Curacao - Two days by car
Sun 14 Feb 2016 17:43
After a long, hot wait for our hire car pickup we made straight for the Christoffel Mountain Park and on it the Savonet Plantation since we knew that most of the activity starts in the early morning; after 11.00am no one is allowed to climb the mountain as it is too hot and the circuits along concrete roads must be done by car.
Since it was nearly lunchtime when we arrived we drove to the first car park area in the park to enjoy our picnic at a bench in the shade of a tree. Straightaway lizards started to show an interest in us and a small group gathered around, some braving it and one nipping Rob’s toe to see if it was edible. Then suddenly they all sped away as two golden eagle like birds swoop overhead, also looking for lunch.
We came across an old master’s mansion, in ruins, a threshing floor, presumably to separate grain from maize kernels, and a round post of mysterious purpose, possibly for beating slaves. The lower region is full of Tamarind and Brazil Trees, both used in the production of dyes for cotton and the columnar cactus known here as kadushi and in the US as Sahauro. The two types that flower year round are visited in the night by bats that pollinate them as they drink the nectar, thus providing food for many species of birds in the arid dry season.
As we gained height towards Christoffel Mountain (375m) we noticed the lichen, or beard moss, and orchids enjoying the moist atmosphere.
We explored the Savonet Master’s Mansion which is now a museum. Up a near vertical ladder the upper floor comprises two bedrooms with windows on both sides to create a cool draft. The actual wedding bouquet of the master’s bride, dating from 1931 is preserved along with their champagne glasses and photos. It was nearly three in the afternoon and the museum was closing. I could have spent another hour or so there but to Rob’s relief it was time to set off on our second car trail towards the coast.
We often heard but did not see tropical mockingbirds and we did see the yellow warbler in numerous places on the island. In the only accessible cave Arawak Indians from South America made their homes 6000 year ago and the cave paintings are reckoned to be around 2000 years old, (slow learners).
We were at a high look out point, enjoying the view when I had that sneaky feeling we were being watched. Sometimes the best views are just over one’s shoulder like the fine iguana, eyeing us from his thorny bush. A lone hiker shared our enjoyment and said these beautiful reptiles love the heat of the sun to penetrate their scaly skin.
This plantation was one of the most successful on the island, specialising in salt and dyes for export and peanuts, sorghum (Cornflakes) mixed farming and cotton for island use. To overcome aridity a complex layout of wells, where water was drawn up by windmill (many are still in use) into stone troughs or dammed man-made lakes and then used to irrigate the crops.
On our way back we passed the fish-killer tree, (Mata Piska in the Papiamentu language or slave language) whose branches and twigs can be used to drug fishes so they can be caught.
Near to where we are anchored is the restored Fort Beekenburg, built and used mostly by the Dutch East India Company and providing safety and a quarantine base for trading vessels that moored beneath alongside wooden quays that now provide parking spaces for local fishermen.
The next morning we sped towards the newly opened Sambil Shopping Mall for what turned out to be a bit of a spree. When Venezuela discovered oil in its northern waters in the 1920s they decided to send it to Curacao for refining. The refinery has brought massive employment to the people and thus wealth to individuals and the government. Also there are always two new cruise liners in Willemstad on a daily basis and lots of luxury resorts along the south west coast. So I guess that’s how they thought a mall on this scale would thrive. We arrived just after opening and found the main doors that appeared on all the posters were not in use. But we did find our way into this shoppers haven. I bought some inexpensive clothes, mostly made in Colombia which suit the hot weather (that’s my excuse).
Then we had a delicious coffee before heading off for Lagun Beach, discovered on our way back the day before.
Local fishermen were cleaning their catch on tables when we arrived and we kicked ourselves for not buying some fresh red snapper. Cats yowled competitively over the scraps.
We flopped onto two hire loungers to get our bearings, with a cockerel and chicken for company, then went snorkelling all around this tiny, charming bay. There were countless colourful fish, golden eyed tetras with gold lateral lines, big pale blue and green parrot fish with their orange beaks and the Flying Gurnard to name just a few. The latter was mottled stone in colour and we hovered above watching him flush the seabed towards his mouth parts for food. Every now and again he would open his big lateral fins like fans with blue tips, quite beautiful.
Remember our mystery fish of the Atlantic crossing? It’s an Ocean Triggerfish we discovered from a poster at the bar at the top of the bay. The Gurnard Rob discovered on his Tropical fish phone app. Just need one on Tropical land birds now.
After our picnic lunch we relaxed and then went for another snorkel, the opposite way around and for the first time Rob took the underwater Lumix camera that I use for most of our pics.
Mr Deckchair man came to collect his money and became a regular visitor on his rounds and we heard his lovely rich laugh at numerous times. He knew some of the local folk and chatted happily in American or Papiamentu (love that word). This bit is for Paul in Oakham. Dutch, Amerenglish (just made that up, cool eh!) and Papiamentu are spoken by the 21 cultures that reside here. The latter developed from Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and African dialects and became the main form of communication between slaves and their captors.
As the evening approached, and wanting to avoid the rush hour from Willemstad towards Spanish Bay, we relaxed at the Bahia Bar along with the iguanas on the wooden floor and in the trees at balcony height around us. A white haired black man in pink swimming shorts crossed himself as he went for an evening swim with his wife and one of those fabulous birds we had seen on the wall while we had coffee in Willemstad, we saw for real, feeding its young.
What a beautiful, unspoilt, friendly place.