ABCs Page

Jamaica Jim's Trip - The "ABCs" on the ABCs
Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao - March, 2002

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General Observations
Curacao
Bonaire
Aruba
 ( NOTE! Some sections of this page are still "Under Construction" and are to be expanded -- Soon come, Mon!)

In all my various  travels around the Caribe Basin over more than thirty years, I had always wanted to visit Aruba Bonaire and Curacao -- The ABCs -- of the southern Caribbean.  I have of course read about desert islands in books but -- until my recent trip to the Caribbean -- I had only the vaguest of ideas what such a place was truly like.  In Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, I found that under the listing for desert, the following is the dictionary definitionů

n  [ME. Fr. OF, fr. LL desertum, fr. L, neut. OF desertus,]  1  a : arid barren land; esp: a 
tract incapable of supporting any considerable population without artificial water supply 
b : an area of water devoid of life   2  archaic : a wild uninhabited and uncultivated tract 
3 : a desolate or forbidding area
The above -- especially definitions 1 and 3 -- pretty much describes what I discovered on my first ever visit to the Dutch Antilles' islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire. They are all decidedly desert island with scant vegetation, floating upon a pleasant, mildly warm cerulean sea.  While most islands I've visited before abound with teeming tropical plants, the skimpy moisture found on these small islands tends to foster only dry weather plants.  There are numerous varieties of cactus and other succulents such as the aloe plant, as well as the local scrubby divi-divi trees -- with their characteristic bent shape, caused by  the constancy of the prevailing easterly trade winds.  The few listed above tend to be  virtually the only vegetation that is indigenous to the area, while green grass is in very short supply.  The same easterly winds tend to also keep all three of these arid islands cool, so that the visitor doesn't feel nearly as hot as on the other, more northerly islands of the Caribbean. 

It was to these islands that my wife and I headed in March of 2002, on our first ever visit to the Netherlands Antilles.  And, it was to prove to be a delightful getaway -- there was absolutely no precipitation during the entire trip.  However, there was an abundance of sunshine -- and lots of it -- every single day, since the three island archipelago lies so close to the northern coast of South America, and so close to the equator.  A second reason for the low precipitation is that the island is located far south of the Caribbean's traditional tropical storm track, which brings severe weather to the more northerly islands.  For vacationers who are avowed sun worshippers, the islands of the ABCs are a premiere place to visit.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

The comments that one makes about Curacao could equally well address the other two islands of the ABCs, Aruba and Bonaire, with the exception of the physical size of the three islands.  All three share an extremely arid climate, due to their location just off of the Venezuelan coast of South America, and only 12 degrees from the equator. 

The islands are situated far south of the normal Caribbean hurricane tracks.  (The ABCs have only experienced three nearby hurricanes in the past hundred years.)  The location results in an average annual rainfall of approximately eighteen to twenty-two inches on these islands, compared to the average of seventy-eight inches of rain for Jamaica.  The severe lack of rain has kept the traditional tropical plants from growing in the harsh environment, with only the scrub divi-divi trees -- with their characteristic wind bent shapes -- and cactus groves flourishing.

While average temperatures average in the low eighties, since all three islands experience the prevailing easterly trade winds nearly constantly during the daytime and tends to keep the islands cool, these are prime tourist destinations. 

While I don't pretend to be an archeologist, it appears that all three islands were created by volcanic action, due to the proliferation of "iron shore" (volcanic rocks) visible throughout the islands.  The islands themselves also appear to be extremely old, in that while the general topography tends to very flat lands, there are some hills, and some are high.  These hills however, appear to be somewhat "rounded," giving rise to my observation that the islands were formed a long time ago.

All of the ABC islands generally run from southeast to northwest, with their northeasterly coasts exposed to winds and strong waves of the southern Caribbean throughout the year.  However, their southwesterly facing shores are in the lee of the islands and sheltered from the winds and the seas are generally smooth.

All three islands have petroleum facilities for crude oil from the Venezuelan oil fields -- Aruba and Curacao both have extensive refineries and there is a large oil storage and transfer facility on Bonaire.

All three islands have very diverse populations -- Curacao's consists of a group of some fifty separate nationalities.  The languages spoken include Dutch, English, Spanish and the local patois -- Papiamento -- which combines the other three major languages, along with African and Amerindian dialects.
 

CURACAO - Holland in Miniature
Starting with Curacao, the "C" of the Dutch ABCs, and the largest of the three, at approximately thirty-seven miles long and seven miles wide at its widest point.  It is situated in the center, with Bonaire to its east and Aruba to its west.  Curacao is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  It is also the seat of government for the Netherlands Antilles, which consists of Curacao, Bonaire, St. Marteen, Statia and Saba. 

