Sunday, March 12, 2017

Oh….you're NOT Dutch?

Well, the last post began with an update on the Florida trip and this one will be a travelogue of…Curacao. The short version is that we (as expected) loved it and had a wonderful couple of weeks on one of the Netherland Antilles. The weather was fantastic, the food was great, people (representing 55 nations of origin) were friendly and helpful as we explored the island from one end to the other, frequently being mistaken for Dutch tourists as Canadians were a distinct minority, and acquiring a fondness for cheese balls as a snack. 

This is not to say that the travel plans went entirely smoothly, but lets just affirm that I'm never using that travel agent (shore captain) again! In December when we began planning this trip, I suggested having the travel agent look for airfare for us but… the problem was that mister (having reduced his working hours) had more time on his hands - not to be confused with having technological skills or being detail orientated. When the travel agent didn't immediately (as in at 9 pm at night) begin searching for airfare, my life partner went online and found 'only two seats left' on CheapO Air and panicked big time. He immediately attempted to book airfare online. This resulted in several days of phone calls back and forth with an East Indian call centre who refused to issue the tickets because "there are less than two hours between flights in Aruba". I wouldn't trust two hours in Pearson International (more on that later) for transit but Aruba is a small facility. I of course had to do the chatting with those with accents as the shore captain (after much insistence from me) is booked for a long overdue hearing test this month. After much to and fro, the ticket was finally cancelled and reissued (at a higher cost of course) and as it turned out, leaving a day earlier (requiring mister to add the arrival night at the hotel) and an overnight in Toronto on the return (which I found the week before we left). The greatest problem was discovered by our daughter though the day before we were to travel as there was a typo with my name on the ticket. This resulted in hours of phone calls with the aforementioned call centre who stated they were unable to change the mistake, pinned it on the shore captain who had originally entered the incorrect info online, asked for a copy of my passport to be faxed, threatened change costs and told me to call the two airlines directly (both WestJet and Insel Air stated that CheapO Air had to make the changes) and in the end did nothing to help. My only option was to head to the city early and throw myself upon the mercy of WestJet where a lovely agent took over an hour and changed my ticket. Again in Aruba at the Insel Air counter there was a repeat performance and a $25 fee that time. The last detail was on the final Friday when (thinking we we had two more days at the West Point hotel we were staying in) mister received an email stating we were to check in to the next accommodation he'd booked in Willemstad. Not sure how he managed the overlap but clearly can't be in two places at the same time so he made the call to ask that our room be held until Sunday. 

Ain't that the truth?
peacock flounder
view from our balcony
His choices with lodging were good - all three were different but great. We stayed the first few days at Coral Estates in Rif Ste Marie which looked over the beach, great snorkelling, lovely pool, bar, restaurant and grounds. We picked up some supplies for breakfasts and made a couple of suppers in our newly completed housekeeping studio to supplement the restaurant. We snorkelled at the resort and visited Dai Boo Beach nearby. This was a local rustic beach spot where folks come to BBQ and hang out as families. When we attempted to start the rental car after our stay, there was no way it was moving, not even a click! The very accommodating host at the bar even helped push the car up and down the parking lot with the shore captain as I attempted to 'clutch it' to start. No go. So a call to the rental company, then roadside assistance and a wait of almost two hours for the  mechanic to arrive and….immediately start the car. Thankfully our bar manager defended us stating that the car did not start for any of us. In the end, we decided it had something to do with taking the lock out sensor off the key ring so it wouldn't get wet while swimming and it not connecting immediately. Never happened again but sure made us nervous every time we shut the engine off. 
sunset from the rooftop terrace

Shete Boka National Park

school of sardines

Mt. Christoffel

sea turtles everywhere

The second stay was in a large suite at West Punt B&B which is a small hillside hotel in the northwest part of the island. Jose, the Venezuelan cook who had worked on oil rigs was a real find - we had lovely meals and I got to practice my Spanish. I managed to drop my phone poolside on the concrete and kill it instantly with ten days remaining - not even able to swipe the screen and access it. This resulted in using my Kindle in desperation to check email, only the truly stubborn would resort to that! We snorkelled almost daily at various beaches and saw many fish which were new to us, schools of sardines and lots of sea turtles. We also visited both Shete Boka and Christoffel National Park, hiking Mt Christoffel which is 1220 feet of rock climbing and was actually just as tough on the descent. Took in the Savonet museum which was a landhuis (plantation great house) with lots of history explained. 
fish on snorkel tour
shipwrecks on Klein Curacao
lighthouse Klein Curacao
 The final few days were spent in Willemstad which is a UNESCO world heritage site of Dutch colonial architecture. We explored the floating market (housed on boats over from Venezuela) then shopped the cobblestone narrow streets and visited the Maritime museum. There were cruise ships in daily which reminded us of our former visit and we were amazed to find a large yacht named the Freewind at the dock which was the Church of Scientology flagship. Who would think? We stocked up on breakfasts (again from the Asian supermarket which seemed to be the only nationality of shopkeepers) for our executive suite and enjoyed wonderful suppers at various restaurants. We took a catamaran tour to Klein Curacao for the day - a wild ride on the way over but nice sail on the return - lots of fishes and turtles, some shipwrecks on the backside and a derelict lighthouse, beautiful white coral sand beaches and a great BBQ for lunch on the boat. Tourists from across the globe to enjoy the day and rum punches with. 

