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Drag Racing in Curaçao

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Drag racing is a phenomenon across the Caribbean, and Curaçao is no exception. When the races are on, hundreds of people cram into the stands to watch tuned-up cars and tricked-out motorcycles squeal down the track. Our last Sunday on the island coincided with the first day of the season, so we decided to check it out.

Drag Racing Curacao

Jürgen and I are not exactly racing fans. In fact, until now, the only “Drag Race” I had been familiar with was the one hosted by RuPaul. I had never attended any sort of motorsports event, whether NASCAR, Formula 1, or Motocross, and never felt like I was missing out. But for whatever reason, I was excited to see the Curaçao drag races on Sunday night. Who knew? Maybe RuPaul would be there!

We showed up, expecting to see some sweet cars, gleaming and polished, perhaps sporting racing stripes and definitely with huge spoilers and other crazy custom modifications. So, when a little Volkswagen Polo pulled up to the starting line, I was confused. “Surely, it’s just the test car,” I reasoned. But no, this was one of the racers, and much of its competition was in a similar category. These were the types of cars I frequently overtake on the way to the supermarket… in fact, I’m pretty sure that they were those cars!

Drag Racing Curacao

So, I had to adjust my expectations for the day, especially after watching a Vespa “blaze” down the track and shatter exactly zero world speed records. But there was something cool about the fact that seemingly anyone could race with any kind of vehicle. And as the day went along, the cooler cars started to show up; the kinds you’d expect to see at a Caribbean drag race. They’d rev their engines before starting, producing billows of smoke while waiting for the green light, then peel down the track, racing two at a time.

Even better than the cars were the motorcycles, many of which were tricked-out and extremely cool. The guys (and a girl) who drive them are insane! I don’t know how many times my heart jumped, watching them nearly lose control after blasting off down the track. We didn’t see any wipeouts, but they must happen frequently.

Drag Racing Curacao

The races started at four in the afternoon, but the crowds didn’t start showing up until about six. The racing strip is on an elevated plain, and there’s a nice view, especially when the sun starts to go down. Considering that this was a relatively unimportant race day, we were surprised by the number of spectators. Later during the season, for the bigger events, the stands can be packed to capacity.

If you’re a fan of racing, check out the Speedway’s website, where you’ll find a calendar of upcoming events. It makes for an entertaining Sunday evening, and provides a reminder that Curaçao isn’t just about tranquil beaches and nature… they like their action, too.

Location of the Track
Curaçao International Speedway – Website

Rent A Car In Curacao

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March 1, 2016 at 3:45 pm Comments (0)

A Couple of Curious Museums in Willemstad

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The very fact that tiny Curaçao has a Postal Museum was strange enough to arouse our curiosity. And after learning that it’s housed in the island’s oldest surviving building, we knew that we’d have to check it out. Later on the same day, we passed by another museum which looked to be even more unusual: the Octagon Museum in Pietermaai.

Postal Museum Curacao

The building currently occupied by the Postal Museum dates from 1693, just a few decades after the Dutch established Willemstad. Tightly packed between other buildings on the narrow, pedestrian-only Kuekenstraat, it’d be easy to waltz right by the ancient structure without ever noticing it. But it’s worth pausing to take a look, and depending on your interest in stamps, perhaps stepping inside.

To be honest, neither Jürgen nor I are the slightest bit interested in stamps, but we decided to visit the museum anyway. It’s kind of our job. When we stepped inside, the woman working there jumped to life; it’s safe to say that the Postal Museum doesn’t draw a lot of tourists. After taking our money (just $2 apiece), she led us on an exhaustive tour of the museum’s exhibits.

Her enthusiastic presence turned an experience which might have been dry into one which was rather fun. Frequently, she’d start to take her leave, saying something like, “Alright, I should let you see the rest at your own pace,” before remembering another piece of trivia which she simply had to share. And after we were done with the exhibits (all of which are dedicated to the history of postage in the Dutch Antilles) we stayed and chatted for awhile about her trips to Holland, and her distaste for Carnival.

