdam and Waterfront Arches from Otrobanda is shown in the third picture below. I spent Saturday's sunset hours again sipping Chardonnay on the beach at the Marriott (fourth picture below).

 

Having achieved my own version of calm and lived some new experiences, I flew out Sunday afternoon for home.

Home Up Aruba 5/14 Aruba 7/13 Aruba 4/09 Aruba 10/04 Cancun 5/07 Costa Rica 4/06 Costa Rica 7/04 Costa Rica 11/12 Curacao 2/05 Grand Cayman 12/00 Jamaica 7/07 Panama 12/13 Puerto Rico coasts 7 & 9/14 Puerto Rico & Vieques 12/08 Puerto Rico & Vieques 9/08 Puerto Rico 12/07 Saint Kitts 2/06 Virgin Islands 12/03

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