Tucson: Fourth Avenue, Murals & Korean Corn Dogs

And the Tucson adventure continues. Temperatures this weekend were in the high 70s. Full sunshine was a welcome break from the gray and cloudy winter skies of Minnesota. My husband David and I are exploring the area with our favorite snowbirds — John and Vicki.

We’re on the serendipity path and one interesting stop was at a neighborhood church steeped in Spanish Missionary tradition. The neoclassical/Spanish colonial design of this church campus was inviting especially for the curious.

Lovely vine covered arches frame the main entrance.
There’s a beautiful view of Finger Rock Mountain from the church’s nave.
A sign from heaven — pancake breakfast $5

Vicki may know a bargain but I know church pancake breakfasts and this was an exceptional one … blueberry pancakes, scrambled eggs with chorizo, ham or cheese; pork sausage and bacon plus all the accoutrements — for $5. Obviously, with the price of eggs, this was not a fundraiser.

The church men knocked it out of the park especially with the chorizo eggs.
An outdoor fountain featured an oasis of succulents.
The pleasant courtyard is perfect for absorbing sun and planning the day.

On our way to downtown Tucson, we made a stop at the La Encantada shopping mall for a Fine Arts Festival. This exhibit of local artists and craftsmen was held in the open-air atrium surrounded by beautiful lush greenery and gardens. There were a number of art shows throughout Tucson this weekend. Too many to choose from but this one was on the way.

La Encantada Fine Arts Exhibit featured the work of local artists.
A blooming orange tree and lush gardens combined with the art exhibit for an open-air festival of natural and creative beauty.

It was tempting to stop at some of the pop-up exhibits but we stayed focused on exploring downtown. We parked near the historic Congress Hotel which is in the heart of downtown Tucson.

Hotel Congress was built in 1918 and is known for being the site of the capture of gangster/bank robber John Dillinger in 1934. It is a cultural landmark that anchors the downtown area.

As we walked through the hotel it was easy to imagine yesteryear in this classically renovated and updated building. There is a story in every detail as well as in its history.

A charming entrance flanked with a sidewalk cafe greets visitors.
The nostalgic front desk featured a display case of sundries.
The switchboard has user directions for operators taped to it.
Very hip artwork on the entrance to the cocktail lounge.
Much of the original fixtures and charm still exist in the taproom.

Onto the streets! Downtown Tucson is filled with countless wall murals, paintings and works of art. There’s something around every corner.

Black Lives Matter Afro: This wall mural is found outdoors on Hotel Congress. Camila Ibarra wanted to make a statement about the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. She completed the mural in two days using her own painting supplies. Hotel Congress provided her with a wall space. She was inspired by a picture of a powerful-looking woman she saw on the internet, but she added her own interpretation.

“Black Lives Matter Afro” by Camila Ibarra

Jack and Bill: Just around the corner from the Congress Hotel is a mythical “jackalope” (a rabbit with antlers) and its rider, basketball legend and sportscaster Bill Walton. The artist, Tucsonan Ignacio Garcia, says the piece is meant to have a youthful quality and hopes it will impart joy to those who see it.

It imparted great joy for us — David, who is a distant relative of Bill Whalton, has followed his career since before his Boston Celtic days which lead to an MVP award and induction into the Hall of Fame. It was a nice surprise to stumble into this mural.

Jack and Bill” by Ignacio Garcia

The Empowered Woman: Another downtown mural by Ignacio Garcia represents female empowerment and the increase in female leaders throughout Tucson. The mural represents strength, leadership, and the beauty of boldness.

The Empowered Woman” by Ignacio Garcia.

Tucson Portrait Project: As we walked through the Fourth Avenue underpass that leads to the historic downtown area, we noticed mosaic panels of black and white mugshot-type photo tiles.

Tucson Portrait Project by Gary Patch and Darren Clark

The 4 x 4-inch tiles feature 6,000 black-and-white photographs — a cross section of Tucsonans. Local designers spent six months snapping shots of people at various community events.

Becoming history … 6000 random mug shots taken at community events.

The portraits represent a cross section of the City of Tucson in 2010 and will become a historic landmark over the coming decades.

Tranquil Lady: This artwork puts you at ease — that was the intention behind Ignacio Garcia’s mural. The calming colors and woman’s relaxed facial expression are meant to evoke feelings of tranquility and breathing easy.

“Tranquil Lady” by Ignacio Garcia

The Fourth Avenue District: Affectionately known to locals as “Fourth”, this historic district with a hippie vibe offers an array of local artisans and boutiques with curated selections of vintage clothing, jewelry, furniture, artwork, antiques, handcrafted and imported wares, hard-to-find books and anything else you might want to go digging for.

This area has a flavor of its own with cafes, restaurants, thrift shops, bookstores, tattoo parlors and more.

Corbett Brewing — a few blocks off Fourth Avenue is a little gem of a micro-brewery. Josh, the friendly brewmaster was behind the bar during our visit. We discovered that he lived in a little town in northern Minnesota called Pequot Lakes. He’s planning to expand with pizza ovens being installed in the adjoining space. Definitely worth a return visit.

Brewmaster Josh’s last brewery was in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota — it’s a small world.
Corbett Brewing was the perfect rest stop on an 80 degree day.
Brewery art included tiled Our Lady of Guadeloupe.

Moai Tiki Head: The stoic Easter Island-ish sculpture has become a fixture at the Polynesian-themed watering hole called, “The Hut”. Standing over 42-ft high, it is believed to be the largest Moai Tiki Head in North America.

The Moai Tiki, salvaged from a golf course that closed, now watches over the Fourth Avenue activities.
Not sure if this igloo looking camper qualifies as an “art car”. It would be perfect for Burning Man.
Dillinger Brewing in the historic Coronado Hotel — a great place for people watching.
Tony and his backpack dog Bonita stopped to chat with us. Bonita, who doesn’t like walking long distances, is this man’s best friend.
Vibrant drumming on a pleasant afternoon by the Underpass.

Zeppelin & Clue Mural: Featured on the Rialto Theater building, this artwork pays homage to two events — an American tribute to Led Zeppelin and the Rialto’s 9th annual fundraising gala which is themed after the Clue game.

