Author Archives: Diana's Curacao

About Diana's Curacao

Architect, art historian and naturalist guiding individualized tours of Curacao. Blending architecture, nature, gastronomy and shopping according to the interests of my tour guests (no more than 4 at a time). More about me, and even better, more about this beautiful island and the tours I do, at my website: www.curacaowithdiana.com.

Curacao — Slaves and Salt — my hike to the sea

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PROLOGUE:

Curacao was originally scouted by the Spanish, who didn’t find enough gold or fresh water to interest them. The Dutch eventually took it over in the 17th century. Their first governor was the same Peter Stuyvesant who bought Manhattan from the Indians for $24 of beads. (Those must have been really nice beads!)  Curacao became a very important trading center, because it was blessed with a central location in the Western Hemisphere and many deep-water ports.  Lots of merchandise changed hands, but two types were central to the economy: Slaves and Salt. 

The slaves endured the horrendous “Middle Passage” from Africa to Curacao and then were exported all over, to Europe, the Americas, etc.  People in the Slave Trade got very, very rich, including some New England shipping families.

The Salt Trade here was apparently more benign although it, too, depended on slaves to build and work the salt pans in unremitting sun for long hours.  The salt pans are actually salt evaporation ponds, which are shallow artificial empoundments of sea water (which we’ve got plenty of on this island!).  The rectangular ponds were separated by levees built of rock, which made an efficient grid, and can still be seen today.  The water evaporated under the hot sun, which allowed the salt to be harvested. 

Today, the salt trade has been abandoned, but the ponds provide a productive resting and feeding ground for many species of water birds: here they are celebrated for their wild flamingos, although there are also many other types of wading birds, like herons, egrets, sandpipers, etc.  (BTW, the salt pans are really close to where I live. Tourists always park there to photograph the flamingos; but do they really see them?)

MARCH 10, 2014:

Today I had a beautiful hike.  I had long wanted to know how the salty water in the salt pans was fed by the sea. Where was the connection or opening to the sea?

In February my Significant Buddy John had taken a marvelous 3-hour hike with our friend Jaap, starting at 6am to avoid the heat.  After leaving the island, he emailed me about a path from the Flamingo area along the east side of the salt pans, which sounded good, although he warned me it might be muddy. I tried to get up early the next day so I could try it, thinking I’d just see how far as I could get before surrendering to the heat, or to my various leg injuries (bad knee and a wound).

Instead, I didn’t get going until 9am, really late.  I was very pleased, however, with the path, which had been made by countless trucks and cars, so it was easy and flat, and because it’s been so dry lately it was not muddy at all.  I made very good time, walking really fast, full of energy.  I walked and walked and walked and walked, thinking “Where in the world is this opening to the sea?  Why am I not there yet?”

As I walked, I found where the flamingos were “hiding”: in water deep enough to come up to their bellies.  (For a week or so, you hadn’t been able to see them in the normal places near the road since the drought made the water too shallow.)  (My great regret was that I hadn’t brought my camera.  Next time. . . .)  I also saw 3 Black-Necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus), and a large light brown-spotted sandpiper with a very long black bill, probably a Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), beginning to get breeding plumage.  I also saw a piece of black stone wall and the remains of a round structure (unidentified) from colonial days.

So I walk and trek and trudge on and on – – – when will I ever get there?  I’m thinking “Diana, you should turn around and go back, it’s getting late, maybe 10am already; the sun will be awful.”

And that’s when I meet some people coming the other way: 2 “elderly” (maybe my age???!!!) Dutch ladies with a local guide.  They are using trekking poles, which I have at home and love, because it gives you upper body exercise while you walk.  I ask them where the opening to the sea is, and they say that it’s just 5-10 minutes away.  But their guide tells me it’s not safe to go there alone.  I mention that the place seems deserted, but he says people can be hiding in the bush.  And there’s certainly plenty of bush everywhere.  But I’ve come so far, I can’t have gone all this way and then turn back.  Plus I didn’t feel like walking back with them, because I was enjoying my solitude.  So what the heck?  And I walk on.

Sure enough, my goal is really only 5″ away, and it’s both beautiful and interesting.  The beautiful wide ocean and its rivulets leading into the salt pans.  Remains of an old concrete and steel pier which may have been where the salt ships loaded their cargo.

