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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!