Throwback to 2018: Curaçao

I’m slowly starting to think about traveling to somewhere again. At the moment I am discussing plans to go somewhere in Southern Europe around November with my mum, since our plan to meet up in May got scrapped, but the final destination has not yet been decided. And since the situation still changes almost weekly, I guess I shouldn’t rush either. But I really want a holiday, and I also want to use those darn vouchers while I still can. Then there is the Thailand plan that I’m still hoping I could somehow fit into next winter, probably early 2021, but let’s see how things go in the next month or two first… Not only with the travel restrictions, but also with my bank account, which enjoyed the lockdown more than me.

But since there hasn’t been much happening lately, I figured I might as well post some pictures and random stories about my first proper solo trip: Curaçao in October 2018. The flights were cheap, I felt flush, my boyfriend told me to go for it… so I did. Well, of course the flights were cheap: it was the rainy season there. Which I, of course, did not know before I was there, but luckily the island is relatively safe from hurricanes and such, so the worst that happened was some tropical rain. I got VERY wet walking around a few times, but that kind of warm rain doesn’t even really feel like proper rain, no matter the amounts, when you go there straight from a very windy and rather chilly Belgian coastal town. There was plenty of sun, too, though. I was relatively lucky especially on my first days: there was a few really nice young couples in the same B&B with me and the sun was shining most of the time.

The ferocious guard dog of the B&B.

I somehow thought that the island was not that big when looking at the map at home. Well, turns out I was wrong. It is big enough to make it really difficult to get to anywhere without a car. Luckily the B&B was right next to one of the fancier beaches and a bus stop. The bus went to town approximately once an hour, but they were not always on time. Actually they were almost either early or really late, from what I understood. But I used the bus one day, then one day one of the young couples in the B&B took pity on me and let me follow them around since they had a car, and I also booked myself a guided bus tour of the island and a boat trip to Klein Curaçao. That means that most of my days were, in fact, full of things to do, despite my rather bad planning and preparedness to the Caribbean island life.

The first day I just walked to a random direction that wasn’t sea from the B&B, trying to get to know the place a bit. The difficult part was remembering to add more sunscreen every time my nerdy pale skin looked even a bit red, preferably before. I managed not to burn on the very first day (go me!), but I was half-dead by evening, after walking quite a bit in the heat. 28°C is probably not super hot for most people, but for me it did feel very hot, considering October weather in Belgium tends to be some 20 degrees less.

The best part of my walk was seeing the wildlife: pelicans, little lizards, big fish and iguanas. And the second best part was the super nice lady in a pirate-themed restaurant, whom I then met again later by accident. She helped me to hop on the right bus in Willemstad to get back to Jan Thiel, and we talked the whole bus trip since she had to take the same bus. I’m quite sure she doesn’t remember me, but I definitely remember her. Thanks pirate restaurant lady for being so nice to a clueless tourist!

Local wildlife.

After day one I realized there isn’t really much to do near the B&B. I could go swim in the sea, lounge at the beach or just eat and drink a lot either in the beach restaurants or the other options maybe a 3 minute walk from the beach. That was about it. Whilst all of the above are nice things, they were not all I wanted to do on my holiday. That’s why I booked the boat trip and guided bus tour, with the help of the B&B owner. He organized everything for me and even paid them up front and I paid them back to him at the end of my stay. He was super helpful and talked to me quite a bit, too, since I was not there on a romantic couples’ trip like everyone else seemed to be. Several people actually called me brave on this trip for traveling alone. I never felt like it was especially brave, since the tourist resort areas tend to be really safe just about anywhere, and Curaçao is not exactly unsafe anyway. But I guess to some people traveling alone in itself can be scary.

By sunset my ability to take pictures had already suffered greatly…

I kept waking up really darn early due to time zone differences, so most mornings I could have a fast swim in the small pool and then shower before they even started serving breakfast. That was quite the luxury, and I still sometimes wish I could do that more often. A refreshing dip in the water around sunrise, and then someone else makes your breakfast. Who could resist!