We now walked down to Pietermaai, where we had seen signs for something called the Octagon Museum. We followed the signs onto the property of the Avila Beach Hotel, where we found an evidently old, octagon-shaped building. What could possibly be the subject matter of this museum?! Go on, I’ll give you a few guesses…

[splutter] Why, yes… you’re right! The Octagon Museum is dedicated to the life and times of South American liberator Simón Bólivar! How in the world did you guess that?!

Yes, this museum, which is only open for a couple hours on a couple days during the week, is all about the accomplishments of Simón Bólivar, and his Curaçaoan connections. Immediately before his military successes on the continent, he spent time on the island, staying in the now-vanished Plezier House in Otrobanda, and as a guest of the wealthy merchant Don Mordechai Ricardo, who owned the Octagon tower.

The museum is nicely done, with copious information on placards spread throughout the rooms. There are paintings and period furniture, as well as a copy of the Cartagena Manifesto. Although the museum itself is small, you’ll have to dedicate some time to it, if you want to read everything.

So there you have it: the oldest house on Curaçao is dedicated to stamps, and the most geometric house in Curaçao is dedicated to Bólivar. In the unlikely event of a rainy day during your stay, you might want to check out one, or even both of them.

Locations on our Map: Postal Museum | Octagon Museum

Curacao Collectible Stamps Online

More photos of the Postal Museum
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More photos of the Octagon Museum
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February 26, 2016 at 9:51 pm Comments (0)

The Curaçao Museum

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Found in the former military hospital, the Curaçao Museum opened its doors in 1948, making it the oldest museum on the island. Its exhibits include world-class works of art, and period furnishings that pay tribute to the opulent past of the island’s richest days.

Curacao Museum

The museum’s furniture is absolutely beautiful, with many pieces hand-carved from mahogany, including the island’s oldest dining-room table, a phonograph and a grand master bed. But even better is the artwork. An entire room is dedicated to renowned Dutch artists such as Johannes Vermeer and Charley Toorop. You’ll also find paintings by some of Curaçao’s home-grown talent, including Charles Corsen, whose Black Madonna a minor controversy when it was painted in 1950. Also noteworthy is wall-sized map of the Caribbean, made of stained glass and created for the 1939 World Exhibition in New York.

One of the most interesting pieces in the museum is the carillon, a type of organ which uses bells instead of pipes. A series of levers and strings connect the instrument, found on the ground floor of the house, to 47 bells which can be seen outside on the roof. This is called the “Four Princesses Carillon”; the four biggest bells were named individually for each of the Dutch princesses, and the other 43 are named for Curaçaoan dignitaries.

Curacao Museum

Also part of the museum is the Snip Haus, where you can see the nose and cockpit of the KLM Fokker F.XVIII which, in 1932, made the very first transatlantic journey between Holland and Curaçao. Known popularly as the Snip, the plane needed 55 hours for the crossing, but arrived in time for Christmas with sacks of letters and presents from relatives in the Netherlands. It was greeted euphorically by the people of the island, whose previous connections to Europe had been restricted to ship.

We enjoyed the Curaçao Museum; it looks larger and more daunting than it really is, and a visit doesn’t require more than an hour. If you don’t have a car, it’s a little out of the way, about a twenty minute walk from Otrabanda’s Brionplein, but worth the effort.

Location on our Map
The Curaçao Museum – Website

Travel Insurance For your Trip To Curacao

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February 25, 2016 at 10:48 pm Comment (1)

The Curaçao Liquor Factory

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From now on, when I hear the word “Curaçao,” I’ll think primarily of soft, sandy beaches, and colorful buildings. But there was a time (not that long ago!) when the only connotation brought to mind would have been “liquor.” Blue Curaçao has long been a staple at bars around the world, and we went to the Landhuis Chobolobo to see the factory in which it was originally produced.