Rialto Mural by Jessica Gonzales

Prince Mural: Being from Minneapolis, this one hits home for me. Located on the side of the Rialto Theatre it honors Prince, who died in 2016.

“We Wish You Heaven” by Joe Pagac.

We looped back to our starting point which led us into the Thunder Canyon Brewery for more artwork and creativity.

Thunder Canyon Brewery — ‘a venue for artists who think like artists’. The word ‘artist’ is all encompassing. The brick walls displayed an assortment of painting by locals, the stage featured a variety of musicians and the Canyon also attracts video game enthusiasts.

Plenty of ambiance here.
Sunday Special — buy a pint and get a burger & fries for $3 more.

What I found most intriguing in this creative venue, was the number of young adults engaged in video games on really old devices. I saw several combination screen and VCR units that looked like what we used on road trips 20 years ago.

One observer told me that the original games were designed during the heyday of these old units and the quality and timing was far superior on the older units than games modified to be used on newer technology. Apparently, these techies meet here routinely to compete bringing their old technology devices with them.

Some video games work best on the old technology it was designed for.

We headed out to the next adventure which was on our ‘must try’ list — the Korean hot dog.

Popular ‘Two Hands’ Korean Corn Dogs

Korean-Style Corn Dogs: these dogs usually have a rice flour batter as opposed to cornmeal batter used in the US. They can be filled with cheese, sausages or other proteins. And finally, Korean street corn dogs are often seen with creative toppings such as fried potatoes, dry ramen noodles or even a sugar coating that plays against the savory and salty filling.

Potato dog is coated with cubed potatoes, Spicy dog is rolled in Hot Cheetos and covered with spicy sauce and Two Hands dog has their signature seasoning covered with ranch dressing.

Dogs on display with ‘how-to order’ directions posted below.
The deep-fryer guy is key to keeping the line moving … he’s dipping six at a time.

We checked this one off the bucket list. The final consensus was in favor of the Potato dog but not sure if it can compete with the Sonoran hot dog.

Our festival of artwork did not end in downtown Tucson. Just a short walk from our accommodations is a small gallery with an interesting history and an Arizona vibe.

Hidden in the Catalina foothills is the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun.

DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun started as a small construction project in the early 1950s and developed into a 10-acre National Historic District designed and built by acclaimed Arizona artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia.

DeGrazia is best known for capturing the spirit of the Southwest and its people. (Photo from Smithsonian magazine.)
The gift shop features work of local artists as well as DeGrazia’s work.
A cactus bordered walkway leads to the Mission in the Sun.
In 1952, DeGrazia built the Mission in the Sun in memory of Padre Kino, a Jesuit priest who founded many missions in Mexico and Arizona.

Mission in the Sun sits next to the gallery and was the first building constructed by DeGrazia on the gallery grounds. He built it in honor of Padre Kino and dedicated it to Our Lady of Guadalupe,

An altar with a depiction of Our Lady of Guadeloupe is surrounded by tributes, memorials and mementos left by visitors.
The adobe chapel has a stone floor with simple benches surrounded by walls that showcase DeGrazia’s hand-painted frescoes.
DeGrazia is known for his colorful images of Native American children of the Southwest and other Western scenes.
A peaceful cactus garden with a walkway is perfect way to round out a contemplative experience to end the visit.

Our get-away to Tucson is winding down and it’s almost time to go back to reality. From warm weather, sunny skies, the foothills and cactus …

… to snow, snow and more snow. I’m looking forward to another adventure in Tucson next year.

There’s no place like home, almost.

Mural information and factual details taken from: Visit Tucson, Tucson Topia, Longview News-Journal, Library of Congress, Trip Advisor, Pima County Public Library, Smithsonian, Roadside America, Arizona Daily Star and Route 66 News.

Tucson: Rockin’ the Canyons & Gem Show

Bright blue sky today and lots of sunshine. Tough deciding what to do this weekend with so many options. After much coffee and tossing suggestions around the final picks are Sabino Canyon, FingerRock Mountain, Gem & Mineral Show and Sonoran hot dogs.

Vic and I coffee’d up on the patio while making plans.

Sabino Canyon is scenic with gentle trails for walkers like me and more challenging opportunities for those who want a more of a work out.

This place has a very relaxing vibe … the warm sunshine, endless diversity of cactus, the rugged hillside and canyons with their dirt trails and a rambling creek. Very peaceful. Cars are allowed only in the parking lot and there is a daily shuttle that goes to various locations in the park which is part of the Coronado National Forest.

Sabino roads and trails are bordered with cactus and the view is framed with the Catalina foothills.
Great views from the trails.
A large variety of cacti can be discovered here.
My brother John and me resting on a wall overlooking the dam.

Finger Rock Trail is an easily recognized landscape quirk resembling an index finger pointing to the sky above. David took on this challenging trail and took a few photos of the breathtaking views. The trail was breath taking… literally. Very steep with a lot of large rocks to climb up.

As the hike progresses, it gradually gets steeper and rockier and is challenging going up and coming down.

It’s a rocky climb with rewarding views.

Tucson Gem and Mineral Show: While David climbed FingerRock and John golfed 18 holes, Vicki and I rocked the Gem & Mineral show. Going big, we went to the Kino Sports Complex which resembled a state fair with countless white tents on blacktop reflecting and absorbing the 80 degree heat. It smelled like a carnival with that deep-fried ‘whatever’ smell wafting through the air. We were surprised to find that parking and admission were free but it took us a good half-hour to walk from the car to the entrance.

The annual event is the largest annual gathering anywhere of gem, jade, rock, fossil, jewelry, and bead buyers and sellers from around the world. The gigantic Kino complex is not the only show in town, there are more than 50 different locations throughout the greater Tucson being held concurrently. The show runs for a couple weeks each year.

The size of the Kino complex is overwhelming. Even though we were only able to cover a small fraction of the show … we saw a lot.
This amethyst geode was made into a dragon … look closely at the bottom right for the goat.

I haven’t figured out the connection of the goats and the amethyst. I’m sure it’s all good energy and it did attract a lot of attention.

