Entry 11, March 16th, 2011, 10:57pm
Started off the day with super exciting business ethics training. To sum it up: be ethical.
Spent most of today in Willemstaad, Curacao. It is my favorite spot so far of all of our visits. Willemstaad is mostly Dutch in history, with extensive European architecture and canals that run through the old city. To get to the city you hae to pass through an old fortress that would be pretty cool if it hadn't been turned into an upscale shopping mall (a literal bastion of consumerism, as it were). Continue down the waterfront, though, past all the typical shops selling little touristy knick-knacks and some interesting paintings and you'll arrive at a pontoon bridge.
This pontoon bridge is a fascinating contraption. It is a wooden pedestrian-only bridge, supported on twenty or so floating pontoons. I didn't get to actually see it in action, but apparently when a freighter or cruise ship (there is another cruise ship berth right downtown, but it was occupied when we arrived) needs to come down the channel the entire bridge swings away to one side. Once the ship has passed through it swings back into position; I can only assume that it uses cables and winches, but I wasn't able to observe the mechanism itself.
On the other side of the bridge is the city -- brightly colored plaster buildings several stories high, arranged in a maze of narrow one way streets and alleys. The color scheme is reminiscent of that street in Charleston (South Carolina) with the brightly colored houses, except the entire city is that way.
It is my favorite location so far becuase it strikes a happy medium between the totally artificial feel of a place like the resorts in Roatan and the dirty, slum-like, potentially dangerous Colón. Most things were pretty clean and well-maintained, but it was primarily a working city instead of a tourist trap. Real people live upstairs in the buildings, drying their laundry out on clotheslines on their balconies. We got a couple glimpses into living spaces, and they were very airy with white plaster interiors and sparse furnishings. Most of them had large shuttered windows and doors all the way around, none of them with glass or screens.
My first order of business was to find the post office. I had some basic idea of where it was . . . after crossing the pontoon bridge I turned left until I reached a canal, and then turned right. This is where the floating market is located, one of my favorite parts of Willemstaad. Walking down the street, the buildings are on your right and the canal is on your left. Between the street and canal is a wide sidewalk where a long line of booths has been set up. Here vendors sell fruit, vegetables, candy, bread, and most other types of fresh food that you can think of. The reason that it is called the floating market is that behind the stands each merchant has a twenty foot boat pulled up. They were covered . . . I don't know if the vendors live in them or just use them for work, but a small flotilla of eight foot rowboats swarmed between them like ants, dangerously overloaded with melons and the like. Most of the customers are locals. I bought the most delicious orange I have ever eaten.
After a bit of wandering around (I actually found the old post office building, closed) and a bit of asking for directions, we found the new post office. It cost me about five bucks to send two letters to the United States, and holy crap do I need to learn more Spanish. Willemstaad is particularly difficult to get around in because the native language is some mixture of Spanish, French, Dutch and something else I forget. Most things are spelled like Spanish (with the replacement of all "y"s with other vowels) while most things seem to be pronounced like Dutch. There is also a sizeable contingent of actual Dutch speakers, so things can get complicated for someone who speaks none of those languages.
The next stop was a friend of mine's favorite café. I'm not entire sure that I can find it again, but it is is hidden in the center of one of the city blocks with no actual street access. Once you pick your way down one of the several alleys that lead to the café, there's a large open courtyard with several trees growing in the center (some of which have carvings of mermaids or other half-naked women in them). Shade is plentiful, between the umbrellas on the tables and the trees themselves, and at this time of year small purple flowers occasionally float down from the upper branches. I had an excellent Belgian beer called "Palm." This is one of the best things about Willemstaad, by the way -- fantastic Belgian beer is everywhere.
After that brief stop, we wandered through the city for a time. It turns out that Willemstaad is home to the oldest continuously functioning synagogue in the world -- it is more than three hundred years old, but we were not dressed properly and couldn't enter. We also passed a very fancy wine shop and restaurant that looked wonderful, but probably well out of our price range. It was a small shop with much of its first floot open to the street and side alleys, while the inside was filled with old leather furniture, end tables, and chandeliers. They had at least as much, if not more, exterior seating than interior . . . if I'm ever in Curacao for a special occasion I am going to stop there.
They gave us directions to our ultimate goal, a bar called "Miles" that another friend of mine had heard of. A bit futher down the street we found it, and it was unmistakable. A small plaster building, painted bright yellow with "Miles" written in flowy cursive above the doorway . . . the real sign that we were in the right place was the fact that I could Hank Mobley playing inside (I should mention that "inside" is relative with all buildings in Willemstaad, as there are no doors except for large shutters that they close late at night and most places' floors merge directly with the sidewalk). The inside of the bar is tastefully decorated with prints of Miles Davis and old album covers which mix well with the warm tones of the interior walls and dark wooden furniture. The crowd is mostly Dutch . . . I spoke to the owner/bartender/upstairs inhabitant and once I told him I was a jazz musician he brightened right up. He's got a great jazz collection (mostly Columbia and Blue Note stuff from the 50's and 60's) on vinyl under the bar, and a pair of turntables where he prominently features the current selection. I took a picture of them -- on the left was Hank Mobley's "Roll Call," while next up was "Moanin'" by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. I also got free drink tickets for the whole band next time we're in Curacao.
It was like a little slice of home for me. Although the beer was different (a strange Belgian beer you drink with lime), the cigarette smoke was different, and the languages were different, it immediately took me back to any one of the many, many hangs we had in college. It was that same vibe . . . to find it on a small Caribbean island was amazing. I'm actually listening to Mobley again right now after today's day ashore.
Later . . .
We're spending the night offshore either Aruba or Curacao (I'm not sure which), presumably waiting for a berth to dock. The ship isn't under power, and so we're wallowing a little bit in the chop. The movement of a ship under power and ship wallowing are quite different from one another. When under power, the ship has two definite axes of movement -- tipping from bow to stern as she breaks through the waves, and from port to starboard. When not under power, though, the movement is more like a top or a fishing buoy -- the ship tends to roll in a circle. We're probably actually a lot better off than some of the passengers, as my cabin floor is roughly at the waterline.