Curaçao liquor is made from orange peels. Oranges aren’t a native fruit to the island, but a few trees were brought over long ago from Valencia, Spain. The harsh, windy climate of Curaçao proved too brutal for the sweet little trees and after they failed as a crop, they were forgotten about. Over the course of the centuries, the oranges adapted to the terrain, toughening up and becoming known as lahara trees. The bitter fruit of lahara oranges is nearly inedible, but the peels retain the aromatic essence of their Valencian ancestors, and lend Curaçao Liquor its distinctive flavor.

Call me naive, but I had assumed that Blue Curaçao’s famous color was due to some sort of strange chemical process, and I was excited to tour the Landhuis Chobolobo and find out exactly how it was achieved. So when I learned that the liquor itself is clear, and the blue comes from regular food coloring, I was disappointed. Turns out, the “secret” behind Blue Curaçao’s color is one which has already been unlocked various times by my five-year-old nephew during his kitchen experiments.

The Chobolobo factory is still churning out Blue Curaçao, and even using their original distillation equipment, which dates from the early 19th century. The factory tour is free and self-guided, but at least they’ve bothered to make the displays interesting and well-organized. You get a quick history of the island, and learn the story of the Seniors, the Jewish family who established the business. (Fun fact: Curaçao Liquor is kosher. When they were first starting their business, the Seniors had experts brought in from overseas to certify their product.)

As you might expect, the tour ends at a bar where you can taste a variety of the Curaçao liquors, and a shop where you can buy some to take home. It makes a good souvenir, although a rather short-lived one. This sweet drink is one that goes down fast.

Location on our Map
Landhuis Chobolobo – Website
The Genuine Curaçao Liquor – Website

Framed Curacao Photos

Blue Curacao Liquor
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February 25, 2016 at 5:58 pm Comments (0)

Curacao’s Maritime Museum

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Ever since the dawn of the 16th century, when it was finally drawn onto the maps of European explorers, Curaçao’s fortunes have been tied to the sea. The Maritime Museum, located across from the Floating Market at the beginning of the Waaigat Harbor, is a must for anyone interested in understanding the history of the island.

Maritime Museum Curacao

The museum occupies one of the most stunning mansions of the Scharloo, directly at the end of the pedestrian L.B. Smith bridge. This two-story house was built as a private residence in 1729, but burnt to the ground in 1988. After a complete renovation, the building re-opened to the public in 1998 as the Maritime Museum.

The renovation of the property was marvelously done, with an interior designed to evoke the hull of a ship, including portholes, railings and even the spiral staircase which leads to the deck… although in the museum’s case, it leads to a third-story room for special exhibitions.

Maritime Museum Curacao

Even those without a special interest in the seas should find plenty inside this museum to hold their attention. The exhibits start at the very beginning, with the canoes employed by the Arwak Indians to reach Curaçao from the Venezuelan mainland. The museum then moves on to the “discovery” of the island, its occupation by the Spanish and Dutch, and the Atlantic slave trade.

We enjoyed the section about the dawning of cruise ship tourism. I had never thought about when this phenomenon began, but it’s older than I would have guessed. The first cruise ship reached Curaçao from New York City in 1901. Passengers in those days eschewed the island’s beaches, disembarking primarily to shop in Willemstad, which was known for fashions and jewelry at prices unheard of in Manhattan.

With further exhibitions about the Isla Refinery and its dry dock, as well as old nautical maps and uniforms, this museum could easily occupy an hour or more, and we highly recommend a visit. Keep in mind that they also offer a ferry tour of the Schottegat Harbor two days a week. If you plan correctly, you can buy a joint ticket for both the museum and the tour.

