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January 21-22, 2016

After a long day of travel, we finally arrived at Curaçao’s International Airport around 10pm. Slowly and in a sweltering heat, we finally got our rental car from Sixt. We piled our dive gear into the back of the tiny car, jacked with the driver side door lock, turned the volume on the radio blasting jibberish down to zero since the Kenwood stereo wouldn’t turn off and headed out in the dark to Westpunt. According to the map, we only had to make one turn. According to the rental car agent, we had to go to the round-about and go straight.

Fortunately, I looked at the map and read the signs. We went to the round-about and turned right. We drove for some time. We were supposed to reach Marazul Dive Resort in approximately 40 minutes. We got into town with hardly a light. I spotted a restaurant I’d seen online. I knew we were near, but not exactly sure where. We turned around and asked a local bicyclist riding down the street with his beer in hand.

He gave us every detail…up the hill…past the church…past Blue View…100 meters to a boat. About 20 thank you’s later, we carried on eventually arriving at the gated community. We punched the code to let ourselves in and peered at the top of each door to find #11. The door was to be unlocked with the keys inside…not exactly. No keys were to be found, only half the lights worked and the a/c was off as one of the breakers was tripped.

We got all this worked out shortly after midnight. Then we checked out our place complete with three bedrooms, three baths, a kitchenette, and living area with a view of the ocean. It was fantastic, and we looked forward to a daytime view. In the meantime, we prepared our dive gear and turned in around 1am. We were ready for our two tank boat dive at 8:30 in the morning!

We awoke early enough to figure out where we were going. The #1 dive shop of this side of the island, called GO West was just five minutes away. We checked in and loaded our gear on a nice dive boat.

We met the dive masters, captain, and 12 fellow divers as we set up our own gear. Not that we needed any help, but we didn’t get any help from the crew onboard, nor was our gear even checked as we headed to our first dive Sponge Forest.

At this point, I had already broken my toe on the chair this morning and dropped my camera case down a flight of cement stairs. As I was gearing up, I noticed my regulator was popping when I breathed. Odd…it had never done that before. I showed it to the divemaster who thought it was fine. I fiddled with a little more to get it to breathe better and soon took a giant stride off the back of the boat. I left my camera behind as it kept loosening from the strobe and began my descent with Ruth.

In the dive briefing, one group was going first, then the next. When I looked down, there was just a mob of divers below. I couldn’t even spot the divemaster I was supposed to follow in the murky water, though it didn’t help that my mask was entirely fogged despite the defog spray. I couldn’t even see my dive computer a foot in front of my face. Clearing my mask every minute for an hour wasn’t on my list of things to do for my first dive. Then my regulator popped again. This was enough for me to just ditch. Too many things this morning suggested I should settle for breathing above water!

I signaled to Ruth that I was going back to the boat. I would have told my divemaster too, but I couldn’t even find her, so I told the other divemaster. Ruth also found him and signaled that she wanted to buddy up with him, since she couldn’t see our divemaster either.

On the boat, I chatted with the captain, learned how he knew where the divers were from far away, spotted a turtle and a few whale spouts in the distance. I had a fear of missing out, but no one came back up raving about anything. In fact, Ruth surfaced angry because the divemaster left her as he went to chase a ray. She ended up finding the divemaster of the group she was supposed to go with and buddied with her!

I have to say that for the number one dive company in Westpunt, the service was a bit lacking in the expertise area. Perhaps they are just used to extremely experienced divers on their boats since shore diving is such a draw. I found that a few other people on the boat knew more than our divemasters who were at least nice. One gentleman, Rick, came over, looked at my regulator, and fixed it! I found out later he owned a dive shop in Newfoundland! He, his wife, and another couple were visiting Curaçao for a month. That’s one way to get out of the cold, though the water temperature below 80 degrees felt cold to us!

We enjoyed a nice snack of pan sushi, orange slices, and tang during our service interval before we geared up for our second dive. This time I felt more together. My regulator worked. I spit in my mask which works best for defogging anyway. I’m not sure why I didn’t the first time except there wasn’t a rinse bucket specifically for masks, just cameras. I opted to leave my camera behind again so I could just get used to being under water.

