Curacao has remained a mixed bag for us as we continue to oscillate on our opinion, based on a spectrum of experiences, both good and bad. It was here in Curacao, though, that Elaine got to realise a lifelong dream and fulfil her #1 Bucket List item – To swim with dolphins. In fact, she got to surpass this dream, as she didn’t swim with dolphins, she actually got to dive with them in their natural habitat. For her, it was indeed the most wonderful, magical experience which will forever hold a special place in her heart and one that definitely outweighs the negative aspects of our experience here. Specifically the Spanish Water anchorage, that has left us with the distinct impression that cruisers are no longer welcome here. Couple this with locals, with the exception of a few, who have been extremely unfriendly and, at times, downright rude, where one lady in particular, completely embarrassed and humiliated Elaine. We would go as far as to say that many have a “major chip on their shoulders”, which is unfortunate.
What has made the anchorage in Spanish Waters very unpleasant, besides the bizarre demarcation system, where cruising yachts have to anchor within a set boundary, are the endless speed boats that race, not only up and down the fairways, but straight through the anchorage field, sending every boat into a violent rock. Add to this, the numerous small sailing yachts and wind-surfers hurtling through the anchorage field at a rate of knots because of the strong winds, and, at times colliding with the cursing yachts. Not only is the anchorage unpleasant, but it is extremely unsafe and certainly does not serve the purpose of having us all corralled into one area - supposedly for our safety. The remote location doesn’t help either. It is miles from the capital, Willemstad, with no facilities for cruisers within a dinghy ride or short walk. This is fortunately negated by a reasonably inexpensive local bus service that can take you to town, as well as a grocery bus that runs every day to one of the local supermarkets and within walking distance of a laundry and various chandleries. Other services like obtaining propane gas or provisioning at the larger, less expensive grocery stores, however, requires a car. Access to the internet is non-existent, without visiting one of two local restaurants or purchasing a rather expensive data plan from one of the local providers. Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the water and the howling wind that funnels through the anchorage. The latter is relentless and, at times, reaches speeds in excess of 48 Knots and the former is not ventured into at all, except for the sole purpose of having to clean your yacht, dinghy, chain and bridle. Some brave cruisers do, however, dare to take a daily plunge in order to bathe. It is, therefore, not surprising that, although this used to be a bustling hurricane holdout for many cruisers waiting to transit the Panama Canal or who headed south to avoid the hurricanes, as we did, now choose to by-pass Curacao.
On the upside and, since frequenting various islands, good and bad, is part of the cruising lifestyle, we did embrace the more positive elements that the island has to offer the landlubber vacationer as well as enjoyed the cast of characters that surrounded us in the anchorage, reconnected with many of the wonderful cruisers we had met in Bonaire and got to complete the remainder of our offshore outfitting tasks. Curacao did, slowly, but surely, reveal her charm and magic to us, in particular, the historic capital, Willemstad, which comprises two neighbourhoods, Punda and Ortobanda, on either side of the canal, and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
From the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, completed in 1888, with the colourful lights creating a fairyland at night, to the numerous colourful buildings with amazing architectures, dating as far back as 1635, including the Penha Building, built as a merchant house in 1708 and which has retained the original woodwork throughout, to the floating market, where we managed to buy fresh guavas, to the many restaurants discretely tucked away in the narrow streets or the Old Market serving local cuisine, where we enjoyed a very tasty Mahi-Mahi lunch, to one of the most amazing museums we have ever visited – the Kura Hulanda, where some of the artefacts date back to 5000-8000BC – just amazing. Its chronological depiction of the slave trade throughout Africa, Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean, where Curacao played a pivotal role, was impressive, although disturbing on many levels. It was hard to face the cruelty of humans towards each other and to read actual accounts from the various ship’s logs of how the slaves were treated and punished. On more than one occasion, while viewing the materials, Elaine was almost moved to tears. Stepping down into the hull of the mock slave ship and seeing the cramp quarters, together with supporting pictures and photographs, of how people were crammed into these small spaces, was heartbreaking. This, together with the artefacts of equipment used to constrain or punish the people, amounted to nothing more than torture. Interestingly, we had not known that America was one of the last countries to abolish slavery, second only to Germany and, it occurred to me, that globalization is not, in fact, a modern day phenomena. Besides obtaining an education on the slave trade, Elaine also learnt that the Old Testament is actually a history book, something she had never realized, when references were made to biblical text to support other evidence of archaeological finds. Also, after an enjoyable 10km (6m) walk into Willemstad with a number of other cruisers, where our route took us around the saltpans, along the beach fronts and included a break to enjoy some refreshments at a local establishment, we took the opportunity to visit the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, The Snoa, which is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere. The congregation was founded in 1651 and the current building consecrated in 1732. Since neither of us had ever seen the inside of a synagogue, we found this and the adjourning museum very interesting.
