at the Water's Edge

Living life and learning all I can along the way!

Crazy Capers in Curaçao

Sometimes you need a last minute vacation. Okay, "need" is a strong word, but sometimes vacation ideas and opportunities present themselves at the last minute. After Tom being unable to get the time off he wanted between Christmas and New Years, and having a few "use it or lose it" vacation days before the end of the year, we decided to take a trip over Thanksgiving. It did mean we had to ditch our families for the holidays, but they were gracious about it and at least we have Christmas coming up in a few short weeks! After quickly going through all of our options and not wanting to have to do a ton of planning since fall was busy and this was kind of last minute, I ended up looking at some package deals and found one for Curaçao. I really didn't know anything about this small island located off the coast of Venezuela, and perhaps that's why it sounded alluring. I also found out I didn't know how to pronounce it. I had heard of Blue Curaçao -- the orange flavored, blue colored liqueur they make here -- but always pronounced it Ker-AH-koh. Apparently it's CURE-ah-so or CURE-ah-sow. Anywho, a Dutch Island in the Caribbean (technically on the geological continental shelf of South America) seemed like an excellent place to go during November in Michigan. One last chance to soak up all the Vitamin D I can before winter hits -- and the chance to visit a new island, culture, country, and dare I say, continent! 

Willemstad Curaçao
Willemstad, Curaçao. This is "the" waterfront view that everyone photographs. Seriously. Do a Google image search.
The culture is really unique here. It has a bit of Caribbean vibe, but it obviously has a lot of Dutch influence, as well as Spanish and Venezuelan. There's some French history here, too, and English is also one of the primary languages. The local language is called Papiamentu and is a strange type of Portuguese creole, that I believe also blends in Spanish, English, Dutch and French. I heard quite a bit of Spanish there but sometimes as soon as I recognized a couple of Spanish words the conversation shifted to this very fast paced difficult to understand language. I saw Dutch on some of the signs, but I feel like most of them were in English or Spanish.

We went into town one day -- the big city of Willemstad. It was actually bigger than you might think for a small island. We just walked along the water past a couple of the town's more notable features. They have what they call the "Floating Market" which is a row of boats from Venezuela that come dock and sell fresh produce, fish and other goods.

floating market, Willemstad, Curaçao
Back side of the Floating Market where the boats are docked.
We also got to watch them open and close the "floating bridge" they have to let large ships through. We actually took a ferry across the channel and were able to walk on the floating bridge to get back. Farther down the channel they have built a really high bridge -- tall enough to let the largest boats pass underneath.

The floating bridge, all pieced together.
Floating bridge opening back up
ON the floating bridge.
They have a lot of cruise ships that dock on the island (I think especially more so in recent years), and I'm sure lots of commercial ships. Oil is still a big industry here, though not as big as it once was. We saw the refinery shortly after getting in the cab from the airport. They also have some of the most expensive tap water here -- it's all ocean water run through an old distillery to remove the salt. I too often take our Great Lakes of fresh water for granted!

The resort we stayed at had a great beach with a wonderful ocean view. They also had some rock wall barriers a little ways out in the water which created a sort of lagoon -- perfect for swimming and snorkeling! We ended up bringing our own snorkel gear and had fun looking at the fish right in front of our hotel. There was more than I expected.

We also found Mr. Iguana one day. He acted like he owned the place. He probably does.
 For some extra snorkeling and exploring, we took a catamaran trip out to Klein Curaçao (Little Curaçao) one day. It's a very small island southeast off the coast of Curaçao. It's known to be a good hangout for sea turtles, there are a couple of shipwrecks right along one edge of the island, and there's an old lighthouse that is mostly ruins, but still cool to explore.

Shipwreck on Klein Curaçao

Lighthouse on Klein Curaçao - we did not attempt to climb up. Didn't look safe.

Oh yeah, we also found the Throne of Stones here...
There were lots of little lizards running around and some sort of succulent plant growing all over the ground. Otherwise, it was pretty desolate. The beach was absolutely pristine with the softest fine white sand and the bluest water you can find -- aqua in the shallows and turquoise to sapphire in the deeper waters. It's rare that I find a beach with sand that rivals Lake Michigan, but this was one.