And that’s where I make my big mistake.  I sit down on a rock and drink (for the first time!) some water.  Rest my feet for no more than 2 minutes and then get up to head back. Ouch!  Every joint in my body has stiffened up, just in those 2 minutes of sitting.  It’s outrageous that these pains have set in, in my hips especially, when I hadn’t felt a thing on the way out. 

I had no choice but to set out for home and, whereas on the way to the ocean I’d been almost prancing, now I was walking very, very slowly.  Will I collapse before getting there?  Fortunately not. I just soldiered on, and was very grateful for the fantastic breeze, especially when I reached the long slog across “the barren waste” nearer the road, where there was absolutely no shade. 

Moral of the story:  I really loved it all the way and want to do it again before I leave. 

EPILOGUE:

March 13, 2014 — Decided to do the walk again today because it was so beautiful the first time.  This time I did take my camera and will try to send some photos when I get them organized.  I also saw some new birds in addition to the flamingos, i.e., Great Egret, many Ospreys, Little Blue Heron.  The most common land bird was the cute little Rufous-collared Sparrow.

Cheers, Diana

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My Green Island

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Hello out there in Snow Land,

I’m embarrassed to say it but here it is balmy, breezy and beautiful. I feel so lucky to be here and dread the fact that I have to leave March 4. So this is my last communique’ from Paradise.

Wanted to tell you about the green and not-so-green here.

Even though this is an ARID island, not a lush one like Jamaica or Grenada, the landscape is totally green. The cacti are a beautiful green and the green shrubs and trees are everywhere. The trick is to plant stuff that doesn’t need much water. Here in my garden, I have a lot of aloe (now with yellow flowers in bloom), a Jacquinia tree with white fragrant blossoms like a jasmine, a Pokewood tree with blue flowers on my deck overlooking the pool, a very tall Euphorbia that looks like a cactus but isn’t (no thorns), a Brazilwood tree with yellow flowers, lots of yucca, bougainvillea of all colors, etc.

(The only time you see lots of hibiscus, lantana, and other well-loved tropical flowers is at the hotels where they have irrigation systems going full-blast.)

The giant NOT-SO-GREEN feature is that there is no recycling in Curacao. Makes kitchen work much easier: just throw away the dirty container. No rinsing even. Yikes, I feel like a criminal throwing away all those plastic triangles.

Some good green are the 3 wind-farms. 2 are on desolate beaches and 1 is in a residential area (and nobody’s complaining). Also the excess steam from the giant desalination plant (I’ve written about how good our water is right from the tap) goes to power a process at the oil refinery, which along with tourism, is a great economic engine here and is sited so that tourists never see it.

The avocados here are giant Kelly-green balls, the Florida-type, not like those skimpy little Haas avocados we get back home. Another interesting green food is “Yard Beans”: these are like string beans except they’re at least 2 feet long (maybe some are actually a yard-long, so you get a lot of bean for your money!). Then there are Green Papayas — you cook them like a vegetable. Their ripe color is green and they never ripen to yellow like the fruit papaya we know. (One of my favorite local dishes is Papaya Stoba, papaya stewed with pork.)

What’s not so green is the water which is turquoise. I did my first SCUBA dive of the year this past Thursday and I’m so feeble it took me a day and a half to rest up from it. Intend to do just one more before leaving. (BTW, I capitalize SCUBA because it is an acronym — like UNESCO — for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Thanks, JJCousteau and others.)

My big adventure was hosting 2 of my Ohio cousins off their cruise ship for a day. It was so fabulous to see them after such a long time, and although they had cruised here before and seen the capital city quite thoroughly, this was the first time they had seen the boonies, where I live. Imagine their shock!

Very fondly signing off (until next winter) from My Green Island,
Diana

The Green Flash

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Hello out there —

Friends from Massachusetts say they had a 60F day recently. Global warming really has us topsy-turvy, because we had a cold wave here. It was only 75F during the day (which might sound nice to those in the North, tho’ not for us) and chillier at night. I had no desire to swim. When you visit, bring a sweater for the evenings.

But — wowie zowie — after all my complaining about the weather and all the low clouds that obscured the horizon even on sunny days, I finally saw the Green Flash!!!! And saw the Green Flash on 2 successive evenings! Everybody says it’s a record. BTW, to those new to tropical sunsets, the Green Flash should properly be called the Aquamarine Flash — the color of swimming pool water. It occurs (if you’re lucky) in the very last split second when the sun sinks into the ocean. It’s been occurring every now and then ever since.

