I have been to all of these islands before. They were once known as the Netherlands Antilles. We first stopped at Orangestad, Aruba. Aruba has been settled since 2500 BCE. The earliest known peoples have disappeared, but the island was settled by Arawak tribes about 1 CE. The Spanish arrived in 1499 and by 1514, the islands were named Lesser Antilles – Islas Inutiles (“useless islands.”) In 1634, Curacao was possessed by the Dutch West Indian Company and later became a dependency of the New Netherlands colony ( New Amsterdam, later renamed New York.) The ABC islands reverted to Dutch colonial control in 1815. Aruba obtained its independence in 1986. The main centre is a very modern place but also very touristy. You can find my description of the town under a blog post dated March 21, 2011. I promised myself then that I would take a tour the next time I was in the port and I took one with a local tour company for $20.00. We saw the highlights of the island and our guide gave a thorough description of its history, culture and economy. Our first stop was the Casibari Rocks (photo). We drove through a lot of countryside and noted the dryness, though the rainy season has just ended. The island is covered with cacti and Divi Divi trees, and goats, which form the main cuisine, roam freely (photo). As you might expect in such a dry place, Aloe Vera is in abundance and we visited a factory that makes various Aloe Vera products. Our next stop was the California Lighthouse (photo showing coral rocks in the foreground). As we drove through the hotel area which is situated along the fabulous beaches we spotted a Dutch windmill imported from the Netherlands (photo).
Curacao, our second stop, is a very pretty place. Since October 2012, Curacao has been an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is a parliamentary democracy. The local people have Dutch Nationality and carry Dutch and EU passports. The economy is based on oil refinery earnings, offshore banking and tourism. Parts of the older neighbourhoods of Willemstad and Willemstad’s city centre, have been declared a UNESCO World heritage site. The last time I was here I did a countryside tour and a self guided city tour. You can read the blog post for March 22, 2011. Today I just walked around both sides of the town which are separated by the harbour across which is a movable pedestrian bridge which swings open to permit ships to enter. The photos are of the iconic houses on Handelskade Street on the Punda side of the harbour entrance and the Jewish Synagogue which is the oldest synagogue in the Americas.
Bonaire is a much quieter place. Its economy at one time had been based on cattle ranching and salt harvesting but the harvesting ended in the 1800s and the economy was in decline until it was reignited by the growth of tourism which is mainly based upon scuba diving in its beautiful waters. The salt harvesting industry has also been rejuvenated and the large salt piles can be seen at the end of the island (photo). Bonaire became a Special Municipality of the Netherlands in October 2010 and the inhabitants have the same rights as Dutch citizens. They have seen improvements in health care, education, social housing and emergency services since receiving this new status. We docked at Kralendijk. I was here many years ago and went to a local beach. Today I took a local tour with a man who had retired from teaching high school for 31 years. He was a wealth of information about the island and showed us many aspects of daily life in Bonaire. The highlight of the short tour was to see flamingos which receive sanctuary in Bonaire. The photos below are of flamingos, some wild donkeys which were roaming along the road and cactus growing in the arid landscape. After lunch I went to a local swimming place near the ship. The water was cold but clear, and there were many bright blue fish swimming under my feet. I must add that the craft market here was made up of local artisans, predominantly jewellery makers and painters, and is one of the best that I have seen anywhere for both quality and price. Our next two stops in two days time are Trinidad and Tobago.