Wowed by Curacao - Page 2

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Kenepa Grandi Beach, Curacao
WESTWARD BOUND: Kenepa Grandi Beach, one of Curacao's western beaches.  (Nathan Borchelt)

I'd heard the buzz about the island's western beaches and soon spied them in droves: white-, black- and gold-sand specimens, some clogged with cruise-ship passengers, others deserted save for scattered fishermen hauling in the day's bounty. The surreal landscape would have thrilled Georgia O'Keeffe: Bright yellow houses punctuating flat, desert-like stretches; cactuses lining the dusty road, contorting themselves dramatically, like green pipe cleaners; iguanas scurrying to and fro, avoiding cars and people.

I whiled away the afternoon under a palapa at Cas Abou Beach, a popular hangout for tourists and locals, wading through water so translucent I could clearly see tiny fish darting out of my way. Then I had my first-ever beachside massage. Luxuriating in a feast for the senses — the masseuse's expert touch on my back, the sound of waves lapping the shore, the lemon-lime scent of essential oils — I finally understood what all the fuss was about: Massages and beaches are indeed a marriage made in heaven.

I'd planned to take full advantage of my west-end stay by hiking in nearby Christoffel Park, home to 20 miles of trails, three former plantations (known as landhuizen) and Mount Christoffel, at 1,239 feet the island's highest point. But laziness prevailed, so I asked Chernov to drive me along an asphalt trail instead. We cruised beneath a green canopy and along a red clay road to a lookout that was ominous yet stunning. Waves crashed fiercely on a black-sand beach sheltered under a slate-gray sky. Limestone cliffs crowned the scene, and hawks circled above. Not a soul was in sight.

From there it was a short ride to the neighboring national park at Shete Boka (Papiamento for "seven mouths" or inlets). Surveying the tablelands (limestone inlets that overlook the island's rugged north coast) I had yet another "where-am-I?" moment. Here was another vista unlike any I'd seen in the Caribbean, with red clay soil stretching flat-out for miles, sprinkled with green shrubbery and aloe plants. Chernov, not one for small talk, hit the nail on the head. "This is pure nature," he sighed.

And this, I thought hours later as I scrutinized a parade of beauty queens from the judges' booth, is anything but. I'd landed here because Trevor Nisbeth, a scene maker who'd volunteered to be my night-life guide, had invited me along while he judged the Miss Curaçao pageant.

At the backstage after-party, I sipped wine and chatted with locals in whose presence I began to feel painfully provincial. A fashion designer told me he'd moved to Holland after living in Hong Kong; an investment banker had worked in several European countries; Trevor had traveled extensively and worked everywhere from China to Ecuador. Conversations started in one language, progressed into another and concluded in a third.

On the way back to the hotel, I got my first good look at Willemstad's famed waterfront, lit up at night. It looked like a movie set. Beautifully restored pink and yellow 18th-century buildings stood beside gray ones that showed their age, as if to testify, "Yes, there are real bones beneath the fancy facades." I asked Trevor to pull over so I could get out and take it all in. Had I been beamed up to Amsterdam?

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