Curacao Windy Spanish water and the road to Willemstad
Curacao 12:04.83N 68:51.73W Spanish Bay anchorage and First few days
The buses are an interesting arrangement of public (cheap and air-conditioned but intermittent) and private 9 passenger, all windows open and expensive vans which are frequent and often pre-booked and take people to and from their own doors. So with a combination of the two we wound our way all around the pretty modest houses and bougainvillea hedges into Willemstad after a couple of days resting and pottering about on Zoonie.
The carnival was in full swing in the afternoon and evenings and the Customs Office in the heart of the historic Punda area was decked out with colourful balloons and masks and all the staff were in that happy ‘Christmas’ mood. “ If you want to stay longer, no problem, come back and we will extend your dates”, said the young lass with her pony tail of straightened hair. Her smiling colleague stood behind her and we chatted as she filled in our forms.
Then a long walk over the Queen Emma Pedestrian Pontoon Bridge to Immigration. This 16 pontoon affair, also known as ‘The Swinging Old Lady’ is wide and people stay on it as it swings from the Punda side to the Otrobanda to allow vessels to pass through the busy channel into the bay proper. There is no time table, a man in the engine house on the outer end of the bridge simply fires up the engine when he sees someone coming or receives a radio request. If a big ship is manouvering then it opens for a long time but small vessels squeeze past as soon as there is enough of a gap!
The lady in Immigration had a very severe _expression_ sitting at the window in her featureless, blue-walled office, until all the form filling was done, then she was all smiles. Rob asked, tongue in cheek, “You going to the carnival tonight?”
“Oh yes,” she replied with a broad, white toothed smile.
The Harbour Office was closed so we would have to visit them the next day, Monday. We wandered back through the cruise liner dock, passing through the guarded gate where tour operators were fishing for business from the recently arrived liner passengers, and onto a ferry that continues to move people across the channel while the bridge is open.
By now it was lunchtime and we were hungry so we sat on the quayside at the famous Iguana Bar where people at the back row of tables and chairs wait for diners to leave the front row seats and then dive for their places as the views of river activity, happening just a few metres away is fascinating. The beer they sold included a good local one they only sell by the pint, never mind, we managed! We rounded off our first city day buying fruit and veg at the floating market, so called because ships captains moor alongside to sell their produce, including local goods, fruit and veg, fish and handicrafts, but also goods they have brought from South America and other West Indian islands.
We were ashore early the next day to catch the Harbour Office before they closed at 11.45. The friendly local at the bus stop told us how he had recently inherited some land alongside the road here from his father and his intention is to knock down his single storey home where he lives with his Colombian wife and their son and build a new two storey home and a set of four apartments for rent (each with its own car). “Its worth 1 million US dollars now,” he said “No wonder the government and local developers tried to get it off me!” Although he was just waiting for a bus to the supermarket he stayed with us as the public bus was late and put us on one of his friends passenger wagons.
Back over the bridge to the cheery lady in the Harbour Office who provided our anchor permit for the permitted area we were in already. The government is trying to preserve the coral reefs and seabed around the island so visitors and locals can only anchor in designated areas. Partly because of the business from the visiting cruise liners and the new wealth brought by Curacao becoming the main crude oil refining centre for the new oil discoveries off the north coast of Venezuela absorbing many of the islands workforce, the shops in Willemstad are of a high standard and we window shopped for a while and then embarked on a real culinary experience.
Praza Bieu is a food hall with a difference. As you walk in from the sun’s glare it is dark, built of wood and with colonial roof fans turning. On the left are brick built cooking areas with real charcoal fires and gas burners glowing red hot and blue. On top of them vast saucepans bubble and gurgle with soups and deep fat frying bananas, fish and meat. White rice sits ready for the plate and overworked waiting staff buzz around taking orders and showing people to the wooden picnic benches on the right all covered with colourful waxed table cloths. People of all ages and nationalities pile in to take advantage of the well earned reputation this place has for excellent food.
Rob and I shared a plate of fried fish with rice, beans, fried banana and ochre, and vowed we’d be back for more when we return to clear out at Customs etc. On our way to the bus station we sat under the shade of full leafed trees in a little colonial square for a coffee and as we relaxed we noticed the beautiful brightly painted birds clinging in relief to walls, the giant iguanas about to walk around and the smooth chest of the wooden woman in the cleft of the tree trunk. Little did we realise we would see the first two for ourselves ‘in the flesh’ on our ‘car days’.
Getting back to Zoonie from the fishermens’ quay was always to be a challenge. Not only were we punching into the strong wind that constantly falls down across the water from the sandstone quarry on Ceru Boca churning up the water into drenching waves, but also the Suzuki outboard is not at all sure of itself having not been used for months. Old fuel has left its residue in the carburettor jets that really need blowing through. By renewing the fuel and running the fuel out of the carburettor instead of turning the motor off has made a difference and it never let us down big time.
That evening we braved the elements and motor, left Zoonie’s cockpit light on, took the head torch and headed for the Pirate’s Nest bar and restaurant for a meal. Friendly staff, originally from Holland served us with beef and the catch of the day, Red Snapper. All around the fun filled wooden structure pirates of both genders languish in hammocks and stand looking threatening in a plastic sort of way.
The next day was really windy, so we consoled ourselves with chores on board and the promise of hiring a car for two days which Rob arranged with Budget at the nearby resort of Papagayo.