Curious About Curacao

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Central America Caribbean » Curaçao
February 19th 2016
Published: February 22nd 2016
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We arrived in Willemstad in the morning. As we rode up to the Lido in the central side elevator we spotted the many colorful turn-of-the-last-century waterfront houses in a quaint remembrance of a time now past. I spotted one smallish building proclaiming to be the “CASINO”. I turned to Sharon and said, we may have a change of itinerary for today. I mean the way my mom and Sharon are glued to their Fishing Bob and Tango Inspired slot machines… I’m just saying.

Sharon decided on waffles today and offered to get my mother’s crepes, with apples on the side and I returned with the oatmeal and milk. As I returned and was going to get my breakfast, she was looking at her crepes that Sharon had already brought and said, that she needed syrup. I reminded her, that if she wants someone to get them syrup, you need to tell them when they’re getting the waffles. I went to get her some syrup on her waffles. Sharon was leaving the waffle place, she said to get my mother some bananas because they didn’t have apples. When she returned from the omelet station (where the fresh fruit was available) the waffle that Sharon had ordered had finished cooking and was just then being given to someone else. I got some fried eggs with sausage and potatoes; and, a side plate of potatoes for Sharon. As we had surmised from the previous evening at dinner, we were no longer in Code-Red! As we ate dinner the previous night they began putting out the pepper grinders and salt shakers onto the dinner tables. And this morning, the buffet was set up for passengers to serve themselves things like juice, water, rolls, muesli and such. We talked to one of the stewards who was getting water and coffee for people at the tables, and he agreed that it was much better for the crew as well, who have been dealing with the Code-Red processes for not just this cruise for 4 days; but, all of the previous 10-day cruise. I can’t imagine dealing with this for two weeks.

Because our last port was Bonaire, there was no need to get approval for disembarkation from the local authorities. Curacao is an autonomous territory of the Netherlands. We assembled with our “Authentically Curacao” tour group, and mother found a bench to wait for the busses. Our guide pointed out the pontoon bridge that had swung upon to allow our ship access to the deep-water channel in which she was now berthed. This bridge, built in the 1880’s, is referred to by locals as the “Swinging Old Lady”. The backdrop to this, is the other bridge, painted blue and gold to match their flag and towering over the entire waterfront bridging the two sides of the channel.

Our first stop was at the Curacao Distillery, a small privately owned family business created by the Senior family at the turn of the 18th century. There are five colors of the Genuine Curacao of Curacao: the original clear, the traditional blue, and green and red and orange. Curacao is made from the laraha orange, a mutation of the Valencia orange brought to curacao where the resulting green avocado-looking fruit was anything but palatable. Curacao had the wrong environment, soil, temperature, humidity… just about the wrong everything for oranges, so they did anything but thrive when the Spanish brought them here. Then one day a man stepped on a sun dried laraha orange, and he detected a sweet smelling orangish aroma. He showed this to his pharmacist uncle who experimented with the sundried fruit, mixing it with alcohol and added some spices, and the result was the Curacao liquor famous today. Unfortunately, he called this elixir “Curacao” and as you cannot trademark a country name, others are free to manufacture Curacao. But they can’t call it the Genuine Curacao of Curacao! The production of this drink is so small, none is exported. We saw in the factory the single original copper still used for the triple distillation of the liquor.

