Thursday, April 30, 2009

Queen's Day "Koninginnedag" in Curacao

It's an Orange Thing!

This national holiday is celebrated not only in the Netherlands but on the islands of the Netherlands Antilles; St. Martin, Aruba, Saba, St. Eutstatis "Statia", Bonaire and Curacao. It is the actual birthday of former Queen Juliana but Queen Beatrix, at her Ascension in 1980 wished to continue the holiday on that date as a mark of her respect for her mother.

It was first celebrated on August 31, Queen Wilhelmina's (Queen Beatrix's grandmother) birthday, when she was only a princess, but at the death of her father King William III it became a national holiday. That was in 1891. The color orange symbolizes national and royal pride in the family name - The Family Nassau - House of Orange. The Netherlands has been a monarchy since the French were driven out of the United Netherlands in 1815, but royal powers were limited to a parlimentary constitutional monarchy in the 1848 Constitution.

Most people wear something orange and some people wear everything orange. The holiday is celebrated with parties, street markets, concerts and special events. It's a combination of giant flea market, state fair (without the animals) and non stop live concerts. Fun, fun and more fun!
For the children there are amusements, games, and street food. For the adults there are open bars everywhere and shopping of every kind. Stalls with food, drink and a multitude of goods line every street in Willemstad. Cars are not allowed in town. Stages are set up in various locations for bands.

There's nothing like a little green to set off all that orange and our favorite was the Mojito stands. To find one just look for the long lines. It takes a while to make these from scratch. Lots of fresh mint gets muddled in the bottom of the glass with sugar syrup, then ice and rum. Delish!

After a few of these, while watching some great drum bands (lots of choreography), we were ready for some lunch. Luckily a local "food court" was nearby. Lots of choices! Scott had conch meat with "funchi", sliced corn meal mush fried up crisp, local veggies called "provisions" and salad. I had the mixed grill, chicken, ribs and pork with "moro", fried rice and beans with the same provisions & salad. Happily they added fried plantain to mine. Needless to say we couldn't finish it all - even Scott!

Celebration Week

This was a week of celebrations! Scott and I started it off with our 30 year wedding anniversery on 4/14, then Sean's birthday on the 15th followed by mine on the 17th. Sean and I are 40 years apart so we turned 24 and 64 respectively!

We wish, of course, that we could have been with our family at this time, but in lieu of that we celebrated with cruiser friends. Sixteen of us went out to dinner at "Der Heron" in Curacao and it was a fun evening. Cars were a bit scarce so 6 of us piled into one very small economy car for the ride. Jackie, Hilary, Val and I shared the back seat. Or rather three of us did -

Jackie lay on our laps on the way over and Hilary on the way back. No problem as they are both light as feathers!
We were able to talk to Sean on his birthday. He had celebrated with friends on Saturday night thank goodness as he had to fly to Detroit on his actual birthday, as usual exhausted from work. Will organized the party and James came with some of his friends.

On my birthday Scott invited our three closest cruiser couples here for drinks on the boat;"Miss Charlotte", "Feisty" and "Angel". He put up streamers and we had our special plastic birthday tablecloth (that's seen a bunch of parties). I made a platter of middle eastern appetisers - huumus, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese, olives and pita bread. Again, it was a lovely evening.

Usually when we're in Curacao we're here for work on the boat or putting it up while we go home. So this week we made a special effort to see and enjoy the island. Scott and I drove up north to Daabooi Beach for an afternoon. We swam and lay on the lounge chairs. Nice and relaxing. Scott's demonstrating below.

Tropical Storm Omar played havoc with the beach sand here on Curacao's west coast last fall. It took away the sand at the edge and left coral bones. So it's a little hard getting in the water gracely. But once your there it's heaven.

At the end of the week Jackie & Mel from "Feisty" (that's them at the bottom of the page) invited us to join them on a trip north to the Kura Hulanda Hotel in Westpunt for lunch, swimming and snorkeling. This beautiful hotel is set on the cliffs overlooking the ocean and a small white beach.
We had a wonderful lunch and then lazed about their fantastic facilities.
Business seems very light around the island now so they seemed glad to have us - if only for the day. A lot of the large hotels are very fussy about using their facilites if you aren't a resident but this charming place was very welcoming.

On my birthday I talked with James, Paula and Sean. Sean has set up Skype so he and Will called with the video working. What fun to see each other (ours works too) while we talked! After Shabbat we had a wonderful call with Josh, Michal and the kids. They all sang a fabulous rendition of Happy Birthday and Daniel and Ariella receited poems by heart! I'm a lucky lady!