Of course I had to visit Willemstad, the capital of the island. From what I could see, there isn’t much else that compares to it: it is The Big Urban Area of the island, but it is also possible I just managed to avoid any others on my bus adventures. It was oh so very full of tourists. Don’t get me wrong: the whole south side of the island is full of tourists. But Willemstad had the cruise ship tourists on top of all the “proper” tourists, who actually stayed on the island for a week or two. It was also raining basically the whole day, but that meant there were less people around on the streets. I also half-accidentally got stuck on an opening bridge, but that was a cool way to see new views of the town without booking myself on a boat trip there. Locals looked at me like I’d be demented, of course, but I didn’t really mind. I’m used to that, heh.

Willemstad was very colourful even in the rain.

Story time: Some random guy tried to sell me an iguana while I was walking around town. Just randomly telling me the price while shoving the poor thing towards me. I’m quite sure both selling and buying them is illegal, and even more sure someone would have taken the iguana off me at the airport, if not before. So, kids, remember: do not buying reptiles off random people on the street! It is bad for you and bad for the animals!

One thing I noticed in town: the food was a bit more expensive and a bit worse, and the service definitely more rude. Maybe that’s just because there are so many tourists and most of them seemed to, indeed, act like they owned the whole damn island. I had late lunch in a Japanese restaurant, and it was not bad, but I had already eaten dinner the previous night at the the Japanese restaurant really close to the B&B that was a lot better and a bit cheaper. I actually visited that one twice, in the end, because it an easy and good option. Service was incredible, too: I asked for wines that might work with whatever their cook wants to feed me for 3 courses, and everything was excellent together and they really seemed to care what I thought of their food and wine.

Obligatory food picture, from the better Japanese restaurant.

But I’m getting sidetracked! I was still in Willemstad!

Getting back from there proved to be a bit more complicated: I found my way to the bus station without too many issues, but then didn’t know which bus to actually take. That’s where that pirate restaurant lady helped me out: she saw me and said hello, so I dared to ask her for some help. I didn’t even expect her to remember me, but apparently she did. So, in the end she had some company on her way to work and I got to the B&B safely. I was very happy about it all, and I hope she enjoyed the discussion, too.

And to continue the story of people being incredibly nice: the next day I missed a bus (the bugger was early), and since there was almost 1.5 hours until the next one, the lovely Swiss couple staying in the B&B said I could join them in their car. In case either of you lovely Swiss people ever read this: thank you, you totally made my day!

First we went to the Tugboat, apparently a haven for divers, but I just sat at the beach watching the cats, the iguanas and the hermit crabs. Turns out cats hunt iguanas for fun, and the iguanas are a lot smarter than you would think. They also apparently climb trees, which was news to me. I’m easily entertained, okay? After that we went to one of the fancier beaches just to just eat, drink and lay around, and even had dinner together near the B&B. I ate the best tuna of my life, and tasted lobster for the first time ever. I have to say I much preferred the tuna. Turns out I don’t understand the finer things in life, such as lobster or oysters, but I’m happy to have at least tried them.

I really like this picture for some reason.

I actually noticed now, looking back on all my pictures, that half of them are of lizards, cats and birds. The island doesn’t have much wildlife that isn’t lizards and birds, so it makes sense, I guess. There are only a few native mammals, and I didn’t see any of them. But of course there is plenty to see in the sea, especially if you are a better and braver swimmer (or diver) than me. After this trip I decided I need to get diving glasses that I can see things with underwater. Now, almost 2 years later, I’m still relatively blind in water (since I am relatively blind without my glasses). I should think about this before I possibly go to Thailand, shouldn’t I…

The day after was the bus tour day. Normal glasses were enough, luckily. In the beginning the guide kept explaining everything first in Dutch and then in English, but I realized I was the only person there who wasn’t a native Dutch speaker, so I told him to just stick to Dutch. I could, after all, understand most of his Dutch explanations as well, so seemed silly to make him do double work just for me.

We started off the trip (once everyone was picked up) visiting the Blue Curaçao factory. Turns out there are more colours than just the blue, so we got to taste a few of them. I think it was a smart move to take everyone there first, because the few small shots of booze really made people more relaxed and talkative for the rest of the trip. There’s some smart thinking behind the order of that tour!

