Thoughts for Today
From the real world sublime and challenging
The Dutch Antilles – Willemstad, Curacao -
Fever, chicken, flamingoes, dementia, dialysis,
bat-caves and the ‘Swinging Old Lady’…
The first creature we met setting foot onto the Dutch Antilles was a hermit crab on the marina pavement. We were in search of good wifi… one of the staff at the sea-front hotel pointed us to a bench where there was good connectivity. That morning we wanted to receive the atmosphere of the place. We walked into the Dutch influences of the island Curacao, Willemstad. Columbus was again ahead of everyone, having found Curacao in 1493. The Dutch arrived in 1634, and so continued the development of the Lesser Dutch Antilles group of Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba – the ABC islands. Walking through the shopping area we came to the Queen Emma Swing Bridge which crosses St Anne’s Bay linking the Punda and Otrabanda parts of the capital city of Willemstad just six feet above sea level. It revealed a stunning classical façade of the waterfront with so much hospitality. The accolade of UNESCO Heritage site was awarded in 1997. The bridge is known locally as the ‘Swinging Old Lady’.
After this stroll we returned to the ship for lunch before escorting on a trip to discover Curacao Island. Curacao actually means ‘Island’. Our coach ride took us out of town by the whole house mural of a chicken entitled “Come as you are” and one of a Rasta Car Wash. This was just before a medical centre for ‘Dementia and Dialysis’. Our first stop was at the Curacao Museum in Otrabanda housed in an old military Yellow Fever Isolation Hospital dating back to 1853. It reminded me of a Caribbean version of Bramcote Hospital which originally had a similar role at Nuneaton. Here we found a welcome shelter from the heat, heard the story of slavery and were shown the original constraining chains including a wooden dolly tub and pole. After a hard day the slaves of Curacao would bravely chant “HA” at the top of their voices to the beat of the pole. Slavery ended on the island in 1864. Dutch artwork abounded. The Grand Room housed a grand piano and a proud map displaying the geography of the Netherlands West Indies. In the outhouse we inspected one of the first planes to come to the island, a KLM plane of their Royal Dutch Airlines Royal Mail.
Desalination is necessary on this island of 171 square miles (just 2.7 miles wide) with a population of 159,000 people. We travelled on to salt flats and saw the distanced flamingoes approaching their mating season (between March and June). Females have one baby a year and the whole family feed on brown shrimp and lobster. They keep to the same partner and are very shy weighing between 6-11 pounds. Most of the birds had their heads tucked under their wings. From June - November Curacao is on the edge of the hurricane belt and October to February is their rainy season (24 inches a year). Anglo Dutch Oil has a refinery on the island and serves nearby Venezuela just 40 km’s away.
On our way to the ancient Hatu caves we had a commentary on the making of one of the local delicacies, Iguana Soup, which apparently tastes like chicken. On the way we saw the Dongo Arch made out of recycled plastic car bumpers sited in the middle of a large roundabout. The Hatu Caves were heralded by tall slim cacti and poisonous apple trees called Manicella. The caves are 300,000 years old and are part of the Pacific volcanic belt. They are full of a collection of grottoes filled with stalactites, stalagmites and crystal clear pools reflecting many marine colours. We were not allowed to take photos until the last cave which opens to the sky. Two kinds of rare bats live in the caves, and as we quietly walked through the living room of the Long Tongued and Long Nosed Bats the lights were dimmed.
Our way back ship-ward included the inevitable visit to the local liqueur factory of Laraha. We tasted the thimbleful of ‘the golden orange of Curacao’, produced by the Jewish family of Senior and Co which has enjoyed many years of fame since 1896.
With the tour party in good spirits our guide took the opportunity to teach us some of the local ‘lingo’ which we could all take advantage of. Dushi means – ‘Sweetheart’. Danki means – ‘Thank you’. Nusti marble means ‘I love you’. Ten = ‘Goodbye’. We didn’t say ‘Ten’ to the island as that fine evening we ventured out and revisited the ‘Swinging Old Lady’ with her arch of lights. The glorious sunset guided us over the open bridge to a local meal of chicken delight shared with our ship colleagues. We ferried back to the ship across the bay and came away with a warm feeling for this diverse island of Curacao. An island that is a blend of diversity, yes, but also of Dutch style and Caribbean exuberance now at peace with itself in its friendliness. ‘Danki’ Curacao…
We are now a night away from Kralendijk and the white salty peaks of Bonaire…
Edward and Jane