I love sharing my ocean with people. Obviously. LMAO But bringing kids on the boat – is something that excites me beyond measure. Not only does it mean teaching future generations to care for the ocean – it means there will be others onboard as hyped about animals AND waves AND shells AND FISH AND SHARKS (I can go on forever) as I always am (rare).
Shelly, my mom’s best friend, came to visit us in the keys from Tennessee with her kids.
My family is VERY rough and tumble (understatement of the year). We are wild, nonstop, and will make fun you until you cry. It’s all out of love though. I think.
Exhibit A: my dad dive bombing my brother as he’s struggling to swim back to the boat in heavy currents
Shelly and her kids not only took the heat, they dived right in.
We took them out to deep, open waters…
someone did get tini-bit sick
In his defense, it was a very choppy day. So we headed to the Gulf side.
His sister is a mermaid in the making. She wanted to be where the action was at all times – takes after her mom.
After checking out some mangrove islands we hopped back on the boat for lunch
We started to head back but found a gorgeous patch of sand that needed to be jumped in… like a lot.
Always going with the flow.
The mommies watching the chaos from a distance.
You know you’ve found your passion when you have the patience to teach kids about it.
… especially if you aren’t very patient to begin with.
Mission make kids love the ocean & have fun doing it: success.
I never feel so blessed as I do when a wild animal approaches me.
This gorgeous thing made it’s way to the canal in front of our house in the keys seeking warmer waters during the winter (if I can call what South Florida has ‘winter’ anyway).
If you know anything about manatees, it’s that they move slow and eat seagrass.
You may not know how gentle they are. Once, I followed a bull manatee for just a bit too long and he abruptly stopped to stare me down.. I won’t lie to you, I was momentarily scared. I stopped the gentle pulsing of my fins and let the current carry me backwards as I tried to guess it’s next move. Silly me. Manatees are not fighters. Before I could do anything else he was gone. A thousand times the swimmer I will ever be.
Quick fact, manatees were downgraded from endangered to threatened in 2017. Some of the laws that helped achieve this also state that if I laid a hand on or gave fresh water to this viejita (= little old lady) I would face hefty fines and possibly jail time.
I would be reprimanded for helping another animal.
Yeah, ANOTHER animal. You are animal.
People tend to forget that – no matter how capable our thumbs or shiny our gadgets.
I understand the goal is to not let animals get used to human interaction because – albeit, humans are occasionally evil and destructive; but I think our logic is flawed.
I think we should fix the humans… not turn our backs on the animals. What do you think?
Relax. “Dushi” means sweet in Papimiento… ya’ pessimists. People there use it as a term of endearment like “sweetie.”
I’m so sorry for how cliché this is but this year, (cue valley-girl high-pitch voice… or Miami super chonga voice with thick brows and a Michael Kors bag [ie my regular voice]) I decided I was going to say yes to everything (except men). Curaçao has been my favorite yes so far.
My best friend is from the small Dutch Caribbean island and asked me if I would like to join her & her boyfriend for a visit. I bought the ticket before she did.
Only slightly over 171 sq miles, we were able to see the whole thing from the plane. We glided onto the run away alongside deep blue waters. The airport was muggy. Mitzi warned us that most places on the island lacked a/c but I assumed a large commercial building such as an airport would not fall into that category. As a cold-blooded (yet loving) human-being this was of no concern to me…just surprising.
Luckily our rental car did have air conditioning. We drove about 30 minutes to Mitzi’s house and settled into our rooms.
& discussed food
This lead us to Van Den Tweel. The local supermarket. Mitzi’s boyfriend, Ralph, and I wandered up and down the aisles looking for weird things to try. Mitzi proudly translated foreign words for us. Everyone on the island somewhat knows four languages (Papiamento, Dutch, English, and Spanish) and use them all interchangeably and sometimes all in the same sentence.-yet she complains when I use “jaja” instead of “haha”
Apparently they eat a lot of cheese here.
So I felt right at home.
Oh, do you not know of my cheese obsession?… well now you do.
