One night, rather unexpectedly, Erin asked me if I wanted to go to Curaçao with her family. Without hesitation, I said “yes.” And why not? COVID seemed to be fading away and anyway, we were vaccinated. Also, COVID had caused me to cancel two vacations in 2020 (one to the Dominican Republic and the other to Niagara Falls), one within days of my flight. I was still bitter about that and I was ready to be made whole again.
But hadn’t I been to Curaçao ? Kimberly and I had been there on a cruise in 2003, but I struggled to remember anything about it. I looked through my photos and found only ONE photograph I had taken from the cruise ship, which only made things even more confounding.
Finally, after much digging, I came across this from an archived blog post:
Like Aruba, Curaçao also didn’t get our full attention. In fact, it got even less. I think Kimberly and I weren’t feeling well that day. Kim was convinced that her anti-seasick patch was causing her problems and this may have also been the day that I developed a very rare (for me) migraine that could best be described as feeling like a rhinoceros had charged up behind me and gored his horn into the back of my neck, up through my brain and out my right eye socket. Also, we were still too tired to go on an excursion and we weren’t in the mood to shop. So, we walked into town, took a cursory look around for an hour, and then walked back to the ship. Unfortunately, for reasons I still don’t know, the camera went on the blink while we were on the island. Once we got back to the ship, it started working again, so the only photos we have of Curaçao are those of us leaving. (2003)
Not only did that post explain everything, it turned-out to be remarkably prescient.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, COVID began to surge. We watched with horror and disbelief as all of the progress seemed to unravel and the numbers began going up. Then, less than two weeks before our flight, the CDC added 16 destinations to its “Level 4: Covid-19 Very High” category, which means people should avoid travel to those places. Curaçao was on the list, along with Iran and Kazakhstan. Some trepidation emerged in the group, but we held fast and continued to monitor the news from health authorities in Curaçao. Then, as if the threat of a travel ban being declared wasn’t wearing on our nerves, Tropical Storm Fred threatened to hit Miami at the moment our flight was supposed to land there. That was enough for Erin’s sister Stephanie and her husband Keith. They changed flights, but with only a couple of days left before our flight, the options were limited. They ended-up on a bizarre cross-country route that had them literally running to catch a connecting flight, even having a gate opened after it had been closed, which is unheard of these days. I was happy to skip that particular adventure. Erin tried to change our flight, but her attempt (including one night in which she was on hold with the airline for four hours) ultimately failed, but it was just as well. Fred turned out to not be such a nuisance and our original flights were all convenient and on time.
Deep Sea Fishing Excursion
Not much to say about this. The water was rough from a passing tropical storm and some of the group didn’t fare well, so we turned around and cut the trip short. And we got absolutely soaked to the bone for our trouble!
The next day, Erin and I explored the capital city of Willemstad and enjoyed a wonderful dinner of steak and ribs at (check notes) Steak & Ribs Restaurant.
Willemstad Redux and Mundo Bizarro
The next day the whole group went into town and as is usually the case in my experience, a short walk through a sketchy area paid off with the discovery of a fantastic local restaurant called Mundo Bizarro, which was my favorite of the trip.
Playa Grandi/Piskado – Playa Forti – Playa Lagun
Erin and I had agreed that this trip was to be about rest and relaxation. Excursions would be few and Jimmy-style solo exploration would be nil. Besides, there was a pandemic and a nationwide curfew. The one exception to this would be that no matter what else happened, we were determined that we would swim with the sea turtles that can be found on the island.
So the group went to Playa Grandi/Piskado, which is also known as ‘Turtle Beach.’ The turtles come out every morning for brekkie and visitors can simply stand in the water with goggles or a diving mask to see them. More adventurous types can dive or snorkel out and swim with them. They are such beautiful creatures and I felt such a thrill when I saw the first one! I took off and swam as fast as I could to keep up, afraid it was a fleeting experience. But there were several turtles and I found that I was able to swim with them fairly easily.
That was such a fun morning! And then, I had a bizarre technical disaster. We were standing in the parking lot waiting for our cab and I was scrolling through the underwater photos I had just taken with my new Olympus Tough TG-6. Erin said, “Look, there’s an iguana!” So, I turned and started shooting the iguana. After I had got what I could get, I turned back to the camera and realized to my horror that every photo from where I had stopped scrolling to when I started shooting the iguana was gone! Around 100 photos had vanished. I’ll admit that I had a quiet meltdown, telling Erin, “I need for nobody to speak to me for awhile.” I wish I could have shrugged it off more easily, but at least I was quiet. Other Jimmy would have smashed that camera to bits right then and there.
