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Trip 28 -- Curaçao Walk

Day 4: Coral Estate to Willemstad
Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Today: 34615 steps/26.17 km/16.26 mi/5h 6m
Total: 122113 steps/96.95 km/60.24 mi/17h 18m

"The dogs didn't bother you?" my server at yesterday's dinner had asked when I explained my route and method of transportation.

She was about to give me information I didn't want to hear, but it was helpful to know: A man walking from Coral Estate to Willibrordus on Saturday was attacked by three dogs.

"Where, exactly, did this happen?"

She described the route I'd walked earlier yesterday in reverse. "Between the blue apartments and the church."

"I did see dogs there, but they were fenced in," I said. They had been noisy.

"Just be careful," she said.

Upstairs at the terrace bar, I said good night to the friendly pair who had served me my welcome drink and sunset snack. One of them could scarcely believe anyone would walk around Curaçao. She didn't want to walk anywhere.

I showed them a portion of my proposed route for today. The road from Coral Estate would pass through Willibrordus and then become the road to Kunuku Aqua, after which it would connect with the airport road. But between Kunuku Aqua and the highway was a turnoff to a dirt road that led southeast, toward the coast and Willemstad. Google Maps showed about a ten-meter gap between the dirt road and the access road toward Willemstad.

"Maybe you know," I said. "Does this road connect to the other one?"

"Yes, it does. But be careful, because it's very isolated. You should take a knife."

"I've got a whistle."

"Now what are you going to do with a whistle? It's better if you have a knife."

Somehow I suspected I'd feel safer on the isolated dirt road than the highway, where I'd pass the man at Super'b and the first white dog. I also have no idea how to defend myself with a knife.

Before I was under way, I had to stop up the mountain near the checkpoint at Coral Estate: Curaçao requires a Covid-19 antigen test from visitors on their third full day in the country, undertaken at one of a handful of specific labs. I'd scheduled it for 9:00, but I woke early and hoped they'd see me early. I was intending to get to Willemstad in time to eat at the Plasa Bieu, where food vendors set up stalls with no-frills Curaçaoan lunches until 3:00.

Of course I turned too soon, so I enjoyed a ten-minute walk among the upper residences of Coral Estate -- the super-luxury mansions with gates and long driveways leading who-knows-where -- until a patrol drove by and pointed me in the right direction. The tiny Laboratorio de Medicos office was right by the checkpoint, and they didn't mind seeing me ahead of schedule.

I descended and picked up four rocks and a stick just before the road turned right at the blue apartments (formally a vacation rental called Stone Fence Studios). It was maybe an eight-minute walk from there to the giant peach-colored church.

I turned and saw a wonderful thing: Workmen were pruning the shrubbery along the road. I've rarely been so happy to see people.

There was a pair of dogs in an unfenced yard, and they barked but didn't enter the roadway. I explained to one of the workers why I was carrying rudimentary armaments. "Sometimes there's a problem with the dogs." He was nonplussed.

I passed the church and followed the road down to where I had lunch yesterday; then I continued straight along the saliƱa, where flamingoes and a heron were having breakfast. After another half-hour I reached Kunuku Aqua and the associated dogs next door to the resort; I saw two of them disappear behind a house but they didn't notice me.

I turned right on the dirt road. It led me down past the giant cylindrical tanks of an oil refinery (15.8 million barrels' storage capacity, according to their Web site) and then, long after I expected it to, finally ended at a junction, where I turned left past another flamingo marsh and headed into Willemstad.

These last few kilometers were exhausting. I felt the heat, the weight of the Monahans' novel (and one extra change of clothes -- my usual is five sets total but I didn't want to do laundry on a six-day walk), and some physics-defying thinning of my soles. A new song of moans emerged from my throat.

Willemstad straddles St. Anna Bay. On the east side is the oldest part of the city, Punda, where my hotel, the synagogue, and my lunch destination awaited me. The western side is Otrobanda, simply "other bank" in Papiamento, from which I was approaching. Cars get flung over the bay on the impressively high Queen Juliana Bridge, which has clearance for tall cruise and cargo ships. Pedestrians take the Queen Emma pontoon bridge, which swings open to let vessels through.

Of course it was just opening when I arrived at 2:15, and the blue flag had been raised, indicating that it would stay open to water traffic for up to 45 minutes. When that happens, a free ferry service is operated.

I considered the rules of the Abecedarian Walks -- they're my rules, after all -- and decided that I would permit myself to use the ferry, but of course I'd have to come back to the bridge's western entrance later and finish walking to my hotel.

I approached the circular general-goods-and-souvenirs market and the Plasa Bieu and realized that I had been to both five years ago, when the Hapag-Lloyd ship I performed on docked in Willemstad for an afternoon. I have no idea what I ate back then, but today I had conch stew with plantains, rice, and beans and lots of refreshing liquids.

Nearby I visited the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue and the connected museum, both of which I did remember from 2016. The building is largely the same as it was in 1732, though an organ was added in 1866. The congregation was founded in 1651. Several ancient religious items are still used in the services, such as a Torah brought from Amsterdam in 1659.

Inside are giant brass chandeliers, mahogany pews and platforms, and the famous sand floor, which not merely commemorates the secret worship of the conversos but also symbolizes the Jews' 40-year desert trek from Egypt to the land of Israel as well as a line from Genesis: "I will multiply your seed as the sands of the seashore and the stars in the heavens."

I had to rest for an hour or so, after which I crossed the bridge and finished today's walk just before sunset -- a glorious time of day to see the light reflect off the city's pastel façades. I then went back to Otrobanda for an obligatory green rum at Netto Bar, the city's oldest (dating from 1954), followed by a stroll to the somewhat suburban area of Pietermaai.

Here were posh residences and trendy eateries, including Rozendaels. I couldn't repeat the meal taken in "The Navigator's Treasure" as there were no mussels offered, but I had two well-prepared traditions from the ABC Islands: pumpkin soup and keshi yena: pulled chicken topped with gouda and accompanied by polenta, plantain, and bread pudding.

Narrow alleys connect the main east-west streets of Pietermaai. There seemed to be some exciting nightlife within that dark network; if only I had the energy.

Go on to day 5