In true first-world fashion, we arrived home from the grocery, had 0 interest in cooking, and went to Mitzi’s favorite restaurant, Texas Alaparia.
There I tried funchi, a local staple. Funchi is the love child of polenta and arepas… its crispy yet soft and goes perfectly with shredded gouda. It was our appetizer before a huge plate of barbecued meats, fries, and pinda sauce… which is peanut sauce… No, not like the Asian peanut sauce… it is Dutch and tastes like salty, liquid peanut butter. Mitzi, Ralph and the whole Halley clan love it… but I just couldn’t hop on the band wagon. No matter how many times I tried it (which was daily because I’m a trooper). I don’t have a picture of it but just microwave a scoop of peanut butter with some water and you’ll get the full experience.
Early Owl Gets the Mango
I’m an early owl (& if that’s not a thing it should be). I can stay out late and still be up with the sun in the morning. Mitzi, on the other hand, threatened me with death against waking her up before 9 am. So every morning I would quietly let myself out the front Dutch doors and better acquaint myself with the neighborhood. It was easy killing time in this small pocket of heaven, lush with flowers, mangos, and cats.
One morning, Mitzi’s father (who I affectionately call PapaMitzi) gave me a private tour of the area. He pridefully showed me all the work he has done in the neighborhood, named all the fruit trees as we passed them (most of which he had planted himself), and detailed all his plans for the future.
I was always either too early or came back from my walk too late to eat breakfast with anyone – but I enjoyed it just the same… watching me eat mangos isn’t pretty anyway.
This set up was usually laid out waiting for me.
We spent a whole day planning out our week. So while Mitzi negotiated with people in Papiamento, I ran around and took pictures.
Downtown Curaçao is split into Punda and Otrobanda. Two mini cities connected by a colorful floating bridge. The Queen Emma bridge. As cruise ships come to port the pontoon bridge floats open and lets them pass.
Mitzi will want me to let you know that she got dressed first.
Punda is where you can get souvenirs, Americanized foods, and all the cliche pics.
We ate lunch at the Iguana Cafe watching the bridge swing open and closed for boat traffic.
The whole island is very colorful but downtown even more so. Alley ways are painted and artists set up shop all along the streets.
Over the Bridge & Through the Mountains
to grandmother’s house we went.
Dilapidated buildings turned into mountains as we crossed the island.
Their house is stunning. The couple designed it themselves to sit perfectly on the side of a mountain overlooking the bay.
There are no words for it’s beauty.
Here we have Mitzi’s grandfather, Aunt Zunny, Mother (also named Mitzi), and grandmother.
I spent as much time as possible talking to her grandmother and grandfather but couldn’t stop myself from repeatedly drifting outside.
I am Cuban. I grew up listening to my grandparents speak about Cuba’s majesty… how jungled mountains peer over it’s oceanic shores. This house took me to all those daydreams.
We watched the sunset and drove home in silence.
Curacao Buggy Tours
We spent half a day on a buggy tour around the West side of the island. We met with the group and drove through the city until we reached the dirt roads.
Our first stop was the rocky coast.
PSA: MITZI IS SUPER DRAMATIC
(birds of a feather)
After some *light* mudding, our guides had us line up our buggies in two files and we hiked into the Hato Caves. As soon as we hoisted ourselves through the mouth of the cave we were surrounded by bats overhead. Or as I like to call them, adorable flying teacup puppies.
Our last stop was at the Ostrich Farm. Here we felt a bit mislead because we were not allowed to actually go see the ostriches (you would have had to come back and paid to take the Ostrich Farm tour)… but there were some other animals we were able to see.
Mambo Beach Party
Although we went out for dinner a few times we only went out-out once. Every local I asked “what kind of nightlife is there on the island?” gave me the same answer: Mambo Wednesday nights. So I made Mitzi & Ralph take me to Mambo Wednesday night. It is really beautiful and definitely my kind of night out. Mambo is within a resort area and is just bar on a beach that plays music.
