Curacao is a Dutch Island in the Netherland Antilles and is the hub for all of ALM Airlines. We had an overnight layover scheduled and found out the island was in the 100% zone for a solar eclipse. This is a big event and people were visiting from all over the world. Some cruise packages had been booked for a couple of years! We just got lucky and asked to delay our flight by one more day – No Problem.
Customs was smooth and we are getting comfortable with all the required forms and taxes. The general flow is to fill out a form on the plane – International Entry/Departure card, get checked in by customs with your passport, pick up your luggage, pass through another customs agent-briefly and then have your luggage tags checked at the exit. It is always a bit hectic entering a new airport because you never know exactly what will be waiting for you.
In Curacao, we went over to one of those hotel boards with the phone attached and looked for a suitable/affordable lodging. I was at a loss without my guidebooks. At the hotel board we met a friendly Belgium couple and their eight year old girl. They had also flown in for the eclipse without a hotel reservation. We found a place together in the middle of Willemstad for $70 US – Hotel San Marco and shared a $15 US cab ride.
We checked in and went for a tour around town. Definitely cruise ship oriented with lots of duty free shops. It is quiet and relaxed, a welcome change after Trinidad’s hectic pace. There are quaint painted buildings, lots of water, bridges, forts and cafes. Most of the people we met spoke some English but you hear mostly Dutch, Papiamentu, and Spanish. Again, the money situation is a combination of US and Antillean Guilders 1.00 US = 1.77 NAF.
We ate lunch at a Tex-Mex beer garden named Hard Rock Society cafe. The popular beer in Curacao is of course Amstel. Then Scooter hit the local electronic shops with a vengeance – the goa lto purchase a small tripod and get professional advice on how to shoot video of the eclipse. Apparently, for the same reason you cannot look directly into the sun you cannot photograph or shoot video without special precautions. After many inquiries and getting no answers, Scooter took the low-tech route. He taped a pair of “Special eclipse watching cardboard glasses” to the lens of the camera. I went home to siesta, while Scooter continued to get the lay of the land. I had not been getting enough sleep because so far everywhere we have visited is noisy day and night. Scooter has been using ear plugs and has had no problem sleeping. My plan was to catch a quick nap – I get back to our room and was surrounded by jackhammering for the next two hours. Scooter walked in later laughing at my predicament. I gave up – went to dinner at the Green Mill, visited the local Internet Cafe for an hour to do research on the best eclipse viewing spot. We ran into a guy we talked to at a camera shop and his friend gave us a ride back into town. There are nice people everywhere.
Our hotel had a small casino in it so we stopped in for a quick round of black jack and walked out with $40 dollars extra.
Excitement is in the air today – the solar eclipse begins at 12:41 PM and will end at 3:37 PM. The Southern part of the lunar shadow will cover Curacao and will be enveloped in darkness for 3 minutes and 23 seconds. The best place to observe the eclipse in on the west side of the island called Westpoint. At this location the full eclipse will last 10 seconds longer, so of course we are going there and by city bus. We think we are going to be in the middle of nowhere so we pack water and sandwiches for lunch. The city bus terminal is at ‘Otrobanda’ which is on the other side of the river so we take the ferry across. We also met up with the Belgium couple from the airport, who had the same idea. The bus ride takes about an hour across the desert side of the island to its western tip. Besides photographing the eclipse, our main interest was finding other people – eclipse groupies, who were truly into this sort of thing and photographing them. At the end of the line, we went to check out the scene, I think the locals were trying to come to terms with the madness and figure out how to make a buck off it. The visitors were searching for the best place to set up their tripods. Our quest for the real groupies took us on a hike through desert and a steep climb to the highest point at Westpunt. Great view – lots of groupies, we walked up the steep incline with a Dutch man hauling six cameras and a video camera. Scooter got right to work trying to setup his new mini tripod and I viewed the flora and fauna – cactus, rocks, and lizards. With everyone set up, the anticipation began. My special viewing glasses in place, the show began promptly as promised. It took about an hour for the moon to move in front of the Sun, creating all sorts of unique images in the sky and on the ground. Meanwhile Scooter is laying on his back on the cactus, rocks, and lizards trying to keep a steady shot for the video camera. The mini tripod did not work.
Once the 100% status is reached, there is hooting and hollering from the crowd. It is an awesome sight, it is suddenly cold, dark, and you could see two planets in the sky. Three minutes and twenty-three seconds later, it is over and people are packing up. I guess it is not as much fun going across the other direction. The highlight for eclipse watchers is the total eclipse and the ring of diamonds. It is impossible for video or cameras to capture the beauty and mystique of the ring of diamonds. You have to be there to understand.
We got back on a very crowded bus and stood for the hour ride back to the hotel. Once back in Willemstand, we looked for a cold beverage and a snack and end up in a tourist trap with two tropical drinks costing eighteen dollars. Travel tip learned, do not order off the menu if there are no prices. We are not very good budget travelers but we will continue to make the effort. Four cruise ships came into port this afternoon – they had all been out in the ocean for the eclipse. Each ship stays for a few hours while passengers disembark for a shopping/sightseeing stroll. Curacao takes good care of their cruise ships by setting off fireworks for each boat when they leave port. We ate dinner at an Indonesian restaurant – Rijstaffel in the arches area – it was not a budget meal.
Early to bed – early to rise 2:30 AM to be exact. We had to leave for the airport at 3:00 AM for a 5:00 AM flight. Can you believe they shot off fireworks at 11:00, 12:00, 1:00, and 2:00 !