Category: ‘Curacao’

The Curacao Cure – Part 14

June 12, 2007 Posted by suefairview

We were already packed for our return the next day. So when we awoke early the next morning, we only had to shower and throw our night things into the bags to be ready to depart for the airport. Sean, Woody, Katy and I went to the hotel lobby for quick coffee and Danish before rushing to the airport. There we saw many others of our dive party also getting a quick bite before leaving and loading up dive gear into vehicles. Woody had already loaded all of ours into our barely large enough car. He was just very capable and dependable that way. Eventually, we headed off for Hato Airport.

When we arrived, we unloaded the car, and Woody returned it. We checked in and checked our luggage. Then we hurried to the gate only to find out that our flight from San Juan Puerto Rico was delayed by 1 hour due to a storm. We groaned with dismay and wondered if we would make our connecting flight home which we had 2 hours to make. We knew that we had to clear US customs in Puerto Rico and that could take significant time. And so we waited.

And waited.

It was like this, but we didn’t have balloons.

About an hour later, our flight arrived from San Juan and the passengers deplaned. The plane was turned around, and we were allowed to board.

We took off and had a great flight to San Juan. The weather there was clear and sunny when we arrived.

We deplaned and rushed to the next gate to see about our flight home; it was cancelled.

The ticketing area was just like this but bigger with more lines and mobbed with unhappy people and their luggage.

There were only the 11 of us from our dive group that were on it and so they just cancelled it. Just like that. Gone. No more. I remember standing there thinking, well shit. We are so shit out of luck. What now? Then a representative from the airline steps up and says loudly, “All of those people, who were expecting to be on flight xxx that was just cancelled, follow me.”

So we followed him. He led us straight to the huge ticketing area for the airline that was just plain mobbed and left us there to fend for ourselves. We were abandoned with the masses of people. Nothing special was planned for us. Again, we were SOL. But, we had 11 people, so we each split up and got on separate lines to get to the front more quickly. Eventually, one of us got to the front of a line and then all of us went to that line to find out about flights going to where we wanted for all of us.

Unfortunately, one guy was at the end of his rope and began freaking out. He threw a total shit fit and went off at the ticket agent. Completely useless, in my opinion, what had she to do with the mess we were in? In any event, they were able to accommodate all of us accept for him on a flight leaving sooner than the flight we were originally booked on but on a different airline. Strange isn’t it how they couldn’t accommodate him until much later (yet they were able to accommodate his wife who uttered not a peep)? But then, we had to rush around to clear customs.

If we thought there was a mob at the ticket counter, it was because we hadn’t seen the zoo in the customs area. The customs area was at least 100,000 square feet (two football fields side-by-side) and wall-to-wall people. There were faux lines. In other words, ropes were being used, but only some people were paying attention to them. Many people didn’t know what the lines they were in were for. But they stood in them doggedly like sheep, for hours at a time as if they had nothing better to do with their lives. Not us. We were in a hurry. We had to hustle. But, there were now 10 of us looking for a quick way through the lines. We had to go through customs; clear the agriculture check and then go through customs again. The agriculture check guy was just sitting there with a stamp and asked if you bought any fruit or vegetables and then stamped your tags. Total bullshit. We pushed and shoved, and pushed and shoved our way across the whole building three times to get it done, probably pissing off lots of people, and we did it trailing all of our luggage behind us. We were all in a full sweat when we were done.

Next, we needed to clear security again to get to the gate. So we took off at a run to get there. All 10 of us stood there panting stopped at the first checkpoint. We all got selected for the special security check. Oh joy! We all had to take our shoes off, they opened all of our bags, looked at all of the dive equipment, cameras… It was going to take forever! We would never make our flight! Worse than that, they didn’t seem to know what they were doing and all acted as if they were in training! They couldn’t put Sean’s camera back together and he had to help them. Sigh. So finally, we are back together and running to make our flight, and there is another security checkpoint. Disaster! They stop us and check us again!!!! We protest that we have already been checked thoroughly, but they insist we take off our shoes. All 10 of us take off our shoes! AGAIN!!! They look at them and one-by-one as we are cleared we sprint to our flight, promising that we will hold the plane when we get there.

