Our last full day! We went back to our new favorite snorkeling spot on Galleon Beach.
Mid-morning another Trans-Atlantic row boat entered the harbor. The two-man boat, Tikkurila, finished the 3000 mile trek in just over 51 days. The hoopla begins when they light the flares. The blue boat with the Antiguan flag circles around the rowboat several times and escorts it into Nelson’s Dockyard.
Today I found the most beautiful conch shell. It was perfect. A treasure for sure. I wanted to take it home but the conch was still living in it. Sadly but carefully I dove deep and found it a good home in the grass where it would be safe.
Incidentally, at the airport there’s a conch display of shells removed from carry-on luggage. Conch shells are considered weapons and are compared to brass knuckles. They need to be in checked luggage.
We wanted to check out one more beach on the top ten list — Half Moon Bay on the east coast of Antigua. Snorkeling is suppose to be good but it’s in the Atlantic which could have big waves and rough water. (West coast is the Caribbean). Its’ a beautiful drive.
We drove back to the ridge which is part of the Shirley Heights complex where there are several ruins.
On our way to the airport we made a stop at a historic sugar cane plantation called Betty’s Hope. This is a sugar plantation site where one of the two sugar mill towers has been fully restored complete with sails. Betty’s Hope was one of the earliest sugar plantations.
Windmills were central to the operation of a sugar estate. Betty’s Hope was large and required two mills to process all the cane. With a steady wind and working from sun up to late into the night, each mill could crush 60-70 cartloads of cane or about 2 acres per day.
It was the first large-scale sugar plantation to operate in Antigua and belonged to several generations of the Codrington family from 1674 until 1944. Christopher Codrington acquired the property in 1674 and named it Betty’s Hope, after his daughter.
The Still House held pipes that carried condensed rum from the condensing coil into large tanks for mixing and diluting down to about 60% alcohol, and then into wooden barrels for storage and in some cases to age.
Like other large plantations, Betty’s Hope was an agricultural as well as an industrial enterprise, and home to a large number of people. Supervised by a handful of European managers, hundreds of people of African origin lived out their lives on this and similar plantations, first as slaves, then as labourers after their emancipation in 1834.
Enduring the hardship of cultivating and processing the sugar under exhausting conditions, they developed great skill as craftsmen, boilers and distillers.
Throughout its 300 year history, Betty’s Hope played a prominent role in Antigua and Barbuda history and influenced the lives of many generations of Antiguans. (Information taken from visitantiguabarbuda.com)
Walking through the property we came across a Flamboyant tree. In the spring, it’s covered with dazzling red blooms. In the Summer and fall, the large dark brown pods can’t be missed hanging from the leafless trees. The seeds rattle within and can be used as musical shake-shakes.
The adventures of Jane and Peggy in Antigua & Barbuda are coming to an end.
We had a nice variety of breakfast items bought at yesterday’s public market in Saint John.
We packed up snorkeling gear and headed to Galleon Beach in English Harbor. We’re going to try snorkeling where the security guard suggested.
We were much closer to the reef and the snorkeling was pretty good here. This was my first attempt at underwater photography … just using my i-phone in a water proof case. There was a variety of colored fish but they’re hard to photograph — they move fast and I’m still fumbly with cell phone buttons under water in a case.
While snorkeling, a sport row boat with two women pulled up to our little beach. We chatted for awhile. It was the coach and nurse for the Swiss Trans-Atlantic rowing team. They were getting ready to welcome their team which would be finishing the 3,000 mile trek this afternoon.
The ladies were using an inflatable row boat. They said it folds up small and can be taken on an airplane.
The app for following the Trans-Atlantic competition shows icons of all the boats and their locations. Click on your team’s boat icon and it provides their locations and other data. This lets the family and friends following each team, know when to show up in English Harbor for the grand finale.
A tree on our path had big white soft squishy-gel like fruit. Peggy looked it up and discovered that one of its names is “vomit fruit”. Glad we didn’t smell or touch it. There are over 100 names for this fruit but the scientific name is Morinda Citrifolia more commonly known as Noni and it is a fruit-bearing tree from the coffee family.
Further research showed it is widespread and that the fresh fruit is consumed across the globe. Supplements made from Noni are estimated to bring in millions of dollars annually. Not bad for a fruit that tastes like rotten cheese. Unripe is most tolerable and tastes spicy and grassy with hints of horseradish and Parmesan.
The main reason people opt to eat this fruit is for its purported health benefits. All parts of the plant are used to treat ailments as diverse as toothaches, cancer, attention deficit disorder, bruises and addiction. The majority of the health claims are unproven. (Information taken from atlasobscura.com).
We made a stop at the apartment to de-sand before heading out to Shirley Heights, a much touted Sunday evening event with music and barbecue as well as a great view, especially at sunset.
Shirley Heights is located high on a steep hilltop above Galleon beach where we were just snorkeling. It is a restored military lookout named after Sir Thomas Shirley, Governor of the Leeward Islands, who strengthened Antigua’s defenses in 1781.
The iconic view from Shirley Heights includes English Harbor and Falmouth Harbor along with a few beaches and Nelson’s Dockyard.
We arrived early around 3:00 pm. Parking was easy. No lines at the bar or food-ticket line. We could easily walk around and enjoy the views. The music starts at 4:00.
We enjoyed the sounds of the Halcyon Steel Orchestra. This musical ‘family’ has been together for over 50 years and has performed all over the globe. They have an impressive list of awards and have won countless competitions. Their big steel drum sound provides a Caribbean party vibe that gets everyone dancing.
By 5:30, the place is packed shoulder-to-shoulder. Many gather at the point to watch and take photos of the sunset.
According to Visit Antigua and Barbuda tourism authority, if you watch closely for that split second as the sun sets behind the ocean, you may see at that moment a green jet of light that covers the horizon known as the Green Flash and is something that only the luckiest viewers and photographers have ever managed to capture on camera or in their memories.
Now it’s hard to maneuver around the crowd. Lines at the bars are ten deep with party-goers ordering trays of rum punch for their tables. There’s even longer lines for food tickets and the buffet where the portions are generous.
The Halcyon Steel Orchestra wrapped up about an hour after sunset. The next performers had a calypso sound … and the party goes on until the late hours.