Curacao contains a population estimated (in 1998) of approximately 205,000 inhabitants, of which about 180,000 live in the island's capital, Willemstad, which is located about one third of the way up along the southwesterly facing coast. Willemstad has the distinction of probably being one of the -- if not the -- most important cities architecturally in the Caribbean.  Its buildings reflect the early Dutch influence.  with picturesque buildings facing the waterfront area, which is the water outlet from Picsaderra Bay.

Outside of the primary populated areas of Willemstad, the visitor finds an eerie desert like countryside, which brings to mind a mental picture of the desert southwest of North America.  The main roads are excellent, and there aren't the potholes such as are often seen elsewhere on other Caribbean islands.  However, in the less traveled, rural outlying areas where paved roads don't exist, the roads are bumpy, dusty and leave a lot to be desired.

The southeastern one fifth of the island is private property, with entrance gates manned by security guards to keep out unauthorized persons.  The remainder of the island can be navigated and I recommend that a visitor to Curacao rent a car (make sure it is air-conditioned) and get out and about.  We "did" Curacao from stem to stern and found it interesting, to say the least.

Lodging --   Since we had accommodations for our five night stay at Breezes Curacao, one of the newest of the SuperClubs resorts, we only saw other properties from afar.  (Click here to view my Breezes Resort review,  where you will find what I hope is a comprehensive report on our stay there.)  Most resorts tend to be situated in Willemstad proper, just to the northwest or the southeast of the city.  There are only really two tourist resorts outside the main city area and both are up along the westerly facing coast.  The resorts range from the very expensive, through expensive and moderately priced, to inexpensive. 

Dining --Again, since Breezes is all inclusive, we didn't avail ourselves of the opportunity of dining out while visiting the island.  But we did notice that the island's restaurants run the gambit from very pricey to inexpensive.

Shopping -- Curacao is a cornucopia of well appointed shops, both in the six block area of Punda, the main shopping and governmental area, and in the original old town of Otrobanda ("Other Side") 

The two halves of the city center are joined by the Queen Emma Bridge ("The Swinging Old Lady") -- a pedestrian only pontoon bridge. The bridge spans Anna Bay, which is the entrance to the port and the outlet of the Schottegat   The bridge opens to permit some smaller cruise ships into the city center harbor, to tie up at the West Warf.  (Docking for larger liners is located just outside the mouth of the harbor at Mega Pier Cruise Terminal, on Gouv. Van Slobbeweg, on the Otrobanda side.)   "Bridge watching" appears to be a prime tourist pastime, as well as slowing the local pedestrian traffic from one side of Anna Bay, taking approximately a half hour to open and close. 

When the bridge is open, there are regular free ferries plying back and forth across the Santa Anna Bay.  There is also a third alternative to reach one side of the harbor from the other -- that's  to drive or take a taxi across the high Juliana Bridge, a graceful span which is a landmark of the city and which can be seen for miles.  This bridge is also a great place from which to view the area around the city -- but don't attempt if you are the driver!

In addition, large oceangoing tankers can enter the Schottegat, as can the small merchant boats that tie up along the Floating Market at the entrance to Waaigat, where they vend their wares from the decks.  The shops carry all kinds of merchandise and tourists from the cruise ships and the resorts can have a field day buying at duty free prices.

Exploring -- Since our visit to Curacao -- and Breezes -- was for only a short time, we decided to have a rental car for only one day.  Using our own, time tested method, we opted to take possession of the rental car at noon one day, with the return scheduled for noon of the following day.  That way, we had a full afternoon to get out and about and explore the lay of the land.  It also afforded us the ability to go out in the evening and get out and see some of the nighttime entertainment available.  We then used the following morning to shop in the city's shopping center.

Curacao is big -- the largest of the ABC islands -- at thirty-seven miles long and seven miles wide at it's widest point.  With our somewhat limited time to explore by car, we did find that it was fairly easy to navigate. 

With the exception of the private, southerly end of the island (and the northern one fifth, which encompasses Christoffel National Park, an area we didn't get to), we found most roads were very accessible and well paved.  The beaches we saw along the westerly coast were nice and there were few people using them.  With the wonderful, virtually rain free weather, and with the exception of the lack of greenery, Curacao is most assuredly a paradise to visit.
 