Remember how I said I had a lot of cat pictures? …Yeah.

We also drove around in Willemstad, with the guide telling us things about certain buildings and the general history, but I have to admit that I have forgotten basically everything by now. Maybe I can blame the booze for that? Has of course nothing to do with my poor memory.

The tour also took us to the northern part of the island, where I would have never got to on my own. It was a lot less busy there and the nature was more native and quite a bit more rugged. There were barely any tourist resorts or palm trees around the road we took, and it was interesting to see what the island must have looked before the tourist resorts popped up everywhere. It was also raining again, so our stop at the national park ended up being a bit shorter than intended. The guide asked us if we want to wait for the rain to be done or just continue, but we decided to wait. After a while the rain did stop, so the whole group walked to the northern beach, which was quite different from the calm sandy beaches of the southern side. Most people took plenty of pictures of themselves and each other, while I just took random pictures of views and tried to spot birds. To each their own, eh!

The bus trip also included a stop at a hotel with a buffet just for us. There where kittens begging for food at everyone’s feet and pigeons swarming over the leftovers the minute people were not paying attention. I found it mostly funny, but the sheer amount of pigeons clearly unnerved some people, and the people working at the hotel were not happy with them either. I had already noticed the pigeons staring at us intently while we ate, so I was maybe a bit less surprised than the rest of the group when the inevitable happened.

There was also a mysterious issue with running water at the hotel the day we were there. We couldn’t flush the toilets (first toilets of the day, too!) nor wash our hands… I made a lot of new friends just by having a travel-sized hand disinfectant in my bag which I was willing to share with everyone who asked. I seem to remember a mention of “at least someone is prepared!” Preparation is my middle name! Back pain from carrying around all that crap is… well, my some other name.

This is the stuff I take pictures of instead of myself or other people…

The guided tour also included a probably obligatory stop at a small beach. But since this one was more on the northern part, there were no palm trees or big resorts right next to it. There was just one lonely guy selling drinks and a few, mostly broken, beach chairs, plus a bunch of locals and the more backpacking kinds of tourists enjoying the sea. It was an interesting contrast to the Jan Thiel beach, which was very much catering to the tourists who want almost everything to happen near the beach: food, drinks, tourist information… even shopping, I guess.

The last stop before they started dropping people off at their hotels was a salt flat. Salt flat in itself might not sound super interesting, but guess who likes salt flats? Flamingos! This means I saw wild flamingos! They were really far away, so all my pictures of them are over-zoomed and kinda horrible, but just the thought still makes me giggle a bit. I had seen all those fancy pictures of people sipping their cocktails with flamingos, of course, but turns out that’s in Aruba. In a private resort. Expensive private resort. And somehow I’d feel weird going so close to wild animals anyway. But that’s your jam, Aruba is your destination in the ABC islands. Be ready to get pay a lot if you are lucky enough to get a day pass to the resort.

It is not all palm trees, cocktails and resorts in the Caribbean, either.

At this point I only had two full days left. The last proper thing I did was a catamaran trip to Klein Curaçao with Blue Finn Charters. Their daily trips leave from Jan Thiel beach, so really close to the B&B I was staying at, and they were absolutely and incredibly NICE. And, really, what other charter company can a Finn choose than the one with Finn in the name, right?! I mentioned this to the captain and he started talking Swedish to me. I was rather surprised! Turns out he had lived in Sweden for a while and had had a Swedish-speaking Finn working for him at the company at some point, too. World is small. I enjoyed the trip so darn much. Everyone working there seemed to enjoy their work, and they were fun, nice, and extremely helpful. All that despite the company organizing a similar trip every day of the week.

Sailing to Klein Curaçao took a few hours, but there were some refreshments available, and once we reached our destination, it was food time. The leftovers of the salads etc. were tossed overboard to attract some fish for the silly tourists to ogle at, but they made sure not to throw overboard anything that might just end up rotting in the water. The captain especially told us to not touch the turtles, because getting the turtles too used to people is a bad thing. I applaud that stern talk.