Today’s route does a little zig zag around the center of the island.
We started our route around 8:00 am. First stop is the Saturday public market at Saint Johns.
Today’s Driving Dilemma: Everything was going great until I came upon a row of parked cars. I followed a motorcycle around them and to my horror after passing about 10 cars, I discovered that they were not parked — the drivers were on the right side and they were all waiting for a traffic light. Embarrassing. We waved and smiled and went slowly. Some kind soul let us pass through the intersection. For the most part, Antiguan drivers are very courteous and will often stop, blink their lights and allow you to cut through their lane to accommodate a turn during backed-up traffic.
Antigua and Barbuda is a predominately Christian nation. The Anglican Church accounts for about 17% of the population. Adventists and Pentecostals follow with about 12% each. The Methodists, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Moravian, Church of God and Weslyan Holiness churches account for about 10% of the population. Other religious groups claim around 12% of the population and include Rastafarians, Hindus, Bahia’is, Muslims and Jews. (Information taken from Antigua and Barbuda A Little Bit of Paradise.).
Driving in Saint Johns is a challenge. Many of the streets are one-way and the cruise ships bring in countless pedestrians. We were directed to park in a pay lot which was only open until 2:00 pm for whatever reason. The first thing we came across was a pedal-pub full of cruise ship tourists … yet another driving obstacle that made us glad we were parked.
Saint Johns Market
A big old statue of V.C. Bird stands prominently downtown Saint Johns next to the public market. He was the first prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda and held that position from 1981 — 1994. In that time, he took the twin island nation from a British Colony to an independent nation.
Next to Bird’s statue is a black pineapple, a type of fruit that is said to be a delicacy and unique to the island.
A dirt road full of potholes led us to the donkey sanctuary where it was hot and dusty. There are about 150 or so stray donkeys that have found a good home in this sanctuary operated by the Antigua & Barbuda Humane Society.
The decline of the sugar industry has contributed to the abandonment of donkeys and has done little to curtail their population. While some continued to be used on farms and to lug produce to and from market, they were largely left to fend for themselves after the doors closed on the last sugar factory in the 1970s. Most people have little use for donkeys these days.
The 43-acre site is home to 150 jacks, jennies and foals. It is estimated that up to 400 more are roaming wild, breeding at will. They cause a lot of trouble for farmers and crops, they also break irrigation lines, crash through people’s gardens and overturn garbage bins looking for food. The vagrant lifestyle is tough for the donkeys too.
Our next destination is Devil’s Bridge near the town of Willikies. This National Park offers a stunning glimpse into Antigua’s natural formation.
Composed of limestone rock, the rugged terrain of Devil’s Bridge is the result of millions of years of ancient reef formation. A rough natural outcrop of limestone has been eroded by many years of Atlantic waves crashing into it and forming a bridge. I wouldn’t recommend walking over it but there are some who have.
Back to Pidgeon Point Beach
We need to get back to Falmouth Harbour in time for a swim and sunset at Pidgeon Point beach. It’s Saturday evening and this is the first time we’ve seen a crowded beach. There were a lot of locals and kids enjoying the water and sunset.
Antigua’s Carnival does not coincide with Mardi Gras. It was first celebrated in 1957 with the purpose of attracting tourists and to commemorate the emancipation from slavery.
It is a summer festival with artistic and cultural talent, music, steelbands and calypso. The streets come alive with parades, music bands and troupes with a multitude of masqueraders in colourful costumes. Held during the last week of July, and culminating on the first Monday and Tuesday of August, the event attracts locals and visitors alike. (Information taken from visitantiguaandbarbuda.com and iexplore.com).
Tomorrow we’re planning to snorkel and explore Shirley Heights.
After the long day in Barbuda yesterday, we spent plenty of time relaxing on the balcony and drinking coffee this morning.
Beach time! Nearby Galleon Beach is calling us! Located on Antigua’s southern coast in English Harbor, Galleon Beach is relatively well protected from rough seas. It is named after the ships that used to moor here – evident by the huge rusting anchor that lies in the shallows in the middle of the beach.
The soft sands of Galleon Beach slip into warm blue waters well-known locally for snorkeling. The security guard gave us a few tips on where to snorkel and also mentioned that turtles regularly come toward shore in the morning.
Before settling on the beach, we did a little beach shopping. A local entrepreneur offered an assortment of handmade necklaces and bracelets made from tamarind seeds and colorfully painted lavender pods in addition to t-shirts and scarves.
Late afternoon we heard what sounded like cannons. One of the rowboats from the Talisker Whisky Trans-Atlantic Rowboat Competition has finished and is heading for Nelson’s Dockyard. The yachts started blowing horns and everyone on the beach started hootin’ and hollering.
Participants in this competition, leave the Canary Islands (south of Spain, west of Africa) in early December. It takes between 30-95 days to reach Antigua which means they are spending their Christmas and New Years holidays at sea.
The row teams vary and have 1, 2, 3 or 4 participants. In their 3000 nautical mile trek across the Atlantic, they experience sleep deprivation, hallucinations and hunger. This test of body and mind is balanced by sighting incredible marine life, witnessing the breaking of a new day and sun sets that cannot be viewed from land.
We were motivated to move on to Nelson’s Dockyard which was on our list anyway but thought it might be fun to see the rowboat finishers.
Nelson’s Dockyard is a cultural heritage site and marina which became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016. In the 1600’s it was established as a way to protect British ships from hurricanes and to monitor naval activity at the neighboring French island of Guadeloupe.
The Dockyard has been restored to its original state featuring 18th and 19th century buildings with modern amenities such as shops, hotels, and marina businesses. (Information from VisitAntiguaAndBarbuda.com)
It may have been faster for us to swim to Nelson’s Dockyard. By the time we got the car and drove there, all the Trans-Atlantic rowboat hoopla had moved on.
After wandering around the dockyard, we returned to our apartment. The sunset is blocked by the hillside but still pretty to watch its hues color the clouds. We walked across the street to the Antigua Yacht Club’s restaurant for dinner and ended the evening there.
Crack of dawn and the roosters are crowing. We left our accommodations around 5:00 am and headed for Antigua’s main harbor in the town of Saint John. Our excursion to the island of Barbuda is going to fill the day.
