Curacao: Week 253

Polaroid of a pink building in Otrobanda: Willemstad, Curacao

Curacao is the largest member of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao). It has a much more European feel than Aruba, which could partially be attributed to the beautifully preserved UNESCO area of Willemstad.

If you were to imagine a horseshoe pointing downwards, historic Willemstad would be the two ends. Both ends make for an impressive entrance to Schottegat Bay and are connected to each other by the retractable Queen Emma Bridge. Cruise ships, Venezuelan fishing boats, and oil refinery traffic pass through the bay daily.

Vintage postcard of Punda: Willemstad, Curacao

We spent the morning walking through the Otrobanda side of the harbor before crossing the pedestrian bridge to Punda. The waterfront colonial buildings in Punda are probably the most common postcard image of Curacao.While they looked beautiful, the businesses housed a few too many tourist traps for our liking.

For something a little more interesting, we walked one neighborhood over to Nieuwestraat in Pietermaai. It was less touristy and filled with lots of delicious restaurants like Mundo Bizarro. Their vanilla lemon sorbet was incredible.

Curacao is also famous for the failed Valencia oranges that the Spaniards brought over during the early days of colonization. The island turned out to be far too arid and dry, so the trees were left to their own devices. It was only much later that someone discovered the wonderful aroma of the dried peels.

We were on our way to the Curacao Liqueur Distillery, famous for using the offspring of the original oranges, when we accidentally ended up outside the Zuikertuin Mall. I was trying to figure out where we went wrong when we noticed a large, open-air cafe.

There was freshly baked bread on the first floor and a cool breeze on the second. The backyard was filled with tall trees, peacocks and roosters. After some coffee and beer we did eventually find our way to the distillery, but it wasn’t as nice as our accidental find.

Blue iguana at Christoffel National Park: Curacao

Christoffel National Park is on the north end of the island. It was an hour’s drive via a quiet road peppered with iguana sightings. Of the two trails available, we picked the coastal loop. Because of the early afternoon heat, walking the loop was prohibited. We had to drive to the sites, but that didn’t prevent us from seeing massive ice-blue iguanas under bushes and in trees.

Coin purse from Jaanchie's: West Punt, Curacao

Rounding out the north end of the island is a small town called West Punt, where Jaanchie’s was located. The first thing we noticed when we walked in was the birds. A hundred little yellow bodies darted in and out of the porch feeders. The volume of the birdsong was incredible and their rapid, jittery movement was mesmerizing.

We quickly discovered that Jaanchie’s is the kind of place you don’t want to rush. The beer is very cold and the only menu can be found in the owner’s head. When Jaachie’s ready to list the options, he’ll pull up a chair.

“Who are the couples?” Jaanchi asked before walking two fingers up Jen’s arm. “Iguana is supposed to be very good for couples.”

We each ordered a different dish and decided to share a plate of iguana, which ended up tasting like really good chicken wings. The meals were served in metal trays.

My goat stew was flanked by salad on the right and beans and rice on the left. The only seasoning on the table were three little bowls of diced onions, tartar sauce and mayo. Jaanchie’s has been on the tourist trail for decades, so its prices reflect that, but the food is definitely worth it.

The blue waters of Grote Knip cove beach: Curacao

Playa Abou (AKA Grote Knip) is a popular beach cove close to West Punt. The cliffs overlooking the crystal clear water are covered in cacti while trees and thatched pergolas shade the beach. The mustard yellow hue of the rocks reminded me of Australia.

That’s how I knew we’d found a little bit of heaven in the ABC Islands.

Dinner and sunset on the beach at Pirate's Bay: Curacao

About: Curacao

How to get to Mundo Bizarro: Nieuwestraat 12, Willemstad

How to get to the Curacao Liqueur Distillery: Elias R A Moreno Blvd, Saliña Ariba, Willemstad

About: Christoffel National Park

How to get to Jaanchie’s: Westpunt 15, Westpunt Curacao

About: Grote Knip

Sunset over the ocean at Pirate's Bay: Curacao

Aruba: Week 252

The blue waters of Malmok Beach: Aruba

Aruba is a very arid island. The contrast between tropical Caribbean dreams and the desert landscape couldn’t be any starker than it is on the coast, where cacti grow straight out of white beach sand.

The sheltered SW side of the island is famous for its beaches and snorkeling. Barret and I spent our first morning at Malmok Beach, which is smaller and quieter than the resort beaches further south.

A large iguana lounged against a white wall while turquoise-speckled Aruban Whiptails scurried out from the shadows. One accidentally grazed the top of my hand with its soft underbelly and scratchy nails.