Location on our Map
Curacao Maritime Museum – Website

Hotels In Curacao

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February 25, 2016 at 12:14 pm Comments (0)

Fine Dining at Fort Nassau

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Of all Curaçao’s former Dutch fortresses, our favorite was destined to be Fort Nassau. Fort Amsterdam might have the most fascinating history and Fort Beekenburg the coolest atmosphere… but Fort Nassau has the food nailed down. And food beats history or atmosphere every time.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Dutch were busy extending their tendrils across the globe, a number of forts named Nassau were established to protect their new properties. You could find a Fort Nassau in the Bahamas, New York, New Jersey, Indonesia, Senegal, Ghana and Guyana, all of them named for the House of Orange-Nassau, an influential Dutch dynasty. In 1797, Curaçao got its own Fort Nassau, on the point where the Saint Anna Bay empties into the Schottegat Harbor.

Fort Nassau was taken over for a brief period by the British, but never came under serious attack, so it’s been able to remain in marvelous condition. In 1959, a restaurant was established in the old fortress, and ever since, Fort Nassau has been Curaçao’s most celebrated place to eat. For Jürgen’s birthday dinner, it was the only real choice.

Set high on a hill, the views from Fort Nassau are incredible, especially at night with the lights (and flames) of the Isla Oil Refinery off toward the north, and Punda laid out to the south. Almost anywhere you sit inside the restaurant, you’re guaranteed an excellent panoramic view.

However, you might have trouble taking your eyes off your plates, because the food in Fort Nassau is mouth-watering. The dinner menu includes an appetizer, a main course and dessert. And while it’s not cheap, neither is it overly expensive, considering the quality of the dishes and the generous portions. We both took the steak, and were left very satisfied.

If you only have time and money for one fine dining experience in Curaçao, rest assured that Fort Nassau makes a great choice. Often, these “most famous” restaurants don’t live up to the hype, but Fort Nassau was as good as we had hoped, with top-notch views, food, and service.

Location on our Map

Curacao Car Rental

La Isla Refinery Curacao
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February 14, 2016 at 3:33 pm Comments (0)

Pietermaai Smal

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One of Curaçao’s four historic districts, Pietermaai Smal lays just to the east of Punda, between the Waaigat Harbor and the Caribbean. Once the most exclusive neighborhood on the island, Pietermaai endured a long, painful period of deterioration. But recently, it’s picked itself back up and become a home to the island’s trendiest clubs and restaurants, and its most popular boutique hotels.

Pietermaai Curacao

Willemstad’s initial expansion outside its city walls was west, across the Saint Anna Bay into Otrobanda. But in the 18th century, the capital expanded east as well. Pietermaai Smal was originally constructed as a home for merchants and the officers of the Dutch West Indian Company, and their high status is reflected in the impressive size of the homes. The neighborhood was known for its theaters and restaurants, and soon became the center of the island’s cultural and business life.

But in September of 1877, Pietermaai was devastated by the “Orkan Grandi,” a powerful hurricane which wiped out many of the neighborhood’s houses, and prompted residents to move elsewhere. Many relocated north into the Scharloo District, and the seeds of Pietermaai’s long twilight were planted.

Throughout most of the 20th century, and up until just a few years ago, Pietermaai was overrun with drug dealers who installed themselves inside the neighborhood’s deteriorating houses. But recently, a major effort has been made to clean up Pietermaai and restore it to its former glory.

Pietermaai Curacao

As far as we can tell, that effort has been a rousing success. There are still some destitute houses, but most have already been restored. There’s a burgeoning culinary scene here, with well-regarded cafes and restaurants setting up shop. And Pietermaai is a great place to go out — the 27 Club, Scuba Lodge and San Tropez are just a few of the bars and clubs in which we spent some fun nights.

Pietermaai was once home to the Dutch officers of the West Indian Trading Company, and today the neighborhood is once again dominated by their blue-eyed descendants. Walking around here on a Friday night can be shocking; the huge majority of people are white, and the only language you’ll hear is Dutch. Tourists heavily outnumber long-term residents in Pietermaai; the deteriorated houses were bought up by developers with business interests, and mostly converted into hotels.