There were goats and a pony at this exhibit.
Amethyst is one of my favorites and there were plenty of them to see here.
A stone cutter working on site.
This is the place to buy a gong — many different sizes available.
Several Tibetan exhibits with singing bowls, prayer flags, clothing and jewelry.
A tray of shark teeth …
… Pelts and hides …
… treasures from the sea …
… stone birds …
… lots of incense …
… and a Moon swing. Lots of interesting things to look at but after a couple hours, we headed back to the car.

Sonoran Hot Dogs: We needed to try this local delicacy. It consists of a hot dog wrapped in bacon and grilled, served on a bolillo-style hot dog bun, and topped with pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, and a variety of additional condiments, often including mayonnaise, mustard, and jalapeño salsa. It’s an unremarkable set of ingredients that becomes a remarkable taste when it all comes together.

Many vendors sell Sonoran Hot Dogs (also called “dogueros”) from street carts which are randomly found. It took a little research, but we found a little Mexican restaurant with our sought after dogs.

You know you’ve found the real thing when they have a giant Sonoran hot dog in the parking lot.
This is what we were waiting for and it did not disappoint.
A nice cold michelada is the perfect accompaniment for Sonoran dogs.

Time to wind down … a nice dip in the pool and hot tub to digest all we’ve experienced and figure out what’s left on the ‘must see’ list.

Enjoying the late afternoon sun.

Jane Not In Spain: Tucson

Minnesota winters merit a getaway to Arizona. On this trip, I’m heading for Tucson with my husband David for a long weekend. We’re flying into Phoenix and driving to Tucson.

Many areas of interest in Arizona, but this weekend we’re doing Tucson.

Our first stop is about 50 miles south of Phoenix near the Gila River Valley and the town of Coolidge. Here lies one of Arizona’s greatest mysteries — the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. No one alive now knows what name the people who built the Casa Grande called themselves centuries ago.

Casa Grande Ruins

Archeologists today use the term Hohokam to label the culture that flourished here about 900 years ago. The people who lived here, left suddenly.

These Ancestral People tapped the Gila and Salt rivers with irrigation canals that diverted high water to the floodplains’ rich soil. They grew crops that withstood desert conditions — corn, beans, squash, tobacco, cotton and agave. They gathered wood, fruit, buds and seeds as well as wild plants to be used for medicine. They hunted rabbits, deer and sheep. The rivers provided fish. Saguaro fruits were eaten, dried or made into wine. Their pottery had a distinctive style of red-on-buff patterns.

Hohokam potters focused on geometric, basket-weave-like designs.
(Image from desert.com Hohokam Ceramic Studies)

The Hohokam achieved remarkable success. For over 1,000 years, these people supported themselves with food they grew, hunted or gathered. The system provided for an estimated 80,000 people.

Sometime during the later half of the 14th century, the Hohokam entered a period of social disruption and community disintegration. There appear to be several causes including drought, flooding, and warfare.

A tour group dwarfed by the four-story “Great House”.

This one-square mile park was set aside in 1892 to preserve what remained of an Ancestral Sonoran Desert People’s community and irrigation system.

Archeologists don’t know for sure what the purpose of Casa Grande was. Perhaps the “Great House” was used as a gathering place for desert people. Were sacred rituals held here? Was it an astronomical observatory? It can still be observed that the sun and moon line up with certain holes in the wall. Did a leader who oversaw the irrigation canals work inside these rooms? Did an influential family or clan call the Casa Grande home? The only thing known for sure is that it will remain a mystery forever.

(Information taken from state museum.arizona.edu, arizonaruins.com and National Park Services ‘Casa Grande Ruins’)

Next Stop: Catalina Foothills

Catalina Foothills is a northern suburb of Tucson and situated in the southern foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

It’s easy to find a number of cacti varieties — everywhere.

We have arrived at our accommodations in a nice little condo community. It’s a great location and very comfortable. I love the pool.

This happens to be the winter nest of our favorite Snowbirds … my brother John and wife Vicki. Their hospitality is unbeatable and they are great tour guides.

Vic and John led the way to a great weekend.
A golden sunset in the Catalina Foothills ends the day.

Antigua: Half Moon Bay & Betty’s Hope

Our last full day! We went back to our new favorite snorkeling spot on Galleon Beach.

Chillin’ in the shade and enjoying a morning of snorkeling and beach time.

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.

Tikkurila rowed into English Harbor this morning.
Calm day with several snorkelers exploring the harbor.

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.

I found a beautiful conch shell when snorkeling.
Catch and release … I dove deep and hid it in the grass.

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.

These small fish were either very dark blue or black. (I’m still working on my underwater photography skills.)
This is a ship wreck. Several fish swimming around it.
One last visit to our favorite near-by beach, Pidgeon Point. Nice shady spot decorated for a kiddie birthday party.

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.

By the time we arrived at Half Moon Bay is was raining.
Waves, dried seaweed and rain. The beach was deserted.
A view of Half Moon Bay (photo taken from halfmoonbayantigua.com)

We drove back to the ridge which is part of the Shirley Heights complex where there are several ruins.

Rain at sea.
Rainbow over the super yachts in Falmouth Harbor

Betty’s Hope

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.

The sugar mill tower on the left has been fully restored.

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.

Remnants of the Still House where condensed rum was mixed, diluted, stored and aged.

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.

Small huts where the enslaved workers lived.

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)

Random herds of goats pass through the property.
Formerly a cistern, now filled with trees and greenery.

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.

Flamboyant tree at Betty’s Hope.
Long pods from the Flamboyant tree are used as a musical shake-shake.
A decorated shake-shake made from a pod.
Dazzling red Flamboyant trees bloom in the spring. (Photo from antiguanice.com)
This big shady tree makes a peaceful resting place for the goats.

The adventures of Jane and Peggy in Antigua & Barbuda are coming to an end.

We were elated to return the rental car without a scratch.
A farewell sunset on our way home.

Antigua: Snorkeling and Shirley Heights

We had a nice variety of breakfast items bought at yesterday’s public market in Saint John.

Coconut raspberry bread and fresh fruit grace our balcony table.
We found the coveted black pineapple which is unique to Antigua.
Not sure what this fruit is. I may have let it get a little too ripe. After removing the seeds and core, it had the texture and taste of sweet applesauce.
Little gray bird in our balcony tree is waiting for bread crumbs.

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 walked down the beach, past the big rusty anchor and over to the other side.
At the end of the beach we followed a short trail through the trees.
The trail led to a small semi-shaded beach.

