Willemstad, Curaçao

Woke up this morning to find ourselves docked in Willemstad, capital of Curaçao, Dutch Antilles.  Curaçao is the largest of the ABC islands, which also include Aruba and Bonaire.  We hadn’t been here before so we were looking forward to exploring.

After breakfast we had to assemble on the quayside for our excursion this morning.  Although it was only 08:20 it was already hot and sunny.  We boarded the bus and off we went; first stop was to Hato Caves.

Along the route we enjoyed looking at the 18th century Dutch and Colonial architecture of the pretty little pastel-hued buildings and shops.  The atmosphere seemed very laid-back.

We arrived at the caves and had to climb a series of very steep steps to get to the entrance.  Inside it was blessedly dark and cool and had a characteristic damp, musty atmosphere.  As it is a limestone cave, there were quite a lot of really impressive stalactites and stalagmites.  The guide explained to us that the stalactites grow at the rate of only 0.13mm a year, so these ones were thousands of years old.  Amazing.

The Hato Caves had a utilitarian purpose during the early days of the slave trade in Curaçao; escaped slaves used them as hiding places, and lived in them for months at a time. Even before the arrival of Europeans and slaves, the Amerindian Arawaks used them for shelter, and left behind cave drawings, or petroglyphs, estimated at 1,500 years old.

Today, they are classed as ‘show caves’ and are dimly lit as well as having guard rails and dedicated paths, for safety reasons as well as to preserve the rock formations.  We also saw a fabulous underground lake and we could hear the eerie echoing drip of water.

We were also fascinated to see large bat colonies flying around and hanging upside down from the roof of the caves.  Some of the females had tiny babies with them.  The grottoes in the caves went back quite a long way; they were bigger than imagined.

Back out in the sunshine and down the steep steps, we boarded the bus once again for our next stop; this time to the Curaçao Museum.  This was really interesting; it contained a collection of antique furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries as well as old maps and paintings of the Caribbean.  There was also the cockpit of a very old KLM aeroplane.

The museum was set in landscaped gardens which included a tamarind tree.  The guide told us all about the local superstition regarding the tamarind;  if anyone cut the tree down, then death would befall the head of that person’s family, most usually (in Curaçao anyway) the father.  Therefore no-one ever cut down a tamarind tree; indeed we even saw one growing in the middle of a road, with the traffic going round it.  The tamarind tree produces edible fruit which is used extensively in Caribbean and African cuisine and is used to makes sweets and jams.

After our visit to the museum we headed on the bus to our next stop: the liqueur distillery.  The Blue Curaçao liqueur is famous worldwide (usually as Blue Bols) and is used to make cocktails such as Blue Lagoon (which makes you look as if you are drinking anti-freeze).  It has an orange flavour.  In fact, there are five different colours of this liqueur produced and they all taste exactly the same; they are just different colours, including blue, orange, red and yellow.

We were able to taste the liqueurs; in addition to the orange flavoured one there was also a coffee flavour, chocolate and rum and raisin.  The coffee one was lovely; we ended up buying a bottle of the blue and a bottle of the coffee to take back. Here’s the recipe for Blue Lagoon:

1 x 25ml shot of vodka
1  x 25ml shot of Blue Curaçao
Lemonade
Crushed ice
Slices of orange to garnish

Half-fill a highball glass with crushed ice; pour over equal measures of vodka and Blue Curaçao.  Top up the glass with lemonade and add a slice of orange. Yum!

After our visit to the liqueur distillery we went back to the ship in time for lunch, which was excellent as usual.  We also enjoyed a freezing cold beer.  Then we left the Ventura once again to look around the nearby shops and buy some postcards to send.  We bought eight cards and searched high and low for a post office to no avail.

Back on the Ventura we stopped by the purser’s desk to ask if they sold stamps, but they’d ran out because of the New Year bank holiday.  So we wouldn’t be able to post our cards from this island then.  😦

We had an afternoon nap then got showered and ready for dinner.  Tonight the dress code was smart-casual; in fact, we usually find on Caribbean cruises that there are only formal or casual nights; they drop the informal (i.e. collar and tie but not DJ) dress code.  The Dinner Buffet in the Waterside was Indian tonight, so we decided we’d go there instead of to the Bay Tree restaurant, as we love Indian food.

The meal was great; there was an array of different curry and tandoori dishes as well as rice, naan bread, poppadoms and various Indian pickles (I love lime pickle and can eat it straight of the spoon!).  We had a bit of everything, washed down with ice-cold Kingfisher beer.

Later on, in the Arena theatre, the comedian we’d seen on New Year’s Eve was back on – Mike Doyle.  Once again we thought he was hilarious and enjoyed his show.  Afterwards we went along to ‘Wetherspoon’s’ to see what was on; they were having a race night.  We also wandered along to the Havana Lounge but as usual it was packed.

One of the things we’d notice about being on the Ventura was that we hadn’t, so far, found a favourite place yet.  On any other cruise we usually find ourselves heading towards our ‘usual’ seat in our ‘usual’ bar, but it hadn’t happened on this ship yet.  For example, on the Braemar we always ended the evening in the Skylark Lounge for the quiz; on any of Cunard’s Queens we go to the Golden Lion and on the Arcadia we used to go to the same table in the Rising Sun.  But on the Ventura  we were like lost souls, with no particular place to go.  😦

Back in cabin B238 we opened the balcony door wide as usual, then turned in for the night.

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