Turquoise-spotted Aruban Whiptail lizard: Aruba

Along the coast pelicans swooped into schools of fish while small boats cast their anchor further out. The tour boat blasting dance music was named Putin Pleasure. I blinked twice and realized the palm tree logo in the font was meant to spell out Palm Pleasure.

View of the Boca Prins Beach: Arikok National Park, Aruba

The NE side of Aruba has pounding waves and a jagged coastline reminiscent of shards of glass. A good portion of this coastline belongs to the Arikok National Park. The relentless sun beats down year round and is the reason only stray goats cross this desert landscape on foot. A rental car is the best way to visit to Arikok.

Desert landscape at Arikok National Park, Aruba

View of the coast at Arikok National Park, Aruba

Mikayla at Arikok National Park, Aruba

Cave art at the Fontein Cave: Arikok National Park, Aruba

The coastline north of the national park is unpopulated and largely difficult to reach without 4WD. The Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins is one of the few buildings that sits along this stark coast and is accessible by a paved road.

View from the Bushiribana Ruins: Aruba

The mill was built in the late 1800s and was in use until being replaced by the Balashi Mill on the other side of the island. Balashi operated until WWI, when the imported mining materials became impossible to secure. After the war, the neglected mill was in such a state of disrepair than no further production was pursued.

Collapsed Natural Bridge: Aruba

Close to the ruins is the former location of Natural Bridge. As its name suggests, it was a strip of land that spanned across a rugged cove. Although nature eventually had its way and the bridge collapsed, tourism still prevails.

A wooden ladder has since been constructed which allows people to access a small, protected pool during low tide. My friends and I happened to be there during high tide and it was one of those moments where I could imagine the following day’s headline: Security measures to be proposed in wake of tourists being dragged out to sea.

Driftwood folk art from Aruba

Leaving the ruins, along the single paved road, was my favorite gift shop on the island. It was actually a wooden shed on private property, but it had a massive collection of driftwood painted to look like colorful fish. It was folk art at its purest and I didn’t see anything like it near the cruise ship docks.

Cacti sunset near the Alto Vista Chapel: Aruba

Cacti sunset near the Alto Vista Chapel: Aruba

The Alto Vista Chapel can also be found on the desolate NE coast. It was built upon the location of the island’s first Roman Catholic Church. While the building itself attracts tourists and Tuesday evening service-goers, the most compelling reasons to visit are the sunsets and the footpaths through the cacti-filled landscape.

Alto-Vista-Chapel-Sunset-Walk

Exterior view of the National Archaeological Museum Aruba - Oranjestad

Downtown Oranjestad, with its colonial architecture, is actually quite small. Aside from a spattering of museums, retail shops dominate the landscape. The National Archaeological Museum, which is free to the public, is located inside the former Ecury Complex.

Anthropomorphic ceramic jar from the National Archaeological Museum Aruba - Oranjestad

Pottery shard from the National Archaeological Museum Aruba - Oranjestad

The buildings, some of which date as far back as the 19th century, remained in the Ecury family until 1997. Today, the complex is a modern museum with a focus on Aruban Amerindian culture and the country’s colonial heritage.

Street art in Oranjestad, Aruba

Colonial building in Oranjestad, Aruba

Papiamento and Dutch are the two official languages, but Aruba is much more linguistically savvy than that. Because the island receives a significant amount of tourism from the US, English is very widely spoken.

Most of the ATMs dispense US dollars and stores usually expected me to pay in USD. I, of course, took all my money out in Florins and every time I went to the store I felt like the kind of tourist that wears a beret in Paris.

Chinese restaurant in Oranjestad, Aruba

Spanish is also understood because of the close proximity of Venezuela and it’s hard not to notice that most of the independent groceries stores reflect Chinese ownership.

Polaroid of a pink bungalow house in Aruba

Outside of Oranjestad’s historical area, the majority of homes are one-story bungalows. They come in an array of colors and would not have been out of place during the 1950s.

After a few days of driving around the island, I thought about the couple at the airport that passed through immigration before us. This was their 28th visit to Aruba and they were excited to be back.

No matter how much I’ve enjoyed a destination, I’ve never felt that strongly about one place. I liked Aruba and I loved the desert sunsets, but the One Happy Island was a little too small and commercial for me. I’d dipped my toes into Aruba and it just left me curious about all the other Caribbean islands. Good thing we’d already planned on jumping over to Curacao.