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 coach and nurse for the Swiss Trans-Atlantic rowing team getting ready to welcome and meet their team at the finish.

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.

The app shows the Swiss team, Ocean Spirit, approaching the finish.
Time to move on … we shook out the sand and packed our gear.
The trail back to the main beach area is full of flowers and greenery.
Had to stop and look at little red star-shaped flowers.
This tree and its strange fruit caught our attention.

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.

Morinda Citrifolia is also known as Noni, Indian mulberry, beach mulberry, cheese fruit, dog dumpling and starvation fruit.

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).

Our beach route is filled with interesting floral and greenery combinations.
Lots of different types of palms.
If you get tired of the beach, you can cross the road and attend the Academy of Rum … an opportunity to create your own rum flavor.

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.

Home Sweet Home
You have to make friends with sand … it’s everywhere!

Shirley Heights

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.

The view from Shirley Heights is spectacular.
The hills are alive with strenuous trails to Shirley Heights. We opted to drive.

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.

Sheltered picnic area with a view …
… and large grass area with picnic tables and a great view.
The smell of grilling charcoal wafted through the air.
Several cooks worked the grills before the crowds arrive.
An extensive menu of barbecue items is posted near the grills.

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.

Halcyon Steel Orchestra, ‘When Steel Talks … Everybody Listens.’
Plenty of people selling percussion devices. I couldn’t resist and bought calabash shakers from my buddies Chevron and Kevon.

By 5:30, the place is packed shoulder-to-shoulder. Many gather at the point to watch and take photos of the sunset.

People crowd the corner of the Heights to view 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.

The sun does not disappoint tonight.

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.

Look out … steel drums coming through! Calypso-style music is up next.
And the party goes on!

Antigua: Market, Donkeys & Devil’s Bridge

Today’s route does a little zig zag around the center of the island.

Todays travel route.

We started our route around 8:00 am. First stop is the Saturday public market at Saint Johns.

Back to our little car with the steering wheel on the right, driving on the left side of the road.

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.

Gas is sold by the gallon, not liter. We paid $5.13 per gallon and spent less than $40 on gas for the entire week. We were required to purchase an Antiguan Temporary Driver’s License.

In Antigua & Barbuda, those travelers wishing to drive must have a temporary Driver’s License. It is purchased from any car rental and costs about $20.
We passed this very pink church a few times during the week … it’s very stunning against the blue sky. It is Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Roman Catholic Church.

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.

Pedal Pub — probably a cruise ship excursion.

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 bird poses on top of VC Bird’s statue at the triangular intersection of All Saints Road and two busy streets.
The public market streets are crowded with vendors, pedestrians and cars.
There are many street vendors selling everything from fruits and vegetable to socks and underwater.
More vendors inside the public market building. We bought hot sauce here.
Black pineapple is on the ‘must try’ list.
Nesetta and her mother Lucy pose with their “Trensetta” (trend setter) shirts which is the name of Nesetta’s hair salon. The shirts resemble the design and colors of the Antiguan flag.
In side the Handicraft building there are several tailor shops.
This gentlemen said his wife makes all of the sandals he sells.
Sugar Cane man had a hard time keeping up with the demand and had a line of customers waiting for him to chop up sugar cane into pieces. He took time to give each of us a piece and said they chew it like gum. So we got in line.
Sugar Cane man’s assistant bagged the pieces and handled the customers.
This vendor has seafood stew.
The stew smelled wonderful and looked very enticing.
The meat market is part of the public market.
Very interesting to watch.
These two dudes were selling pipes and bowls carved from coconuts.
We posed with pipes and a carved bowl filled with dums.
Steel drum music added to the Caribbean vibe of the market.
We took a break and had a refreshing icy cold mango drink.
This is the main shopping area by the cruise ship dock.
Lots of little shops and good ‘people watching’ here. The individuals in gold shirts help cruise ship guests find taxi transportation.
The mid-day heat is hard on everyone. Time to move on to our next stop.

Donkey Sanctuary

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.

Takeeta welcomed us to the sanctuary and gave us each a brush. She sent us in with the elderly donkeys who were gentle and calm.
Meet my friend Pumpkin. She loves being brushed.
These poor old donkeys look like they’ve had a rough life.
The darker donkey is Eeyore. They all wear a collar with their name on it.
Goat in a bathtub? The goat is the best friend of Bruno, a donkey that had to be isolated because it has a hernia and needs care.
Donkeys once held an important role in the growth of Antigua and the sugar cane industry. Now the Humane Society is caring for them and helping to control the population. (Information taken from antiguaanimals.com and Antigua humane society.com)

Devil’s Bridge

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.

A woman standing on Devil’s Bridge. Photo from luxeadventuretraveler.com

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.

It was a spectacular sunset tonight.
We walked down to Flatties for chicken. It has a nice Caribbean vibe and did not disappoint.
On the way back to our apartment, we crossed paths with some ladies wearing costumes to promote Carnival as part of a music and dance event.

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.

Antigua: Galleon Beach Adventures

After the long day in Barbuda yesterday, we spent plenty of time relaxing on the balcony and drinking coffee this morning.

A warm sunny morning on the balcony.
Our balcony has a tree full of birds next to it.
We were wishing we had a bird book to help identify our guests.

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.

Rusty anchor … a landmark on Galleon 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.

Beach shopping for unique necklaces and bracelets.
Galleon is a peaceful and relaxing beach.

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.

Watching the Trans-Atlantic rowboat enter English Harbor.
The row team light flares and the cheering increases.

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.

This is what a 4-person team rowboat looks like. (Photo and Information taken from Atlantic endeavor.com and Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.com
Applause and cheers came from a line of people waiting for a water taxi and everyone else sitting on the beach.

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 just around the bend from Galleon Beach. (Photo from VisitAntiguaAndBarbuda.com)

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.

The walkway into Nelson’s Dockyard has a wall decorated with Conch shells — one of my favorites.
Some of the historic buildings are now filled with souvenir shops.
This old tree had a trunk that was about 6-7 ft in diameter.

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.

Pink clouds hovering over the hillside at Falmouth Harbor at sunset.

Barbuda: Frigates & Pink Sand

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.

