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Trip 28 -- Curaçao Walk

Day 2: Tera Cora to Westpunt and up to Watamula
Sunday, November 7, 2021

Today 40866 steps/33.34 km/20.72 mi/5h 39m
Total: 53218 steps/43.72 km/27.17 mi/7h 19m

Other than the savory pancakes with bits of ham, there was little to detain me at the Kunuku Aqua Resort's breakfast buffet, and I exited the property just before 8:30. I collected rocks across the road in anticipation of a chorus of four angry dogs, but they weren't to be seen. To my surprise and content, I had very few interactions with dogs today.

I walked through the pleasant town of Tera Cora ("red earth") proper -- it even had a wide sidewalk -- and arrived at the Kunuku House just before its posted opening hour of 10:00. Formally called the Kas di Pal'i Ma├»shi ("house of cornstalks"), this museum shows aspects of the 19th-century lifestyle of newly freed former slaves -- slavery on Curaçao ended in 1863 although it had been officially abolished 49 years earlier.

Emancipated but with no money or land, they rented parcels and grew and sold produce, although the land was tough for crops. They built cactus fences to keep goats out, spread clothes on cactus to dry them, and created cactus walls for latrine privacy.

Women gathered to pound corn and wash laundry, and they sang as they worked: "Mash up your corn, mash with me, mash harder" and "My washboard belongs to me" -- the latter really to show possession of their husbands: Don't go after my washboard, and especially don't go after my man.

The slaves' diet had been cornmeal-based -- men received six boxes per week, women five, and children a number of smaller boxes corresponding to their ages. That wasn't very much food, and it was also boring and not particularly nutritious, so they supplemented it with cactus or animal products such as goats and pigs.

The museum has a good cafeteria, and I wished I had been in the mood for some tripe soup or goat stew, but I settled for a pumpkin pancake and fresh, sweet oregano juice.

Beyond the settlement of Barber the road became narrower, lonelier, and bordered by forest consistently strewn with broken glass, plastic bottles, and discarded paper. I didn't see evidence of any camps, so the amount of litter was surprising. From the museum to Westpunt was only 16 kilometers, but it felt like an eternity. With every curve I expected to see Westpunt ahead, but it was just more plants, garbage, road, and heat.

Finally I reached Jaanchie's restaurant, at the main Westpunt junction: To the right was the town and the natural phenomenon of the Watamula blowhole; ahead the road curved around to the left and back toward Willemstad.

I ordered a lemonade and a bottle of water, guzzled them both, and requested more water. Then Jaanchie himself recited the menu, as he does for most everyone. How could I not try the iguana stew? Jaanchie likes combination plates, and I almost went with part iguana and part goat stew, but Jaanchie pointed out that it would mean dealing with a lot of bones, so I let him convince me to substitute grouper for the goat. The side dishes -- which came in the middle of the three-compartment plate -- would be a combination of plantains, rice and beans, and French fries.

Like most mild white meats, the iguana tasted like the sauce it was cooked in. But if I had to compare it to something, I'd have to liken it to alligator or frogs' legs. And if I had to compare it to chicken, I'd say it was, somewhat contradictorily, both lighter and denser.

Ten minutes farther on, around the bend, was the Marazul Dive Resort. I'd picked it not because of any interest in diving but because it was a good price and along my route and didn't require a booking of multiple nights. It was a cluster of white cottages with a pool and access to the sea.

I'd booked it long before I would read that the archeologist in "The Navigator's Treasure" stayed there, as it was "a place where she could do whatever she wanted -- set her own schedule, chat with anyone or ignore everyone, even cook her own meals." The guy in charge had left for the day (I'll pay him in the morning), but he e-mailed me instructions for how to enter and access my bungalow room, number 27B.

The archeologist had stayed in 10B, so I had to compare her digs to mine. It had an upturned wicker double seat on the porch, which I was caught examining perhaps a little too closely when a couple approached that very bungalow.

"May I help you?" the man asked.

Then it hit me. Much of the action in the book took place in Westpunt. I asked, "Are you...authors?"

"Yes."

"Are you D.C. Monahan?" David and Cheryl co-wrote "The Navigator's Treasure" and used D.C. as a pen name.

"Yes," he said. "And you are?"

I explained my project to walk 26 islands, that I read a book set in each island, that they had written a nice note to me in my copy of their novel, and that I had managed to book into this resort not knowing that it would feature in their book.

"Well, you have made our day," they said.

"I enjoyed the story very much, and I also use it as a sort of travel guide. Can you please remind me: What's the restaurant where they go to eat mussels in Willemstad?"

"Rozendaels!" David said. "Some people ask if I can give them clues to the treasure."

I laughed. "Well, you have made my day as well. Thank you!"

"Sounds like you've got a book in the making." How encouraging to hear those words from an author!

I walked along the property and turned back, catching Cheryl's eye. She was up on their balcony. She waved at me.

"Nice place to live!" I said.

"It is!"

I walked back to the junction and up to Watamula to see the blowhole at sunset. The wide dirt access road seemed a world away from the relatively posh Westpunt neighborhood I'd strolled through just a few minutes earlier. (Which house did the retired cop in the Monahans' book rent when he moved to Curaçao from New Hampshire? Which house belonged to his nosy neighbor, Miss Judi?)

I expected more people at Watamula, but there were just three boys and a man, fishing. Walking across the sharp coral rock wasn't easy. I found a gaping hole into which the seawater fed; then I noticed the main blowhole some distance away. It erupted every few seconds. I sat near it and heard the water churning through the tunnels under me, hissing like snakes.

I left immediately after sunset and it was dark by the time I reached the Restaurant Playa Forti, perched over the sea. To my delight, they had lionfish on the menu. I'd missed eating it in Aruba (it's served only in one place on that island, and only on Saturdays) and longed for vengeance after my friend stepped on one and got stung when we were in Turkey seven years ago. Lionfish are beautiful, with strange, colorful folds that swish and sway, but they're also invasive, and restaurants are encouraged to serve them up. They still don't show up on many menus, though.

It was a meaty fish, a bit like cod or flounder but denser and sweeter. It had plenty of small bones, one of which became lodged between my teeth and gave me an impromptu flossing until I could work it out. I guess one must mind the lionfish whether it is on the seafloor or on a plate.

Go on to day 3