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

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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

Caves Beach: Week 213

Caves along the beach: Caves Beach, Australia

On the way to Caves Beach, we stopped in Lake Macquarie. It was breakfast time and the sun was already strong. Two kids had set up a bike ramp at the end of a pier and were taking turns riding their BMX bikes into the lake. Across from the waterfront was a cafe and homeware shop called Common Circus. The coffee was good and the shop was stuffed with carefully selected Etsy-ish items like ‘crumpled’ ceramic cups, potted succulents, and geodesic egg holders. It wasn’t easy to leave with our wallets intact.

Common Circus business card: Lake Macquarie, Australia

After breakfast at a different café, we drove down to Caves Beach. Although it was early autumn, the sun was beating down and we couldn’t resist jumping into the ocean even in our clothes. Once we had cooled off, Barret and I walked behind a group of squealing kids that were headed towards the southern end of the beach. They were giddy about passing through a series of caves and while we inwardly felt a similar excitement, we stopped when we found a quiet-ish patch of shade.

Caves Beach, Australia

After a few snacks Barret and I fell asleep to the sound of the ocean. When we woke, the tide had risen and heavy clouds were rolling in. Our friends and I rushed to pack the gear into the car as a thick blanket of clouds raced to the edge of the cliffs. The rain began to pour down and then it began to hail. Barret parked the car under a metal awning and we could barely hear each other’s exclamations over the sound of the falling hail.

Caves Beach on a rainy day: Caves Beach, Australia

Further down the coast we stopped at The Entrance for dinner. The town is a popular coastal destination and is well known for the flocks of pelicans that congregate on the beach. Being the tail end of a four-day weekend, the town was quite and only the mechanical tunes of a small fairground hung in the air.

Barret, our friends, and I walked up and down the main street in search of a good place to eat. We passed restaurants, gift shops, ice cream shops with kangaroos painted on the walls, and old red brick vacation rentals with slender names signed across the front. My favorite, because I’m from Vegas, was Ceasar’s Palace.

The Entrance Hotel coaster: The Entance, Australia

In the end we chose The Entrance Hotel. The food was delicious and the venue was a cheery beacon of light on such an overcast evening.

How to get to Common Circus: 36 Brooks Parade, Belmont, Lake Macquarie

How to get to Caves Beach: Mawson Close, Caves Beach

How to get to The Entrance Hotel: 87 The Entrance Road, The Entrance

Callala & Kiama Beach: Week 197

Walkway to Callala Beach: Jervis Bay, Australia

One of the first things I notice as we walk down the beach is the hermit crabs. They pop up from the white sand and retreat with the tide, head over heels, back into the ocean. All down Callala Beach, hundreds of crabs somersault back into the ocean.Hermit crab on Callala Beach: Jervis Bay, Australia

Close to shore, in the waters of Jervis Bay, a chartered tourist boat motors around in circles. A young couple from the UK kayaks out in front of them to get a better view. The boat maneuvers around the kayak and the tourists on board continue photographing a pod of dancing dolphins.

The sun is high and my hair is a teased pouf of sea spray and sand. Barret suggests I wrap my towel around my waist to keep from getting sunburnt. It is a good idea, but perhaps too late already. Barret and I walk back to the small sandy parking lot where a mom is loading her kids in the car.

“Mom,” her son gleefully declares. “Remember that time you said the s-word?”

Mom looks exasperated. “Yes. And every time you remind me, you lose an ice cream.”Shore of Kiama Beach, NSW: Australia

Heading back to Sydney, the drive winds north through eucalpyt forests and small towns with busy cafes. Barret and I stop in Kiama for dinner. One of the only restaurants open on a late Sunday afternoon has large, open windows to catch the sea breeze and the sounds of two pink cockatoos. There is a guy upstairs playing an acoustic guitar.

Boy cliff jumping in Kiama, NSW: Australia

After dinner we walk along the coast to the lighthouse. There is a blowhole nearby, but the tide is out and there’s nothing to see but jagged lunar rocks. Before we continue driving Barret decides to jump into the ocean one last time. I sit in the shade of the surf club building; the sunburn on my legs is starting to show.