Out the door at 5:00 am

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 took a photo of the rental car and license plate just in case it was towed away. At least we’d know what we were looking for.

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.

Our little ferry boat was dwarfed by the cruise ship.
Our ride to Barbuda … the Leeward Express.

The air-conditioned inside cabin of the ferry boat had very comfortable seating.

A local man came through the main cabin selling fruit while we were waiting to depart.
We opted to sit outside in the sun on the cargo deck.
Sitting on the cargo deck felt a little like being a stow away.
An orange tarp covered the suitcases and other cargo. This dude made himself comfy on a wooden pallet that was holding the tarp down.
A touch of sea sickness?
Nothing fancy at Barbuda’s small boat harbor.

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.

The harbor had some industrial equipment and a few fishing boats.

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.

Redonda is a third island that belongs to Antigua & Barbuda.
(Photo from Birds Caribbean).

After the ferry docked, we connected with Henry our guide and our tour group was loaded into vans to start our excursion.

The bad girls hang out in the back of the bus.
Barbuda Excursion Stops

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.

Boats took our group across the Codrington Lagoon to the bird sanctuary and pink sand beach.
This National Park bird sanctuary is home to 30,000 Frigates.

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.

Scientists have evidence that Frigates sleep while flying in short 10-second bursts for about 45 minutes each day.
The male frigates puff up their red chest in hopes of attracting a mate.

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.

Mother and child frigates. The females have a white chest, a dark head and are larger than the males. Juveniles have a white head.
Young birds have varying amounts of white on the head, chest, and belly and also have a pale tan streak on the upper wing.

The bird sanctuary is amazing. (Information about Frigates taken from Rough Guide to Antigua & Barbuda, National Geographic.org and Audubon.org).

The boats took us a short distance across the lagoon to the pink sand beach. Our guide told us to go barefoot since we were going to jump out of the boat and walk through water.
We walked over a small dune and down the shoreline.
Barbuda’s pink sand beaches are known to be the pinkest of all the Caribbean beaches due to the high levels of coral reefs along the coast.
The pink sand beach has a beautiful palatte of colors ranging from sand brown to sky blue.
The beach stretches for eight miles but it is not always visible. The pink hue is visible when shells have been deposited by surging waves.
A closer look reveals crushed shells.
Back to the boats and on to the caves.

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.

Maggie and Dora, traveling with their husbands, were originally from Poland but now live near Toronto. They were a delightful addition to the tour.

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.

It was a about a half-mile hike to the caves at Two Foot Bay.
The terrain is full of fossils.
The farther we hiked, the more interesting the terrain became.
The trail went uphill and became a bit rugged.
This is the view from the entrance of the cave.
A large hole at the top of the cave revealed daylight.

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.

Tour guide Kendrick is a native of Barbuda.

Kendrick was a great guide pointing out some of the natural wonders on our route.

This is a medicinal plant that stops bleeding.
This is a brain coral fossil.

Lunch was served at the Hillside View Bar & Grill in the National Park near the caves.

The catch of the day was red snapper.
This is the ‘kitchen’ where the grilling takes place and food is prepared and plated.

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.

Gosha, a native of Antigua, holds a tamarind pod, plucked from a tree by our guide Henry. It’s a plump pod-like fruit with a sweet tangy flavor often used in Indian cuisine.
Our guide Henry would stop the van and pick fruit for us to sample.
They called this fruit “dums” but it has many other names and a variety of flavors and textures. These tasted similar to a crab apple.
We passed goats on the way as well as a few wild donkeys.
Princess Diana beach is a stretch of sugary white sand with clear blue water. Our time at the beach was shortened due to the morning’s departure delay.
Ritu and Anil originally from Bombay, sat with us on the return ferry boat ride. They now live near Toronto and travel extensively. Peggy enjoyed chatting with them about her travels in India.
The ferry boat returned to Saint John’s harbor around 5:00 pm.
Driving Adventure of the Day — lost in the dark

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.

Flatties Flame Grill (before the power outage) home of spicy Peri Peri Chicken and other South African and Portuguese dishes.

Antigua & Barbuda

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.

Our studio accommodations are on the 2nd floor which provides a great view of Falmouth harbor.
The balcony is the perfect place for waking up with a nice cup of coffee.
Fully equipped kitchen for lite meals.
Ceiling fan and air-conditioner
Sofa with an abundance of pillows.
French doors leading to the balcony.

After yesterdays long travel day, we opted for a relaxing beach day. Pigeon beach is a short walk from where we are staying.

The road to Pidgeon Point Beach is bordered by an assortment of greenery.
This beach offers a nice calm vibe.
Warm sun and tranquil waters are exactly what we needed today.
Calm waters are the perfect place to test snorkeling equipment.

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.

Steering wheel on the right … it takes two to drive. The navigator and driver each have a big challenge. Both must stay focused and on the watch for potholes, gutters, pedestrians, chickens, dogs and other obstacles.

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.

Little Ffryes Beach is on the west coast and a beautiful stop for a swim. Only a few people here today.
A catamaran full of tourists drops off passengers at a beach restaurant.

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.

Here’s my pick of the day.

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.

Jolly Beach is a delightful place to end the afternoon.
Peggy in the waves.
It’s Election Day today! The grocery stores had signs posted and shelves with beer and alcohol were roped off.

We had a hard time finding an early afternoon lunch stop because employees were given four hours off work so they could vote.

The polls closed at 6:00 pm and local stations followed the counting of ballots.

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.

An inked finger means you voted today.
Late dinner today … Conch stew on the menu tonight.
End of the evening and the super yachts start to light up.

Jane Not In Spain: Antigua & Barbuda

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.

Snow followed by rain = slush.
In Miami, the sun was shining and it was warm enough for a Minnesotan to complain about being too hot.

After taking off from Miami it’s about 1,300 miles to Antigua.

Leaving Miami … the dark path is the channel the cruise ships and big boats take out of Miami.
Sky was clear so we were able to view several islands just outside of Florida.

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.

A view of the St. John’s harbor.

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.

The official name of this country is “Antigua & Barbuda”. Antigua is pronounced, “an·tee·ga”

It gets dark around 6:00 pm and we drove across the island to our accommodations near Falmouth Harbor and the English Harbor.

