Garrett in Bonaire – Mi trep na Kursou (My trip to Curaçao)

The time was 6:15AM. All 11 students climbed aboard the trucks and were off to Flamingo International Airport. As part of the program, my classmates, professors, and I hopped islands and took an extended two-day field trip to Curaçao.

The group of students and professors at Flamingo International Airport ready to hop over to Curaçao at 6:15AM.

The group of students and professors at Flamingo International Airport ready to hop over to Curaçao at 6:15AM.

For those of you who don’t remember, Curaçao is the “C” in ABC islands and is the largest of the three islands. Curaçao lies only about 30 miles west of Bonaire, making for a short 20-minute flight. Similarly to Bonaire, Curaçao was once a part of the Netherland Antilles. However, in 2010, when Bonaire became a municipality of the Netherlands, Curaçao became its own independent country. So, here I am, taking a casual field trip to another country for class during my study abroad experience in the Caribbean.

My classmates and I enjoying the sun in Curaçao!

My classmates and I enjoying the sun in Curaçao!

The itinerary for this trip was jam-packed.

First up: The Sea Aquarium. The aquarium itself was much like any other aquarium with a plethora of marine life on display in various tanks. However, nothing beats swimming with the same fish on the reef outside my residence hall, so I was slightly unimpressed by the inside. The outdoor facilities were another story. As the aquarium is oceanfront, they have multiple lagoons that have channels leading out into the ocean where they take care of a dozen or so dolphins. Let me just say, the Dolphin Academy is amazing! We got a behind-the-scenes tour from the leader of the dolphin program. He has been working with these dolphins for over 20 years and knows them so well. He took us around to the different lagoons stopping at each to tell us about the dolphins. In one, three male teen dolphins were participating in a snorkel session. Here he told us about the reproductive tendencies of dolphins, which are extremely interesting (if you’re ever bored and want to read up on their habits). In another lagoon, dolphin trainers had just finished putting on a wonderful show and were beginning afternoon training sessions with the dolphins. The next lagoon over was occupied by three female dolphins, two of which had given birth in the past month and the third is due in the near future. We stopped here to watch the two-week old dolphin interact with its mother and hear an explanation of dolphin familial structure and group behaviour. In the last lagoon, a dolphin therapy session was underway. The Dolphin Academy on Curacao is one of the best dolphin therapy facilities in the world. Here the dolphins help children of varying disabilities overcome challenges. While they are not the actual therapists in the scenario, they are used as a reward system for the child. Just look at these guys! No wonder they connect so well with children!

The two-week old baby dolphin swims alongside its mother and offers a shy smile for the camera!

The two-week old baby dolphin swims alongside its mother and offers a shy smile for the camera!

Up next: The Curasub! Just down the pier from the Sea Aquarium was Substation Curaçao. That’s right, a submarine. And not just any submarine; a 5-person scientific mini-submarine. In fact, the day before our arrival, the Smithsonian had taken the sub down to 1,000 feet and brought up countless specimens for analysis in the lab. While we weren’t there to bring up samples or anything, we still got to take a trip down in the sub. It sure was cozy! All complaints aside, the experience was breathtaking. The sights were just beautiful and it is eye-opening to just witness the vast array of life that occurs at that depth. Once the majority of visible light disappears from the water column, corals slowly start to fade out and sponges take their place. As a member of the marine biology lab on campus that focuses on sponge research, this was sponge heaven! Continuing past 200 feet, marine live gets even sparser and more interesting. Our max depth was 530 feet! On our way back up, we stopped by a wreck site of two tugboats, which were teeming with life, including countless lionfish, multiple green moray eels, and all kinds of sponges. The whole adventure was absolutely incredible!

Smiling before I drop down into the Curasub for my first submarine ride

Smiling before I drop down into the Curasub for my first submarine ride

My buddy Graham and I smiling out the glass dome of the sub.

My buddy Graham and I smiling out the glass dome of the sub.

A view from inside the sub looking out at the reef. Note the depth of 510 ft!

A view from inside the sub looking out at the reef. Note the depth of 510 ft!

The following day: Kura Hulanda, possibly one of the best museums I have ever been to. Kura Hulanda is a cultural museum, with a focus on slavery and its impact on the world, specifically in the Caribbean. In the US, when we are taught history, the topic of slavery is often glazed over and its horrors are hidden from view; instead we focus on the Civil War and the biggest battles. However, slavery has killed more people than the Holocaust and this museum shed some light on their stories. During our tour of the slavery museum, we saw the devices used to torture slaves that were disobedient, we ducked inside a model of a ship’s hold where the slaves were kept during the trans-Atlantic voyage, and we heard the terrible tales of the conditions they were exposed to throughout the trek. The museum really opened my eyes to the horrors of slavery and offered another cultural lens with which to view the practice as a whole. It was interesting to learn and be exposed to the history of slavery from this other perspective.

A common device used to torture slaves. Disobedient slaves were stripped and placed in this metal chair in the scorching sun, often until they died.

A common device used to torture slaves. Disobedient slaves were stripped and placed in this metal chair in the scorching sun, often until they died.

Replicate model of the hold of a slave ship. Our tour guide estimated that close to 100 slaves would be crammed into this small space. And to think, it felt crowded with just the 7 of us in the tour group

Replicate model of the hold of a slave ship. Our tour guide estimated that close to 100 slaves would be crammed into this small space. And to think, it felt crowded with just the 7 of us in the tour group

Lastly: Bus tour. With such a limited time on the island, we didn’t really get to see much more than the cove where the Sea Aquarium and our accommodations were located. The bus took us around Punda and Otrobanda, two quarters of the capital city of Willemstad. Literally meaning “other side,” Otrobanda is located directly across Sint Anna Bay from Punda. Together, these quarters are important not only for tourism, but also their history and their proximity to the ocean, which allows for easy trade. In addition, to touring the city, we also were taken to Fort Nassau, which provided a stunning 360 degree view of the city, as well as Fort Beekenburg, which was an old military fort stationed at the back of the bay meant to keep pirates and the British off the island.

A view of Punda across the channel from Otrobanda.

A view of Punda across the channel from Otrobanda.

A few of us pose for a picture with the capital city of Curaçao behind us.

A few of us pose for a picture with the capital city of Curaçao behind us.

Fort Beekenburg standing tall.

Fort Beekenburg standing tall.

All in all, while we were only on the island for less than 36 hours, the country of Curaçao was amazing! I absolutely loved the field trip and appreciate the experience! Guess I can check “Go 530 feet underwater in a submarine” and “Visit Curaçao” off my bucket list too!

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