WILLEMSTAD CURACAO

Finally, after seven long days at sea since leaving Madeira, we made landfall at Willemstad, on the island of Curacao, the Dutch Antilles, in the Caribbean Sea.

Needless to say, everyone – I’m sure – appreciated the chance to walk on solid ground for a change.

Having set the alarm for a (relatively) early start, we headed ashore as soon as we could after breakfast, armed with our little shopping list of art materials. Unfortunately, we soon learnt that Willemstad does not have anything even remotely resembling an art shop – or even a stationers. When we asked an artist in one of the local galleries where he buys his materials from, he explained that he ships his stuff in from the Netherlands. The nearest art shops on Curacao are several miles away, in other towns, but even then, he assured us that their prices are extortionately high.

The best we could do was to buy some packs of pencils from a supermarket. There wasn’t even a hardware shop to buy masking tape from.

All of this aside, once we’d established that our shopping spree wasn’t going to happen, we relaxed and enjoyed exploring the town. Not that there was a massive amount to see. From the cruise ship travellers point of view, Willemstad appears to be mostly populated with cafes and tourist gift shops. The only issue I have with that – apart from the fact that I’m not really interested in tourist gift shops – is the fact that most of them all seem to be selling exactly the same merchandise.

That said, Willemstad is a colourful place, with most of the buildings having been painted in several vivid, pastel hues. The architecture is also quite interesting, reminiscent of some of the buildings we’ve seen in old Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

The Columbus was one of three large ships berthed on the various quaysides adjacent to the town. The walk from our quay was the longest, though, with the MV Rotterdam berthed right in the harbour, just across from the old town. To get from one side of the harbour to the other, pedestrians have to cross a long, floating ‘pontoon’ bridge, which is quite an interesting piece of engineering in itself. When a ship needs to enter or exit the harbour, a siren is sounded to evacuate pedestrians and the entire bridge, powered by some sort of built-in vessel located at its extremity, swings open. Once the ship has passed through, everyone then has to wait until it has returned to its starting position before they are allowed back on. Crossing it is fun as you can feel it moving about beneath you as you walk.

We took a leisurely walk through the town, and around a lake, where there were a few birds and lizards to be seen but not much else. It was hot, so we weren’t in a hurry. Returning back to the central area, we took a look at a small market and gravitated gradually back towards the floating bridge, where we were just in time to see the bridge in action, closing again after letting a small yacht through. We found a free bench to sit down on and I siezed the opportunity to make a sketch of the bridge.

On our way back towards the ship, we paused briefly to make use of the free wifi available in the small shopping centre. Today was the first chance I’ve had to try out our data-sim-loaded mi-fi unit, with little success. Sadly, it told me that it had connected, and that internet was available, yet I couldn’t get a squeak out of it. Tracey was also having problems connecting to the local, free wifi, so it rather felt like we were having a bad technology day. All I can say is; thank goodness for the on-board wi-fi… and it isn’t very often you’ll here me say that!

All-aboard time was 5:30pm, for a 6pm departure. As the ship left Willemstad, we headed towards the craft room to set-up in readines for tomorrow morning’s class, as we have a single sea-day before our next port-of-call, Cartagena, in Colombia.

After dinner, we went along to watch Cruise Director Tony Parkins’ ‘Comedy Crooner’ show, which we enjoyed very much. Not only is Tony a naturally entertainer, but he comes across as a genuinely nice bloke.

At the end of the show, Lee, the Assistant Cruise Director, happened to mention that tomorrow, as well as being a sea-day, we will be having a Passenger Emergency Drill, in the morning. This was unexpected (but right, as it is two weeks since our last one, and the new global cruising regulations stipulate that ships have to hold such a drill for all passengers every two weeks)… and Tracey and I looked at each other. We both knew exactly what the other was thinking; how was this going to impact upon the class? (which normally starts at 10am). We dashed off back to the cabin to check out the daily programme – the class has been moved to 9am, with the Emergency Drill scheduled for 10:30am. Okay… I can work with that…