{The Vacation Chronicles: Willemstad, Curacao & The Swinging Old Lady}

18 Jul

 On our recent cruise, our first port of call was Curacao (pronounced coor-uh-sow).  It was be-a-u-ti-ful.  Lovely. Gorgeous.  And we met many nice folks, in addition to having a great time.

Curacao is a Dutch owned island off the coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean.  There are many theories of how the name came to be, ranging from the Portuguese word for “heart” because of its shape, to a Spanish phrase “Island of Healing” because a ship of sailors were cured from scurvy here (magically, of course…it had nothing to do with the abundance of fruit).  It is part of the Netherlands Antilles, along with a few other islands. 

The Dutch took control of the island in 1634, although it was founded by the Spanish. (Granted, there were native peoples there, but we modern folk just pillage and trade them and don’t really count them, right?…)  Many early explorers overlooked the value of Curacao, as it contained no gold deposits, gems, or unlimited peoples for slaves.  However, the Dutch in all their brilliance realized it would be a fantastic spot for a port of trade, including as center of the Atlantic slave trade.  This trading led Curacao to become the most affluent Caribbean island.  However, when the Dutch abolished slavery in 1863, the island fell on troubled times, and many migrated to other islands in search of work.  Fear not!  In 1914, oil was found (oil, precious oil!) which caused many to immigrate back for work.  The original finder of this precious oil was the Royal Dutch Shell company—known today as Shell. 

Now, Curacao relies heavily on tourism, scuba diving, and of course, shopping.  Oh, and prostitution.  I learned after the trip that prostitution is tolerated, and medical facilities are set up to aid these women.  So…this leads to Curacao also being one of the major ports of human trafficking.  Apparently, the government continues to turn a blind eye to this fact…

There are four main languages spoken on the island: Dutch, English, Papiamentu (the local language), and Spanish.  Most people do indeed speak all four languages, and they enjoy making fun of Americans who only speak “American” (yes, one gentleman on our tour told the tour guide he speaks ‘American’). ::sigh::

Our excursion in Curacao was ocean kayaking.  It was really, really fun. (Please forgive the horrendous pictures from the water camera…)

For $69/person, we got picked up in an air-conditioned van, driven on a short tour throughout Willemstad (the capital city), 2 hours of kayaking, and 1 hour of swimming/snorkeling at a private beach. 

We had two tour guides, one who spoke no English, and one who spoke all the previously mentioned languages plus German and French.  He was an intern student from Holland who is majoring in eco-tourism.  Ummm…sign me up, please! 

Before entering college, he played soccer for the Netherlands.  Like real soccer, like World Cup soccer.  It took me awhile to figure out why he kept talking to me about soccer…the only waterproof backpack I could find was an Adidas backpack…with MLS logos on the other side. Ah!  I was very confused when he walked up and said, “I used to play football until I broke my club” aka, I used to play soccer until I broke my foot.

Our kayaks were two person kayaks, which means the hubby and I got to practice our teamwork and communication skills.  We totally rocked it.  We can’t wait to try out a more advanced kayaking tour.  For this tour, the most difficult was getting through what was called the “Storm Plas”, an area where multiple currents come together.  We did get pretty wet from choppy waves, but we weren’t soaked.  In fact, by the time we got back to the docks, we were already dry, even after swimming.  The tour guides stopped every so often to point out local points of interests, and to give everyone’s arms a break!  Out of all the excursions we’ve done through Royal Caribbean, this was definitely one of the best, and definitely worth the money. 

We were back to the ship around 1:00, so we had time to grab lunch, and make it out for a little shopping and photography before leaving port.

To get to the shopping area, we had to walk across “the Swinging Old Lady,” also known as the Queen Emma Bridge.  The bridge is one of the oldest and longest floating bridges in the world. Its design was a necessity; by the time a bridge was contemplated, buildings covered every inch of shoreline and a traditional bridge would have required destruction of many structures. When the original bridge was completed in 1888, tolls were charged: two cents for pedestrians wearing shoes, ten cents for horses and later, 25 cents for each car, but so many pedestrians removed their shoes and crossed barefoot that the toll was finally eliminated.

It floats because every time a boat approaches, the bridge is swung out of the way for boats to pass.  I was shocked, shocked!, that the thing would start swinging with people on it.  An alarm would sound, and gates would stop people from entering, but if you were already on the bridge, too bad, so sad.  It made me laugh because in America, you probably would have to sign a liability waiver just to look at such a contraption.

It was widened in 1938, but there was still a lot of congestion.  The Queen Juliana Bridge was built right down the way—at 185 ft. high, it’s the highest bridge in the Caribbean and one of the highest in the world.

Besides the whole slave and prostitution thing, this island is fantastic.  It’s a somewhat arid climate, has a long dry season, a nice tradewind (okay, the wind was a bit ridiculous), and a steady temperature of 78-88 degrees year-round.

2 Responses to “{The Vacation Chronicles: Willemstad, Curacao & The Swinging Old Lady}”

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  1. {The Vacation Chronicles: Serenade of the Seas) « This Girl's Canon - July 26, 2010

    […] without having four ports of call (Curacao, Dominica, Aruba, and St. Thomas), the trip would have been fun.  There’s so much to do on the […]

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