It may relieve you to know: I enjoy being third wheel.
So me & my new favorite beer, Amstel Light, had a fantastic evening:
We hung out for a bit and left early… well at midnight. Which is early for a Miamian.
Klein Curaçao (which translates to “Little Curaçao”) was once a bountiful island used as a breeding ground by seabirds and landing point for monk seals. Unfortunately, it was discovered by humans (gag reflex), ravaged by farmers and their goats (preventing the birds from returning), it’s monk seal population was completely wiped out by hunters, then the island was mined down to sea level as a result of Europeans harvesting all it’s phosphorus reserves (from the bird poop), and eventually used as a quarantine place for sick and dying slaves that were being transported from Africa… such a rich history. It’s one point of revenge was all the ship’s that wrecked there since it is so flat and hard to spot – no for sure one of my many souvenirs from Curaçao is an African slave ghost and his headless monk seal ghost buddy & talking sea bird ghost pet. Not a third wheel after all #ghostboyfriend
It was a slow 1.5 hours sail to the island me laying on hull netting between my Curaçao adoptive parents (Mitzi & Ralph). You could never tell the island’s dark past pulling into it’s sapphire blue waters and white sand beaches.
I was calm and slow moving the whole ride there but as soon as I could see the highlighter-blue water and anchored boats I worked myself into a frenzy. I have a hard time staying out of the water. I am sure reading this you think it’s cute but Mitzi (and my mother) will attest to it not being so. As I hastily put on my mask & ranas Mitzi only barely held my attention long enough to ask me what should be done with my travel pack.
The water was crystal clear and I got some amazing shots to share with you guys.
However, my lack of technological know-how combined with my even worse lack of patience meant I had to make due without the dive-housing for my GoPro. Whoops. Long story short: I didn’t realize you had to pop off the square outter lense of the GoPro to get it to fit into the dive housing (WHICH IS IDIOTIC GOPRO DESIGNERS FYI). So, I assumed I bought the wrong thing and dove in without it. It wasn’t a problem close to shore but once I hit about 30\40 ft… my poor little GoPro would beep frantically and shut off resulting in a lot of videos like this:
Super anticlimactic – Insanely frustrating.
Especially since I can’t judge distance to save my life so it happened a lot.
The entire island is surrounded by a steep ~90 ft drop where the neon water turns royal blue. Diving on this edge I saw massive barracuda, a multitude of different fish, and a group of sea turtles. But I can’t prove it because I had to leave the GoPro floating on the surface for these long dives. The barracuda were some of the fattest I’ve seen and would follow just beyond the reach of my fins during my ascend… but this didn’t stop me. Alone and far from rescue, I (dramatically) decided in the event that these ‘cuda do frenzy and attack, that I had lived an amazing life and that it would be okay to die here doing what I love. At the jaws of some of my favorite fish so, you know ~whatever~ just happy to be apart of the circle (of life – you uncultured swine).
On the other side of this coral reef mountain is the drop. The base of it (I learned through trial and error) was the GoPro’s max depth. FRUSTRATION
I ignored it as long as I could but at one point I made eye contact with a VERY cute white-bikini-wearing little dot frantically trying to get my attention from shore. Which I knew could only be my favorite Curaçao Princess.
She was calling me in for lunch which was included on our excursion with Blue Finn Charters. The spread was bountiful but I just had a few chicken wings and was right back on my way. Max dive time.
I swam around and waited for my buddies to finish eating so I could pester them into exploring the land with me. No rest for the – any one that is with me pretty much anywhere. sorrynotsorry
The only animals on land were these whiptail lizards that would eat the purple sea purslane flowers which are the succulent looking plants that cover much of the Klein Curaçao the way grass normally would. The muddy areas near the beach were pink and red and anything else was washed up coral.
Can you hear the sass when she says “the lizard?” The “IDIOT” was silent.
TBH I was powerwalking because I wanted to get the land stuff over with so I could get back in the water… and also DID YOU HEAR THE SASS IN THE PREVIOUS VIDEO? That was just a small snippet. Mitzi is that “ride or die” kind of friend that has A LOT of questions… & all the snarky commentary.
