Monday, February 28, 2011

morning market in willemstad, curaçao

To avoid a water pressure problem in our area of Cupecoy on St Maarten that would take a few days to repair, my daughter-in-law and I decided to spend last week on Curaçao instead. That sounded to us like a legitimate excuse, even though we had to leave my son behind to fend for himself while he continued his studies. There wasn't a water problem in Curaçao, unless you count several days of on-off pelting rain while we were there. And when it rained, we drove our rented car from Punda to Westpunt, exploring as much as we could on an island that appears to have almost no street signs. The two helpful street signs we did find, Franklin D Rooseveltveg and Winston Churchillveg, formed a curious intersection that we now know by heart.

After a tail-gating taxi ride from the airport, we arrived at Het Klooster Hotel late in the evening to find this refreshing pool just outside our room. The small-scale hotel occupies a former monastery in Punda, within walking distance of downtown Willemstad.

Next morning, we set off to walk our way around Willemstad. Still early, the colorful produce and fish markets were set up right along the water's edge where the boats could unload their fresh catch.

Beyond the waterfront markets was the Queen Julianna Bridge, its span part of the Ring around the center of the island and high enough to allow the cruise ships passage in the bay -- and rather fun to drive over for the view out to sea and inland.

The Queen Emma Floating Pontoon Bridge, on the other hand, unlocked its water-level center span which was then floated open for boat passage. A horn sounded to warn pedestrians of the opening, everyone rushed to jump across the widening gap to the center section in time to either hurry on their way across the water or to ride on the floating section as it bobbled into its new position. Lined-up speedboats and other craft zipped through the temporary opening, the bridge then floated back into its locked position, and life resumed its normal slow pace.

Off in the distance below is one of the many oil tankers that bring Venezuelan oil to the refineries on Curaçao. The center of the island looks like one huge mass of refinery stacks, while the tourist business occupies the coast line. Besides oil refineries, we saw so many finance companies, banks and legal firms that we assume oil refining, money handling, and tourism to be the mainstays of the island. Oh, and endless casinos and lotteries.

I've shared just a glimpse at the downtown area along the water. Much of the town itself looks quite a bit like South America, a bit jumbled, a bit run-down, weathered by wind and water, with trash and drainage problems. There are over 100 languages spoken here by recent immigrants from many of the surrounding islands and countries seeking jobs, including a local patois called Papiamentu which seems to combine Portuguese, Spanish, French, Creole and much more. But we found some great spots without having to pay top dollar for the ritziest secluded tourist meccas. More photos to come.

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