At 5:30 in the morning on a recent monday, the CIEE Bonaire student residence hall was more alive than usual. Staff and students, while still wiping the sleep out of their eyes and desperately looking for that last cup of coffee, gathered in the trucks to go to the airport. They were ready for a new adventure to Bonaire’s sister island, Curaçao.
As part of their semester program, CIEE Bonaire students go on a trip to Curaçao. In three days, the students are shown a bit of the island and its history and get acquainted with the local Sea Aquarium. This time, we left before the crack of dawn. Prepared for a long day, including water and comfortable shoes, we arrived in Curaçao at 7:30 AM. To our students, it became clear that Bonaire and Curaçao are two completely different islands. Being larger, busier, and more industrial than quiet Bonaire, even the bus ride in Curaçao between the airport and nearby Otrobanda took almost an hour. After a short look around the floating market and Breede Straat (broadway) it was time to visit Kura Hulanda, the historical Slave Museum.
Kura Hulanda is a museum that tells the story of the African people that were shipped to the Caribbean, North and South America. Curaçao was one of the main distribution points: from here the Africans where moved to the other countries. Kura Hulanda tells their history from before they were captured until slavery was abolished on the islands. It’s an interactive museum, with many opportunities to get a better grasp of this dark past. Our guide certainly made use of that, urging the students to pack themselves in the hold of a slave-ship.
After Kura Hulanda we took the bus around the island, to show students the differences between Bonaire and Curaçao. A quick stop at Boca Sami, a fishermen’s village, and lunch at the old restaurant Jaanchi, gave students a chance to take in some of the local culture. When we made it back to the hotel, our rooms were just ready and we left for a well deserved shower.
The next two days we stayed around the Sea Aquarium area. The students snorkeled, looking for invertebrates, and the Submarine took us down in small groups to explore the reef at 500 ft. It’s pretty amazing to suddenly be at a depth that most of us would never consider while scuba diving. The different set of corals, sponges, and see creatures is sometimes apparent and other times nuanced. Many of these deep organisms have “cousins” that occur at shallower depths which they look similar to. Others look nothing like the organisms seen in shallower water.
On Wednesday, we met some of those creatures again, this time in aquaria. Our guide, showed us the wet lab, where species are quarantined and gradually get accustomed to aquarium life from their former deep existence. The deep sea aquarium has an amazing collection of fish and corals, and by and switching lights, our guide showed us the fluorescing qualities of many of these species.
After gazing at the deep sea aquarium for some time, we learned about a coral restoration project which the Curacao Sea Aquarium and other foundations are collaborating on to build the set of coral restoration methods available to conservation biologists and managers. Later stops included the large outdoor tanks which house sharks, turtles, large jacks, and a goliath grouper of behemoth proportions. The very last stop was the Dolphin Academy, which utilizes trained dolphins to help disabled children make positive strides in coping with their disability.
Wednesday evening, we all made it home safe, with heads full of memories.