We enjoyed a nice out and back dive at Jeremi. We spotted several eels and an interesting fluffy nudibranch that a fish took a taste of and spit out. Puffers followed us for a while. Those were the highlights. All dives were 60 minutes if our air lasted that long. We usually had 1,000 PSI at the surface as the dives were generally shallow, 60 feet or less, so I guess it didn’t matter that our divemaster didn’t once ask how much air we had in our tanks.

We had purchased a three day boat package which also included unlimited shore diving on the same days as our boat dives. We felt like two dives a day was enough, so we left our wetsuits and BC’s at the shop, and took our snorkel gear with us just in case we wanted to visit one of the nearby beaches.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at one of the five restaurants in the the area called Sol Food. Its small patio seats about ten tables three days a week. Reservations are recommended. Fortunately, we got one of the last tables. The capitain on the dive boat told us to order the lionfish that wasn’t on the menu as the owners had recently been out spearing them. Neither one of us had had it, and given the lionfish are destroying the reef system in the Caribbean, it was a no brainier to try it. It may have been some of the best fish I’ve ever tried! They need to go spear some more, as the lionfish were prevalent and large.

So the main grocery store on the island is by the airport. We got in too late last night to want to try to find it in the dark. In speaking with the captain, he said if we were just staying for a few days, we could get everything we needed at the small store in Barber only 10 miles away. Given our limited time, we pursued this option.

The store appeared to be the local hangout. Two men sat on stools at the door. The windowless coral building housed staples like bread, peanut butter, jam, cereal, pasta and a small selection of fresh fruit and meat. We only needed breakfast and lunch fixings. A few plastic bags later, we were headed out to explore around this area.

First, we tried to visit the park across the street by the church that was home to an 800 year old Kapok tree. We turned down a side road that didn’t appear to lead us to the park, but Ruth wanted to go down a dirt road marked with a sign pointing to Die KlosterKüche parking. I told her this was not the name of the park, but we can venture that way and see what’s down there. Had we known German, we would have known it was the Cloister Kitchen!

At the dead end, we met Ushi, who exclaimed, “You found us!”

“No, we made a wrong turn,” we responded.

“You didn’t come to eat pancakes?”

“No, we didn’t.”

“Well, don’t you want to? Pointing to the building, she said, “This is a former convent built in 1763. You can have dinner here.”

Ruth excitedly asked, “Do we get a tour with dinner?”

“Well no. It’s our home now, but I can tell you some history. Let me give you a brochure. How about dinner on Sunday?”

We had already planned to visit the local fish market on Sunday, so we arranged dinner at 6 on Saturday and turned back down the dirt road.

On the main road, we drove to the opposite side of the church to find the park was closed, so we turned around and headed toward Ascension. Just before reaching Ascension is Kas di Pal’I Maishi, the house of corn. It is named for the corn stalked roof and is typical of a rural house. It belongs to the ancestors of one of the first freed slaves to be given his own land. It is now a museum, though it wasn’t open today (or the other two times we drove by it in following days).

Just after Ascension, we found a national park called Boca Ascension. We turned onto the dirt road and followed the most traveled section to the Turtuga Trail. Here, we parked the car in the shade and carefully locked it up. The information our VRBO owner provided suggested we lock up and make a showing of taking all our belongings from the car. I could see why with car window glass spread in the dirt parking lot.

We followed the path along the inlet until we found a trailhead sign that pointed us through the rocks. A wood stair case took us to the cliff above. We walked through the tall cacti as we looked down below in search of turtles since we were on the Turtuga Trail while birds dove for fish. Eventually, the path led us to a desolate overlook of the choppy ocean. We picked our way across the rough lava surface to the crashing waves on the coastline. Fortunately, the cooling, strong wind kept the bugs away for our leisurely stroll.

With the early evening upon us, we returned to Westpunt and tried the restaurant at the fancy resort. We thought we could enjoy the sunset as we ate on the terrace, but only one restaurant was open, so we sat beneath a thatched roof for seafood night. The barracuda was tasty and the sunset nice, but it wasn’t our favorite spot. We headed back to our place and called it a night. Closures, challenges and all, we have enjoyed the adventure thus far! ETB

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