Oh, I didn’t mention the turtles, did I? Yes, there were turtles. I actually had to actively scramble away from one that seemed very intent on crashing into me while I was swimming around the boat. I was not really expecting such a close encounter with them, especially after the flamingo experience the previous day, but I’m not complaining. I mean, I might be if he had actually bumped into me, because I am not sure I wouldn’t have gotten bit if I hadn’t been just fast enough…

I have no underwater camera nor did I want to test if my supposedly waterproof phone is actually waterproof, so there are no proper pictures. Just some weird pictures from on top of the water that require you to know what the thing in the picture is supposed to be… Turns out I’m not much of a wildlife photographer. Unless, of course, said wildlife stays veeeery still for a long time, but then just about anyone is an okay wildlife photographer.

It was very difficult to disobey this order after a few rum-based drinks…

I can very warmly recommend this particular company and their Klein Curaçao cruise [this is sadly not a paid endorsement, just a boring but honest opinion]. Just one word of warning: even if it seems to be very cloudly all day, remember to use sunscreen. A lot of suncreen. Remember to add it every few hours. Do not trust one layer in the morning to last you all day because “it is not even sunny”. It doesn’t have to be sunny for you to burn.

So, as you can maybe guess… It was a relatively cloudy day and I burnt myself really, really badly. Badly enough that sleeping was a bit difficult and my skin was still peeling weeks later at home. Actually I wouldn’t be surprised if you could see the some faint lines left by my swimming suit on my back still today. So remember that darn sunscreen! I also saw a guy from Aruba burn himself, so no excuses!

On the last day I was so badly burnt even wearing a t-shirt hurt, I didn’t do much. I did what people are probably actually supposed to do on a tropical island: I lounged at the beach with a cocktail, splashed around in the sea a bit, and enjoyed the shade of the palm trees. Would have been more fun without the pain reminding me of my idiocy every time I moved, of course, but can’t have it all.

It was not a pirate’s life for me.

This trip was an excellent first solo trip, I think. I feel like none of my other solo trips have included talking with the locals as much as this one, nor have I talked with other people staying in the same place the way I did here. The B&B was relatively small, so I guess that helped quite a lot. Everyone sort of knew everyone after a morning or two. I’m not saying I haven’t had people being incredibly nice to me elsewhere, too, but I think the brilliantly turquoise waters and warm temperatures just bring out the best in people, and I fully understand now why people daydream about tropical getaways. Before this trip I didn’t fully get it, but now I do. I wouldn’t change all my city trips for something like this, but I wouldn’t mind some warmth and mind-blowing colours from time to time.

I’d happily visit the Caribbean again, but I’m not sure if I’d go to Curaçao for the second time. Not alone, at least. Maybe if I would go with someone who could drive, but I have this sneaking feeling my boyfriend is very much against the warm temperatures mentioned above. And by “sneaking feeling” I mean he has said so. I should probably figure out plan B or just choose some place where getting around might be a bit easier… some day. Maybe. But right now it is better to focus on short-term trips. Europe has plenty to see and experience, too!

You remember that post about my travel plans for this year? Weeeell… Obviously most of them never happened. And I’m sure you all know why by now, in more detail than you would like to. Personally I am, luckily, otherwise fine: I have worked from home for years now and my social life is not exactly bubbling anyway. I still miss my friends, of course, but at least there is the Internet. I had to, of course, cancel both the trip to the US in March and Copenhagen now in May. I’m a bit conflicted on that, too: I would have loved to go, but I also would have wondered the whole time if I’m somehow infecting other people even if I’m not feeling sick, and my wallet (or credit card, more accurately) is thanking right now. I guess if there is a positive to this situation for me personally, it is the fact that I was more or less forced to save money. The main reasons for my spending sprees are, after all, book shops (which were closed until lately), travel (which is still basically banned) and eating out (restaurants will still not be open for a while). Too bad the rest of the world had to go belly-up for me to save up a bit more…

That being said, I’m now slowly starting to think again where I could go next. Not the US (at least not on my own) any time soon, I think, because the fuc… I mean, umm, the nice people dealing with the ESTAs decided that my ESTA, which was supposed to be valid for a few years, is now null and void because I might have had the COVID-19 virus, being from scary Europe. For all I care, they can do without my money for a while longer, unless I go there with my boyfriend, who enjoys traveling in North America more than anywhere else, the silly bugger.