We were nervous about finding a parking place on the streets in Saint John. A harbor security guard directed us to a very convenient parking space close to the dock.
We were directed to be at the dock around 6:30 am. Our ferry departure was delayed by an hour because a cruise ship was docking.
The air-conditioned inside cabin of the ferry boat had very comfortable seating.
Barbuda is flat! Unlike Antigua with its scenic mountains and rolling hills, this island is low-lying limestone. It’s easy to see how hurricane Irma ravaged the island in 2019. It was a category 5 storm that destroyed about 95% of the island’s structures. Most of the population was evacuated to Antigua.
There is a third island that belongs to Antigua & Barbuda called Redonda. It is uninhabited but home to a number of sea birds. The island became an important source of guano before artificial fertilizers were mass-produced.
After the ferry docked, we connected with Henry our guide and our tour group was loaded into vans to start our excursion.
It was a short drive to a dock in Codrington lagoon, a tranquil 11 mile stretch of water where small boats were waiting to transport our group.
Frigates have a 7-ft wing span and have predominantly black plumage, long, forked tails and long hooked bills. They are seabirds but their feathers are not waterproof. They can stay aloft for up to two months without touching down on land or water. They can’t swim and if they do encounter water, they would become waterlogged and eventually drown.
The name Frigate comes from the French mariners’ name for a frigate or fast warship.
Only one chick per pair of frigate birds is hatched and stays in the nest for 8-10 months. Because of this they breed once every other year.
The bird sanctuary is amazing. (Information about Frigates taken from Rough Guide to Antigua & Barbuda, National Geographic.org and Audubon.org).
After docking, we boarded the vans again. It was a long ride across the island. Two women sitting next to me were talking in another language that I didn’t recognize. When I asked where they were from, one responded in English, ‘what do you mean where are we from’. Then I asked what language they were speaking. She went on to explain that they were originally from Poland but now live outside of Toronto, Canada.
Barbuda has many caves and sink holes primarily because it is composed of limestone. The caves at Two Foot Bay run along the sea cliffs.
Our guide Kendrick was born in Barbuda and lived there most of his life. When Hurricane Irma came he didn’t evacuate, he stayed in the cave. I’m not exactly clear on the details of his story but the water level in the cave became a problem. Somehow he survived.
Kendrick was a great guide pointing out some of the natural wonders on our route.
Lunch was served at the Hillside View Bar & Grill in the National Park near the caves.
After lunch, we boarded the vans and it was a long ride to the “Princess Diana Beach” so named because Princess Diana often vacationed in Barbuda and enjoyed the seclusion of this beach. The beach was re-named after her in 2011 to coincide with what would have been her 50th birthday.
Driving Adventure of the Day: Our drive from Saint Johns across the island to our apartment in Falmouth Harbor was in the dark … one more obstacle in addition to driving on the left, potholes, chickens, dogs, pedestrians and other hazards. We were using cell phone GPS to guide us and at some point it went out of range and we missed a turn. After we passed a man carrying a large pick-axe over his shoulder, the road got darker and narrower, more secluded and scarier. We had no choice but to turn around and retrace our route from memory which meant we had to pass by the pick-axe murderer again. Very carefully we made our way back to the Saint John’s area, found the correct route and started over.
We arrived back in Falmouth around 9:00 pm. Being famished we found a nice but busy outdoor restaurant and felt fortunate to get seats at the bar since we didn’t have a reservation. We placed our order and shortly after our drinks arrived, the power went out. Everyone got out cell phones lights and continued eating and drinking. The cooks continued grilling using their cell phones for light.
About ten minutes later, they had to shut the grill down because without power, the exhaust fan wasn’t working. They assured us the power would be on shortly. We had another drink. No power. They offered us a plate of French fries. No power. Finally we gave up and went back to our apartment. It was time to end this day.
I’m traveling with my long-time friend Peggy. My husband David is not so much a beach person and our destination has 365 beaches.
After yesterdays long travel day, we opted for a relaxing beach day. Pigeon beach is a short walk from where we are staying.
After a nice long rest at Pidgeon Beach we jumped in the car and headed to St. John’s, the capital city and key port.
Still getting used to the reversed British driving but we’re doing great. The turn signal and the windshield wiper stem are reversed so we’re wiping the windshield often. That always brings a laugh.
Quick stop to buy fresh fruits and vegetables to nibble on. We trusted the opinion of the vendor to try a few exotic things. We were hoping to find some of Antigua’s black pineapple but it doesn’t come in until Friday.
Next stop is Jolly Beach on the southwest coast. They wanted $25 (US) to sit on two beach chairs. We only had two $20 bills which no one will take because they were slightly torn. We told the woman we’d just sit on the sand. She then told us to go ahead and sit in the chairs (free). Maybe we should carry the torn bills with us to all the beaches.
We had a hard time finding an early afternoon lunch stop because employees were given four hours off work so they could vote.
Our waitress Shyrainne very proudly showed us her finger dipped in ink to show that she had voted today. Her hope is that they make the retirement age 60 so it will open up jobs for the youth.
It’s the end of January and we still have about 20” of snow on the ground. And today, when I’m leaving for Antigua-Barbuda, it’s raining on top of the 20” of snow. Not a good combination. The temperature is above freezing so the 3:00 am drive to the airport shouldn’t be too treacherous.
After taking off from Miami it’s about 1,300 miles to Antigua.
We flew over some inhabited islands and some that were not. Beautiful to look at with swirling shades of turquoise blue and soft sand colors.
We circled a couple times before landing at V. C. Bird International airport and the view was spectacular. Pastel colored houses, the craggy shoreline, mountains, islands, beaches.
We have arrived! Arrived where? The official name of this country is “Antigua & Barbuda” a pair of islands described in many ways. They are the Leeward islands (a group of islands situated where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic ocean), the Lesser Antilles (a group of Caribbean islands that are part of a long, partially volcanic island arc between Greater Antilles to the north-west and the continent of South America.) Also, you may hear it referred to as the “West Indies” (a combination of the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.) Some of these West Indies islands are not physiographically connected but have a common history and cultural ties.
It gets dark around 6:00 pm and we drove across the island to our accommodations near Falmouth Harbor and the English Harbor.