Fishing wharf in Kiama, NSW: Australia

About: Jervis Bay

About: Kiama

Bondi to Bowling: Week 187

Overlooking Bondi Beach: Sydney, Australia

The Bondi to Coogee walk is one of the most iconic routes in Sydney. At 6km in length it packs an impressive amount of scenery in such an easily accessible trail. When my mom’s friend came to Sydney for the first time, I immediately knew this was the best way to start the day.

The walk traditionally starts in Bondi and ends in Coogee, but it can be done either way or in sections. Before starting the trail we stopped for breakfast at an outdoor café in Bondi. After our meal we sipped tea and watched the sunblock and beach towel-toting crowds pour in. Over the weekend the trail is inundated with thousands of sunbathers, joggers, families and tourists. It’s a little bit quieter during the week, but in summer the crowds are ever-present.

The walk starts on the southern end of beach overlooking the Bondi Baths. This iconic saltwater pool first opened over a hundred years ago. Its dramatic location along the cliff is hard to beat and only costs $6 for entry into the pool.

Beach volleyball courts at Tamarama: Sydney, Australia

From Bondi the trail heads up and around the Hunter Park peninsula and mustard colored sandstone cliffs. Blue waves splash against the coast and the plants that cling to their precarious real estate are verdant and flowering.

The trail winds around the hot beach sand and volleyball courts of Tamarama Beach and continues on to Bronte Beach. Bronte is at the base of a grass-covered hill that families and picnickers flock to. In summer the southern side of the beach has a small kid’s train and Zorb ball rentals. The three of us stopped for a drink at the beachside café and take in the view from under the shade of the trees.

Overlooking the Waverly Cemetary on the Bondi to Coogee walk: Sydney, Australia

After our break we continue through the Waverly Cemetery, which must have one of the most stunning views in the world. The peaceful hillside is dotted with weather-worn marble and bright yellow flowers.

A tombstone at the Waverley Cemetary: Sydney. Australia

Around this point in the trail Barret spotted a splash and the tip of a whale’s tail dipping below the sapphire water. We scanned the ocean for a few more minutes but did not see the whale resurface.

Clovelly Beach: Sydney, Australia

Clovelly Bay, our next destination, is one of my favorites. The beach itself is very small, but the narrow bay has a concrete ledge built along both sides for sunbathing and easier access into the bay. We bought ice cream and watched people jumping in and out of the water. My favorite sunbather was there with his newspaper, tanning his skin into a tough leathery hide.

When the waves are more aggressive, the ocean water rocks above and below the concrete platforms and the whole thing reminds me of a kid sliding in a giant bathtub. Clovelly Bay is also a fun place to snorkel.

Gordons Bay- a quiet stop on the Bondi to Coogee Walk: Sydney, Australia

Of all the sights along the walk, Gordons Bay is one of the quietest destinations. It attracts snorkelers, divers, paddle boarders and fishers. Its tiny patch of beach is mostly covered with overturned fishing boats and out in the bay is a 600 meter underwater trail marked with concrete drums and steel plaques.

Coogee Beach on a summer day: Sydney, Australia

Coogee Beach is the last stop on the walk and is the second largest beach after Bondi. From here the three of us headed for the unconventional yet thoroughly Australian pastime of lawn bowling. Like all bowling clubs in Sydney, you have to be a member to use the facility if you live within a certain distance from the club. If you live further out you just have to sign the membership register.

Barret at the Marrickville Lawn Bowling Club: Sydney, Australia

There was a busy bar, pokies in the back, and a table covered in meat trays for the weekly meat raffle. From the small, dark ‘Bowls Secretary’ office we picked up a bag of lawn bowls and headed outside. The grass was warm from the sunny day and most of the lawn bowling groups were off the side of the field drinking.

The weighted balls flew down the lawn as the tired sun set and after the girls were declared the incomparable winners, we headed over to a local pub for dinner. I don’t think we could have gotten more Australian if we tried. The Bondi to Bowling walk is not exactly well known, but I think I’m on to something here.

Marrickville Lawn Bowling Club

About: The Bondi to Coogee Walk

About: Bondi Baths

About: Scuba diving in Gordans Bay

How to get to the Marrickville Bowling Club: 91 Sydenham Road, Marrickville NSW 2204

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