BONAIRE - Bon Bini to Divers

Our second island stop was on Bonaire, the easternmost of the ABCs, for just four nights. I had made flight reservations on ALM from Aruba to Bonaire, but the flight made a connection in Curacao.  Thus, following our stay at Breezes, we simply continued our flight to Bonaire.

Arrival was somewhat of a surprise -- for such a small island, Bonaire's large, modern Flamingo International Airport, which would be worthy of a larger and much more populated area --  Immigration and customs was a welcome relief from other places we have visited, even in light of last year's tragedy.  We cleared the governmental checks and were on our way to a delightful four night visit to Bonaire.

Lodging -- For our short, four night stay on Bonaire we selected Sorobon Beach Resort.  (For some good information on Sorobon, you can access the Sorobon web site which I created for my friends at Go Classy Tours, Inc.)

While we don't consider ourselves "naturists" we have been to naturists resorts and spent time on au naturel beaches.  However, we had never stayed at a totally naturist resort and Nina did have some slight trepidation that it might be a bit much.  But, to her surprise, Sorobon proved to be a delightful, small resort. 

We had a duplex cabin, replete with most of the comforts of a larger resort, but with only a small number of guests staying there, it was an idyllic getaway from other places we have stayed at in the Caribbean.  The furniture was mainly Danish modern, with a large living, dining are, a kitchen area, a bath with shower and a bedroom with a king size bed.  The cabin wasn't air conditioned, which at first caused us both a moment of concern, since there is scant shade to provide protection from the tropical sun's heat.  However, we quickly realized that the constant easterly trade winds provided plenty of cooling and the addition of ceiling fans in the living area and the bedroom made for a comfortable time both day and night.
 

(NOTE! The above section is to be expanded  -- Soon come, Mon!)
 
 

Dining -- (NOTE! This section is "Under Construction" -- Soon come, Mon!)
 
 

Shopping -- (NOTE! This section is "Under Construction" -- Soon come, Mon!)
 
 

Exploring -- The island of Bonaire is located just fifty miles north of Venezuela, and is the second largest of the ABCs.  Shaped like a boomerang, it has a total area of 112 square miles.  It has an overall length of approximately twenty-three miles and is approximately seven miles across at its widest point.  The more northerly one fifth of Bonaire is comprised of Washington / Slagbaii National, while the  southern one sixth is taken up by stark salt flats.  Between these extremes is the major town of Kralendijk, and the smaller town of Rincon.

Since Sorobon, where we stayed is in the Lac Bay region and rather remote from the slightly populated areas, we immediately rented a car for the entire stay on the island.  This proved to be a boon, in that we had our own transportation to use in exploring -- which we did from one end to the other.  It also afforded us the benefit of being easily able to go to different restaurants for dinner. 

(NOTE! The above section is to be expanded  -- Soon come, Mon!)
 
 

Observations -- (NOTE! This section is "Under Construction" -- Soon come, Mon!)
 
 
 

ARUBA - A Party Place, with Friendly Folks

Following stops in the other two island during this two week odyssey of ours, we caught our return flight on ALM back to Aruba for our last four nights. 

Aruba is the most westerly of the trio, lying just 25 miles from Venezuela's Peninsula de Paragana.  The island is nearly twenty miles long and just six miles across at its widest point and contains a mere seventy square miles.  Known to international travelers as prime place to party, it has more than forty hotels for visitors to the island -- and not a few fine casinos for high rollers and the "blue hair" crowd seeking an alternative to the more glitzy and crowded Meccas of Las Vegas and Atlantic City.  But, not to be outdone, it is the beaches that draw most visitors to the tropical oasis

Aruba was formerly a part of the Netherlands Antilles, when it January 1, 1986, when it became an independent nation, though still a protectorate under the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
 
 

Lodging -- (NOTE! This section is "Under Construction" -- Soon come, Mon!)
 
 

Dining -- (NOTE! This section is "Under Construction" -- Soon come, Mon!)
 
 

Shopping -- (NOTE! This section is "Under Construction" -- Soon come, Mon!)
 
 

Exploring -- We found the extreme north end, at California Lighthouse on the northeast end and the hill at Seroe Colorado on the southeastern end of the island afforded us broad vistas of the sea around the island.  Likewise, we explored the eastern side, taking in the isolated Altovista Chapel and Aruba's famed Natural Bridge. 

(NOTE! The above section is to be expanded  -- Soon come, Mon!)
 
 

Observations --  (NOTE! This section is "Under Construction" -- Soon come, Mon!)
 

Jamaica Jim Jordan
June, 2002
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