The island is only 12 miles long x 9 miles yet it took us forever (an hour) to reach our destination. Adding to the fun … we’re in a former British colony which means the car’s steering wheel is on the passenger side and we’re driving on the wrong side of the road. Lots of potholes, pedestrians, dogs, cats, cows and other distractions. It was a very long day.
Today’s destination is Shete Boka which means ‘Seven Inlets”. The area actually has more than 10 Boka’s (inlets) where three species of turtles nest. Years ago, an environmental group arranged excursions in this area along seven bays. This is where the name came from, however, there are more than seven coves in this national park.
When we arrived at the entrance, the attendants were very discouraging. They said the road was full of potholes from the rain and dangerous to drive. So we said we would walk not realizing how far apart everything was.
After seeing a couple cars off in the distance, we ended up driving. The attendants were right; deep potholes, puddles and mud slicks made maneuvering the “road” a challenge. But it was worth it.
We began our hike to Boka Wandomi. The small dirt parking lot is monitored by a caretaker in a wooden tower-like structure. The final destination features a large natural bridge with lots of wave action.
To reach the final destination, you need to hike down into a ravine and then hike back up the other side. The ravine has rocks that form letters, words, hearts, etc. Someone with a lot of energy and tolerance for heat created this open-air work of art.
We hiked back to the car. The air-conditioning revived us. It was a very slow 2-3 mile drive to Boka Pistol parking lot at the other end. The heat along with the bad roads and time limitations forced us to be selective about which boka’s we hiked. The park closes at 4:00 pm.
We didn’t see any cruise ship excursion buses here and not many other tourists. The combination of heat, full sun and long hiking distances made it challenging.
Next stop is Boka Pistol, so named because the waves crash into the cliffs so hard that they reverberate with a sound similar to the sound of a shotgun.
Feeling dusty and hot, we changed into our swim wear in the isolated parking lot and headed to the beach. Tomorrow is our last full day in Curacao.
Our new accommodations were at a Scuba Diving resort in Westpunt. We came in late last night when it was dark, so it was exciting to see the natural beauty of this part of the island in full daylight.
This resort is located on a cliff overlooking the amazing turquoise water.
It was about 7:00-ish by the time we got cleaned-up from the beach. Most of the restaurants close by 8:00 pm. We had cocktails on the patio until the mosquitos arrived followed by light suppers made in the kitchenette. I think the locals tend to watch the sunsets from the restaurants.
Westpunt first appeared on maps of the Dutch West Indies Company around 1700. In 1849, land was donated to the Catholic Church by plantation Savonet to build a church and school.
A village appeared around the church in the 1860s inhabited by newly freed slaves following the abolition of slavery in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Westpunt remained isolated for most of its history due to the 22 miles to Willemstad. There is public bus service around the island. The bus stops are plentiful and most are decorated for the holidays.
The population density is low, and the number of inhabitants has been steadily decreasing. In 2002, the elementary school closed. Tourist resorts and holiday homes have appeared near the coast. To sum it up, let’s say it’s a very quiet but beautiful part of the island.
Westpunt is home to some of the island’s most beautiful coral sand beaches. Three were very near; small Playa Kalki, Playa Forti, and Playa Grandi (aka Playa Piscado and Sabana Wesport). Playa Grandi is the sales center for the local fishing community. The daily catch includes Barracuda, Mahi Mahi, Blacktail Tuna, Yellowtail Tuna, Red Snapper, Queen Snapper, Wahoo, Sailfish, Amberjack, Bluejack, Black Grouper, Lobster, Octopus, and Lion Fish.
We really wanted to try Lion Fish but it was always sold out.
Playa Kalki is also known as Alice in Wonderland due to mushroom-shaped coral formations. The name Kalki comes from the local Papiamentu word for the white coral rock and limestone, which is abundant on the beach and surrounding cliffs. You wouldn’t want to walk on this barefoot.
Playa Kalki and its surroundings are known for their good scuba conditions. There is a professional dive center located directly on the beach at Playa Kalki.
Our next stop, Playa Grandi. This is the first time I’ve seen roosters and chickens on a beach. This tiny fishermen’s beach is also popular for snorkeling and diving. Entrance to the water is somewhat rocky.
The Sea Turtles appear from 11:00 – 4:00 daily and so do the cruise ship excursions. The sea turtles come for the Fishermen’s scraps that get tossed over.
The cruise ship guests come to see the turtles. The ships are parked outside Willemstad, a good 40 miles away. This is probably a 6 hour tour with a few stops. The motor coaches pull up and the beach fills. The groups march into the water with life jackets and snorkel masks. The sea turtles are everywhere and quite easy to find.
This is one of the reasons why we hit the beaches after 4:00 pm. We like to watch the sunsets too.
We head back to the resort to finish off the evening.
Today we are heading for Mt. Christoffel National Park. David is going to take on the mountain. Hikers need to register with the park office by 10:30 am or they are not allowed to climb. The heat and humidity become an issue later in the morning. The well travelled trail is pretty much one mile straight up the mountain with some rock scrambling toward the top.
When David was on his hike, I toured the Savonet Museum located inside Christoffel National Park. This former plantation house built in 1662 is an important cultural site with its well-kept structures and artifacts.
Savonet Landhuis is a unique landmark that allows visitors to recount the social evolution of Curacao through the story of the island’s first inhabitants, the plantation’s owners, and the enslaved people. Different exhibits witness the situations of the distinct groups of the slavery period as well as the evolution of the civilization and customs following emancipation.
After touring Savonet Landhuis, I sat at a picnic table in the shade and started blogging. I was startled by loud birds and looked up to find that I was surrounded by about 20 peacocks.
The Peahens are not nearly as pretty as their Peacock partners.
David returned hours later. We didn’t realize it, but there was a small parking lot by the trail head. This would have shortened his hike by an hour or so.
David took a few photos from the mountain. He said it was a little rough at the very top but a beautiful view.
When David returned from the hike, it was hot, humid and time to eat. We headed to one of Curacao’s long standing establishments — Jaanchie’s restaurant.
I ❤️ Jaanchie’s! This is the oldest restaurant in Curacao. Pass through the white gates and enter a different world. For starters, the place is a bird sanctuary and surrounded with gardens.