Like all of Willemstad’s historic neighborhoods, Pietermaai is nothing if not colorful — every house is painted a different shade. During the day, it’s fun to stroll along the main strip and see the bright greens, reds and yellows of its historic buildings. And at night, the neighborhood is so lively that it can almost seem like one big party. Even if you’re not staying here, Pietermaai shouldn’t be missed; the neighborhood is yet another of this diverse country’s distinctive faces.

Location on our Map

List of Curacao Hotels

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February 12, 2016 at 7:28 pm Comments (0)

The Grand Farewell Parade of Carnival

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I don’t know where these guys get the energy from. Just two days after completing the Grand Parade, an alcohol- and Tumba-fueled procession which lasts over nine hours, they’re back out on the streets dancing and partying for Carnival’s Grand Farewell Parade. I was nearly unable to endure it, myself, and that was as a spectator!

Carnival Farewell Parade Curacao

If you’ve already seen the Grand Parade, the Grand Farewell Parade doesn’t hold a lot of surprises in store. It’s the same route, the same music, and the same groups marching in the same order. The differences are that it’s night, and that most of the participants have embellished their already-extravagant outfits with colorful lights. As the marchers shimmy down the street to beat of the drum, their sequined costumes shimmer underneath the glare of powerful lamps.

The parade begins at 5pm in the neighborhood of Santa Maria, but doesn’t reach Otrobanda until 10:30 at night. We went out to watch the parade at around 11pm. By this point, most of the guys and girls in the parade must have been ready to collapse, and although they did their best to hide it, the energy level wasn’t quite as high as it had been during the first parade. But they’d been marching for about eighteen total hours within two days! The fact that they could even stand was amazing.

Carnival Farewell Parade Curacao

Throughout Carnival, the figure of King Momo has been front and center. A larger-than-life papier-mâché figure, King Momo “presides” over the festivities, allowing his subjects to drink, dance and have a good time. He represents mischievousness and debauchery… but while it’s good to cut loose occasionally, you shouldn’t indulge such desires all of the time. So at the end of the Farewell Parade, King Momo is burnt, and the fireworks which were packed inside his body are sent shooting into the air.

We loved the Carnival celebrations; it’s not every day you get to see such a luminous display of joy. If nothing else, this festival has reminded me how cathartic it is to get wild, every once in awhile. But now that King Momo was dead, it was time to return to life as normal. Thanks for the party, Curaçao! It was fun while it lasted.

Caribbean Carnival Costumes

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February 11, 2016 at 4:02 pm Comments (0)

Sunday Happy Hour at Mambo Beach

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Mambo Beach is the exactly kind of place which Jürgen and I normally avoid. Not only is it over-developed and crowded, it’s also attached to a shopping complex. But Mambo Beach isn’t necessarily just for tourists; Curaçaoans come here in droves, especially for the Sunday evening happy hour specials.

Among seasoned travelers, there’s definitely a shared conception that off-the-beaten-path adventures are inherently better than those which are popular. But if you refuse to do anything which might be commercial or too well-known, you’re shutting yourself off to a lot of experiences. So, every once in awhile, it’s good to visit a place like Mambo Beach.

Still, we showed up to Mambo with a bad attitude, ready to indulge our mockery. And the place was begging for it. All across the island, you see billboards for Mambo featuring beautiful, blonde women laughing and carrying shopping bags. To get to the beach, you have to walk through BLVD, an outdoor mall with the hottest names brands! And the trendiest fashions! It’s all so hot and trendy, Jürgen, we have to shop, shop, shop! And then we’ll be hungry… should we go to Chain Restaurant #1 or Chain Restaurant #2? They’re both so hot and trendy, let’s just flip a coin!

Mambo Beach Curacao

But after a few minutes of walking along the beach, we started lose the sarcasm and wake up to Mambo’s charms. Many of the bars here actually did look cool. And although the beach was crowded, it wasn’t overrun, particularly on the southern end near the Hemingway Bar. The lounge chairs were spaced out wide, the water was just as blue and beautiful as anywhere else on Curaçao, and there was a nice mix of foreigners and Curaçaoan families out for the day.

