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   off to Curaçoa
Saturday, December 21 2013

location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York, United States of America

Gretchen and I got up early this morning for a day that would end with us in Curaçoa (down near the southern shore of the Carribean Sea). We'd already packed, so it only took a few minutes for us to load the car and drive away. We did so with as little fuss and bother as possible so as to minimize the disappointment such departures always cause for our dogs. Because of the difficulties of scheduling house sitters at this time of year, we'd had to arrange with a professional dog boarder to take our dogs for the week. As for the cats, our neighbor Andrea would be coming by once daily to feed them. And two other people would be coming by for a few hours now and then to hang out with them.
We drove up to Albany, made it through security without incident, and soon were on our way through the high troposphere to the international airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, a city that appears, based on the airport's decoration, to have some connection to Billy Graham. (It also has, judging by how it looks from above, truly horrendous problems with suburban sprawl.)
This particularly trip had been entirely arranged and paid for by Gretchen's father, who had invited both his children and their families to accompany him and his wife to Curaçoa. The three families all were to meet in the Charlottes airport, and since we were the first there, we hurried to the gate where the next family would be arriving (Gretchen's parents from Washington, DC) and waited (Gretchen even fashioned a silly little sign with their surname on it). Once the parents had joined us, we then waited at the gate where Gretchen's brother's family would be arriving from Pittsburgh. Comprised of two adults and two children, this last family was the largest.
Once all eight of us were together, we found our way to a food court, where our research had determined that the best vegan options could be found (all the adults except Jen, Gretchen's brother's wife, are now vegans or very nearly so). This is not to say the options were particularly good. There's a Mexican restaurant called Tequileria, but a vegan would have to cobble something together out of rice and beans to eat there (and even then probably fail). Our best bet was the Manchu Wok, where it was possible to get noodles with vegetables and tofu in large asymmetrical bowls. It didn't have much flavor unless one added lots of soy and hot sauce, but one has low expectations at a place like this. That accounts for Gretchen's father ordering a Burger King veggie burger, which was easily as good as any of the other vegan options. During this meal before our flight, I came to see first-hand the sad and unadventurous nature of the childhood palate. The kids only wanted to eat things like cheese pizza or plain noodles or rice; they had no interest in vegetables or sauces of any sort. Mind you, I've seen worse, for example, a kid who refused to eat anything but chocolate-flavored fluids on Thanksgiving. And I know that when I was their age, I wasn't excited by vegetables either. But when I was a little kid being traumatized by vegetables, they were still routinely delivered as over-cooked homogeneous sides (a pile of carrots, peas, or green beans served 1950s-style). I still hate vegetables when they take that form.
There was some kind of mix-up as we tried to check-in for our flight to Curaçoa. I stood for awhile close enough to the Insel Air checkin computer (which, it bears noting, had a text-based interface reminiscent of the late 1980s) and could see that every query related to everyone in our party except for Gretchen and me was failing for want of a "gender" that was impossible to enter. As for Gretchen and me, we'd apparently checked in successfully in Albany. We were allowed to board, but nobody else in our party was. Gretchen's father, who had (in keeping with his meticulous by-the-book style) carefully made all the arrangements a long time ago, was clearly exasperated, wondering aloud if they were going to be allowed on the plane at all. Our nephew Mikah (who is only a month shy of ten and unusually sensitive) started crying.
After about 40 minutes (and lots of calls placed by the ticket agent back to Insel Air's headquarters in Curaçoa), the members of our party were individually allowed to board. The problem wasn't seats; there were plenty of extra ones, though some had been allocated twice. "What a fly by night airline," Gretchen's father exclaimed as he was finally allowed to board. And then we were off.
The surplus of seats allowed some in our party to stretch out and sleep in various places throughout the back of the plane, which looked like a 60s-era schoolbus with wings. But Gretchen was such a hot commodity for the kids (particularly her seven-year-old niece Sadie), that she never got such a chance. As for me, I took a 10 mg Ambien and, over the course of the flight, drank about two ounces of 160 proof vodka mixed with various unsatisfying mixers. The Insel Air orange juice is a Sunny-D-esque juice product and they only have tomato juice, not bloody mary mix. But the coffee is surprisingly good. The Insel Air flight attendants also tried to give us boxes containing cheeseburgers, and when we pleaded veganism, they scared up some undressed salad and unexpectedly-delicious roasted-and-salted peanuts (the latter of which came in seemingly bullet-proof plastic bags that were difficult to open even with teeth, the sharpest tools allowed on an airplane).
We landed in Curaçoa after dark, but stepping out into the breezy tropical air and seeing palm trees was good enough for the time being; I immediately removed my long-sleeved shirt. Gretchen's father rented us a van sufficient for transporting the whole family, and after trying unsuccessfully to enter a destination into his Garmin GPS device, we set out for our ultimate destination, the Royal Sea Aquarium Resort. There was enough luggage that some of it had to occupy space on a seat, forcing Sadie to ride in Gretchen's lap, where she had us play the binary search game where one of us thinks of something (usually an animal) and we try to guess it by asking a series of questions that can be answered with yes or no. One of Sadie's animals was "porcupine," which was just obscure enough that we couldn't navigate to it on the binary tree of questions. Mine was "goat," which Gretchen's mother (who wasn't really even playing) managed to get. Meanwhile, Gretchen's father kept getting lost in the warren of tangled streets and resorts along Curaçoa's south coast east of Willemstad (the capital).
Eventually, though, we'd made it to the Royal Sea Aquarium Resort. Our party was divided into two, each of which got a large two-bedroom condo suite with a living room, kitchen, two bathrooms, and two decks overlooking the pool area. Gretchen and I would be staying with her parents in one of the suites and her brother's family ("the Pittsburgh P__s") would be staying in the other.
After dumping off our stuff, Gretchen and I went for a walk around the resort to see what was what. Initially we were underwhelmed; the beach was a small place along a narrow arm of the sea, with a view not of the ocean but instead of another resort immediately across the narrow body of water (which we started referring to as "the canal"). Our resort is on its own island, reachable from the mainland via a short bridge, and we hoped there might be better beaches on its ocean side. But all we found there was a rugged sea wall comprised of stacked blocks of quarried coral. There was no place to lie nearby; along the seawall ran a very lightly-traveled road. After our experience in the Dominican Republic, it was hard to imagine sunbathing without a view of a surf churning out to the horizon, but that option seemed impossible here.


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