Mr. Jaanchie is the menu. He sits down at your table and tells you what’s cooking. He asks what you would like and says he can mix it up so you can try a few specialties of the island.
He also mentions that Iguana is on the menu and that it tastes like chicken but has a lot of bones. Neither David or I could bring ourselves to trying the Iguana.
Back at our accommodations we enjoyed warm breezes while sipping rum drinks and watching one last sunset. Time to pack up the shorts, flip-flops and sunscreen.
Tomorrow we head back to Minnesota … land of 10,000 frozen lakes, a couple feet of snow, crisp cold air and countless snow emergencies declared for clearing snow from the streets.
The contrasting winter weather is a welcome change but stay tuned! Our long-time friend Peggy and I are planning an escape to the Eastern Caribbean islands of Antigua & Barbuda at the end of January. Until then, happy trails!
Today we’re moving to the west end of the island. We’ve had a great time in Willemstad but are eager to explore the quieter side of the island.
Westpunt is the western most point and mostly known for being surrounded by beautiful nature, scuba diving and shores.
The whole island from east to west is about 40 miles so it’s not a very long journey even though the roads are slow and winding. We made several stops at nature reserves, beaches and other sites of interest.
The salt flats (Salinas) near Jan Kok is where we found a Sanctuary where flamingos can be seen in their natural habitat.
The salt flats were used for salt extraction until the 1960s and salt pans are still present. The area is currently used for recreational purposes of hiking and biking as well as guided eco-tours.
We found no tap beer, let alone Craft beer, in all of Curacao. Most places only carry Dutch brands of bottled beer such as Heineken and Amstel Bright a European Pale Lager style beer. We did find a Venezuelan beer at an isolated small grocery store. Most beer comes in small ‘pony’ size bottles. I’m guessing that the smaller size is used because normal size bottles become warm fast in this climate.
The Williwood sign (a parody of the one found in Hollywood) can be found in St. Willibrordus. The locals of the tiny tropical village were tired of being anonymous so they made the sign which changed the name.
Previously, the town was known for its grand church that dates back to the 1800s but the Williwood sign has taken the spotlight as the ‘can’t miss’ attraction. In 2011, St. Willibrordus officially changed its name to Williwood.
Sunset is coming and we need to find a beach. Bumpy twisty dirt roads took us to Playa Portamari and Daaibooi Baai. A handful of snorkelers and swimmers were waiting for the sunset.
We drove the rest of the way to Westpunt in the dark and on a paved road but very winding and surrounded with shrub, scrub, cactus and an occasional street light.
We had a late dinner (8:00 pm … considered late here on the west end.) The Cactus Cafe is next door to our accommodations. Very quiet and very decorated for Christmas. We had Barracuda and funghi (polenta) for dinner and tried their African ‘peanut with banana’ soup. It was delicious but not something I’d make at home. Reminded me of Elvis.
We have arrived at Westpunt and so has the full moon.
David started the day with something called the Açaí bowl. It was purple, cold and thick like ice cream. It contained fresh fruit, oatmeal milk, granola nuts and dried fruit. Very refreshing in this hot and humid weather.
Running parallel to most of Curacao’s north coast, are cliffs that were formed 200 million years ago by the same forces that pushed the island up from the Caribbean Sea. These forces caused receding waters to percolate down through the porous limestone terrace, creating a region honeycombed with fissures and grottos. The caves are a dramatic example of this unusual geography.
Our tour guide explained how Curacao is formed in layers going up in height, which are called ‘terraces’. Most caves on the island are found in the second terrace. The Hato Cave is uniquely found in the third terrace of the island. To reach the entrance, you need to go up about 50 steps.
Over the years, the caves provided shelter for some of the island’s early inhabitants, the Caiquetio Indians (from Northern Venezuela) and then later to escaped slaves who used many caverns to hide from their masters. Several Indian skeletons and 1,500-year-old artifacts have been discovered there.
Next stop is Chobolobo and the Curacao distillery. Landhuis Chobolobo is an iconic 19th-century mansion. The property’s history is rather sketchy but never had any other use than to serve as a country residence for wealthy merchants.
Spaniards came to Curacao around the 1500 and one of the plants they brought with was the Valencia Orange. The arid climate and soil conditions changed the juicy fruit into a bitter, almost inedible produce. The project was forgotten and the Valencia orange grew wild and abandoned, not even touched by the goats.
Decades later, someone discovered that the peels of this orange contained an ethereal oil with an extraordinary pleasing fragrance. This orange is called Lahara and is indigenous to Curacao. The Lahara is inedible. However the dried orange peels are perfect for the production of Curacao liqueur and provides a unique taste.
Today, Senior Co. is the only brand in the world that uses Lahara to make Curacao liqueur. The name “Curacao” is the name of a “place” and therefore cannot be trademarked. This is why there are many brands of “Curacao” liqueur on the market today. Senior also produces other liqueurs than Curacao, like a chocolate and tamarind liqueur.
Since 1946, Chobolobo houses the “Senior Co.” distillery which has produced the famous Blue Curacao. True Curacao is made with the Laraha orange that only grows in Curacao. The entire process is done by hand … everything from picking the oranges, peeling and drying, mixing the recipe and distilling to bottling and labeling.
Today’s beach is Jan Thiele which is just outside of Willemstad. All decorated for the holidays, the complex includes five restaurants and three beach clubs. There is a fee for beach entrance, parking and chairs.
Our strategy is to stay away during the hottest part of the day (we are near the Equator after all). We usually roll into the beaches around 4:00 when the crowds have left and there are no charges for entrance, parking or chairs.
First order of the day after coffee, was to find a place to watch the World Cup Soccer match between Holland and the US.
We walked through our neighborhood looking at street art. It’s everywhere in this very colorful city.
The Kura Hulanda Museum shows the turbulent period that involved the Slave trade between the Netherlands and Curacao. The museum also houses an extensive collection of African and Antillean (religious) art.
Enough walking … we jumped in the car and headed for Mombo beach. Driving in Curacao is very slow. Traffic lights seem to last over five minutes. There are long lines of cars everywhere. For excitement add the sky view over the Juliana bridge and a few one-way streets.
We had a hard time finding the beach, mostly because you can’t see it. There are blocks of dirt parking lots lining Mombo Beach boulevard. We arrived late afternoon which is when everyone leaves …therefore parking was free as were the entrance and chair fees.