Meanwhile, the nice warm low-80’s weather has come back and I am perfecting the art of dolce far niente, which really suits me. My mother always called me lazy (I didn’t feel like I was being lazy at all), but it must have been a self-fulfilling prophecy because, compared to Lincoln where I’m always rushing hither and yon, here I can indulge my lazy gene. Read, sleep, eat, swim, check out the birds and boats from my terrace — all play and no work, what’s wrong with that? I don’t think I’m any duller, either. I do call grocery shopping work, and guiding my tourists around is actually extremely HARD work mentally and physically; but that’s not every day.

I have taken a timid step toward feeding the birds again. In years past, I always fed them — just plain old sugar is what they like. But I had trouble when they flew into the house through the sliding glass doors, then panicked because they couldn’t figure out how to get out again. (Except for those sliders, all the windows have screens.) So they banged against the windows, often pooped on the furniture, etc. But it turns out that I miss them too much. There’s really a charming and colorful collection of tropical birdies here, and I miss their activity when I’m outside eating or reading. So I’ve just started with a few sugar cubes. We shall see. . . .

The Jacquinia tree next to my front path is flowering and the perfume is crazy-making, it’s so divine as I come and go. In Papiamentu, they call it Mata Piska (fish-killer) because they say if you put some fragrant branches in the water, the fish will flock to it, get drowsy/high, and thus be easy to catch.

Still reading “Team of Rivals” on my Kindle. I’ve reached 40%, the middle of the Civil War. BTW, do you realize that more people were killed in that war than in all of WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, etc., combined?

I’ve got a new blog post in mind, so stay tuned. Cheers, Diana

No light pollution or noise pollution here in the boonies of Curacao

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Bon Bini — Papiamentu for “Welcome.”

Welcome, newbies, to the never-ending saga of the Boston suburbanite working on the delicious/delightful Dutch island of Curacao.


This island just gets beautifuller and beautifuller. In addition to the ocean below, I’ve got a 10′ x 22′ pool, which I like to swim in after dark. This is because there’s no light pollution here and from the pool I see every darn constellation possible in our galaxy. 
It’s easy to make out Orion, Cassiopeia, and maybe the Dippers and the Pleiades, but HELP! there are so many more out there that’s it’s frustrating to be so ignorant!


I’m also grooving on the silence. No noise pollution either.  Which was shattered, to my chagrin, on New Year’s Eve. The Dutch traditionally do firecrackers for New Year’s: half are the beautiful kind, and half are ear-splitting noise. From the terrace of my best friend Alicia’s house, I saw many of the beautiful ones in a panoramic display. (BTW, fireworks are legal for purchase by anyone here.) When I got home, I saw one or two “beautifuls” but then my very own next-door neighbors launched some that seemed like atomic bombs! Yikes! The cat ran under the bed.)  Generally, t
he lack of light pollution and noise pollution makes sleepy Lincoln, MA  (my home town) seem like Times Square in comparison.

 

I have finally eaten lionfish. Unless you’re a diver or marine biologist, you might not realize that lionfish (a gorgeous/venomous denizen of the tropical Pacific; google it) has become the scourge of the Caribbean. (Probably released — i.e., disposed of — irresponsibly by hobby acquarists.) Here it has no predators and its population has exploded so that you see them on every dive, though they don’t belong here. There are organizations and individual divers who try to capture and destroy them, but it may be too little too late.


Anyway, the saying goes, the only proper place for a lionfish is on your plate. So I ordered it. Turns out it looks pretty on the plate (they gave me 4 fish: 2 little and 2 big; I wasn’t expecting that); it’s all striped and attractive. But it’s totally insipid!  You would like it if you hate bluefish and swordfish, and love haddock. Big surprise for me since I expected something stronger-tasting, given the rep of the fish.


Honey is another thing to enjoy here. (Try good honey in your coffee, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.) My fave is the honey from Bazbina Farm (don’t you love the sound of that name?), where right on the label it says in Papiamentu: “Si bo ten problema ku abeha yama 667-5674 —-.” “if you have problems with bees, call 667-etc”. Obviously, this is the real thing, honey. You betcha, he’ll relieve you of your unwanted swarm.


