Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sun at Last! Our Week on Curacao

Picasa Slideshow: To go forward or backward, or pause the slideshow put your cursor over the photo. Or, click on the circle in the righthand corner to go to thumbnails of the entire album at Picasa.

Our exploration of the Caribbean continues with our visit to Curacao, one of the "ABC" islands of the Netherlands Antilles. "ABC" stands for Aruba-Bonaire-Curacao and this group of islands lies just east of Venezuela. We had free vouchers from Delta, which flies directly into Curacao from Atlanta and that was partly why we decided on this destination. We always rent a car on vacation and got a nice little compact at Alamo for $219, which I had booked from home over the internet. I was impressed with the modern, efficient and attractive Curacao airport. We got totally lost finding our resort from the airport. Looking at the map didn't help because there were so many small roads branching off of other small roads and almost no road signs. But that's the nice thing about islands, you can't get too lost. Eventually through trial and error we found our way to the Royal Sea Aquarium Resort.

Our room had a small balcony overlooking the Sea Aquarium, so we could watch the dolphins. I loved the fact that the lobby had an awesome coffee machine where you could choose free espresso, capucchino or coffee 24 hours a day. Our room had two double beds, a bathroom, tub/shower, separate sink area and walk in closet with safe. There was a small kitchenette with a small microwave and fridge. The room had A/C which we used during the day, but at night we turned it off and enjoyed heavenly sleep with the balcony door open to the sound of the waves. No bugs - hallelujah! Our favorite part of the resort was the pool area. There were five wicker "beds" each with their own white canopy tent free for the guests to use. Georg and I claimed one as our own and there was never anyone else competing for it. I hate having to get up at daybreak to "claim" a beach chair, which is the usual routine at resorts. We spent many happy, lazy hours on our comfortable waterfront bed, reading, talking and surfing the internet. Our oceanside seat afforded us some treats: on one day a pod of at least 10 dolphins swam by, jumping out the water and frolicking with a guy on a jet ski. On another day a flock of flamingos flew by.

Our resort was very lightly occupied, quiet and private, while right next door, the Lion's Dive was jumping with activity. It was a two minute walk and we felt we had the best of both worlds. On several evenings, we walked over to Hemingway for dinner. They made the best mojitos I have ever had - full of crushed fresh mint and local limes. My favorite thing was their Cobb salad, which had tender sirloin and fantastic Danish blue cheese, and Georg tried the chicken saltimbocca and the thin, crispy pizza. On weekends there was a variety of live entertainment. One night, a trio serenaded us with mellow music, Sade, Mariah, etc. The next was Cuban salsa night with a hot band and singers. Sitting on the deck overlooking the moonlight lagoon with live music and mojitos was unforgettable.

I got in the habit of starting each day at the Lion's Dive fitness club. Royal Resort guests are offered a week's admission for $20. With my ipod loaded with my favorite music, the hour passed quickly and pleasantly. On our first full day on the island, we ventured out with the car and loaded our kitchen up with rum, fruit juice and an assortment of nibbles at the local market called Pita.

In a nutshell, what I liked about Curacao: We were able to use US currency, US voltage, people mostly spoke English, the temperature was perfect, people were friendly, it rained hardly at all, the breeze kept insects away and I did not think it was any more expensive than other islands we've been to. The direct flight from Atlanta was a plus. The resort loaned me a hair dryer and snorkles, so I didn't have to lug that stuff from home. What I didn't like: While the roads were in generally good condition, signage was bad and we got lost a lot, wasting precious vacation time trying to find our way around. This inhibited our trying to go places, since I didn't want the hassle of navigating. I am usually pretty good at it and we have driven all over the world. What I finally did was not to try to find where I was on the map, I just tried to watch the few signs they do have and figure out by the sun which direction I needed to be going.

Our best meal was at Miramar, a Japanese restaurant not too far from our resort. I wish we had eaten there earlier in the week. I would have been tempted to return every night after that. I had softshell crab salad, followed by a nice assortment of sushi, while Georg had pan fried dumplings and a type of noodle pad thai dish. We split dessert which was tempura fried banana on a bed of apricot sauce with two scoops of silky vanilla ice cream drizzled with melted chocolate. One of the best desserts I have ever had. With one beer, and a soft drink, the total bill, including gratuity was $60 US.

We did do one "touristy" thing. We visited the Ostrich farm, again getting hopelessly lost trying to find it, since on the tourist map it was located in the completely wrong area. We asked a nice young man who hardly spoke any English and he pointed to a different spot on our map. We headed in that direction and promptly got lost again. Fifteen minutes later, we heard a car horn and there he was behind us. He pulled in front of us and led us all the way there. What a doll.

At the farm we did the jeep truck tour and our Dutch guide was entertaining, informative and extremely cute. His English was impeccable. He said he learned it because he also is a dive instructor and has lots of American clients. (His photo is on the slideshow above.) He explained that an ostrich is extremely strong and can place a kick to your chest with the equivalent of 500 lbs of force. They use their extremely sharp toenail to rip open the chest of their victim. Nevertheless, part of the tour is when they allow you to feed them. You stand with your back to the fence and hold a large pan of dry food while they crane their necks over you and peck away at it. On the way back he stopped at the nursery and brought out a half hatched baby ostrich still in its egg and also a slightly older hatchling. They sell the ostrich meat throughout the Caribbean. There is also a restaurant at the farm where you can order an ostrich burger, but I couldn't think about eating them after seeing them alive.

During the week, I went over to the Sea Aquarium several times. Our admission was free through Royal Resort. We were able to feed the flamingos, sting rays and sea turtles. I enjoyed the dolphin training show and got kissed on the cheek by a sea lion. They are doing really good work there and we saw lots of people bringing their disabled children there. It was heartwarming.

We spent one day at a place called Porto Marie Beach. On the way there, we spotted a flock of flamingos grazing in some shallow ponds. I have read they are pink because their diet consists mainly of tiny shrimp. At this beach they charge a $5 fee for use of a beach chair and umbrella. The money was well spent since the place was pristinely kept and beautiful. The powder white sand was soft, the water crystal clear and the snorkeling was sensational. Even the restaurant was very good and reasonably priced.

Would we return to Curacao? Probably not, but we usually don't repeat trips since there are so many places we still want to see. I would be tempted to come back to this part of the Caribbean, mainly because of the incredible snorkeling. I think I am finally getting the hang of it and it makes me want to do much, much more. Perhaps Aruba, Anguilla or Turks and Caicos will be our next warm weather destination. We may have to wait until 2010. Next year, in early May 2009, we have committed to attend our friend's 25th wedding celebration in Denmark and afterward spend a week renting a villa or apartment somewhere in France.