We were booked on a simple “highlights” tour of Willemstad. We didn’t want to go to the beach, didn’t fancy snorkelling and simply wanted to see what’s what here, so joined a dozen or so of our fellow passengers on a small minibus and headed off with Melisa, our guide, to learn a little about this place.
She was terrific! Full of energy and enthusiasm and with a clear love of her island, she gathered us all up for the afternoon. First stop, the Curacao factory.
She explained that the oranges grown here were too bitter to make marmalade, even, but someone discovered by accident that, if the peel was left in the sun, then good things happened. Result, Curacao liqueur.
Still made largely by hand, we watched as the bottles were filled, labelled, stoppered and washed before packing. Today, they were making the green variety and Melisa explained that, even though it comes in different colours, all of them taste the same.
Yes, there was tasting too. As well as the orange liqueur, there’s a rum and raisin variety, a chocolate and a coffee one too. She thought a mix of chocolate and coffee was the best, but actually, I preferred the good old original orange.
Our next stop was the “million dollar viewpoint”, conveniently to be seen from the back of a souvenir shop. A fine view indeed, of the quieter southern part of the island, of the newer, more lavish suburbs and the smart harbour with many yachts anchored there. I was tempted to buy a postcard for my journal, but spotting the 4 US$ pricetag (plus tax) I million dollar views don’t come cheap.
It didn’t stop me taking a photograph of a different, cute souvenir though.
A little further down the road, Mr Truman, our driver, made a hasty stop and pointed out a large iguana sitting in the bougainvillea by the roadside. Cue the story of iguana soup, iguana sandwiches and so on – tastes just like chicken, apparently! (Now, there’s a surprise)
What struck me from the moment we arrived, however, was the colours. Every building was painted a different, bright colour with white frames and edges as specified by UNESCO, for this is a World Heritage Site.
Not all were brightly coloured, but even so, the architectural details picked out in this way were simply beautiful and looked marvellous in the afternoon sunshine.
Our next stop was the Maritime Museum, a small but fairly new collection with one or two interesting things to see.
In particular was one model we recognised. There was that long pier arrangement we’d seen earlier, the one with the floating pontoons underneath it. We learned that it was a floating bridge and that it swivels at one end to create a temporary and very easily moveable crossing for the inhabitants of Willemstad to cross from one side of the river, Punda to Otrobanda, literally “the other side”.
A photograph alongside the model showed it in use by what looked like the whole population! Oh my, I wonder, could we take a walk over it, maybe?
Before we left the museum I bought a couple of postcards to send home, buying the stamps at the same time. The stamps came in a little plastic bag and I didn’t realised until later that there were so many! They had been put together to create some interesting postage, especially for sending abroad, so we licked and sticked…sorry, stuck….and hastily sent our love home.
We continued our tour through the residential district where there were several beautifully restored homes. On the way, Melisa pointed out the one huge drawback of the painted surfaces – the salt air causes the paint to peel and discolour and in no time at all, they have to be repainted. Every year!
Renewed respect then, for these little beauties.
Even more respect for those with so much detail picked out in white, which must take forever to decorate. But oh, how beautiful they are, and when seen as a collection, even better.
Throughout the central area of the city every building was a masterpiece of colour and design.
Every time I’d taken a photograph and thought “that’s it”, I’d see another beauty.
But of course, we couldn’t carry on down every single street like this, and having said goodbye to Melisa to make our own way back to the ship, we decided on one last place to see – the “floating market”.
Our map had this marked as a must-see and so we made our way to the riverfront and wandered along, marvelling at the variety of fresh vegetables and fruit. As we did, we noticed something rather fun.
This was a drive-through market! Stallholders were standing by the kerbside and as cars drove slowly past them, they opened the window and called to say what they wanted to buy. They drove around the block and by the time they returned, the stallholder would be standing on the kerbside holding out a plastic bag with whatever had been requested, ready to hand it over in exchange for the money. Such fun – and exactly the kind of thing I love to see and work out what’s going on. So glad we came!
One last thing remained – we were going to cross the floating bridge! Luckily, it was there and people were crossing right now, so we hurried along and hoped that it wouldn’t move before we got there.
Look at this! It was a bit bouncy, but thankfully there weren’t as many people using it as in that old photograph at the museum! What a clever way to allow people to cross whilst at the same time allowing shipping to move up and down the river.
Having crossed over the “the other side”, we took one last look at those brightly painted buildings and continued on back to the ship.
Looking up to see if we could work out which was our balcony, we spotted the friendly face of someone waving to us. Zahid had seen us walking along the road and guessed that we’d look up.
Welcome home, he said!