I get to the plane early on and tell the flight crew that more are coming and are held up at security. Their response, “We will depart on time. If they make it that’s great.”

“You mean you would leave without passengers that are here, just down the hall?”

“Yes to be on time.”

I just shook my head and got on the plane. I could see Sean coming right behind me. At least he had made it. I found my seat and sat down. Sean and I counted and all 10 us got on the flight. We all high-fived when a new member of our dive group boarded. We all made it and we were on our way home. What a way to end an adventure. I am never flying through San Juan again. Not if I can help it. That is for sure. What a fucking circus that place is.

By the way, the one passenger that lost his temper got home the next day.

Anyhow, as we bid a fond farewell to Curacao, here are some photos that didn’t fit into any posts:

Two banded butterfly fish

The Court House

French Angel fish

The Governor’s Palace as seen from the Queen Emma Bridge

Honeycomb Cow Fish

Police Station

Temple Emanuel

The Curacao Cure – Part 13

June 4, 2007 Posted by suefairview

Diving is not allowed for 24 hours before a flight, though snorkeling is alright, so we had to do some land activities for the day before we departed for home. So we decided to take a hike to Mount Christoffel which is the highest point on the island at 375 meters or 1240 feet.

We drove to Mount Christoffel Park and on our way we saw a line of wild donkeys headed for who knows where.

When we arrived, we parked at the Savonet Plantation House, which was built in 1645, paid the entrance fee and began our hike.

We kept our eyes peeled for the rare Curacao white tailed deer, only 250 left, but never did see any. But, we did see iguana and the Humbolt’s white orchids.

We also saw many cacti on the way up to the mountain.

Some of the hiking was rather rough and like rock climbing.

But, being at the summit was worth the trip. It was exhilarating to be there and the view was marvelous.

We were all starving and that night we had a fabulous dinner for our entire dive group at Fort Nassau, which is situated up on a hill overlooking the Punda side of the Queen Julianna Bridge. The atmosphere was festive because the whole group was together and it was our last day. We took many group photos both inside and outside the restaurant. As evening fell, we went outside to enjoy the spectacular views of Willemstad at night.

In this photo of the Queen Julianna Bridge the red box shows Fort Nassau.

This is an ocean ward view from the center of the Queen Julianna Bridge, which is similar to that of the view from the Fort. The Fort is actually at a higher elevation.

The Curacao Cure – Part 12

May 28, 2007 Posted by suefairview

Ariel view of Carácasbaai

Two more dives were made during our stay on Curacao. Here they are described by Curacao Actief:

Lost Anchor

Located at the western most point of Carácasbaai, this site is accessible from shore to the south of Jan Thiel, but due to a lengthy walk from the parking area and a rocky entry, we recommend making it a boat dive. The mooring is close to shore and tied to an old chain that runs from the shelf at 15 feet and disappears into the depths down the reef wall, dropping well below recreational limits.

Carácasbaai itself was created by an ancient landslide that left a monstrous gash in the seafloor. The bay is impressively deep, reaching 800 feet quite close to shore. Because of these great depths the site is often frequented by good sized deep water fish.

This is a grouper. Sean tells me that while they did not see any hammerheads, they frequently saw these.

The shallow area along the edge of the drop off is populated by healthy colonies of Pillar Coral and Pencil Coral, interspersed with Gorgonians waving in the current.

The coral growth is quite thick, and it’s worth taking some time to look for hidden Scorpionfish, Lobster, and Shrimp. Large Green Morays are also quite common in the area, often accompanied by a Scarlet-Striped Cleaning Shrimp removing harmful parasites. Follow the chain down the near perpendicular wall to find Black Coral, Brain Coral, and Star Coral. Both directions are nice, so just start your dive against the current and let yourself drift back until you spot the mooring chain. Don’t forget to look towards the depths, where Dolphinfish, Tarpon, Snappers, and even an occasional Hammerhead can be spotted.

Tug Boat Wreck

Located just beyond the Baya Beach Club on the southeast side of Caracasbaai, this quaint wreck dive can be accessed by shore or boat. Facilities include beach chairs, shade, bathrooms, a snack stand, and a full service dive shop. There’s a small charge to park your car, and the dive shop charges divers an additional fee to dive from their beach. We recommend taking a few minutes to check out the remains of Fort Beekenburg just north of the beach. The shallow protected cove is an ideal spot for snorkelers and beginning divers, with little current and a wide variety of Gorgonians and Stony Corals.