After arriving at the airport we drove to the opposite end of the island.

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.

Curacao: Shete Boka — Seven Inlets

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.

It’s about a mile drive to reach the Wandomi parking lot. Mount Christoffel can be seen in the background.

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.

No shade here and lots of cacti. It’s a dusty walk to the edge of the coast.

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.

The trail leads down a limestone bluff, through a ravine and up the other side.
A pathway with steps leads down into the ravine.
Slapping waves lick the shoreline.
Intentional arrangement of stone … can’t quite make out what it’s spelling.
The trail goes back up the bluff on the other side of the ravine.
Rough terrain leads to an observation platform.
It’s mesmerizing to watch the waves.
The observation platform provides a lower look at the natural bridge.
David walking over the natural bridge, Boka Wandomi.
Lots of splashing wave action at the foot of the natural bridge.
Amazing to watch the colors of the sea.

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.

This was the good road …
… followed by the bad road.
Didn’t see many other tourists but we did cross paths with a herd of goats on our way to the next Boka.

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.

We have reached our destination. Security guard made sure we knew the park was closing in a half hour.
Next to the Boka Pistol parking lot, there is a rock field camouflaged with hundreds of cairns.
Boka Pistol without waves …
Boka Pistol with waves … and the thundering shotgun sound.

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.

Curacao: Westpunt — The Quiet Side

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.

Looking over the cliff wall down on the beautiful turquoise water.
Our accommodations are the left side of this building.
The kitchenette was handy for morning coffee. By the time we were were done snorkeling, swimming and watching the sunset, the restaurants were closing.

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.

In the evening, the chameleons would cling to the ceiling above our patio table.
We were really happy to have a comforter — ceiling air conditioner kept the room cool. It was also nice to have a second bath upstairs.
Second floor terrace overlooking the sea.
Main floor patio comes with a cat.
Beautiful landscaping on the cliff
The Iguanas like the view too. Look at the tail on this guy!
From the resort, you could climb down the cliff to Scuba or snorkel.
We did use the pool. After all the salt water it was nice to relax in fresh water.

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 a small, very uncrowded beach but it’s one of the best. Occasionally seahorses are seen here by snorkelers and divers.

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.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the beach.
Playa Grandi had a children’s playground. We especially liked the Octopus tree.

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.

A bus load of cruise ship tourists invade the beach.
Sea turtles are plentiful and 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.

The beach has emptied. Rocky shoreline with a bit of an underwater rock shelf.
It’s late afternoon and we have the beach to ourselves.
The fishermen have parked their boats and ended their day.
The turtles have gone back out to sea. The fish are found close to the reef and cliffs.
Another beautiful sunset.
It’s dark by the time we load up and leave. Across the road from the beach is a church. They are lit and decorated for the holidays.

We head back to the resort to finish off the evening.

Curacao: Climbing Christoffel, Hanging with Peacocks and I ❤️ Jaanchie’s!

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.

A view of Mt. Christoffel from the National Park parking lot.
Hikers must register with the office by 10:30 am, pay $15 and carry a minimum of 2-liters of water in addition to signing waivers.
I was impressed that the park had an e-car charging station.
In addition to banning guns, the park ban slingshots too.
Cruise ship excursions arrive in safari trucks.

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 Plantation at one time produced dairy products, wool, dye and was a popular place for cattle breeding. It has historic significance as the site of the slave rebellion of 1795.

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.

Peacocks have a very loud high-pitched meow-like call. Males also make a rustling sound almost like a drumroll which is called a “train rattle.”

The Peahens are not nearly as pretty as their Peacock partners.

The females, called Peahens, are also loud. As I found out, they will make a high-pitched scream to alert other birds of predators like me. They will honk in response to a peacock’s display of feathers — I heard that too.
A peacock gathering in the park.
The peahen on the top step flew to the building’s roof …
… she nibbled on a roof cactus and then started honking very loud.
This guy is a little scruffy looking. I guess he deserves a honk too.
The park also has a few donkeys.

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.

Mt. Christoffel from outside the park.

David took a few photos from the mountain. He said it was a little rough at the very top but a beautiful view.

A mountain trail? Nope … David said it is a dried-up river bed which is used as the route to get to the trail head.
A beautiful view of the land and sea from Mt. Christoffel.

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.

The entrance to Jaanchie’s has gates and lush greenery that lead to an old farmhouse.
Interesting decor in the restaurant entrance.
Dozens of Bananaquits chirping in a trough of sugar.

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.

Mr. Jaanchie tells us what’s cooking. No printed menus here.
Looking refreshed after climbing a mountain, David sips on lemonade.
Kabritu Stoba is a goat stew accompanied with rice, black beans & plantains and salad.
And just to make sure you remember your visit to Jaanchie’s, they give you a little coin-purse souvenir when leaving.

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!

Curacao: The Other End of the Island

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 Salinas is surrounded by mud flats, shrub land and forests and is a foraging habitat for flamingos and several water birds.

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.

A viewing platform offers a great view of the salt flats and wandering flamingos.
Flamingos can also be observed from a small restaurant across from the Salt Flats.

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.

The roadside is bordered with scrubby green bushes with lots of thorns and spikes as well as lots of cactus — it’s lush with greenery but arid with desert and cactus. We were surprised to find mosquitos here … just glad we didn’t encounter sand fleas.

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.

Nice sandy bay with gentle waves good for snorkeling and a starting point for scuba.
The colors keep changing for about a half hour after the sun sets.

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.

All of a sudden David had a purring dinner guest sitting next to him.

We have arrived at Westpunt and so has the full moon.

Curacao: Headed for Hato

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.

Breakfast of champions … the Açaí bowl.
The cruise ships are parked just outside of St. Anna Bay. We passed by this scenic overlook as we headed to Hato caves.

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.

At Hato, you climb up to enter the cave, not down like in most caves.

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.

Cavernous chambers …
… Stalagtites, stalagmites and fruit bats.
Petroglyphs from the Indian inhabitants.
Hato Cave park has a turtle exhibit. The turtles are not native to Curacao, the Indians from Venezuela brought them.
The Chobolobo Landhuis is home to Senior Co Curacao distillery.

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.