We had to walk down a few flights of stairs in a mall-like building filled with shops to get to the beach. The shops, restaurants and bars were endless. We did find the beach eventually.
We had dinner at the Seaside Terrace known for seafood. A lovely way to end the day.
Bon Dia! That’s good morning in Papiamento and Bon Bini means welcome. Two common phrases heard and seen all about Willemstad.
The Queen Emma bridge is hinged and opens regularly to enable the passage of ocean going vessels. On the opposite end from the hinge is a small shelter where an operator controls two diesel engines with turning propellers.
Punda is the location of the world famous Handelskade: the waterfront collection of multi-colored buildings that has become Curacao’s most characteristic image. It is one of the most known UNESCO world heritage sites.
The floating market is where Venezuelan merchants would dock and sell their fresh fish, produce and spices. Curacao is predominantly arid and it is near-to-impossible to grow in quantities sufficient enough to support the local market and visitors. Today’s more efficient shipping methods and larger scale grocery operation (and the difficulties in Venezuela) threaten to make this once vital market obsolete.
Wilhelmina Park is in the heart of Punda. This is where you will find the brightly colored signs ‘Curacao’ and ‘Dushi’ for photo-opps.
Dushi is a Papiamento word that means ‘tasty’. You see it everywhere. It comes from the Spanish word ‘dulce’ which means ‘sweet’. Biba Dushi means ‘living a sweet life’.
Curacao is home of the ChiChi, a well rounded Caribbean figure. She represents the vibrant, dynamic and responsible older sister. The statues are handmade and painted in bright Caribbean colors by local craftsmen and painters at Serena’s Art Factory.
She represents the eldest daughter of the family who binds the family together in a loving and caring way. She is a much appreciated female role model in the Caribbean community of today and a very live part of its colorful heritage.
The Chichi statues were created by a German woman named Serena Israel. When she came to Curacao, she realized there was a lack of jobs especially for women and that the island needed a souvenir that was distinctly Curacao. Serena was a seasoned mold maker. She dreamed up the idea for the Chichi dolls based on the women of Curacao. But rather than make them herself, she aimed to give the islanders something of their own: to teach them how to make the plaster dolls they inspired through an extensive trainee program with the artist herself at the helm. As the women prove themselves over time, Serena raises their pay as a form of empowerment.
Next stop, I see a building that looks like a church. So we wandered over there. It was once a synagogue but now is a public prosecutors office. I would never have guessed that.
We wandered through the streets of Punda. More colorful buildings, coffee shops and restaurants.
Next stop is the New Market. It’s kind of like an outer concourse of a baseball stadium and you just walk in a circle. It’s like a flea market where you can buy beauty supplies, clothes and other random things. We bought a couple beach towels. There are food vendors too.
They used to celebrate St. Nicholas Day here which is typically December 6. From my American perspective, you would put your shoes outside your door and St. Nicholas would come by and fill them with treats which would be found the next morning. It’s a little different here. St. Nicholas would arrive by boat and deliver gifts to the children. We thought it would be fun to see this … until I started reading some controversial things.
A Dutch woman explained this to us. She said countless years ago, St. Nicholas came to Curacao and bought a slave. He gave the slave his freedom. The slave, an elf-like character’s name was “Zwarte Piet” which translates as “black Pete”. Black Pete was so grateful that he told St. Nicholas he would be his helper. Typically, Black Pete was portrayed by white people in black face with red lipstick. Anyways the tradition came to a halt in Curacao with Covid. During the covid break, somebody portrayed Black Pete as a black Dutch politician originally from Suriname … in poor taste. It was racist and objectionable which made the celebration unappealing. Now instead, Curacao celebrates a children’s day on December 20th.
We’re back on the Outrobunda side of the Queen Emma bridge. Lots of holiday decorations.
Next stop is Netto bar. It is the oldest bar in Curacao and home of the famous green rum, Rom Berde.
Where?? That’s the common response when I mention a trip to Curaçao. A map is needed to explain this one.
Located in the southern Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela, Curaçao was a Dutch colony for a long time. Since 2010, Curacao has been an independent country within the kingdom of the Netherlands. They are in charge of their own affairs with the exception of defense and foreign policy which are managed by the Dutch. Together with Aruba and Bonaire, it forms what’s known as the ABC islands. Information taken from Enjoy Curacao.
The thought of Curacao in December is very inviting … 80 degree days, beautiful beaches, exotic birds, snorkeling with the sea turtles … exploring a place where many cultures have blended together. These pleasant thoughts were interrupted by a Minnesota reality … the sudden appearance of a snowstorm that arrived the day David and I were to depart. Beachwear and snorkel gear packed, we were planning to head to the airport in a couple hours.
Our flight cancelled. This was not a good feeling. It took a few hours but I managed to shift our entire trip back by one day without incurring any additional charges. After all the re-arrangements had been made, it was kind of nice to have a little time to relax before departing.
The second most common question about Curacao is, ‘how do you get there?’ And the answer is ‘through Miami’. The flight from Miami is about two-and-a-half hours long.
After completing immigration forms and going through customs, we headed for the car rental. The first thing you notice about Curacao is the humidity and then the heat.
The first part of our trip, we are staying in Willemstad, the capital of Curacao. It’s divided in half by the St. Anna Bay. On one side there is Punda (which means ‘the Point’) and across from it is Outrobanda ( which means ‘the Other Side’).
Even though the street signs are all in Dutch, the language here is Papiamento, a Portuguese-based creole blend of African, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French, English and Arawak Indian. The official languages in Curacao are Dutch, Papiamento and English.
Another cloudy cold day on the Oregon coast. David and I are headed to the Portland airport to pick up a few wedding guests. It was another beautiful drive through the hilly forest. No stops along the way. We were trying to arrive at the airport in a timely manner.
We planned to squeeze 5 people plus luggage into an SUV with a second airport pick-up later today for a 6th person.
With our passengers in tow, we headed toward downtown making a stop for gas on the way. I pulled into the gas station and a man came up to my window and wanted a credit card. I wasn’t sure that he actually worked there and was hesitant to let go of the credit card.