Frankfurt views.

Copenhagen is still a place I really want to go, but in the current situation I’m thinking of maybe aiming for the cheaper destinations for a while. That should help me save up a bit more money while I can still see a few new places. And hopefully by this time next year I will be back on my feet money-wise. I mean, I had already paid for the flights to the US and Copenhagen, and I don’t get money back for either, most likely. Or, well, I could get some money back for the Copenhagen trip, but opted for the extra gift voucher on top of the original price to maybe go somewhere else later this year instead. And the US trip… well, no one knows yet. Technically I had a ticket that does not pay anything back if I cancel the trip (which I did, without a valid ESTA and the situation being what it is), but they DID change my flights several times, so there is a small chance I might get something back in the end. Will have to wait and see, as the customer service queues are something crazy right now in most flight companies. At least I am trying to be nice when dealing with them, which does not seem to be the case for most people on social media, at least…

I also still have an older gift voucher that I need to use before the end of October, from an older flight that was severely late. That means I have two flight vouchers, one smaller and one bigger one, and for both I still need to make the reservations this year. I was thinking of maybe going to Portugal with the smaller one and Thailand with the bigger, but since the situation is what it is right now, I have not booked anything yet. I should do so soon, though, and then just regret my life choices later if things go wrong again. No point in just waiting until the last moment and then noticing everything is a lot more expensive because so many flights are scrapped or everyone else like me wants to go “just somewheeeere!” instantly after we can do that.

I would rather book things and then hope they turn out okay than wait and fear things will never get back to normal. I’m just the kind of person who rathers hopes (no matter how foolishly) that things are okay than panics about things I cannot help (even though I do wash and disinfect my hands more often than before and wear a mask when dealing with bigger crowds). That being said, I also should use this as a chance to get more into railway travel. There should be more space and less restrictions, rules and cancellations, even if something like this would happen again. In theory, at least…

This bird scared me really badly in Frankfurt zoo: I didn’t notice him before he got annoyed with me.

As you might remember, I went to Frankfurt for a work-related thing on March. That was the last trip I did, as I was there just when things were starting to blow up. I was kinda chuckling back then how Paris had their first cases just when I came home from there and Germany started to have a lot of cases while I was there for the long weekend. Well, somehow that is not so funny anymore… Especially since Belgium seems to be doing relatively badly with the whole situation, but that’s also partially because there are a lot of old people here basically just ignoring all the rules and advice, and because the way of counting cases differs from country to country.

Back then, though, my main annoyance was not any virus but Deutsche Bahn. My train from Brussels to Frankfurt was cancelled at some point while I was on my way from Ostend to Brussels (that’s a 1.5 hours trip, basically). Instead, I had to take one train in Belgium, cross the border in a bus, and then take two more trains in Germany to actually get where I wanted to be, 3 hours later than the original plan. And the trip back did not go much better: the train to Brussels did not, in fact, leave from the main railway station as it was supposed to but from the airport, skipping the Hauptbahnhof completely. Luckily I was at the station early enough, so I could actually make it to the airport with the S Bahn before my train left, just to be panicking there because the train at the platform did not have a carriage with the number stated on my ticket.

Turns out it was the correct train, but the carriage numbers and destinations etc. were not yet changed when I arrived at the platform… What I am saying is DB made my supposedly easy and relaxing train travel extremely stressful and panicky. Both ways. And all this on my very first two trips with them. The Belgian railway company (NMBS) has never managed that: they usually only manage to f**k up things one way, not both ways, and mostly work just fine, even if Belgians love to complain about their trains. Sometimes there are issues, sure, but there are always problems with trains everywhere. Even in Japan, in my experience…

So, DB has let me down both times I’ve used it, and Thalys has been late twice when I’ve meant to be using them, out of maybe 5 times. Plus one extra time when I accidentally went to a Thalys train to Amsterdam instead of the normal one I was supposed to take, because Thalys was so much late I didn’t realize I was being an idiot and boarding the wrong train because the platform and destination was correct… The customer service, though, on that train was excellent, for which I’m super grateful. I also met some incredibly friendly and helpful strangers on that trip, and it is something I think of it every time I feel like I need a reminder most people are, in fact, nice and helpful.

