The Salt Flats of Jan Thiel
The plantations of colonial-era Curaçao had it rough, because the island’s arid ground makes it difficult to grow produce or raise livestock. How exactly were the unlucky Dutch landowners going to earn the fabulous fortunes for which they’d come to the New World? Many turned their eyes to something which Curaçao has in abundance: seawater. Or rather, the salt inside of the seawater.
Curaçao’s saliñas, or salt flats, are long since obsolete, but they’ve not disappeared entirely. We went on a short hike to see the saliñas of the former Jan Thiel plantation, near the popular tourist beach of the same name.
Our walk began near the Jan Thiel Landhuis, where we found a path that winds through a forest before reaching the salt flats and the large inland lagoon to which they’re attached. A number of interconnected trails snake through the dark woods, which were a little menacing, with huge termite mounds hanging from the twisted trees. This walk was fun, and even if we hadn’t found the salt flats, we would have been satisfied with the day’s excursion. Soon, however, the saliñas came into view, colorful and wide open, and the day got even better.
The saliñas are wide expanses of land which have been totally flattened. Ocean water was allowed into the flats and then trapped, so that it would evaporate under the heat of the sun, and leave behind its salt. Today, the saliñas are still covered in hard, crystallized salt of a pinkish hue. Totally unscientific guesswork here, but I’m assuming the pink comes from the same organisms which give flamingos their color. We did spot a few flamingos in the nearby water.
Trails lead all the way around the lagoon, though we were content to circle just the salt flats. They reminded us giant ice skating rinks… stepping out onto the glistening salt, I half-expected to slip and fall. I picked up a big chunk which had broken off, and briefly considered licking it, but this salt isn’t for consumption. In other words, don’t plan on showing up with a chisel and bucket.
As long as we were in the area, we also decided to check out Jan Thiel Beach, but I’m not going to waste a lot of space describing it. Suffice it to say that this is not the type of beach which appeals to us. Completely artificial, with multiple over-priced bars and restaurants, “deluxe” lounge chairs and beach beds, and a ban on bringing your own food and drink. And where’s the beach?! You can’t possibly mean that tiny strip of sand. The snorkeling here is supposed to be good, but we never bothered to verify that.