David jumped out of the car and ran around to start pumping gas. The “attendant” told him that he could not do that … it was illegal. I released the credit card and the man inserted it into the pump and started filling our tank. David hovered around him and started washing the car windows which the attendant said was ok to do. I anticipated a “service charge” in addition to the gas payment but that didn’t happen. How odd is this?
We sooner (or later) realized that all of the gas stations in Oregon have attendants. There is up to a $500 fine for pumping your own gas. Oregon remains only one of two states that doesn’t allow drivers to pump their own fuel. (New Jersey doesn’t trust drivers to responsibly pump gas either.) Because of the pandemic and nationwide workforce shortage, they are considering legislation to allow for both full-service and self-service pumps.
Across from the gas station was a string of food trucks about as far as the eye could see. We were hungry but this seemed overwhelming, not to mention that we would have to find a place to leave a car full of luggage. So we passed and went downtown.
After lunch we walked to the Lan Su Chinese Garden, a tranquil oasis in the midst of some sketchy old streets in the historic Chinatown district. It is an authentic Ming Dynasty-style garden built by Suzhou artisans that brings together art, architecture, design and nature in this 2,000-year-old Chinese tradition. It was lovely.
Walking back to the car, we made a stop at Voodoo Doughnuts — good things come in pink boxes. The flagship store is tiny and being mid-afternoon, the line was short. It was hard to choose from the large selection but we managed. The famous Voodoo Doll donut has a pretzel stake plunged through its raspberry jelly belly. The interior of the store was whimsically decorated in retro green and pink with yellow accents.
Another run to the airport to pick up our oldest son Quinn who brought his “suitcase bike”. To make room in the car, Owen stayed downtown and rambled around. We reconnected for dinner at Mother’s Bistro, just down the street from Voodoo Doughnuts.
Mother’s Bistro featured home-made favorites that have been refined with classical cooking techniques … Mac & Cheese, meatloaf anyone?
The sun set early, there was a steady rain and it was dark and dreary. I tried not to think about the possibility of a beach wedding in the rain. It was a snug fit in the rental car with a half-hour ride to our suburban hotel which was near a bike trail. Tomorrow, Quinn, a bicycling enthusiast who has completed a few century rides (100 miles) was planning to bike to our Pacific City destination where we have a beach house reserved for our group of 14.
At the hotel, Quinn got busy assembling his Ritchey suitcase bike. It’s a good thing he is determined to ride the 90 miles to Pacific City even if it rains. Otherwise, we would have to figure out how to load and secure suitcases in the rack on top of the car so we would all fit. He did bring rain gear.
Quinn said he was impressed with the Portland airport because it has a bicycle assembly station. The assembly station offers a work stand with two clamps, basic tools, maps and other literature about resources in the region. The station is not only for those who travel with a bike but for employees who commute by bike.
Thursday morning … Quinn is ready to roll to the coast. The rest of us were planning to take our time. We had a late-afternoon check-in at our rental house.
The weather looked favorable even though it was a bit overcast and on the cool side. The wedding is scheduled for tomorrow night and we were all nervous about the beach venue. I can imagine how stressful it must be for the bride and groom. Quinn said the weather was perfect for bicycling.
Today was a rerun of most of the sites David and I had visited earlier in the week except for Cannon Beach which was too far out of the way.
It’s Monday and just after noon. My flight landed on time in Portland. My husband, David, flew from Minneapolis this morning and will be picking me up shortly. We will be attending a beach wedding at the end of the week and doing a couple airport pick-ups mid-week. The trip ends with a weekend at a beautiful rental house with family and friends on the beach near Pacific City in Cape Kiwanis. Today’s destination, however, is the coast and Cannon Beach.
Why Cannon Beach? Several people have told me how amazing Cannon Beach is with its ‘haystack’ rock. Not being a beach person, I really didn’t understand what made it so special. So curiosity won out again.
Like clockwork, David with the rental car picked me up as planned. Our road trip to the coast began via the direct route which is about 80 miles. It’s a beautiful drive through the hills covered with fir and spruce trees. There’s a couple quick-stop towns but not much more.
The sun faded slowly as we approached the coast. By the time we arrived, it was overcast, windy and a bit cold. First stop was the coastal town of Seaside, a small picturesque resort town known for its surf breaks and a 1920s style promenade.
Before European settlement, the land that is now Seaside was home to the Clatsop Tribe. They subsisted on a diet of seafood, game, berries, and roots. But fur traders and explorers brought diseases, and a deadly smallpox outbreak eventually killed most of the Clatsop population. By the time the Lewis and Clark arrived, just 250 members of the tribe remained.
Lewis and Clark set up a salt works where ocean water could be boiled to harvest salt. The salt was essential for curing meat. The region slowly grew, and the town of Seaside was established in 1899.
Early on, it was a place for tourists to experience the coast. Seaside had many crazy events but one stands out the most … six months after Pearl Harbor, the town of Seaside witnessed the shelling of Fort Stevens by a Japanese submarine. While there was no significant damage from the shelling, uneasiness settled over the town. Blackout rules became strictly enforced and air raid drills were held. In 1943, it was common for Seaside residents to see blimps flying over the beach, as there was a station in Tillamook to monitor the shore and search for subs. (Information from Seaside Visitors Bureau.)
Next morning … we started down the coast to Tillamook and would return ending in Cannon beach. We wanted to save the best for last.
It’s a very scenic drive with old-growth forests and mesmerizing ocean views.
Rockaway Beach’s claim to fame is the Pronto Pup which was first created here in the 1930s. A Pronto Pup restaurant topped with a giant 30-ft pronto pup complete with an 8-ft stick makes it easy to spot along highway 101. Unfortunately for us, it was closed today.
Hard to miss the next stop just south of Tillamook … the road seems to lead to the Air Museum.
This used to be a hangar for Blimps used for anti-submarine coastal patrol and convoy escort during WWII. The K-Class Blimps were 252-ft long, 80-ft high and filled with helium. With a range of 2000 miles and the ability to stay aloft for 3 days, they were well-suited for coast patrol and convoy escort. Naval Station Tillamook was decommissioned in 1948 and Hangar B has been home to the Tillamook Air Museum.
Today, the museum houses a growing collection of aircraft and exhibits including over 30 restored warbirds and a large collection of rare historical wartime and aviation artifacts.