“And fine, there’s shopping,” I scolded myself, suddenly embarrassed of my prior sneering. “As though I’ve never been to a mall.”

We scouted out the entire beach, before sitting down for a couple drinks at the Cabana Beach Bar, where there was an early happy hour special. Before long, we were chatting with this huge, body-building Curaçaoan guy who’d taken a seat next to us. He was a car enthusiast, and engaged us in a conversation about the East German Trabants which are still being driven around the island.

I’m not sure what that anecdote is meant to illustrate, except for the fact that Mambo Beach is a good place to meet and interact with an entertaining variety of people — weight-lifting, car-obsessed Curaçaoans, for instance. That’s especially true on Sunday, when everyone is drinking and having a good time. As the Cabana’s drink special came to a close, the one at the neighboring bar began, so we moved over.

Wet ‘n’ Wild’s Sunday Happy Hour is something of a Curaçao institution, and the single most frequent recommendation we get when asking about fun nightlife. There’s a DJ set up on the beach, generous discounts on beers and spirits, and a large crowd on hand… and it’s as enjoyable as it sounds. We had arrived at Mambo Beach with cynical attitudes, but left with happy buzzes and a rekindled appreciation for the fact that over-developed, crowded, commercial activities can also be worthwhile. Not always, but it’s possible.

Location on our Map

Beach Wear

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February 7, 2016 at 5:17 pm Comments (0)

The Historic Neighborhood of Punda

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Punda was the first area in Willemstad to be colonized by the Dutch, and today has become famous for the superb condition of its colorful, 18th-century buildings. Although we lived in Otrobanda, we crossed the bay almost daily to spend time in Punda, to eat, shop, or just enjoy the neighborhood’s lively atmosphere.

When it was originally settled, this neighborhood was called “De Punt” (“The Point”), a name which eventually evolved into Punda. Willemstad’s most historic buildings are found here, from Fort Amseterdam and the Fortkerk to the Mikvé Emmanuel-Israel Synagogue. And this is the location of the Handelskade: the waterfront collection of multi-colored buildings that has become Curaçao’s most emblematic image.

Over the years, Punda has developed a split personality, in its attempts to please two completely different sets of people. This is ground-zero for cruise ship tourism, and when ships are in port, you’ll find thousands of foreigners roaming the streets of Punda, ordering over-priced meals along the Saint Anna Bay and raiding souvenir shops. But the neighborhood is equally popular with locals, who come here to work and socialize.

If you’re in the mood for local grub, Punda is the place to go. Plasa Bieu might be the most popular spot to try Curaçaoan fare, but there are any number of other affordable joints. We love the Kowloon Restaurant on Keukenstraat, as well as Yat Sun Snack across from the Floating Market. Don’t let the Chinese names throw you off — these restaurants are Curaçaoan through-and-through. We can also recommend the Latin flavors at Kriollomanía and Yammie Madness Chef, for their food as much as for their names. And we liked they tiny Restaurante Simone, for Indian dishes via Suriname.

Not many people reside in Punda, any longer; the neighborhood has become almost strictly for business, eating and shopping. But this always has been, and likely always will be the center of Willemstad… and thus of Curaçao. And we’ve found it impossible to spend time here, without enjoying ourselves. If you’re not smiling in Punda, you’re probably the only one.

Locations on our Map: Handelskade | Plasa Bieu | Kowloon | Yat Sun Snack | Krillomanía | Yammie Madness Chef | Restaurante Simone

Travel Insurance For Curacao

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February 6, 2016 at 8:51 pm Comment (1)

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Drag Racing in Curaao Drag racing is a phenomenon across the Caribbean, and Curaçao is no exception. When the races are on, hundreds of people cram into the stands to watch tuned-up cars and tricked-out motorcycles squeal down the track. Our last Sunday on the island coincided with the first day of the season, so we decided to check it out.
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