While talking to everyone is great, it's turning our thoughts towards home. Our time here is running out and soon we'll be back with family and old friends. The two sections of our lives are very different and both are fantastic. We feel very lucky to be living them.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Harvest Festival in Curacao'

If you've been reading my blog entries for any time you know that Caribbean and South Americans love parades - and I do too. Every holiday and occasion calls for one and most people must have a lot of costumes hanging in their closets.
The commen elements are an overall theme and perhaps song divided into smaller groups united by color, pattern and their own band.
In the larger events such as Carnival on a big island like Grenada or of course the king, Trinidad, there is a third or even fourth division. For example the overall theme here was celebrating the harvest.

One group chose to illustrate the planting process and then divided this up into four or five groups in varied costumes. Even within the smallest unit there is some individual choices. Women in particular choose degrees of exposure. Unlike our own country, weight or age has nothing to do with how little or tight your clothing is!

That said this was in general a very mostly dressed crew, certainly compared to Carnival celebrations! The individual groups are led by a "King & Queen" and often a baton struting few men or women. The bands travel in decorated trucks that also serve as refreshment locations. Boys or girls get trays of cold drinks and bring them to the marchers.

The festival here in April is to celebrate the agricultural seasons, mainly the harvest, although spring was the theme of at least one of the groups. The marchers carry baskets of fruit and vegetables or mimic the motions of planting.
Every age is represented from the very old to the very young. The parade started in Santa Maria and ended in Otrabanda, the north side of Willemstad. It lasted 4 hours and they walked about 6 miles from 10 to 3. By the time we saw them at the reviewing stand everyone was looking a bit tired! It's really hot in the noon day sun here.

Thousands of people participated in the parade and thousands more watched. There are only a hundred and twenty thousand people in Curacao!
We had just had a four day weekend holiday at Easter the weekend before

and in May there will be another one around Labor Day (May 1) and the Queen's Birthday - with more parades! Scott and I will still be here then as we've been applying for a 90 day extension on our visa. The process has taken much longer due to the holidays. We hope to have our passports back May 4 and if the weather allows, sail for Bonaire.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lazing About in the Aves

Isla de Aves are two separate little island archipelagos separated by about 10 miles of deep water. Huge numbers of birds make them their home, mostly boobys but also heron and other seabirds. The first island group is Aves de Sotavento and is about 40 miles east of Bonaire. We and Tony and Hilary of "Miss Charlotte" (a 46 ft. Halbery Rassey shown below left at anchor) decided to spend a few weeks there lazing about. You can see a picture of them at the end of the this entry.

Both our boats had been in the Bonaire/Curacao area for almost 6 months and needed to leave the country to restart the 6 month customs period. Traveling east means bucking the wind, waves and current so we carefully followed the weather and left Bonaire with a two day forecast of less than 15 knots of wind and 4 foot seas.
Miss Charlotte at anchor
The first part of the trip around the south end of Bonaire was rougher but then the predicted weather kicked in.
The Aves are part of Venezuela and there is a small coast guard station at Sotavento. Our plan was to spend one night there then proceed on to the Aves de Barlovento for most of our stay.
Hilary and Scott
We'd then stop and get our papers stamped by the coast guard on our way back to Bonaire. Once they see you, they want you to leave within 48 hours if you haven't legally checked into Venezuala. Which of course we hadn't.
A large reef surrounds the clear water, islands and smaller reefs. Most islands consist of no more than sand, a few plants and an occasional palm tree.
One larger island anchors each of the two island groups and these are dense with mangroves on the protected lagoon side and bare and windswept on the other. This section is really lovely and colorful with "meadows" of southern glasswort, seaside purslane and saltwort all in different shades of green and gold. See the picture below.
Hilary and Scott get ready for some snorkeling. You can
see the channel through the reefs
The Dutch once mined guano here and the ruins of old forts are now all that remain. Today a few fisherman maintain simple wood huts on a few of the smaller islands for occasional trips but they have wiped out the conch population and are working on the lobsters. Scott saw two conch and no lobsters for two weeks.
He left the conch not wanting the distinction of eating the last two alive.
The water varies enormously in depth. This results in a huge variety of blue green colors that at some times of the day meld into the sky. The snorkeling is excellent and there are many protected spots to anchor. To get around we practiced "eyeball navigation". The charts show the configuration of the reefs, islands and the depth of the water between them. But after studying them we put the chart down and us our eyes to follow the deep blues and dark turquoise/jades paths among the more pastel shallow areas.