We flew Insel AIr from Curacao to Sint Maarten and it was more of a scare than any of the rides at Busch Gardens. I was glad to see the pilot with a touch of grey in the cockpit as we boarded the Fokker 50 which was completely sold out. I'm sure the plane was one of the original built 30 years ago as some of the wall pieces were held today with duct tape, there was paper towel stuffed in a crack leaking water and the fuselage squeaked and rattled. The young male flight attendant seemed uninterested / frightened and spent most of the two hour flight buckled in the jump seat behind us. We were in the final row (unable to recline) and the two passengers in front of us pushed their seats back into our laps and were not corrected on take off or landings. In fact, the guy in front of me looked out of MY window while leaving the shade down on his. The middle 45 minutes of the flight we experienced severe turbulence (neither of us are nervous flyers and have flown lots of small northern planes) with the aircraft bucking, plunging, stuttering and violently shaking. A large lady wearing a wide brimmed straw hat, purple tights to match her puce leather bag, eye crossing bold printed dress and generous amounts of gold jewelry prayed loudly for deliverance. Whether she was a faithful follower or had only sought religion within the past hour was not clear. There were lots of frightened gasps and muttering with the occasional squeal. A female passenger a few rows in front of us was violently airsick and when the seatbelt sign went out as the turbulence eased, a German passenger goaded the flight attendant to "go and check on the lady, she's ill" so he made a cursory inspection of passengers, assisted the woman and promptly resettled himself. As we made our approach into Princess Juliana International Airport across tourists on Maho Beach we encountered crosswinds which caused teeth jarring shaking, spinning, loud rattles in the tail section beside me, wings flailing wildly as we descended across the water, but the pilot finally wrestled the plane into submission touching down, wings waving, fuselage twisting side to side and landing gear bouncing a couple of times off the runway with an immediate reversal of engines and coming to a screeching halt. Silence, sighs, then loud prayers of thanksgiving from the 'purple lady', nervous laughter from some, and finally applause for the pilot as we all counted our blessings. All of this was underlined by an email from the travel agent asking how we'd made out as Insel Air had been in the trade news as being recently grounded for bankruptcy and he'd wondered if we'd made it home as well as mentioning there is a direct WestJet flight from Toronto to Curacao. Sigh. The flight to Toronto was uneventful by comparison, the snarl at Pearson Airport was as per usual, taking two hours from landing to airport hotel. Ridiculous! A short night as we returned for an early morning flight east. My seat mate employed by the diamond mine in NWT I fly over regularly was good company. 

As we were retrieving the bag and met by our daughter I noticed a middle aged, well dressed man quietly leaning back against the wall, holding a bouquet of red roses as passengers streamed by and he waited for his special someone. I gave him the thumbs up and told the life partner that this dude was making the rest of the unromantics look bad, he shrugged, after 40 years he doesn't feel that requires a comment. 

The clunker car which the youngest daughter had been driving died while we were on vacation and her father suggested she pick up his new truck (which was at her sister's) for her to use while we were away. As she was explaining that she'd backed into a pilon in the parking garage at work, I at first thought she was pulling his leg but…the look on her face was similar to the one of 11 years previously when we returned from another vacation and there was $8900 in damages to an earlier truck. Oh dear, but it is only vehicle and can be fixed. 

We arrived home to much cooler temperatures than the past few weeks and full out wedding planning by the oldest daughter. The details are coming together and the excitement is building as it's less than a month away and only 17 days until we fly to Cuba. Will be nice to see our Cuban friends again, spend a month in the sun, meet the son-in-law and be together as a family for a positive event. 

Next week will be busy starting with a physio appointment, then on to run errands. In between there is a major storm predicted - thought this was March? Had hoped to visit friends in NB but weather forecast and hostess illness have rescheduled. Friday is my three month oncology appointment in the city. The weekend will be a family getaway with the grandkids at The Quarterdeck to enjoy the pool, games room and hanging out. The final home week will be last minute travel prep and then we'll return the end of April. 

I received a message from the travel clerk at work who is making arrangements for my four week rotation in May/June and am getting excited about heading back, just smoothing out the details and good to have it settled before I'm out of country. It'll be over a year and a lot of lived experience by the time I make it back. A coworker sent a pic of my photo ID hanging on the hook in the health centre office and I assured her that I'm with her in spirit. 

The microwave died just before we left for vacation and a replacement was ordered, arriving in our absence. Installed by the in-house handy man with much muttering and colourful metaphors, disruption of kitchen and mess everywhere and although it does function there is some final finish work to be completed. This morning's task was to clean up and polish the brass range hood cover before replacement - a  nasty job but it looks nice now….for a few days. Off to crack some lobsters for supper while pretending that white stuff outside the window is fine coral sand….ahhh.