Willemstad, Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, 2010
Saturday 11th December 2010
Our day started early as we joined others at the bow of the ship to witness our entry into Willemstad. In the distance was a high, modern, road bridge – but first we had to pass by Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge. This is a swing bridge completed in 1888 which is now limited to foot traffic only.
Behind these bridges is a large harbour which is also the oil refinery for oil ships from Venezuela. It was here that we turned round, passed again under the 1974 Queen Juliana Road Bridge and moored adjacent to the town. We could see at once that this was very different from the other islands. The buildings showed not only the Dutch influence arising from at least 300 years of Dutch rule, but also due to the pastel coloured buildings. All told, it is a very pretty small town.
We took the ship excursion of a ride around Willemstad on a trolley train. As this travelled at walking speed, we were able to look at everything and yet have the comfort of not having to do it on foot.
We were told that the attractive buildings are made of local stone which has been plastered and then painted. Due to the salts in the stone, both the paint and the plaster deteriorate very rapidly. Apparently buildings have to be repainted every seven months and re-plastered every two years. In consequence, these older town-centre buildings are constantly undergoing restoration and are now being used as offices because residents find the expense of upkeep too great.
This small country of 140,000 people is an autonomous nation within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Its main sources of income, in order, are: oil refining, ship repairs, finance and tourism. The language used by the locals reflects their history and is a mix of six languages including Dutch, German, Spanish, English as well as an African tongue. It is one of the most prosperous of the countries we have visited.
We went back to Discovery for lunch and then had a brief stay onboard for the heat of the day to die down a little. Apparently the temperature is generally between 80 and 90 Fahrenheit throughout the year but today was a little hotter than that. Children begin their school day at 7.00 a.m. and return home at 2.00 p.m. with plenty of work to do before the next day’s lessons.
In the afternoon we visited the floating market where the traders live in their vessels and sell from stalls on the water’s edge. They come from Venezuela on a rolling basis as their visas allow. We also watched the pontoon bridge open for a small craft to pass by – in this instance it opens just far enough to allow passage and not completely as it does for ships of our size.
We returned to the ship for 4.30 p.m. largely, but not completely, missing the most enormous shower which caused us to get pretty wet in a very short space of time.
When we left port at about 9.30 p.m., our departure coincided with a spectacular show of fireworks which the Captain said had been laid on in our honour – he probably was not being serious however! We managed to get some good photographs of them.