Polaroid of the road leading to the Alto Vista Chapel in Aruba

About: Alto Vista Chapel

About: Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins

About: Arikok National Park

About: National Archaeological Museum Aruba

Polaroid of a tangled cactus in Arikok National Park: Aruba

Colonial Williamsburg: Week 251

A carriage ride in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Between 1699-1780, Williamsburg was not only the seat of power in Virginia but also the most influential city in all of the colonies. For strategic reasons, the capitol was moved north to Richmond towards the end of the Revolutionary War and the cultural and political importance of Williamsburg waned. It wasn’t until the 1920s that preservation work began on what was once the most important city in the US.

A man in period costume strolling the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg was so much more immersive and larger than I had imagined. It is 301 acres of restored and historically furnished buildings. On top of that, employees in period costume lead tours, tidy gardens, run auctions, and stroll down the streets.

A large two story brick house in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Within the historic district there are also period-specific shops, restaurants, gardens, and even private residences. There is no cost to stroll through the area, but an expensive day pass is needed for any tours.

A traditional garden in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

The Brick House Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

A garden shed in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

The reconstructed capitol in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Because it was about three-hour drive to get to Colonial Williamsburg, we arrived in the early afternoon and decided not to buy the day pass. Instead we picked up some hot coffee and enjoyed a long, ambling walk.

A door trimmed with Christmas decorations in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

It was New Year’s Eve and the traditional Christmas decorations were still up. I loved the doors outlined with real boughs of pine and the wreaths decorated with leaves, apples, oranges, pineapples, and cotton.

A window decorated for Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

A window decorated for Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

The only thing missing in this wonderfully preserved town was snow.

A fruit-themed Christmas decoration that is located over a door: Colonial Williamsburg, VirginiaAbout: Colonial Williamsburg

Christmas at Home: Week 250

Bear-Ornament-2

I was really looking forward to having Christmas in Manassas at my parent’s house. It had been five years since I’d been home for Christmas and the first one in which all of us ‘kids’ had moved out of the house.

The house hadn’t changed too much, but it felt different not having my brother shuffle out of the room at 2pm wrapped in a blue robe.

Pickle-Ornament

It was also a lot more tranquil in the morning. My sister is infamously grumpy when she wakes up for work or school.

My hair. I HATE my hair. Uggh. UGGGHHH! Why can’t I find my comb? Everything disappears in this stupid house!

It’s a bit masochistic, but I could’ve handled a few more of her guttural morning salutations.

Pom-Ornament-2

The only thing that hadn’t really changed was my sister’s dogged love for wacky decorations. It didn’t help that she had picked up temp work at a year-round Christmas store. She took home all the broken ornaments and repaired them with hot glue and glitter.

Glove-Ornament

I had helped my mom to decorate the tree, but it didn’t quite feel complete until my sister anchored a giant paper vulture to the top of the tree. Then it really felt like I was home.

Fortune-Cookie-Ornament-2

Día de las Velitas: Week 248

Dia de las Velitas celebration in Buga, Colombia

Día de las Velitas, Day of the Candles, is an important holiday in Colombia that celebrates the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. While some cities like Medellin and Villa de Leyva hold massive public displays, it is the kind of holiday that is best enjoyed in the barrios far away from the commercial centers.

While in Buga, Barret and I were invited to a family event in Divino Niño, a working-class neighborhood with pink and yellow candy-striped curbs. It was the eve of Día de las Velitas, which officially is December 7th, but the night before is often when the largest neighborhood celebrations take place.

The small candle shop across the road was doing business long into the night. The store to the right was closed, but the shopkeeper sat outside with his family and the stereo equipment he had bought for his wife.

He’d had been so proud of the present he’d given that it was played at full volume for two straight days. It drove the neighbors crazy but they reluctantly endured it. After an hour of sitting across the road, my ears were ringing.

From our curbside couch, Barret and I watched families stroll up and down the streets and motorcyclists dodge fireworks as they wound through the neighborhood. All the sidewalks for miles around were lined with faroles, paper lanterns.

Culebra firework being set off on Dia de las Velitas: Buga, Colombia

The BBQ in front of us was roasting up the last of the chicken when a culebra was rolled out in the middle of the road. The firework is named after a snake because it’s a long string of explosives that happens to begin very loudly and finish even louder. The anticipation of the finale chased most sensible people inside.

At the end of the night Barret and I caught a taxi back to Buga Hostel. The closer we got to the center of town and the basilica, the fewer decorations there were. By the time we stepped out of the taxi, the neighborhood was silent. If there hadn’t been a few burnt out faroles on the sidewalk, the few other travelers in the hostel would have thought that I’d just made up the whole holiday.

About: Día de las Velitas

Faroles lining the streets for Dia de las Velitas: Buga, Colombia

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