Every once in awhile, Jürgen and I will cross our fingers and embark upon an excursion which we know nothing about. Our trip to Hanchi Spelonk was one such adventure. There’s almost nothing on the internet nor in guidebooks about this little park, but we supposed it was worth a shot… if for no other reason than the excuse to say “Hanchi Spelonk” repeatedly throughout the day. Hanchi Spelonk!
In the early 20th century, oil was discovered off the coast of Venezuela. And Curaçao was the perfect location for Royal Dutch Shell to capitalize on the new black gold, thanks to the Schottegat: a large natural harbor capable of handling massive barges and tankers. After the 1915 opening of the Isla Refinery, life on the island would never be the same.
While we were at the Mikvé Israel-Emmanuel Synagogue in Punda, we read about Curaçao’s oldest Jewish cemetery, the Beth Haim. It sounds macabre, but we always enjoy visiting cemeteries, and what really caught our eye about the Beth Haim was its location: right on top of the island’s oil refinery. Only employees are allowed onto the grounds of the refinery, so for the rest of us, the Beth Haim is as close it gets.
After the Tumba Festival comes to a close, the next event on Curaçao’s crowded Carnival calendar is the Horse Parade, which takes place along Breedestraat in Otrobanda. Is there a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon, than watching harlequin-costumed men and women ride horses? Well, of course there is… but this will do in a pinch.
Curaçao’s fortunes have long been tied to the Schottegat, the remarkable natural harbor around which Willemstad was built. It’s the largest harbor in the Caribbean and, behind Rotterdam, the second-largest in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. And it’s allowed the island to become a great center of trade. Since 1915, the Schottegat has been home to Curaçao’s Isla Oil Refinery. We took the ferry tour of the harbor offered by the Maritime Museum.
Found across the Waaigat Bay from Punda, Scharloo is the newest of Willemstad’s four historic districts and, as evidenced by its abundance of stately mansions, was home to Curaçao’s richest citizens. Today, the wealthy have moved on to other neighborhoods, but the mansions have remained.
Along the banks of the Waaigat, a fleet of small, wooden ships is stationed, each carrying a load of fruits and vegetables from nearby Venezuela. This is Willemstad’s Floating Market, where Curaçaoans have been purchasing their produce for a hundred years.
Two bridges connect Punda to Otrobanda. For cars, there’s the towering Queen Juliana Bridge, which reaches a height of 56 meters above the Saint Anna Bay, and is the tallest in the Caribbean. And for pedestrians, there’s the Queen Emma Bridge, which rises zero meters over the water. The Queen Emma, you see, is a floating bridge.
When you think of “Curaçao,” you’re likely to think of things like “scuba diving,” “liquor,” “beaches,” “cruise ships” and “historic Jewish community.” Wait… what was that last one?! It’s unexpected, but this little island has the oldest Jewish congregation in the Western Hemisphere, with a history that dates to 1651. And Willemstad’s Mikvé Israel-Emanuel is the New World’s oldest synagogue.