But Frankfurt itself? A nice place, as far as I could tell. Good food, excellent cakes and pastries, pretty buildings and comforting greenery all around. Except, of course, it was early-ish March, and thus cold and rainy and most green things were not yet actually green. My first day there was a zoo visit day, and it was grey and drizzly. This, of course, meant there weren’t that many people in the zoo, which suited me just fine. I often prefer the rainier days in the zoo, as long as it isn’t raining cats and dogs (figuratively speaking), because then I do not need to jostle around families with their seventeen kids to see something popular.

The lion sleeps tonight… oh, wait, I meant “the tiger” and “this morning”.

Other than the rather small but nice zoo, I didn’t really see all that much. I arrived on Thursday around midnight (due to that cancelled train), and spent half of Friday in the zoo and the rest of the day just walking around trying to see as much as I could of the little there was left of the old city centre. I was so tired after the previous days escapades and all the walking around that I just ended up going back to the hotel relatively early. I ate ate shabu shabu downstairs in the breakfast area in the hotel for dinner. It was the only thing they sold in the hotel in the evenings, as I was staying in a Japanese chain hotel. It was nice, but I bet the quality was not as high as it would have been in Japan. They also had miso soup and rice at breakfast, and looking around, I felt like one of the few Westerners who loved that. I’ve never really been able to eat much bread and such for breakfast. Too much chewing, somehow. Rice with pickled vegetables and miso soup works a lot better for me. I still go slightly mad at a normal hotel breakfast, but that’s because of the sheer amount of different things. I end up eating a lot just because of the “I’ll take a bit of that and some of that and ohhh, let’s try that, whatever that is…” phenomenon. But it also, luckily, means I can do with a light lunch!

So yeah. The hotel was conveniently situated (in theory) near the main railway station and most of the local public transport went through the railway station, too, so I could get to my event easily on Saturday morning. And that’s how I spent all of Saturday: listening, talking, eating, drinking caffeinated drinks and enjoying the company of other Finnish women. We had dinner with a lot of the participants in a Persian restaurant in the same building where the actual event happened, and whilst the food was not a mind-blowing, the company and very happy service definitely made up for it.

One does not simply go to Germany and NOT eat flammenküche.

We also made plans with a few people to meet up on Sunday for an early coffee moment to continue talking. I walked there from the hotel, planning to see a bit more of the town, which was still grey, if not drizzly, and then walked back a bit before my train, taking a different route. Somehow I feel like I could have spent a lot more time in Frankfurt, really. There were a bunch of museums I would have liked to visit (Fantastic Women exhibition! Film Museum! Natural History Museum! Goethe House!) , and of course many things outside the city centre, too. At this point, after being stuck mostly inside for the last 2 months, I regret not taking the time and effort to actually get out of town and enjoy a bit of German nature… But I will try to make up for that next time I get somewhere where nature is easier to reach. Hopefully.

One does not simply go to Germany and NOT eat küche.

I also hope that later this year I can still go to Portugal and then maybe fit in a sneaky visit to Thailand early next year. As long as it is feasible and allowed and won’t cause any further issues for anyone. I really love to travel and I actually (first world problems) feel sad about the lack of possibility to do so, but I also want to make sure I won’t cause anyone any easily avoidable issues just because I’d feel better, traveling around.

I really hope the situation calms down for everyone, it has been quite stressful for a lot of people. I wish I could just make everyone feel better with a wave of a magic wand, but sadly I do not have a magic wand like that. And something tells me no one else does, either. Or if they do, they are selfish mofos who refuse to use it for everyone’s benefit, and I prefer to think no one has one instead. Which is sad, but not as sad as the selfishness option, you know? Ommmm, think of those nice people on that Thalys train to Amsterdam, ommm…