The camera was brand new and I had no real familiarity with it or experience with Olympus cameras at all, but I couldn’t believe that any camera would allow the deletion of 100 photos without deliberate action and confirmation. I still don’t believe it and in the end, I still don’t know what happened. But I do know how data storage works and on the cab ride back to the resort, I calmed down and formulated a plan. Steph had brought her work laptop, in case we ended-up being quarantined. I borrowed her laptop, made a backup of everything on the SD card, and then downloaded a data recovery program (Recoverit Data Recovery). I scanned the SD card, which had started “clean” at the beginning of the trip, and the recovery program found hundreds of deleted files, including work files from when I was at Motive ten years ago! But there was no trace of the missing photos.
So, I took a deep breath and made a new plan. We would go back. But this time, we would book a tour so that it wouldn’t just be a repeat of the previous excursion. Erin had discovered that she really enjoyed snorkeling, so we would try to see and do more this time. We spoke to Esther at the independently owned and run dive shop at the resort, Caribbean Sea Sports Curacao Dive Center, and she informed us that, unfortunately, all of the snorkeling tours were booked. After listening to my sad tale of lost turtle photos, she said if we could get at least four people together, she would come-in on her day off and personally give us a tour! We managed to get the whole group onboard and the next morning, we set off on a personally guided tour.
We loaded into a van and Esther drove us back to Playa Grandi/Piskado to have another go at getting those turtle pictures. Along the way, she talked to us about anything and everything having to do with the island. She was from the Netherlands, but had fallen in love with Curaçao and moved there after school. She had lived there for the past nine years and was a knowledgeable and honest guide, giving us her candid opinions about what’s good and bad about the island, tourist traps to avoid, lame locales, and hidden gems. She also told us that she thought the vaccination effort on the island had actually been handled very well and had gone to plan, which was surprising for a small island with typical infrastructure problems. Upon the initial surge of COVID-19, Curaçao’s health resources had been reinforced with doctors flown-in from other countries, but by the time the second surge hit, they were gone and the healthcare system was overwhelmed, which is how they ended-up on the CDC’s warning list, Esther told us. And then she pointed-out the island’s only clothing optional resort.
Esther stopped at the last convenience store before the beach and we bought coconuts. I found the ice-cold coconut milk to be absolutely refreshing and delicious. Then we were off on the final stretch to the beach. Since we had already been there, the plan was to stay less than an hour, get our pictures, and get going to the next location.
We arrived at Playa Grandi/Piskado and got to it. I waded-in and almost immediately found a turtle who let me swim with them for a long time. I got some beautiful pictures and had a lovely time swimming alongside such an interesting and magnificent creature. I feel so lucky to have been able to do that.
I guess somebody mentioned that they had seen that there was cliff jumping on the island and to our surprise, Esther asked if we wanted her to take us. That was one of the best things about this guided tour – it started with a framework that was the same as what was normally booked. But because the six of us were in the same party, we could make adjustments according to what we wanted to do, spending more time in one place and less in another, even eliminating some of the sights that didn’t interest us or that Esther suggested might not be worth our time. Obviously, we took Esther up on her offer and just a few minutes later, four of us were jumping off a cliff into the sea at Playa Forti.
After that bit of mischief, Esther took us to Playa Lagun. She said that this was her favorite beach and I could immediately see why. Because of the turtles, Playa Grandi/Piskado is a crowded tourist attraction and the small beach is overwhelmed, uncomfortable, and not particularly picturesque. But Playa Lagun is a beauty! True to its name, it is a proper lagoon, very photogenic, and was almost deserted, except for three beautiful young people wading out of the sea and onto the beach. Give me a break with this place!
It also offered some very relaxing snorkeling. No turtles or big fish, but Esther said she knew there was an octopus in the area and she would occasionally dive down to see if she could spot it. Lots of coral to be seen, including grooved brain coral (diploria labyrinthiformis, of course) and elkhorn coral (acropora palmata), as well as beautiful fish and other interesting creatures. I spotted a trumpetfish (aulostomus maculatus) and dove down to get a good shot of a sharptail eel (myrichthys breviceps), sometimes called a sea snake. I also spotted a stoplight parrotfish (sparisoma viride), which I quite liked and there seemed to be an abundance of pretty blue tang (acanthurus coeruleus), aka Dory!
After snorkeling, we took a break and enjoyed some fresh fruit and vinegar chips that Esther had brought. By this time, everyone was getting tired, so we went to a scenic overlook for a group photo and stopped to see a flock of flamingos, before retiring to the resort. Esther was a fabulous guide and she made the day my favorite of the trip.
Dreams Curaçao Resort, Spa & Casino
Other than those excursions, we spent our time at the resort, which I found to be just lovely.