Curacao has one flavor but comes in five colors … blue, orange, clear, green and red. In addition, there are other flavors such as chocolate, tamarind, coffee, rum raisin.

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.

David and I along with Oliver from Switzerland; Ann Marie from Holland; Blake from Kentucky; Karen from Vancouver with our guide Ely.
Ely served everyone their choice of mixed drink from the Chobolobo list. I gave the Tamarind Sunset cocktail a try and David did a Rum Raisin Mai Tai. We ended up buying a bottle of the Tamarind liqueur.

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.

A nice size iguana roams the beach.
Jan Thiele, like several of the beaches here has a large infinity pool that overlooks the rocky ocean side.
The infinity pool features the view of the ocean without the waves or sandy shoreline.
But for those who prefer rocky sand and waves there’s also a small beach area at Jan Thiele.
Beach bars with tropical beverages match the colors of the sunset.
The end of another day in paradise.

Curacao: Street Art & Beaches

First order of the day after coffee, was to find a place to watch the World Cup Soccer match between Holland and the US.

Coffee first, then soccer.
David thought that wearing his Twins shirt would be an indicator that he was cheering for the US soccer team but not seriously because baseball is his preferred sport.
We did find two seats at a bar that was filled with Holland fans.
Everyone in the bar knew we were from the US. There was a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ and bell ringing when Holland scored.
With every Holland goal came a shot of orange rum even for the opposing fans.
The US lost 3-1. David spent all day congratulating the Dutch on their win.

We walked through our neighborhood looking at street art. It’s everywhere in this very colorful city.

Delft Blue pottery comes from the city of Delft in the Nederlands. This mural adds a Caribbean flare.
This work features a metallic sculpture
On the right side of the red statue, electrical boxes are for nearby dwellings become part of the artwork.
Colorful Curacao … even a pink tree.
Interesting statue of a person with a baseball mit.
Finally we found the entrance to the Kura Hulanda Museum.

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.

Amid the Kura Huland buildings were a variety of gardens. Banana trees are always intriguing.
A sculpture of Africa is in the center courtyard and surrounded by buildings with exhibits …
… From the other side, the sculpture looks like a face.

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.

The beach entrance is decorated for Christmas.
An anchor made of shiny Christmas ornaments.

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.

Located just a few miles from downtown Willemstad, Mambo Beach is one of the country’s most lively stretches of sand, packed end-to-end with palapas, sun beds and white-curtained cabanas.
We made it in time for a dip at sunset. Very tranquil and uncrowded. All the beach bars were closed and most of the sun worshipers who had been there all day have now left.
We stopped for a cocktail at the ‘Greenhouse’ on our way out. The drink on the left is called a ‘blue greenhouse’ and the other is a Caribbean Mojito.

We had dinner at the Seaside Terrace known for seafood. A lovely way to end the day.

Curacao: Exploring Punda and Otrobanda

Bon Dia! That’s good morning in Papiamento and Bon Bini means welcome. Two common phrases heard and seen all about Willemstad.

We started the day with the Bario’s Otrobanda Breakfast which included eggs with roasted bread, smoked salmon, a pumpkin waffle, yogurt bowl with fresh granola and home made banana jam.
Our first walking excursion was to Punda, the oldest part of Willemstad. To get there, we crossed the St. Anna Bay over Queen Emma pontoon bridge.

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.

When the pontoon bridge is going to open, bells and alarms go off. Gates shut off the ends so people can’t enter or leave. If you’re on the bridge, you just stay there and go along for the ride

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.

Dutch buildings in brilliant pinks, blues and yellows line the waters of St. Anna Bay.
Greeting us on the Punda side is a giant Christmas tree fully decorated.
Fruits and vegetables from Venezuela are sold in stalls along the St. Anna Bay. Boats arrive early morning to replenish the supply of goods … this is known as the floating market.
The markets have so many colorful things to choose from — fun to look at.

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.

Queen Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Marie, longest reigning Dutch monarch.

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’.

Next to the statue of Queen Wilhelmina is the Papiamento word, ‘Dushi’ which translates as Sweet!

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.

Chichi is the Papiamento word for ‘big sister’.

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.

Chichi is an expression of big love and big care.

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.

Once a Jewish temple, now it’s the Public prosecutors office.

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.

David peruses the countless items at the New Market.
Lots of fruits and vegetables are sold here.
I loved this little food stop. It looked like someone’s kitchen with the ladies preparing food. A nice dining room table makes customers feel at home.We stopped for a beer and to watch the World Cup soccer. The silverware drawer is where they kept the cash.
Plasa Bieu is were the locals dine. It’s an airy, rustic market with picnic tables and counters serving classic Curacoan eats.
Pumpkin pancakes made to perfection.
Another Curacoan dish served with rice.
David chose Mahi Mahi and I went with one of my Spanish favorites, Oxtail. Both were awesome.
Blue and orange coconut.
This is a view of the Juliana bridge which amazes me. Cruise ship used to pass under it. They are banned now because of the damage they cause to the channel.
Sinter Klaus Controversy

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.

Trevor Noah provides Black Pete insight on You Tube.

We’re back on the Outrobunda side of the Queen Emma bridge. Lots of holiday decorations.

Located at the entrance of the St. Anna Bay on the Otrobanda side is Rif Fort. It was built in the 19th century to protect Curaçao from pirates and other invaders.
Now Rif Fort is used as a very touristy shopping mall located near the cruise port dock.
Next to Fort Rif is a decorated shopping street.
A small manger scene sits beneath a towering palm tree.

Next stop is Netto bar. It is the oldest bar in Curacao and home of the famous green rum, Rom Berde.

This little hole in the wall had 16 fans and 2 air conditioners blowing, yet many of it’s customers preferred standing outside.
Netto bar is home of the famous green rum, Rom Berde. It reminded us of the NE Minneapolis establishment ‘Tony Jaros River Garden’, home of Minnesota’s original Greenie, a potent lime-y drink.
The bar is full of pictures and paintings of idyllic Curacao and late owner, Ernesto ‘Netto’ Koster, with famous guests in his bar such as the Dutch King Willem Alexander.
Down the street is a shoe store, apparently shoes cost an arm & a leg here.
The Queen Emma pontoon bridge at night.
A quick stop for a bite to eat on the way back to the Bario … apparently Captain Morgan is a Holland soccer fan. Holland vs US is tomorrow.
Back at the Bario. Time to plan tomorow’s activities.