The waters of Klein Curaçao
A view of the beach from the little "tree fort" palapa we were hanging out in!
Barren, and yet beautiful.
The far side of the island

Fire coral is no joke!
When snorkeling, we saw two small sea turtles. I'm sure you're not supposed to do this, but I swam down to touch one. He was so close, I just couldn't help myself! He didn't mind our presence but I don't think he wanted to be pet :) We thought there weren't any fish in the area until we snorkeled back to the boat. We saw a really cool flying fish on the way to the island -- it must have been out of the water for like 15 seconds. Once there, though, there were hardly any fish. We were kind of surprised by that, and after following a turtle for a while, decided to swim back to the boat. As it turned out, there were a TON swarming around the catamaran. After a couple of minutes, I got out of the water. Once on the boat, one of the employees decided it would be hilarious to scare Tom, who was still snorkeling. So, he grabbed some bread and threw it in the water right in front of Tom. About 20 fish immediately flew, jumped and swam right at him, startling him pretty badly! It was all fun and games until the second bread toss which resulted in Tom backing into some fire coral! Yes, fire coral is a thing, and yes, it burns. Tom has welts on his arms to prove it. Other than that, it was a great excursion and one of the highlights of the trip. I enjoyed getting to know the crew members -- three of whom were Dutch and one who was from Venezuela. The boat ride was fun in itself and the island was fun to explore, even if scorching hot.

On the recommendation of a co-worker, we booked a scuba diving trip with Bas Harts Diving. Neither one of us had ever been diving before, and to be honest it kind of scared me. I knew it could be dangerous if you didn't know what you were doing or if you come up to quickly in a panic. That thought alone makes me feel a little panicky :) The rules of diving are basically the same as what's recommended in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: don't panic, and don't forget your towel.

However, I don't think we could have chosen a better place for our first dive. Bas picked us up at our hotel and drove to a more remote part of the island to this little cove of a beach.

One of the little cove beaches we dove in.
After the second dive -- we survived!!

It was just us and Bas, so basically a private diving lesson. He kept the intro / theory lesson on land very basic and to the point. We didn't have too much to worry about since being his only two pupils, he was able to keep a close eye on both of us and our equipment the entire time. When we first got in the water, we were in a shallow sandy spot for a while to get acclimated to the equipment and being under water. I was still a little nervous at this point, but there was nothing do but keep going on to the reef where the fish and coral would distract me from any (or at least most) worry. Immediately as we headed out, we saw two something fish that I think are called Sea Robins. At first they looked similar to some other fish I'd seen, brown and white speckled. But as we got closer I saw they had these sort of wings. When we got a little too close for comfort, their wings went out to form a sort of disc shape. Those were actually the coolest fish we saw the whole time. Bas said he hadn't seen those fish around there in a couple years.

We swam through all sorts of corals: fan shaped, fern like, cylindrical...I'll have to look up their names another time. We saw some sea anemones and some sort of creature that was poking out of the coral, only, as soon as you wave your hand near them, they immediately disappear into holes. It looked like a magic trick: now you see them; now you don't. We also touched one of the anemones and it was sticky! I feel like things underwater shouldn't be sticky! Tom said it sucked at his hand, too.

Bas Harts Diving Excursion
Wow, besides the coral - check out my CRAZY hair!!

I had no issues with the first dive other than a little bit of nervousness. I was surprised to hear that we made it to a depth of 36 feet! I was not expecting to go that deep and it didn't feel that far down. After the introductory dive, we drove to another small cove nearby that had a more immediate descent along an ocean floor of coral. I felt much more comfortable this time - once I got into a sort of rhythm with the breathing I could focus more on the fish. The reefs really are teeming with life. There are so many small fish and sea creatures just hanging out in the underwater world below. Tom was saying that the theme song to our diving excursion would be "A Whole New World" --  I was thinking "Under the Sea". Regardless, it was magical as a Disney movie and an incredible first diving experience. We went to about 40 feet on the second dive with lots more coral. Bas also brought his awesome underwater camera and snapped photos of us the whole time.

I definitely enjoyed the second dive better simply from the standpoint that I was more comfortable underwater. Curaçao is supposed to be a great diving spot. I have nothing to compare it to, but I'm sure glad we went!

Overall, it was a great relaxing trip: something we haven't done in a while. We still had some adventure, but there was lots of down time, and I think we both really appreciated that.

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Hi there! My name is Dana and I live in West Michigan with my husband, Tom and our dog Copernicus. I created this space as a place to share the things I learn along this journey I call life. I work in marketing and I'm a sort of Jane of All Trades, interested in all things nature, gardening, cooking, exploring and learning new things. This blog is a conglomeration of my interests, hobbies, life and life lessons. Thanks for stopping by!