Visibility is generally good, and the crevices in the rocks along the edge of the bay are inhabited by Morays and Lobster, while Peacock Flounder prefer to use their camouflage to hide out in the open. Schools of Needlefish circle the harbor near the surface, and large Barracuda can often be seen searching for an easy meal.

The big steel pillars are also worth exploring. Well encrusted with corals and sponges, look for Scorpionfish hiding in plain site. Experienced divers will want to spend some time on the wall before returning to enjoy the tugboat wreck. The wall starts about 150 yards from shore and drops steeply down below 100 feet. Head left and watch for current when you round the corner.

Don”t forget to save some air to take in the picturesque tugboat, located at the far left side of the cove, close to the rocks and immediately before the drop off. The 30 foot wreck is in one piece and sits right side up in 20 feet of water; it can be enjoyed by snorkelers and divers alike.

After three decades beneath the sea, it is fully encrusted with nice formations of Brain Coral, Star Coral, Sponges, and dozens of resident Christmas Tree Worms. Accustomed to being fed, the area is teaming with bold fish, including large Parrotfish, Sergeant Majors, and Yellowtail Snappers. Make sure to bring your camera, as this site offers some unique photo opportunities.

Two white spotted file fish

A cuttle fish

The Curacao Cure – Part 11

May 21, 2007 Posted by suefairview

Then the trolley headed back into town for us to see some typical Punda and Pietermaai buildings. These include the famous Penha store.

The following is an excerpt from Caribseek:

Since building materials were scarce on these barren soils, coral and quarry stone were used for the basic structure, joined with mortar of loam, lime and sand drawn from the sea, and finished with lime plaster and tiled roofs.

As Magnificent as they were, most of Curacao’s architectural treasures carried the seeds of their own physical deterioration. The salt from the sea stones and sand that were used in their construction lurked quietly under the surface for years, then began leaching out, eating away at the structure from within. Today, the signs of this “wall cancer”, as it has been graphically named by locals, can be seen everywhere on many crumbling facades.

Yet, the Dutch government has declared Willemstad protected, so none of the historic buildings can be destroyed. They all must be renovated. So whole neighborhoods exist that look like this:

Next, the trolley took us to see the oldest still functioning synagogue in the Western hemisphere, the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Temple in Curacao which was founded in 1651. Their web site is amazing as it chronicles everything about their journey to escape the Spanish Inquisition and establish this new settlement in the West Indies. Interestingly, the floor of the synagogue is sand.

The trolley’s last stop was Fort Amsterdam which was built in 1635 strategically on the point of Punda. Captain Bligh shot a cannon ball into the wall which the trolley tour director pointed out to us. Then we were allowed to roam around. When we returned to the trolley, we were told that the tour was over and we were on our own.

The offending cannon

The Curacao Cure – Part 10

May 14, 2007 Posted by suefairview

The following day, a large group of our divers had signed up for the trolley tour of Willemstad. We all met in front of the Queen Emma Bridge for the Trolley. It was a super hot day, so sitting passively and feasting my eyes on the sights of Punda in an open, but shade covered, trolley was a splendid idea. The trolley pulled up, ours was blue, and we all piled in.

Off we headed towards Scharloo. Scharloo was populated by Sephardic Jews who designed neo-classical Italian style mansions in U shapes with basements to protect them in case of storms in the early 1900’s. New building materials were used to facilitate the ornate details seen in the buildings. Brick was used in combination with masonry and iron supports in addition to ornamentation with broken roof tile and pieces of brick. Marble was used for floors and ceilings were finished with intricate designs. Wooden medallions were used for the traditional Italian coat of arms over the front door. Scharloo designs were copied all over the island.

Kitchens were built on the west side of the house to minimize odors. Bright colors were utilized throughout. Spanish style patios were built in the rear portion of the houses.

All in all, the houses were breathtaking to drive past. I cannot imagine living in one!

Stay tuned next week for part two of the trolley ride…