Yes, I’m living the life of Riley/Reilly, especially since my tour business has really picked up, thanks to appearing on an app that is on iPhones and Androids. I try to avoid cruise ship passengers because I’m afraid they don’t have the curiosity to enjoy the things I do, but I accept them if they insist. See my website www.CuracaoWithDiana.com, to get an idea of my approach.

Stay tuned. Meanwhile, I’m wishing you a 2013 full of joy, peace and health!!! Diana

“Flat tire” is “flet tyre” in Papiamentu, the language of Curacao

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Yeterday morning I led a historic Willemstad (the capitol city) walking tour for 2 nice Dutch-Canadians. They were very interested in everything I showed them, which is so gratifying to the guide (me).  

After which I went to speak to the tour desk lady at one of the hotels (for maybe an hour). Then I finally got my car and headed for home, at about 4:30.  About 2 miles from my house (remember how bad the roads are here), I had a flat tire.
It wasn’t an ordinary flat — the tire was gashed circumferentially and the wire reinforcement netting was sticking out.  Nothing repairable.
Well, since I had stopped near a Toko (a neighborhood refreshment place), several teenage boys saw my problem and immediately started changing the ripped tire for the spare.  (But it took a long time- – -and in the sun.)  I gave them a 25 florin tip (where 10 would have been the right amount), because I was so grateful to them!
I asked them where I could buy a new tire: by this time it’s 5:30.  So I drive to the place they indicated and it was closed.  6:00.  Somebody says there’s another tire place 10 minutes away.  It was much farther than that — it was almost back downtown, and I couldn’t find it.  So by this time I was so exhausted and dehydrated, that I decided to drive home on the spare (which was not properly inflated),  and worry about it tomorrow. 
So I turned around and, by accident, I found the place!  Run by a Syrian guy, married to a Jamaican woman.  Well he was really sweet, as was she.  But there were several people ahead of me.  So for an hour I sat on a stool the owners offered me. Then he got me a matching tire and installed it 1-2-3.  So I was good to go — but he said I drove too fast, in view of the road conditions, and on the best  roads on the island, I could go 80kph (normally I went 100!), but on difficult roads (80%) no more than 60kph– less than 40mph!.  I’ll feel like I’m standing still. 
 
Bear in mind that the Tire Saga cost me almost all the money I had made from the tour!
So I finally arrived home at 7:30 and I see a lot of cars parked near my sweet Dutch neighbors’ house — turns out it was an unplanned gathering of all the people who wanted to say Bon Voyage to this darling couple who were flying back to Holland and won’t be back here until next September.  I had had the same idea myself, so I dropped in too. It was just what I needed: a comfy chair and 2 glasses of Blanc des Blancs.
I went home afterwards and threw myself in the pool like a wounded warrior — could barely swim, I was so bone-tired.  Then I ate some cheese and bread and went to bed.  Maybe 10:30pm.  Found myelf still wide awake (guess I was still totally wound up) at 12:30am!  So I took melotonin pill, and finally called it a day, feeling like I’d just run the Boston Marathon.

See you on www.CuracaowithDiana.com.  Ciao for now, Diana
 

The Costa Concordia cruise ship — here in Curacao!

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Yesterday, the Costa Mediterranea was in port here in Curacao.  It is a monster of a ship — huge, gigantic, words-fail-me — and just happens to be the sister ship (same exact design and same cruise line) of the Costa Concordia which ran aground on the Italian island of Giglio (means lily) a few days ago.
It just so happens that (before my Curacao incarnation) I lived in Italy for many, many years and visited a lot of the islands on vacation  — Elba, Ponza, Ischia, Giglio, etc.  And I’m also a scuba diver.
I won’t speak to the captain’s actions on leaving passengers aboard his ship while saving his own skin.  But I do know one thing for sure: the captain of the C.Concordia would have to be either drunk or a moron even to consider buzzing the Giglio so his onshore buddies could admire his dream ship. 
All those islands are surrounded by dangerous reefs and are visited by small boats, the largest being a small inter-island ferry.  Rowboats, yes.  Yachts, yes.  Ocean-going skyscraper hotels, nope. The captain’s name is Francesco Schettino.  I prefer to call him Captain Cretino (= cretin, idiot, etc.) 

I’m sorry I didn’t have my camera with me so I could send you pix of the towering sister ship, because the photos on TV showing half a ship on its side, don’t begin to give you an idea of its enormous size when it was afloat. 
Tell me what you think,too.  Your ever-lovin’ correspondent, Diana