Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | August 5, 2012

Battling Bees in Curaçao

N 12° 04.6′   W 68° 51.1

Spaanse Water,  Curaçao.

We arrived in Curaçao on Monday. It’s an intriguing place but a bee invasion  – the strangest and scariest experience of our trip to date – added an unpleasant twist to our stay.  

We were glad the voyage to Curaçao was short since we needed daylight to navigate into the Spanish Water anchorage, and our departure from Bonaire was delayed.  When we  got to the Bonaire Customs office at the port to check out we found Immigration was short-staffed, requiring a trip to the airport to complete that part of the exit process. Two German sailing couples in the same situation offered to share their taxi which helped to expedite the process.  Normally we would check out the day prior, but Bonaire officialdom requested same-day visits.  With the frequency of Customs boat patrols fudging our schedule did not seem like a good idea.   

The 5-hour trip from Bonaire to Curaçao was pleasant, with 3 to 4 foot seas on the stern.  Spaanse Water, commonly known as “Spanish Water”, is a large lagoon-like body of water offering protected anchoring. The harbor hosts a large number of liveaboard and cruising sailors, an active fishing community, a yacht club, small sailboat racing and windsurfing instruction. It is prettier and more populated than we had expected. Spanish Water is the only practical anchorage where cruising boats can reside for more than a couple of days. The waters around the island are under strict control of the Harbor Master and one must get date and location-specific approval for any anchorage used. According to the guidebook, drug trafficking is a real concern and boating activity is closely monitored.  A Customs plane swooped overhead as we arrived, verifying the government’s vigilant surveillance.   

Spanish Water is not within walking distance of Willamsted, the main city, and we found the inconvenience reported by other boaters was a fact. Had we paid closer attention to the detailed information that had been shared we could have accomplished our check-in visit in half a day.  Poor timing resulted in missing the optimal morning bus to town. We imagined plentiful little buses like in Grenada or St. Martin even though we had been told otherwise.  Here one may have to wait a very long time to find an appropriate vehicle. Bus routes are further complicated by the many thoroughfares that seem to randomly crisscross the populated areas.

Check-in required a visit to Customs, then to another part of town to visit Immigration and the Harbor Master.  We arrived at the Harbor Master’s office – the only one of the three offices to close for lunch – as they embarked on an hour and forty-five minute break. We saw that coming and tried to avoid it, but they will not see you out of sequence. First, Customs, second, Immigration, THEN the Harbor Master, in that order. By the time we made it through the process and back to the bus station we had missed the 2:30 bus. The next public bus didn’t leave until 4 pm, and we never saw a small bus departing on our return route. So Curaçao currently holds the record for the most time-consuming check-in process we have encountered to date – 8 hours from start to finish. Despite the complex logistics, the public officials were some of the friendliest and most welcoming we have met. And we got to see much of this pretty city up close and on foot. Still, we were exhausted at the end of this sweltering day and agreed that this activity was more challenging than making the sea passage.  

The Queen Emma floating pontoon pedestrian bridge in Willemstad opens for shipping traffic and closes to allow foot traffic between Otrobanda on the west side and Punda on the east. The Customs office is in Punda and Immigration and Harbor Master are in Otrobanda, so we got to cross the bridge a couple of times.

 

The bridge is an amazing structure. The entire bridge is powered over to the Otrabanda side when it opens. Ferries are provided for pedestrians while the bridge is open.

 

Our walking tour included an unplanned trip through the public hospital since Bob was sure there must be a handy exit on the other side of the complex. We never found the exit and ended up on a ward. My mouth was open the whole time and I could only imagine what the Joint Commission might say about the birds that were flying through the place. Make note – I really should do hospital tours in all of our destinations.

 

One of many bus stops on the island. Dutch and Papiamentu are the major languages spoken here, although English is commonly used too. We ran into some language barriers with a security officer and several bus drivers and our conversational vocabulary was limited to “bon dia” and “danke”. I wished I had added Papiamentu to my language study list.

 

View of the town from the Queen Juliana bridge, this one for traffic. The busy port, supporting shipping, international trade and oil refining is an important part of the local economy. The island is home to people from dozens of nationalities and shops and restaurants cater to diverse cultures. The standard of living here is one of the highest in the Caribbean.

 

The countryside to the north is sparsely populated and arid. We stopped at the Shete Boka National Park along the eastern coast to explore the mostly unshaded, cactus and succulent-lined trails.

 

The windward coast demonstrates the power of the seas with many spectacular blowholes. Conditions were fairly calm when we visited so can only imagine the surf on a blustery day.

 

A visit to West Punt and lunch stop at Playa Forti on the northwest (leeward) corner of the island. The beaches are small but well frequented by locals as well as tourists. We hope to get permission to bring the boat here to reposition for our trip to Aruba, since it will shorten the passage by about 20 miles. On this day it looked like a great anchorage.

 

An up-close view of the Oriole, Curacao’s national bird, at the Playa Forti Restaurant.

 

Tried lionfish, the reef-invading species, for lunch. Tasty, but not a wise choice as I am now reading that ciguatoxin is commonly found in these fish, at least in the places where they have conducted research studies. The Captain dined on a hamburger, a boring and safer selection.

Other than the calm location, I am not fond of the Spanish Waters anchorage. We haven’t found an ideal dinghy dock, although we did find a convenient resort nearby (Limestone Holiday) that will rent cars by the day. Dog walks are challenged by the many local strays  including one particularly threatening boatyard dog. We get the feeling that the liveaboard cruisers have worn their welcome thin with some of the locals. And then there were the bees.

When Tropical Storm Ernesto passed to the north, the trade winds temporarily ceased on Saturday. The anchorage was invaded that morning by a huge swarm of bees. The Captain was outside and yelled to close the screens and doors right away, an atypical request from one who detests the large snap-in screens since they “get in his way”.  The dark cloud overhead and loud buzzing was frightening as was the large accumulation of bees that were attracted to the Mar Azul’s high bimini top.

We spent most of they day trapped below, reading about swarm behavior, while the bees regrouped.  Bob exhausted the ship’s wasp spray and a good bit of the water supply in the effort to deter them from building a hive.  There were several subsequent battles.  By sunset the outside of the boat was a war zone with thousands of dead bees all over the place and a few still swarming around the top.  Miraculously there were no bee stings, although we had an EpiPen handy since Bob is allergic.  I ended up with a bump on the head after running into a door while trying to escape the swarm when we miscommunicated on our attack plan.  The Captain’s mad dousing efforts with the hose resulted in the aft cabin getting soaked as we neglected to close the ports.  Bandit was determined to nibble on the bee remains that seemed impossible to eradicate and she threw up several times, adding to the debris on the decks.  What a mess.  Bob felt remorseful about murdering so many bees, but short of finding a mobile marine beekeeping service, I don’t think we had a choice.  Other than surrender the Mar Azul to the swarm. 

The vision of what might have happened to the boat and the dogs had we not been aboard is disconcerting. Bob says, no worries, this was a freak once-in-a-lifetime event, not specific to Curaçao.  I say, it happened here once, it could happen again.  I’m ready to move on. 

 

Unwelcome visitors swarming on Mar Azul’s bimini

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