It has taken a while for us to adjust to this new area of the Caribbean. We've found the change in scenery and lifestyle from the Eastern Caribbean to be quite marked and have had to keep reminding ourselves that we were still in the Caribbean, and not some other part of the world. A few weeks on from our departure from Grenada and we have had some time to settle in and embrace these changes.
We found our time in the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) to be a mixture of different cultures, a different style of tourism and a link back to the more European lifestyle that we used to live.
Bonaire - the stark landscape on this first island we visited was quite a surprise, but there was something rather beautiful and peaceful about the acres of cacti and unusual rock formations, particularly in the lovely Slagbaai National Park. Bonaire has a large sea salt industry and seeing the salt ponds changing their colours from rose and turquoise into black and white during the day and into dusk, was a unique experience. The huge salt 'mountains' resemble snowy peaks and seem incongruous in the hot climate. There is also a large population of donkeys on the islands (a legacy of agricultural industries that introduced them over 200 years ago) and we often played 'dodge the donkey' as we drove or cycled around the island. The main draw for Bonaire is the wonderfully clear water and abundant sea life and we were amazed how much we could see just from the deck of our boat, let alone when we got into the water to snorkel. One of my main reasons for visiting Bonaire was to see flamingoes in the wild and was not disappointed, possibly a little obsessed even. The local Papamiento and Dutch cultures seem to co-exist well and we even managed to liven up the local Dutch quiz night by having to ask for English translations to Dutch questions about English ! A fun night out and some lovely new friends made.
Curacao – an island that conjured up exotic expectations, but unfortunately our visit left us with mixed feelings. The capital Willemstad has some great architecture in a picture perfect location and was well dressed for Christmas. We did the typical tourist things – visiting the the old Dutch plantation houses (known as landhuis), snorkeling over the Tug Boat wreck, wandering around the African museum and of course photographing more flamingoes – but I never felt I could grasp the culture of Curacao. The local people and housing were too mixed to give a real identity, the scenery somehow not as interesting as Bonaire and Western influences seem to be taking over the island. Curacao was the meeting point for the Suzie Too Rally and we enjoyed getting to know our new cruising companions, but I think everyone was looking forward to setting sail away from the island.
Aruba – the name has always evoked images of cocktail bars and beautiful beaches and in some respects the island lived up to this image for us. Unfortunately the image that now comes to mind also includes a huge shopping zone. Fabulous if that's your thing, but it's not really ours. Aruba seems incredibly popular for holidays that revolve around huge resorts, shopping and eating, but I would be amazed if the hundreds and hundreds of shops, restaurants and tourism related business we saw can all be making a decent living. Obviously we took the chance to be a little hypocritical and partake of some Christmas shopping and enjoy a few meals out ! We took a trip out to Arikok National Park with some Suzie Too Rally chums and enjoyed the change of scenery and the opportunity to see how the local people live away from the resort areas. Adding to our list of 'random experiences' we also attended a performance of the Nutcracker Suite by the local ballet school. It was a fun way to get into a 'Chrismassy' mood and spend an evening dressed in something other than sailing shorts. We finally managed to get our decks treated (see our Semco page), but felt that we were really just killing time waiting for the weather window for our sail over to Colombia.
We would happily visit Bonaire again should we ever sail that way in the future, but sadly our memories of Aruba and Curacao mean we are unlikely to return to these islands. I don't think they will miss us.