Our favorite aircraft (which featured David’s last name … Erickson) is the Aero Spacelines Mini Guppy.
Moving up the coast, time for a stop at the Tillamook Cheese factory. Designed by iconic Seattle-based architect duo, Olson-Kundig, The Creamery is made to look like a modern barn.
The Tillamook headquarters is built on the land of the indigenous Tillamook and other Oregon tribes. The Tillamook cooperative is made up of a group of farmer-owners. Many have been farming in Tillamook county for multiple generations.
We filled our pockets with wrapped cheese samples, skipped the ice cream and headed out for seafood.
Up the coast … next stop Cannon Beach and the Haystack rock. According to the tourism info, it is one of Oregon’s most recognizable landmarks, home to colorful tide pools and diverse bird life.
From a distance, it did look like a haystack. It was low tide so we were able to walk right up to it.
So what is this thing? It’s not a rock! It’s covered with mussels and barnacles.
It’s the remnants of a volcanic flow that came down the Columbia gorge from a super-volcano in Yellowstone about 17 million years ago.
According to the Haystack Rock Awareness Program volunteer, the lava flowed along the old Columbia River drainage system to the ocean and intruded into the soft marine sediments. Eventually with sea level changes and erosion, these bizarre formations can be seen all along the Oregon coast.
ABOVE the Barnacle line is protected as part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, providing habitat and viewing of a wide range of seabirds. BELOW the Barnacle line is protected by Oregon’s Marine Gardens. Its protected status requires that no animal or material be removed from within 300 yards of Haystack Rock. Climbing above the barnacle line is strictly prohibited to avoid disturbing marine life and nesting birds.
There are mussels, shells, barnacles and sea creatures everywhere! The volunteer said these living organisms are waiting for the tide to come back and take them out to sea.
Beautiful green sea anemones were found in shallow tidal pools. We also saw a variety of crabs of all sizes.
And if you look up above the haystack, there are birds everywhere. The volunteer said there are 37 different species of birds living in the haystack. Early spring to mid-summer offers the most accessible viewing of Tufted Puffins in the Northwest. A wide variety of other birds make this a good bird-watch location year-round.
Now I know what makes Cannon Beach so amazing. It’s like a living aquarium full of creatures to be discovered. With the tide, the inhabitants change and so does the Haystack Rock which is the result of a 17 million year old lava flow.
Tomorrow we’re heading back to Portland to pick up a few travelers and take a glance at Portland.
Typically on cruise ships, passengers are asked to have their packed bags in the hallway by 10:00 pm the night before. The crew picks up the bags and organizes them for disembarkment in the morning.
In the morning, everyone needs to be out of their stateroom by 9:00 am. Rather than have 5,000 guests trying to get off the ship at the same time, passengers are asked to go to their muster station where they wait until their group is called. It’s an orderly way of processing bags and passengers.
When preparing for the cruise, passengers are asked to schedule their outgoing flight for departure after 2:00 pm which allows plenty of time to get off the ship and make their way to the airport.
I was quite surprised to see that this ship was encouraging people to take their own bags off the ship and provided an early time slot for doing so. I’m not excited about schlepping my bags anywhere especially down the gangway. However, I hadn’t abided by the ship’s request and had booked my departure flight for 1:00 pm. Being a little nervous about getting to the airport in a timely manner, I was eager to leave early even if it meant lugging my luggage. Theresa’s flight wasn’t until 5:00 pm but she was eager to get moving, so we decided we would take the early departure invitation and haul our own bags.
Sally and the Golden Girls opted for the standard departure and pre-purchased passes for the shuttle bus to the airport. They had a late afternoon flight also.
I wonder if this new ‘take your bags and get off the ship’ option was the result of covid and less contact or a way to help the crew with the monumental task of clearing the ship before the monumental task of preparing for the next sailing’s passengers which would begin arriving around noon.
No coffee room-service this morning. Even though it was dark when we arrived in Seattle, our early morning awakening was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise over Seattle.
Theresa and I started our departure journey around 7:15 am. It was a short walk down the gangway and through the terminal. Out the door where a dozen taxi’s were waiting. We found one quickly, loaded our bags and jumped in. The familiarity of Seattle streets from our visit last week made for a happy ride down memory lane with a sunny day bonus.
To our surprise, we were at the airport in 30 minutes … around 8:00 am. We split the cab fare which came to $30 each — about the same price as the shuttle bus to the airport.
I went to check my bag while Theresa went to see if she could get on an earlier flight even though she had a non-refundable ticket. I never saw her again at the airport — she was able to get on a 9:30 flight. We said our goodbyes by phone.
Our Seattle-Alaska adventure had reached its final destination. Theresa was on her way home and back to reality. Where was I headed? On to the next adventure. Stay tuned. I’ll give you a hint — it’s not Spain.
Sunday morning at sea … the further south we went, the better the weather. Our challenge of the day was to see if it would be possible to find today’s Packer game somewhere on the ship.
YES! We found the Packers vs Buccaneers game at one of the ship’s bars. It was very odd because there weren’t any Buccaneer fans and I think Theresa, Sally and I were the only Packer fans. I guess everyone else in the bar just like watching football.
The jewelry store was packed shoulder-to-shoulder … there was a drawing for those who purchased anything during the week.
Earlier in the week we pulled Sue into the jewelry store at the last minute to enter a drawing where you had to identify three stones … and she won — Sally had provided all the correct answers for all of us. That’s teamwork.
Our ship pulled into Victoria. There was an empty cruise ship next to us. The guests were probably out seeing Victoria. The ship’s big outdoor screen was broadcasting the Packer game which Terry was watching from our balcony.
Going ashore in Victoria … we had an early dinner and said goodbye to our wait staff who took good care of us all week.
Oh Canada! It was so much work to correctly complete the online ArriveCAN app requirements for this short four-hour visit. The purpose was to minimize contact at customs as a Covid precaution. When we arrived, there was one custom officer who waved us through with no stopping. On previous visits, we waited in lines for them to check and stamp passports.
On our short visit to Victoria, we opted to see the night lights of Victoria. We enjoyed a tour narrated by a good-humored bus driver.
The last sunset … a pleasant way to end an Alaskan adventure. Tomorrow is an early departure.