I seriously love her ❤
Directly on the other side of these shipwrecks is an abandoned light house.
We climbed to the very top of the light house on the world’s steepest stairs and made it back down in one piece… well kinda.
Mitzi & Ralph very adorably BOTH got leg cramps as we were leaving the lighthouse. Relationship goals. I laughed my ass off but kept walking because I wanted some more dive time. Had the roles been reversed I promise they would have done the same. There’s a lot of savagery in my friend group.
The sail back was a party.
Dutch dance music blasted and alcohol was delivered on demand. I chugged rum punch and made friends with the captain while occasionally breaking up Mitzi & Ralph’s super adorable little love fest. My ghost-boyfriend wasn’t giving me enough attention.
Jan thiel Beach
As is customary for last days, it was bittersweet. I was excited to get home to see my family and friends but Curaçao tugged my heart strings more than most places usually do.
We spent the morning and early afternoon at Jan Thiel Beach which was only a 5 minute drive from Mitzi’s house. Her father would tell you it’s a five minute walk… that he did through snow and high winds… but I assure you it would take us a day to walk there. Not even accounting for us inevitably getting lost. Or kidnaped… because we are ~like~ really cute.
The first thing we did was take pics. You’ve seen some of these on my instagram… but in the name of transparency I wanted to show you the bloopers. So you’ll see my insta worthy-shots, sitting atop their equal and opposite counterparts – i.e. me yelling or making weird faces.
~FYI – if you haven’t already – you can go check out my Instagram page to see my Curaçao highlight~
My plan was to just lay on the beach and relax for a change so I left my mask & ranas in the car. I should have known myself better. There was a floating platform just beyond the shore that we wanted to take pictures at… so I walked my happy ass to the car and got my mask – because well what if theres some cool fishies to take pics of?
Being a tomboy who always wants to look fabulous is tough work.
Exhibit A: me on the way to take cute pics at the floating dock with gold hoop earrings and aviators. The struggle is very real.
It struck me here that I had no interest in relaxing… so once we were done I walked my scowling-muttering-to-myself-what-an-idiot-I-am ass to the car AGAIN to get my ranas…
The tent figure in the first picture above is Janthiel beach where I left Mitzi & Ralph while I explored the ocean bay. As I approached the opposite shore the waves tossed me around and I found a lot of upturned coral heads… so I flipped them back over and that’s how I spent most of my time.
I came across a ship wreck on the swim back to Jan Thiel.
I was able to take these two videos before Mitzi called me from shore… time to head home.
How deep was it? 5 ft? 30 ft? 10? I have no clue.
0 spacial awareness… if you have an idea from the videos please feel free to let me know how deep you think that was because people keep asking me…
It was a nice parting gift to come upon this wreck but I do wish I had more time to explore it.
We all quickly showered and sat down to one last meal in Curaçao. The muggy airport was packed with people but we managed to all sit together. The nice thing about being third wheel in a plane is that you always get the window seat. WINNING
I love these two so much. I am so grateful to Mitzi and her family, as always, for opening up their homes to me and putting up with my madness.
To be fair every animal on Earth (including humans) can be dangerous… especially humans. Anything with a mouth can bite, okei guys?
Goliath groupers can weigh up to 800 lbs and grow to over 8 ft long. These babes are protected and it is illegal to harvest them in Federal or State waters. It’s actually illegal to even lift them out of the water once they are big since they can crush themselves with their own weight (like most large fish\marine mammals). Goliaths can swallow sharks whole (google it) and they make a deep barking noise that has had me drop Bullet (what I affectionately call my GoPro) more than once.
But they are cute and have adorable bulldog faces. Don’t fight me on this.
There are two Goliaths I am particularly fond of in the lower keys. Jody & Jessica Westbrooks of Livin’ the Keys Life (subscribe to their channel it is aaamazing) let me know that the locals call them Jerry & Grover ♥
Here is a shot of them from the boat:
Jerry is very friendly. Here he is saying hi to each member of the family:
Grover is much bigger and much more shy (the big fish always are, amirite?)
