Thursday - We ventured out to the east end of the island for some more snorkeling. This part of the island is markedly more developed – there is even a McDonalds and KFC. We drove through a high-class residential area (think Hollywood Hills in the desert) to get to Jan Thiel Beach. It was a very nice beach, and the snorkeling was very interesting, but the water was a little choppy. We did get to see a HUGE school of fish and a sunken yacht. Very cool! The sea floor drops off pretty dramatically not too far from the shore, and lots of fishies congregate in that area. We only stayed there for a little while, because the waves were becoming a bit too much to handle (I got water up my snorkel one too many times), so we headed back to Marriott-land to enjoy a lunch a la our all-inclusive plan.
After that, we tried snorkeling in the beach right at the Marriott. There was a lot more to see there than we expected. There was a great variety of coral spread out on the sea floor in a pattern that made us feel like we were in someone's fish tank. The number of different fish so close to our room was very surprising. We had to cut the excursion short though due to more choppy waters. For dinner, we went to Ottrabanda (in Willemstad on the other side of Punda – Ottrabanda literally means “other side” - not too creative, are they?) and enjoyed an exquisite meal at the Astrolab Observatory at the Kura Hulanda Hotel. It was very romantic, as we dined beneath the massive ficus tree, surrounded by bubbling fountains. We knew the meal would be special when after we ordered, the waiter brought us the “chef's appetizer” (i.e., we didn’t order it, but they brought it to us anyway), served on a zen-like rectangular plate. It felt very much like we were judges on Iron Chef.
The said appetizer was a salad of the best tomatoes we have ever eaten with alfalfa sprouts. To the side of that was a salmon mousse. It was very creamy and delicious, with a smoky flair - like a really good, soft cheese. For our appetizer, we tried the ostrich carpaccio. Very interesting. Very different. When we didn't eat much of it, the owner came out and asked us why. We explained, to his surprise, that we never had ostrich. We were being adventurous. (I imagine he was thinking, “those silly American tourists.”) The next course (which we also didn’t order) was a sorbet of orange and carrots. You wouldn't think that these two would go together, but we discovered it was very, very good. Like peanut butter and chocolate.
For the main course, Rob ordered the day's special: duck with a tea sauce, which he described as “a religious experience” and “the best steak teriyaki I ever had – but it's duck.” I ordered the pan-seared filet of grouper. It was very good as well. And it was served with a polenta that was absolutely out-of-this-world. Yes, polenta can be part of a fine dining experience. And then dessert. Chocolate mousse with a yummy glass of Rothschild Sauternes. It was the perfect end to a perfect meal.
Friday – We awoke at 6:30am to leave for horseback riding at 8:15. We rode for about 45 minutes, following a lead rider who showed us around a 200-year-old estate in central Curacao. I rode a very relaxed and compliant horse which was only trained to walk at a leisurely pace, while Rob's European-style horse wanted to run the entire route (come to think of it, the horses fit the riders very well). The winding path took us through groves of thorny bushes, to dusty hills where you can see each corner of the island, and finally, under a centuries-old mango tree before returning to the ranch. All in all, it was a fun, if not a dirty, ride. We did get to meet a couple from Pittsburgh who were also on their honeymoon and also got married on August 20. Cue the “It's a Small World” theme.
After a decent lunch in Marriott-land's local deli, we set out for the Curaçao Seaqarium just to the east of Willemstad. It took a few tries to get there, due to some navigational issues on Rob's part. Once we were there, an overwhelming sense of “this is it?” washed over us. The regular Seaquarium (which, much to my annoyance, had no air-conditioning) consists of 12 tanks of varying-size fish, 5 dolphins, which did a pretty substandard show (trainers' fault, not the dolphins'), a snack bar in the center, and a gift shop that was not open. We walked around for about an hour and gave up. On the way out, we paused to watch a single sea lion go through some standard “give paw” type commands. The real draw for the Seaquarium seems to be the Animal Encounters exhibits which put you in the tanks with sharks, dolphins, or sea turtles and are fairly expensive. The best encounters also require SCUBA certification. Maybe next time…
For our final night with our beloved Suzuki Jimmy, we again headed out into Ottrabanda for a meal at Bistro Le Chocard. The meal at Astrolab the night before was very hard to live up to, and while Bistro didn’t quite make it, it was pretty close. We were again offered a “chef’s appetizer,” but here it was a simple yet delicious bruschetta. I played it safe and ordered a chicken dish (I can’t remember the details, which means it was good but not outstanding), and Rob had the Chateaubriand, which was simple and delicious. I passed on the dessert wine this evening – the crème brulee was good enough as is.
Saturday – We turned in the keys to our Jeep today, which meant we spent our last full day in Curacao in Marriott-land. We wanted to see what all the hype was about. We awoke at a leisurely hour and had breakfast in our usual spot in the open-air Palm Cafe. We did a little bit more snorkeling at the hotel too – the conditions were much better today, with not as much choppy waters. Lunch was a bit later in the day, and we had some yummy pizza from the deli. While we were eating in the open-air lobby, we got to see a bride and her entourage pile into funky classic cars. That brought back some lovely memories of our wedding day. (She was tripping over her wedding dress too. After having my share of problems with that, it’s nice to see that is a common setback for brides. Ah, the things we do to be beautiful.)
Later, we had dinner at Portofino. It was, regretfully, sub-par. I had requested a table outside, but they seemed to have ignored my request, because there were none left. We were instead seated in the slightly too frigid air-conditioned interior, at a table that seemed to be more suited for a business lunch – honeymooners should have their chairs much closer together. The food was also not as good as the other times. We thought that perhaps the regular chef was working at “Caribbean Buffet Night,” which we happily passed on. It was silly, though, because the buffet festivities took place right outside of our patio. (“Why are people eating dinner in our backyard?”). After spending the entire day at the Marriott, we were very happy that we got to experience the rest of the island.
Sunday – Last day in Curacao. We enjoyed our final breakfast at the Palm Café, and I said good-bye to my mischievous avian friend. Check-out went smoothly, and a tour van (as opposed to a slightly dilapidated van) brought us to the airport. The flights home were smooth (no hurricanes – we just missed Katrina by a couple of days), and my parents picked us up at Bradley. All in all, it was a very interesting, very adventurous, and very hot honeymoon.