The path to the Memorial from the mangrove entrance

There's a gap in the mangroves where you can pull in your dingy and
then follow the path above 

The channels are often narrow but easy to see when the light is good. This happens when the sun is above you or behind you. It's almost impossible when it's in front. So we time our arrival and departure accordingly. We found a lovely spot just north of Isla Sur, the second bay in from the west, with great holding and well protected by a series of small reefs.
Hilary gets our hors d'eouves ready - that's our Scott
Free sign behind her on the left. It's brown as we
varnished it.

Hilary, Scott and I took our dinghies out to several different reefs each day to snorkel. They varied enormously but all had lots of great fish and some, healthy vibrant corals. Storms and fisherman have caused a lot of damage. Once I came across a 6 foot nurse shark sleeping on the sand inside a coral corral - and backed out very quickly. That is the first shark we'd seen since we began our trip, while in the water.

We painted and varnished boat signs to place there  in Bonaire and one lovely evening left them there, drank wine, and saluted the many sailors who came before us.Scott and I had been here two years ago with "Angel" on our way to Bonaire from Grenada and knew about the boater's memorial on Isla Larga. A small gap in the mangroves allows access to the "moors" on the windward side and there with the ocean pounding behind is this beautiful spot.
Every other morning Hilary and I dinghied over to a beach and did our exercises and yoga. What a beautiful spot to meditate afterwards - and have a swim. That's me at the top of this entry.
It was hard to pull up anchor from this peaceful spot and return back to civilization. But weather windows only come once in a while so when a good one arrived we sailed for Curacao. Scott and I needed to apply for a 90 day extension on our immigration visa. Tony and Hilary are hauling their boat in two weeks and returning to London and Tuscany (tough huh!).

Tony and Hilary on "Miss Charlotte"

Close up of the Miss Charlotte sign

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Windsurfing Camp in Bonaire

Not long after we tied up to the mooring Stan on "Inner Wisdom" easily convinced Scott to join him for a week long windsurfing camp at Lac Bay on the other side of Bonaire. This beautiful lagoon is only 2 - 4 feet deep, perfect for windsurfing and people come from all over the world to do so! Internationally ranked windsurfers served as trainers - they run these camps in several spots around the world.

Stan had rented a car and windsurfed almost every day. Scott had only tried this three times before so he was a little nervous - all day for five days! He was in fact the least experienced but they divided the group into three levels. Maggie and I went over several days to lay on the beach and watch. That's Stan and Maggie above.
Several small restaurants line the beach. Scott's day started out with on land training, then two hours on the water in the morning and afternoon, with video taping and analyzing last. It was exhausting for him but very rewarding. He has learned to land start, water start and jib!

Sounds a bit like Women's Alpine Adventures at Okemo doesn't it? Why didn't I go you may be asking? For one thing this sport has never interested me that much. I hadn't ever been on a board.

And I'd have missed my mornings at the gym. Yep! We joined a great exercise club here and I went five days a week while we were in Bonaire. Barbara has been teaching me a yoga and exercise routine and I attended step aerobics and body balance classes. Hilary, Tony, Jackie, Mel, Bob and Scott, when he wasn't windsurfing, joined us.

Back in the ABCs

With a little substitution that is; the Aves (Venezuela), Bonaire and Curacao. Our S/V Scott Free spent a few months on the hard at the Curacao Marine Boatyard this winter while we returned home to Vermont. Scott flew back to Curacao 2/4 and I joined him 2/24. This gave him time to accomplish a long list of projects without cleaning up after himself every evening (as I wasn't there to care).

The most serious and precarious job was removing the mast to replace the step at the base and then rethreading it through the deck. A big crane accomplished the heavy work and a rigging team did the fine tuning.
We really enjoyed our next "door" neighbors, Harold "Smitty" and his wife Jackie on their boat "Windy" from Newfoundland. .
They were lots of fun and we hope some day to get up there and visit. Not sure however it will be for a skiing vacation as they have urged us. Who knew there was a great ski resort in Newfoundland? Jackie returned home to work and "The Judge" joined Smitty (close up above shows Smitty on the right) for his trip west to Cartagena. We hated to see them go.

Just before we left we lucked out when the "Green Boat" was launched out of our boatyard and the party was fun! Free drinks, excellent hors d'oeuves (really dinner) and very short speeches are a great combination. Two young dutch men are sailing around the world to promote environmental issues facing the oceans and reefs.
Early in March we sailed back to Bonaire with one night at Klein Bonaire on the way. Many of our cruising friends were waiting for us and it was a joyous reunion. Hilary & Tony on "Miss Charlotte", Ellen & Cal on "Patience" and Karen & Ralph on "Kara Dream" and of course Bob & Barbara, formerly of "Enkidu" and now living in Bonaire. We met new friends Stan & Maggie on "Inner Wisdom " and Mel & Jackie on "Feisty".