We are making three stops this morning on a relatively short two-and-one-half hour tour at three “authentically Curacao” venues. The first was the liquor factory named after the island. The second is at an aloe plantation; and, although aloe is grown on other islands, such as Aruba, our guide expressed the bias that the aloe here was superior. We received an overview of aloe from the manager of the plantation as we assembled in a seated outdoor area covered by plant fronds sloping down from a pinnacle with open viewing areas out all sides where we were surrounded by fields of aloe. The speaker strode out into the field with a sharp slender knife and came back with an aloe leaf, prickly on the two edges and leaking a green bitter liquid from the open end. He warned that this liquid will stain anything it comes in contact with, which is why he’s carefully holding it away from himself and closer to the woman seated in the front. This liquid is of little use. What we do here is essentially filet the leaf; and, he expertly cut away two narrow strips removing the prickly edges, and then two precise cuts of the knife to remove the large flat surface areas of the leaf, leaving the soft inner meat of the aloe plant. This is what we want. It contains all of the nutrients and all of the healing powers of this plant. He then began cutting the fileted piece into smaller dice sized portions and ordered the gentleman in the front to step forward and try the aloe. He stuck one of the dice sized chunks with the tip of the knife and then allowed it to fall into the fellow’s open hand. “Just pop it into your mouth. It will taste like a slimy piece of cucumber. If this doesn’t kill you, I will expect others to come forward and try some if they want.” I jumped forward, with many others… and, it was indeed slimy. It definitely felt like a slimy cucumber, which is not all that appetizing. As for the taste, to me, it was nearly tasteless. About then a scrawny cat strolled by, emerging from the aloe field, with a lizard dangling from its mouth. “Sorry, you weren’t supposed to see that. He (referring to the cat) is our local lizard catcher.” We spent some time in the store offering a variety of products, and Sharon bought some environmentally friendly insect repellant and some lip balm. A number of creams were also available to sample.

The third stop was at the chi-chi art compound which is run out of the woman’s home that started this uniquely Curacao art movement. Some time ago she started creating these plaster of Paris figures of how should I phase this voluptuous woman with ample boobs and booties. Seeking to create steady work for local woman, empowering them with a means of making good money, she trained and taught the woman how to paint these figures with bright colorful clothing. The basic figure shows the woman seated, her legs crossed at the ankles and her arms spread (but going only as far as the forearm. The head is a spherical shape cocked to one side on the neck extending above the shoulder line. From the front there is an ample bosom, and from the rear the woman is seated on a pleasingly plump bottom. The skin areas of the figures we saw were jet black, and they wore colorfully painted clothing. She has only two rules regarding how the chi-chis get painted: There can be no string bikinis and there can be no topless women. I guess that means that the placards that we saw for sale in Bonaire which showed three similar women from the rear seated on the beach, with their ample butts clad in a string bikini and one of them shown removing her top for sunbathing were not chi-chis… These however were placards for the wall so there was no 360-degree viewing of them. The chi-chis come in various sizes; and, then there was the super life size ones outside where you could have your picture taken standing next to one.

On the way back to the ship the guide talked about the pillars of the economy of Curacao, considered fortunate for not relying on any one industry; but, in fact having five different pillars supporting the livelihood of Curacao: Tourism, the Oil-Refinery, the Dry-Dock, the Container business, and banking.

Our tour was a short one today and we made it back for lunch in the Lido with plenty of time before we needed to be in the Crow’s Nest for Team Trivia. We chose the Dive-In where I fixed mother two tacos from the taco bar. She really liked the beef; but, didn’t much care for the hard Taco Bell-like taco shells. Well, that’s what you get from a taco bar. They’re not going to be freshly fried up like they are in the Mexican restaurants back home in California. Ohio’s another story… all that I could ever find there were the Taco Bell-like taco shells in restaurants, and they were dreadful. The verdict’s still out for Las Vegas. I had a cannonball; while Sharon, she just got some mashed potatoes and bread and watched us consume meat for this Lenten Friday.

Mother decided to retire to her cabin for a spell, while Sharon and I made our way up to the Crow’s Nest for Team Trivia. We were there in plenty of time to do our Sudoku challenge. I easily completed the Easy puzzle first. On the second puzzle, I made an obvious mistake first, and it was likely it was just the last two numbers that I’d written, but I wasn’t sure. I resorted to the spare sheet that we got and transcribed from my first to my new answer sheet; but, it was enough of a handicap for Sharon to easily come in first, beaming “I beat you!” Sigh… It’s going to be one of “those” days.

