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A Prickly Hike Around Rif Sint Marie

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Armed with only a vague notion of the hike we were supposed to be embarking upon, we set off into the cactus fields and brambles near Playa Port Mari. Online, it had been described as a “History Trail,” and the printout we grabbed at the dive shop called it a “Bird Trail.” But we shortly discovered there wasn’t much of a “trail” of any sort. Let’s just say, a machete would have come in handy.

Porto Mari Hike

We had been lounging on a lot of beaches, and felt compelled to do something more active. Since this was called the “History Trail,” it was especially appealing; we could take care of both exercise and culture in one easy excursion… and then head back to the beach.

However, this hike wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped. There are no markers of any sort, and we got off on the wrong foot immediately, walking straight past the trailhead. We eventually found the path near the ruins of the old Rif Sint Marie landhuis. This plantation had been in the salt business, but its house burnt to the ground long ago. What’s left is already starting to be reclaimed by nature.

Porto Mari Hike
This thorny branch has good taste! It swiped Jürgen’s hat as we walked by.

We continued to the east, scraping past thorny bushes and stepping nimbly around cacti that had fallen into the path, until reaching a small pond. With our focus fully upon dodging thorns, we had approached the pond without talking, and managed to surprise two wild boar who were bathing. Fish, yes; turtles, perhaps; but I hadn’t expected to encounter wild boar while in Curaçao. They sprinted off quickly as we came into view, so we didn’t get a picture.

Porto Mari Hike

Our trail now led around to a tall, wobbly bird-watching tower. We didn’t have binoculars for bird-spotting, but did see a few parakeets flapping around. And from above, we were better able to appreciate the density of the brush we had just fought through.

Porto Mari Hike

This area is criss-crossed with various trails, and none of them are marked. So while heading back to the south, we ended up on the wrong path. The mistake was annoying, but it did allow us to stumble upon a pack of Crested Caracaras chilling in a tree. Most of them flew away as we approached, but one stayed behind, possibly to monitor our intentions, possibly just lazy.

Overall, this was a decent hike, although beset with frustrations when the path wasn’t clear or when it was blocked with thorny shrubs. I can’t imagine there’s any way you’d come out of it without at least a few decent scratches, so it’s hard to recommend, especially with the abundance of much better hikes on the island. But still, it was fun to see a different side of Curaçao… and we enjoyed our subsequent trip to the beach even more than usual, because we really felt as though we had earned it.

Trail Map on WikiLoc.com (You should be able to spot where we went off-trail!)

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December 30, 2015 at 2:21 pm Comments (0)

Landhuis Jan Kok and the Nena Sanchez Gallery

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When the plantation house of Jan Kok was in operation, it was a place of cruelty, where hundreds of enslaved men and women were put to hard labor. But time mellows everything, and that apparently goes for Curaçao’s landhuizen, as well. Today, the Jan Kok is home to the colorful work of native Curaçaoan artist Nena Sanchez.

Jon Kok Nena Sanchez

Originally constructed in 1704, the Landhuis Jan Kok was rebuilt completely in 1840 after a fire. It sits atop a hill, commanding an excellent view over the region, including the flamingo reservation of Sint-Marie and nearby Sint Willibrodrus. This plantation was mostly dedicated to salt, and once had over a hundred slaves. Jan Kok himself had a reputation as one of the island’s more vicious slave-owners, and there’s a legend that his malevolent spirit still haunts the premises.

Jon Kok Nena Sanchez

However, the plantation house is safe today. In the presence of Nena Sanchez’s exuberant artwork, not even the worst of demons could maintain their malevolence for long. Born in Curaçao, Nena has had a whirlwind life. In 1966, she was named Miss Curaçao, and went on to compete in the Miss Universe pageant. Afterwards, she lived all around the world, including stints in Asia, Europe and South America. But she eventually returned to her homeland and dedicated herself to painting: her lifelong passion.

With its painted buildings, clear blue sky and shimmering Caribbean waters, Curaçao is a colorful place, and Nena’s artwork seems to transfer the island’s hues directly onto canvas. Her pieces are spread throughout the Landhuis Jan Kok, and even spill out into the garden, which she has turned into a beautiful open-air gallery.

The Landhuis Jan Kok is certainly worth a stop, perhaps after having seen the nearby flamingo sanctuary. Entry is free, although you might find yourself unable to opening your wallet for one of Nena Sanchez’s Caribbean prints.

Location on our Map

Framed Curacao Photos

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December 28, 2015 at 8:40 pm Comments (2)

The Savonet Museum

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The former Savonet Plantation is found within the bounds of Curaçao’s Christoffel National Park. In 2010, the landhuis (manor) was converted into a museum which touches on the history of the island and life on a colonial-era Dutch plantation.

Savonet Museum

The museum starts off at the very beginning of Curaçao’s history, with artifacts left by the Arowak Indians: the people who inhabited the island before the arrival of the Europeans. But the majority of exhibits at the Savonet concentrate on the story of the plantation itself, and what life was like for both landowners and slaves.

The Savonet Plantation’s landhuis was built in 1662, at a time when the Dutch were heavily invested in the slave trade. Hundreds of men and women kidnapped from West Africa were purchased in Willemstad for work on this plantation, which was one of Curaçao’s largest. Even after the 1863 abolition, most of the Savonet’s former slaves stayed on, working for pennies on parcels of land which they now owned.

Savonet Museum

The museum introduces the culture of the Savonet’s slaves and, by extension, those across the Caribbean. We learned about the religion santería, which is a blend of Catholicism and various West African faiths, as well as some of the more curious customs. For example, after birth, newborn babies were safeguarded for eight days to protect them from falling victim to a vampire-like creature known as the “èdze.” Another custom was that, after marriage, the mother of the groom would visit the bridal suite. If she found the sheets stained with “Virgin Tears,” she would bring them in celebration to the mother of the bride. The two old biddies would then wash the sheets and hang them out to dry in the front yard, making sure that every passerby knew about the bride’s chastity. We also learned that many Dutch women would give their babies to a “Yaya,” or nursemaid, for milking. The Yaya was responsible for the child’s upbringing, and would often follow them into adulthood, eventually watching over their children as well.

Savonet Museum

The museum is rounded out with portraits from the plantation days, tools, clothes, a crib, a coffin… and a few real live bats. I almost screamed the first time one whizzed by me through an open door. I might have been afraid that it was an “èdze.”

Perhaps the best part of this museum is its location. While you’re reading about the Savonet’s history, you’re standing in the very spot it occurred. Amazingly, we were the only people there, and this was on a Sunday. I’m guessing that most visitors come to the Christoffel Park to hike up the mountain, and then leave again right away. But if you have any interest in the history of Curaçao, don’t overlook the Savonet Museum.

Location on our Map

Car Rental In Curacao starting at $21.43 per day

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December 22, 2015 at 9:58 pm Comments (0)
A Prickly Hike Around Rif Sint Marie Armed with only a vague notion of the hike we were supposed to be embarking upon, we set off into the cactus fields and brambles near Playa Port Mari. Online, it had been described as a "History Trail," and the printout we grabbed at the dive shop called it a "Bird Trail." But we shortly discovered there wasn't much of a "trail" of any sort. Let's just say, a machete would have come in handy.
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