“I can see the bellowing oil refinery chimneys as I reach the outskirts of Willemstad when the unthinkable happens. I lose power and the scooter glides to a halt, engine still running. “Shit!”. This means one thing. The belt has snapped.”
When you step off the plane at Willemstad Airport in Curaçao you are met with the words “Bon Bini”. Apart from speaking Dutch and English, the locals speak Papiamento. It’s similar to Portuguese Creole and is spoken widely across the Antilles, including Venezuela, as well as in Cape Verde, West Africa.
Bon Bini means “Welcome!”
The first thing that strikes you about Curacao is how dry it is. It’s located off the north coast of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean. When I think Caribbean I default to the stereotype – a tropical, green paradise. But the 3-islands that make up the Netherland Antilles (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao) are desert islands, with patches of palm trees. They are rugged and stark, and rather windy. ** But the water is blue and warm, and the scuba diving is the best in the world.
** The Dutch Caribbean is part of the leeward Islands for a reason!
The capital of Curaçao is Willemstad. Anglo-Dutch in look and feel! What pretty houses. The story goes that the governor in the 17th century suffered from photosensitivity and couldn’t handle the glare of white paint. He ordered that all buildings to be painted a different colour. He also owned the only paint shop!
I am using Curaçao as a spring board to get to Bonaire. Only a few airlines service the southern Caribbean, most notably KLM, Condor (Lufthansa) and AA. And even fewer fly to Bonaire. I’ll tell you you about the epic diving in Bonaire in my next post. In the interim I have 2 days to explore this Island. Cue a scooter!
Hiring a scooter in Curaçao is not as informal as say Jamaica. Fewer agencies to start, and I think the demand for cars is greater, considering the size of the island. Curaçao is not small. From east to west it is 70km wide. For a scooter tour that is a lot of time in the saddle.
The scooter agency I found in Willemstad is called NR1 Scooters. I was able to pre-book my ride online before-hand, and the friendly owner Bianca from Holland was amazing. She even picked me up at my hotel on the hire day. Now that’s what I call service.
NR1 has a multitude of well maintained bikes in their arsenal. I am happy with my retro-styled Big-Boy. It’s a carbon copy of my Gomoto Yesterday back home. With 20 000km on the clock, these Chinese imports go the distance. Admittedly, this Big-Boy has seen better days, and the front suspension is shot! Never mind! nothing an agile pilot can’t overcome! My nickname is “Miss-the-potholes Steve”. Curaçao is not unlike South Africa. The roads are worn and the potholes are slaggate. Translated that means ‘death holes’!
First stop is to navigate out of the capital Willemstad. Curaçao is blessed with off-shore oil. This means it is a major industrial hub, and the population is 160 000 and counting. Traffic, chaos, confusion! I now understand why scooter rentals are the minority. I am heading to the western most point. Aptly called westpunt! Renowned for its azure blue coves and pristine beaches. I heard about a beach called Grote Knip and this is my goal.
It is a 45km journey, so along the way I am stopping off at the coastal Shete Boka national park, part of the greater Christoffelpark. It is always a relief when governments realize the need to protect vast tracts of land, and prevent development. The fine line between accepting urbanization and growth, and also protecting the natural beauty. Eco-ScooterSteve will save his rant for another day.
The road to Westpunt is long and straight. And the wind is howling. The 150cc powered Big-Boy handles a comfy 60km/h effortlessly. That’s 2-up with my wife. The terrain becomes mountainous mid-way to Shete Boka. Volcanic peaks, fertile with tropical vegetation, make way to rocky, dry coastal plains to the east.
The highlight of Shete Boka is its blowholes. Or Boka Pistol as they have called it. The tidal erosion has carved inlets into the rugged coastline, and the pressure caused by wave-action shoots the water 15m into the air. Impressive. Well worth the 20-minute detour on route to Westpunt and the secluded beach of Grote Knip!
The water around Curaçao is what you would expect from a Caribbean island. Pristine. Clear. Perfect. A picture speaks a thousand words. Dozens of mini-beaches pepper the west coast, and are tucked into coves surrounded by rugged sand-stone cliffs.
Grote knip is nice, but 5km south is the lesser visited Klein Knip. This is my version of paradise. A beach no longer than 50 meters. Remote. The snorkeling along the cliffs is next-level. I venture a little further around the cove, and am met with unspoiled reefs and unbelievable fish life. I like being able to swim well!
When man is hungry man must eat. I do notice a few less-than-desirable looking eateries along the route, but I am not sold. “Pack your own padkos”, ScooterSteve! I like that this place doesn’t have loads of restaurants. It tells me how remote and uncommercial it is. Long may it last.
My stomach is rumbling, so I high-tail it back to Willemstad. I can see the bellowing oil refinery chimneys as I reach the outskirts of Willemstad when the unthinkable happens. I lose power and the scooter glides to a halt, engine still running. “Shit!”. This means one thing. The belt has snapped. Motor bikes have chains, scooters have belts and rollers. It’s a common mechanical problem, but one that requires more than a screw driver to fix.
Luckily for me I am within a 2-minute downhill roll from a gas station. Small mercies. Bianca from NR1 Scooters has stickers with her contact details on her rental bikes in the event of a breakdown. Such a clever detail. But I don’t have local airtime and I have no way of calling her. It is in moments like this that you rely on the generosity of strangers. The soul of Curaçao would be put to the test.
The mini-mart at the gas station is an obvious place to ask for help. Small problem, the owner is 100% Chinese. Just like my scooter! No Dutch, no Papiamento, no English. He does understand hand signals and for $1 he lets me dial out. Unfortunately all I get is “this call cannot be connected” prompt. I reckon he hasn’t paid his phone bill! Broken phone, broken scooter. Bad day for China. He thinks I’ve broken his phone and I back track apologetically. I dare ask for the $1 back!
A local driving home from work witnesses this comedy, and offers to let me use her mobile. Thank you Curaçao! Bianca’s partner is head of breakdown!. He is dispatched, and within 30 minutes arrives with the cleverest bike rack I have ever seen. Clearly this happens a lot!
Mostly I am relieved that I don’t have to deal with getting the scooter back to the rental shop alone. From now on I will always ask the scooter rental what their breakdown policy is. NR1 has set the standard.
My day of exploring the natural beauty of Curaçao had a happy ending. No time was lost and the inconvenience was minimal. When you only have 2 days to explore, having a hiccup like this can really lose you valuable time.
Every story has a happy ending. If you haven’t had your happy ending then your story is not over. My happy ending is a few cold ones with my wife and an incredible sunset.
PS: The blue alcoholic aperitif Curaçao is from Curaçao. Der! It has a citrus taste and goes very well with a lemonade. Cheers!