Jane Not In Spain: Curaçao

Where?? That’s the common response when I mention a trip to Curaçao. A map is needed to explain this one.

Curacao is about 50 miles from Venezuela.

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.

I love a white Christmas but did the snow have to come today?

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.

A snowman on display at MSP airport made me anxious.

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.

To get to our hotel in Otrobanda, we drove over the St. Anna Bay on The Queen Juliana bridge. It’s a white-knuckle steep-drive that goes straight into the sky. The bridge is high enough for the largest ships to pass under.

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.

I chose this hotel based on location. We could leave the car behind and easily walk around and Punda and Otrobanda.
This hotel offered small apartments.
Typically, we don’t spend much time at hotels but with this heat and humidity, it was nice to take a mid-day break when it is the hottest.
No blankets here, just a sheet. The apartment has two high-speed air conditioners that cool the place in minutes.
In addition to a balcony, we have an outdoor terrace at the entrance to our room.
A few steps from our room is a tranquil pool with beautifully landscaped palms.
The outdoor bar and restaurant are very popular with the locals and feature live music most evenings.
Tonight, we enjoyed salsa, meringue and pop music.
After hours of travel and getting acclimated to the heat and humidity, it was nice to kick-back and enjoy the surroundings. The Bario entertainment shuts down around 10pm and then it’s very quiet.

Pacific City Oregon: An Awesome Weekend

Next stop Pacific City! A beautiful drive down the coast and it seems to be even more remote.

Not sure what this tree is but it is amazing to look at with its perfect symmetry and wavy branches.
Here’s our rental house … with enough beds for over a dozen guests.
A scenic view from our new digs. Pacific City has a haystack rock like Cannon Beach but it’s out farther and not reachable in low tide. Lots of surfers.
Early sunset after a long day. Weather is looking better for beach wedding tomorrow.
The house features a gourmet kitchen and my nephew James is right at home with it. He and my sister-in-law Ellen whip up breakfast for 14.
Friday brings a beautiful blue sky sunny day in the low 80s. Perfect. The wedding is the focus of today and everyone is relieved that the weather is cooperating.
The Minnesota contingency is on time and ready to celebrate. (Richard & Lisa missing from photo. )
Guests begin to arrive for the wedding.
An unforgettable ceremony …
followed by a beautiful indoor reception.
A stunning sunset sneaks by as the reception rolls on. The colors of the sunset changed every few minutes.
The evening ended with sparklers on the beach. Chandler & Kelly pulled off the perfect wedding.
Saturday … we have a whole day open and four rental cars. Some went dune climbing, some went to Lincoln City looking for fresh seafood for dinner and some took off for wine country. Richard, Lisa, Ellen and I set out for Cape Meares for some stunning ocean views.
Today’s dinner plan is for a seafood extravaganza.
The dunes may look easy but provide a challenging climb and workout.
So much fun to cruise the west coast with good friends Richard & Lisa.
It was a beautiful drive to Cape Meares with lots of farm land and interesting terrain.
A stunning wayside view in Tillamook county heading for Cape Meares.
We took a break at a stone covered beach. Unfortunately, the road to the lighthouse was closed.
No lighthouse … reroute. Now we’re heading for Willamette Valley which means a drive through the coast range heading toward Portland. More interesting forests with moss covered trees which at night could easily be mistaken for Sasquatch … that must be how those stories start.
We arrive at Apolloni Vineyards which produces Oregon and Italian wines. The Valley is Oregon’s oldest wine region and has two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards.
Apolloni is a family run vineyard. Alfredo, (second-generation) shares his passion for the vineyard and the wines we were sampling.

After a little wine, we realize it’s a long drive back to Pacific City and we don’t want to miss the sunset. Back in the car and a beeline route back.

Bubba and Ellen kick back after a long day of exploring.
Tonight’s chefs, cousins James, Kyle and Owen doing seafood & oyster prep for dinner.
Happy hour charcuterie.
Everybody on the deck … getting ready for the sunset.
A beautiful view from the cavernous living room.
A final sunset worthy of an awesome trip. Someone had a great idea — let’s go swimming!
There they go … water was extremely cold so the swim didn’t last long. A lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ took place.
And they survived with another great memory.
Back to dinner prep. A seafood bisque in the works.
James workin’ the grill by cell phone light.
A beautiful feast.
Food, family, friends … the best dinner ever!

The week ended with a bonfire on the beach and a visit from a curious creature with a big shadow. We joked about how it would be fun to come back to the rental house for a 1st anniversary celebration.

On Sunday, we packed it up and headed to Portland. Most of us were on the same flight. I rate this as a 5-star week in Portland. Oregon rocks!

Next stop: the southern Caribbean. Stay tuned.

Buckle Up … Back to Portland

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.

Youngest son Owen shared the back seat with several suitcases. The rental car had a luggage rack but rain was in the forecast.

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.

Welcome to food truck world! I don’t think I’ve seen this many food trucks in one place.
We had lunch at the Portland Food Hall, an industrial-chic space with a variety of international fare.

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.

Lan Su Garden touts itself as a window into Chinese culture, history and philosophy, a living Chinese landscape art and a spiritual utopia.
David and Owen relax in the garden’s tranquility with our long-time friends Lisa and Richard.

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.

Not just for breakfast … Voodoo Doughnuts is open 24/7 serving early morning risers, the bar crowd and everything in between.
Voodoo offers over 50 kinds of donuts. The Voodoo dozen makes selecting a lot easier.

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.

Country-chic decor with lots of chandeliers at Mother’s Bistro.

Mother’s Bistro featured home-made favorites that have been refined with classical cooking techniques … Mac & Cheese, meatloaf anyone?

This not-very-comfortable throne of a chair looks like it came from a cheese head tail-gate party in Green Bay.

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.

Voila! A full size bike that fits in a suitcase.

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.

Nationally, Oregon is #2 on the 2022 ‘Bike Friendly State’ ranking. Massachusetts ranks #1 and Minnesota is #5.

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.

On the road again … next stop Pacific City.

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.

On the way to Pacific City with a stop for an oyster burger at The Fish Peddler in Bay City.