Caribbean Journey – Part 6: Willemstad, Curacao & Oranjestad, Aruba (2022)
The morning of April 2 found us docked in Willemstad, the capital of Curacao. We have visited Willemstad previously several times, so if you want to read more background about Curacao you can go there:
We had spent our previous visits entirely in the town of Willemstad, which is a fine approach because this is a very interesting and enjoyable city. But we decided on this visit to spend some time seeing the rest of the island, which we were able to do on an excursion. Our first stop was a “Kunuku House,” a slave house from an old plantation. It is a small structure with white walls and thatch roof and only a door and two small windows in front. As in Bonaire, there was a cactus fence around the property. Our guide on the property gave us an extraordinarily detailed and interesting tour, demonstrating just how people used the items on display in their daily lives. A bit of a downside was that most of the lengthy presentation involved standing outside and it was very hot. During the presentation a nice little bird with an orange head sat in a bush listening.
In 1795 more than 60% of the population of Curacao were enslaved. A slave named Tula led a revolt that continued for months before finally being defeated. Tula and others were executed but later the slaves were granted some additional rights in an effort to stave off another revolt. We saw several modest monuments to this revolt consisting of a raised fist on top of a column a few feet tall. A broken chain was hanging from the fist on the one at the location where the revolt began. Slavery was not finally abolished in Curacao until 1863.
Shete Boka (Seven Inlets) National Park stretches some 7 miles along the seashore. It was established in 1994 to protect these inlets that are nesting areas for sea turtles. We didn’t see any turtles but the surf pounding the rocky shore was quite a sight. There was some interesting small flora eking out a living in the dry, hot and rocky area behind the seashore and also some cacti. And a monument to the island’s ubiquitous iguanas.
On the way back to Willemstad we stopped to look at Playa Kenepa Grandi beach, which the guide said is the most beautiful on the island. We also saw flamingoes in a salt lake.
It was still lunch time when we got back to the dock so we decided to walk to our favorite restaurant, which is built over the water in a large inlet (you can see it in the previous visit postings). We crossed the Queen Emma Bridge, a 130 year old pontoon bridge that is moved aside for ship traffic in and out of the bay, and walked along the colorful streets of the city to the site of the restaurant. Sadly, when we got there it turned out to be permanently closed. The lack of tourism during the pandemic has undoubtedly taken a toll on stores and restaurants on these islands so this wasn’t a shock, but definitely a disappointment. Hopefully someone will buy it and open a new restaurant here.
The Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Willemstad is reputedly the oldest surviving synagogue in the Western Hemisphere (not sure how it compares to the one we visited in Barbados). As in Barbados, the first Jews here came from Brazil and the Netherlands in the mid-17th century and this synagogue opened in 1730. We had seen the building before but this time we wanted to tour the inside and see the museum. Unfortunately for us it was closed to the public on this day. Foiled again!
We did find a nice place for lunch on our way back. I think it was called the Iguana Café and we were seated under a canopy right on the edge of the bay on the Punda side. We had a great view of the bay, the Queen Emma Bridge and the Otrabanda waterfront across the water. A cruise passenger at a nearby table spent the whole time talking with friends and family at home in England. From what we could hear it sounded like most of them didn’t know where Curacao is and didn’t know that this woman was away from home. She was trying to impress them with her exotic Caribbean locale and I think she was rather disappointed. She told them she was sitting near the world’s oldest bridge, but I would wager that there are older bridges where she lives in England. The lunch was good and the ambience pleasant and the day was warm, so following lunch we walked back to the ship after a very full day in Curacao.
We spent April 3 in Aruba, the last of the Dutch ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) and our last port on this voyage. We have been here several times before:
As with Curacao we had never ventured beyond Oranjestad on our previous visits, so we decided on an excursion around the island. Our first stop was at the Casibari Rock Formations, a hill made of huge boulders in the middle of the island. The origin of this striking rock formation in a desert setting is unknown, and apparently the indigenous people who lived here considered it sacred. The rocks are surrounded by attractive garden areas. On the way there we passed an interesting cemetery with rows of above ground tombs. Behind it was Mount Hooiberg, a volcanic cone mountain rising straight up out of the desert, known locally as The Haystack
You may have noticed in one of the pictures above that people were on top of the large hill of boulders. In fact, two routes have been built for climbing to the top. Mary stayed below but Rick climbed to the top. The path on the side we were on went up through the rocks. At one point it seemed to come to an end well below the top & I (Rick) was about to go back down in defeat. Then I saw two teenage boys disappear into what looked like a cave in the rocks about ten feet before the end of the path. Following their lead, I found the path branched into the rocks. Climbing on some rocks was required and there wasn’t always sufficient head room to stand up, but ultimately this branch of the path emerged on the top of the hill. This provided panoramic views in every direction, including the Nieuw Statendam all the way back at the dock.
The climb up had been steep and twisty but not too exhausting. However there was a lot of wind at the top which made me feel unsteady unless holding on to the railing. And it seemed that going back down through the hill was going to be tricky to say the least. Then I saw that on the other side of the hill a very steep staircase had been built all the way down, complete with hand rails. So that’s where I went, holding tight to the hand rails the whole way.
Leaving Casibari we drove on to our next stop, on the Atlantic coastline. On the way we passed several old farmhouses surrounded by cacti.
Arikok National Park encompasses a stretch of dramatic sea coast that includes a natural bridge. There was originally a large bridge, 100 feet long and more than 20 feet above the water, but it collapsed in 2005. Still standing near it is the Baby Natural Bridge, measuring 25 feet long and about 3 feet above the water. Still beautiful though. There is a sign reading “Caution. Possible Collapse” and who could doubt that after what happened to its big brother. But some people still walked out on it. The surf on the nearby shore line & what is probably the remains of the larger bridge is pretty spectacular.
We drove through more cactus country to the Alto Vista Chapel. The first Catholic Church in Aruba, it was originally built in 1750. After a plague devastated the area the church was abandoned in 1816. The current building was opened in 1952 on the same spot as the original church.
The California Lighthouse is situated above a cliff at the northwest corner of the island. I had the idea that perhaps it was called this because it is the closest spot on Aruba to the state of California. But actually it was named for the SS California, a British steamship that went down here in 1891. Opened in 1916, the lighthouse was intended to ensure that this wouldn’t happen again.
While we were there we saw cactus flowers, birds and lizards. And there was a nice view across the bay of some of the resort hotels on Palm Beach (which we later drove through).
We drove along the beach hotels back to the pier. It was still early enough for lunch so we took a chance and walked to our favorite beach restaurant (which can be seen in posts of previous visits). To our delight, unlike in Curacao, this restaurant was still open and fully operational! We enjoyed grouper sandwiches and french fries along with local Balashi beer.
After lunch we walked back to Nieuw Statendam, a fairly long walk on a hot day (especially after a beer). On the way we stopped in Queen Wilhelmina Park, a popular hangout for iguanas. So here are pictures of a few of them because, who doesn’t love iguana pictures?
After boarding the ship we sailed back to Ft Lauderdale, retrieved our car and drove home. We were glad to get home, still in good health, but we did enjoy the ports we visited. Originally envisioned primarily as a pandemic get away the trip turned out to have many interesting and engaging moments. The ship and its management could have stood some improvements in our view, as you may have read in the previous episodes, but all in all we are glad we went on this voyage, particularly since it had been three full years since the last time we were at sea. We are still keeping our fingers crossed that it will be a much shorter time until our next adventure, because in the time of Covid you just never know.