From an offshore outfitting perspective, Elaine completed the sewing of the cockpit cushions and the fibreglass work at the helm station for the VHF radio. The genoa sheet got a new clutch (major safety issue resolved) and new rigging was installed to re-route the main halyard to the cockpit – Drilling holes in the saloon ceiling was a little disconcerting though. The radar bracket, dome and cable as well as connections to all the electronics were installed and it all worked first time. We knew we were getting to the end of the “Do List” when Elaine was able to file the many manuals, installation guides, etc and preparations commenced for our departure back to Bonaire and onward to the northern Caribbean. Bilges have been cleaned, pumps serviced, engines serviced, generator serviced, heads (aka toilets) serviced, air-conditioners serviced, sails ready with new sheets installed, lines replaced on the Shackpack and adjusted, the bottom of Paw Paw, chain, bridle and saildrives have been cleaned, the bottom of dinghy cleaned and the engine serviced, the new SSB/HF radio checked and the dedicated GPS Receiver for the radios connected. The dingy chaps and engine cover are, however, still in progress. Aside from this, we’re awaiting the arrival of our whip antenna for the SSB/HF radio, which unfortunately is proving to be very difficult, having been let down by Island Water World after 2 months of waiting. We’re now trying our luck with Budget Marine, but this too is looking to be unsuccessful, given the recent hurricane that hit the Leeward Islands. All in all though, jobs well done and we’re feeling very proud of ourselves!
But, it hasn’t been “all work and no play”. We have had plenty of time for some R&R. Our days have included activities like yoga on the foredeck at sunrise, hikes around the saltpans - Besides the beautiful scenery, albeit arid, the highlight was the flocks of flamingo, especially when they took flight. In the words of another cruiser – “just spectacular”! Hikes around the hills surrounding Spanish Waters, snorkelling off the reef at the Santa Barbara Plantation Resort, followed by a gelato or a swim in their pool, diving from our dinghy or using one of the local dive shops, early morning or late afternoon walks to Jan Thiel Beach Resort to stretch our legs, have a swim in the cool Caribbean Sea or have a cappuccino at one of the beachfront restaurants, lazy afternoons or evenings of Mexican train dominoes, either onshore or aboard a willing host’s yacht (including Paw Paw), catching up with friends and enjoying sundowners, dinner or both with them. In particular, Macushla (Sue and Mark), Compechano (Babbie and Ronnie), Like Dolphins (Sonja and Johan), Cattiva (Maria and Maurice), Cardea (Marilyn and Kent) and Tallulah Ruby III (Andy and Paul). Watching beautiful full moon rises while enjoying an evening “picnic” on the trampoline, enjoying products from various countries around the world, including great South African wines like Fleur de Cap Pinotage and Nederburg Cabinet Sauvignon, sailors “happy hours” for a bit of socialising or an unintended “liquid dinner” at The Pier or Pirates Cove.
Notable lunch and dinner outings included the Shore Restaurant to celebrate our 31st Wedding Anniversary, an Indian restaurant with the entire group of new found friends, a delicious lunch overlooking the harbour entrance to the city as part of a “girlies” day out in Willemstad, where Elaine learnt about the various fruits, veggies and spices as well as how to prepare them, while browsing around the market with Maria (from Cattiva), who made communicating with the locals easy, as she speaks so many different languages, a visit to the most unusual restaurant, El Mundo Bizarro after one of our many “Walking Tours” of the city and various establishments serving local cuisine. Ah, for the good life indeed!
Elaine also baked for the first time aboard Paw Paw; a Banana Loaf, which came out really well. In addition, she is improving her cooking skills, where the first attempt included an Italian night aboard Paw Paw with homemade pizza and sangria. In between all of this, she is taking Spanish lessons along with some other cruisers aboard Compechano.
We have, somehow, managed to squeeze all of this into a few short months here in Curacao before having to say our goodbyes, as yachts head west for Aruba, Colombia, San Blas, Panama and the South Pacific and we head north. With each departure our hearts have grown heavier, but this is the sailing lifestyle - Wonderful experiences, with wonderful people whom you meet along the way; folks with whom we made instant connections and who have enriched our sailing experience.