Due to some technical difficulties, this blog is being posted several days late.
The Grand Tour
After the piping of liberty, cadets who had signed up for the day-long western beaches excursion climbed aboard a colorful tour bus at approximately 0945 (among those that took part were 1/C Heather Segglin (EMHS), 3/C Olivia Field (MENG), and 3/C Zachery Dion(EMHS). As we drove through town and across the countryside towards our three destinations, the guide was kind enough to educate us on the history of the island and describe the notable landmarks we passed.
A Brief History
The island of Curacao is a part of the Dutch Island Constellation and is one of the ABC islands in the Caribbean Sea. The city where the TS Kennedy is moored, Willemstad, is divided into two sections (called Otrabanda and Punda) by the St. Annabaai Channel and is the capital of the island nation. These are joined together via the Juliana Bridge and the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge (built in 1888). Once a slave distribution colony, the ruins of former plantation houses have since been converted into public museums. Curacao has a population of roughly 160,000 people, 50 nationalities, and is predominantly Roman Catholic. There is a single university, the University of Curacao, which has multiple areas of study including languages medicine, engineering, and IT. Curacao’s flag, which is made unique by its deep blue background (symbolizing the sea), yellow banding (symbolizing the sunlight), and two five-point stars (symbolizing the islands of Curacao and Klein).
As we drove through the city streets, people could be seen making preparations for one of three parades that will be held for the next three Sundays (children’s parade, youth’s parade, and adult’s parade). Once in the more rural region, the savanna-esque environment of the mainland came into view with its rolling hills, numerous cacti, and lowland brush. The cacti here are edible and used in stews by islanders, as is their red-orange fruits. Since we are visiting during the rainy season (which lasts between November and February), there is more greenery than there would have been otherwise. Farms of freely-roaming goats (which stood up on their hind legs to feed on the leaves of trees) could be seen; goats are the most common form of livestock here on the island and are considered a delicacy. On the subject of local foods, some of the restaurants in this area serve iguana for the tourists that pass through here (the tour guide considered them to be “ugly”).
After reaching the Northernmost part of the island, the ocean came into view as we then proceeded West towards our first destination on the tour. The highest peak on the island soon appeared, Mt. Cristoffel, which measures 372 meters. The guide said she’d summited this mountain on numerous occasions.
Down Into The Sea
Once in the preserve of Shete National Park, our group followed the guide into Boca Tabla; the landscape was dominated by vast amounts of limestone made up of remains of corals. The remains of brain coral, grooved brain coral, and starlet corals were all embedded in the rock faces of the massive sea cliffs. The waves slammed into the sedimentary rock of the coast line and had evidently eroded the stone over time. Here we entered Cave Grote; a cavern that had been carved out by wave action over the eons. A platform within the cave lets you watch as the waves crash on the inside.
Note: We were advised by the guide not to touch the Manchineel Trees (and the yellow Manzanilla fruits), as these plants are poisonous and leave a rash. Signage was posted here to advise the tourists.
Now back on the bus, we moved on to what the guide referred to as the “Fisherman’s Beach,” where the local anglers feed loggerhead sea turtles that the visitors can then swim and interact with (though due to their protected status they were not to be touched). Those that chose to swim were met with an unforgettable experience of swimming among the turtles in the shallow waters of the inlet. Goatfishes, grunts, surgeonfishes, Christmas tree worms, corals, reef crabs, triggerfishes, sergeant majors, and purple-tipped anemones could all be observed here as well.
At the final stop of Playa Kenepa Grandi, a barbecue lunch of chicken and ribs (with optional barbecue and peanut sauce) was prepared then promptly devoured by the cadets. Some of the bold few swam and climbed a chain up one of the sea cliffs that bordered the sides of the horseshoe-shaped beach. Once at the top (30 feet high or so), the cadets could dive into the water. Reef squids swimming in formation were among one of the remarkable sightings at the reef here.
Thank you very much to both the driver and the guide for affording the cadets this unforgettable excursion!