Our team seems to be morphing each time that we play. The original players have disappeared altogether by now; and, while we still enjoy playing, it’s just not the same. Today’s team trivia featured many of the questions that we’d heard before. Simon seemed to doing a number of “things that come last” questions; such as: “Alphabetically, in chemistry the name of which element comes last?” I think our team was the only one in the room that came up with this one. The sheet we graded went with “Zenon” and I thought, OMG, a new spelling for Xenon. Surprisingly few people went with Zinc, the favorite on our cruise last fall, and everyone groaned when I shouted out Zirconium. “What’s the last letter in the Greek alphabet?” I couldn’t believe that some on our team were discussing whether it was zeta, theta or xi. Sharon had to convince them, “No, it’s really omega… as in the alpha and omega, the first and the last.” I’m not sure that they ever asked “What was the last theatre play that Abraham Lincoln was to attend in his life?” before or not; but, our team managed to come up with “Our American Cousin.” It was clear that today’s challenge was going to come down to the 5-point 8-part bonus question. “Name the 8 Ivy League colleges.” Ugh! Harvard, Yale and Princeton just roll off the tongue. I know, the others should too. Sharon’s dad went to Brown so we had half of them out of the gate. Our teammates added Cornell and Columbia so we only needed two. We weren’t thrilled about writing down Cambridge or Amherst; and, with good reason. The winning team with a total of 19 out of 20 were able to come up with Dartmouth and Pennsylvania. We just got 15! Even that team that made up an element “Zenon” got 16 points; because, they knew their Ivy League Schools.

Sharon was off to Mass with prodigal priest who was now onboard. My mom and I went back to our cabin to get ready for dinner in the Canaletto. Sharon thought that Friday would be a good day for us to do this meal, since there is not a lot that she can eat there anyway. She said that she would join us as soon as mass was over as we had a 5:30 PM reservation for when they opened. We arrived early; but, they would not seat anyone until 5:30 PM. We waited outside and perused the menu. There was a lot that interested me. Food is served as the typical “Italian Family Style” meal with shareable portions. They recommend for two people to share two from the appetizer, one from the pasta and one from the entrée, and everyone gets their own dessert. We chose a bottle of chianti for our meal. We selected three appetizers (I figured, appropriate for three people despite me being the one eating most of these). The antipasti plate featured a few slices of prosciutto, cheese and olives. I ordered the pesci zuppe just for me and got a sizeable portion of this Italian version of bouillabaisse. This saffron infused sea-fare was quite tasty, and I even ate the lone clam and mussel. Mother had wanted to try the Canaletto salad and it was quite good as well. We ordered the spaghetti with the Bolognese sauce on the side. My mother chimed in when I was ordering, “No, I want the meat sauce!” Mothers: You can’t take them anywhere! Sharon could have some of the spaghetti, although, she objected later to the olive oil they’d put on it and said anyone knows you put butter on spaghetti. I’ll have to check with Sharon’s much-much-younger sister Erin; but, I suspect this is another one of those “Special Meals” Sharon used to get at home. I chose the gnocchi with braised beef ribs for our second pasta selection, and this really was wonderful. Tender tasty beef and superbly cooked gnocchi. There’s been so much food, I’d almost forgotten that the main course was yet to come. They brought out a serving plate with four slices of pork tenderloin with a bit of a cheesy sauce/gravy atop a mound of yummy garlicy escarole. Mother was only able to eat one of her two slices of meat, and really didn’t touch the escarole (which in my opinion was not to be missed). I sort of helped my mother clear the greens off of her plate. Mother had the Tiramisu, which was a super large sized portion for two. My chocolate hazelnut torte was served as two separate cake mounds and two separate scoops of vanilla bean gelato, so this was also obviously for two!

Tonight’s show was “White Magic” that features magic of a talented British magician and contortions by his fiancée. We’d seen this show at least twice before last fall, on the Nieuw Amsterdam in the Mediterranean and again crossing the Atlantic on this ship. I guess they’ve been regulars on the Zuiderdam since then. My mother enjoyed this show, and this time, unlike in the very choppy waters approaching the Azores, the contortionist who chest down on the ground and face forward arches her legs back over her head and shoots an arrow with her one foot holding the bow and the other pulling the string back and releasing the arrow managed this in just a few seconds, hitting the bull’s eye. It was a ten-minute ordeal near the Azores as she struggled to maintain balance on the rolling seas.

Sharon left early to save us a booth at the Marriage Game in the Queen’s Lounge. Simon was looking to find contestants for the Marriage Game, and asked if there was any couple present who was recently married, say, in the last twenty-five years. There was a newly wed couple of just 11 days; although, this was the second marriage for both of them. There was the, as Simon put it, “nearly dead” couple who’d been married 65 years who agreed to play. And then there was the middle of the road couple who’d been married 42 years. Simon did an excellent job of emceeing the show, and it was quite entertaining.


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