The first time I met these two it was a really bad weather day. Not sure how I convinced my dad to take us all the way out to the reef… #daddysgirl ♥
Rough chop, awful visibility, and the current was roaring… needless to say I was the only one in the water. I know, I know my mom tells me all the time… I’m a problem.
It’s never not been worth it.
Anyway, I am going up & down fighting all elements of nature – happily – and as I am heading into the boat I see two big brown masses hanging out underneath her.
My little heart drops for .5 seconds. If you couldn’t tell already from my first post I am 10/10 dramatic. But I bounce back faster than I fall so it’s fine.
So heart drops and I pop my head out of the water and yell for Bullet.
Most of my videos of Grover are me chasing him down and quickly giving up… because they only look slow and lethargic…
Can you tell how murky it was?
SIDE NOTE: did you catch this little piece of fire coral in the video? Rewatch. He stung me to high hell. He deserves his 5 min of fame. Does anyone else ALWAYS get hit by fire coral or just me?
They were both apprehensive the first day we met. Even Jerry kept a safe distance. However, every time after that he has been all up in my face & making my mom scream through her snorkel because she swears he wants to eat her toes. I’ve read they like crabs the most and I know they will swallow a fish whole while it struggles on a line… I should look into their affinity for toes.
One of the more recent times we ran into the duo, Grover gave me another heart attack. I was swimming along minding my business when he barked from behind me. I promise I felt my brain rattle. We probably scared each other . I grabbed some air real quick and dove down again to catch this little video:
Forever avoiding me but Jerry is at a point where he begs for pets. He rubs up on our legs and fins and gets all up in our faces. It’s endearing… Friends and family we have taken do not initially agree.
I think that was roast beef one of my little cousin threw over the boat. He didn’t like it either. He needs a taste bud adjustment. I love roast beef.
Jerry is a total babe though so he is forgiven:
Keep coming back and together we will vanquish all your preconceived notions about the “monsters” of the sea. Sharks, Goliath groupers… what do you guys want to see next?
& although I watch very little TV and am not a huge fan of Shark week (forgive me) … I will happily jump on the bandwagon – or dive into it.
Sharks are most likely my favorite animal. Don’t quote me on that. I love alligators too… Don’t quote me on that either – I love all animals OKEIII. I remember my first time running into a shark in the wild (that I can recall anyway).
I was a tiny little thing, maybe 4 years old (don’t quote me on that either), in the middle of the ocean kicking away with my ranas (pata ranas… fins in Spanish… ranas for short) when someone yelled “shark!” & even though I sympathized with the shark in the movie “Jaws” (“he’s just hungry mommy” I would say through streaming tears), I was struck by fear… I still didn’t want to be dinner. That fear redirected me to the boat ..and COMPLETELY paralyzed me about 5 seconds later when suddenly something took hold of my little fin and pulled me backwards.
I thought I was dead.
Luckily, it was my dear old dad. He grabbed my fin, swung me around and pointed.
I will remember that hammerhead for the rest of my life.
It was enormous. His dorsal fin was as tall as I was. It moved so slowly, so gracefully towards us. I looked at my dad through my mask, his one arm wrapped around my torso held me in place. He pointed again to the shark. I was so grateful to my father in that moment.
PAUSE: Before I continue with the story you should know something about my father and I. We have quite the unspeakable bond, we understand each other… & I am telling you that so you understand that what my father did next… I knew he was going to do… and he knew how I was going to react…:
As this giant glided below us he grabbed the back of my bathing suit and pushed me towards it, (the shark was a good 10 – 15 ft under us so CHILL) and I used the momentum to dive down as far as my little sausage legs would take me. He pulled me back up by my tiny fin.
We watched the shark fade into the blue, it swam away with all my nonsensical fear.
Haven’t seen a hammerhead in the wild since but here are some other sharkicle encounters