Thursday, March 26, 2020

Back and Forth: Curaçao Day 6: Hiking (and Surviving) Mt. Christoffel and Back to Grote Knip

Currently: Home school continues to go well most of the time. As James said to me last night when the kids were in bed, "You know, this has been so much better than I thought. I thought it would be kind of a shit show, but it's been fun. I mean, not ALL of it, and we're on the early side of things, but still- he's a great teacher and I'm focusing hard on being grateful for this family time we've gotten to spend together during what is usually a pretty busy time of year/life. I did a flash card math facts lightning round contest with Landon tonight and beat him 22-2 and that kind of tween bonding can't be had on your average Wednesday.

Speaking of teaching, my mom, master biologist and teacher extraordinaire, taught the kids and several of their friends about Viruses yesterday in a Zoom conference class!

It was really special for me to see her teach, and the kids absolutely loved Professor Gigi and learned so much! She's doing part 2 of the lesson Friday and we can't wait.

On the real world front, the news and stories from doctors, nurses, and other front line heroes remain devastating as ERs (and morgues) fill and the US continues to flounder and fail in testing, medical supplies, and leadership. I get overwhelmed and then I focus back in on what's within our walls and community and then zoom back out and get overwhelmed again. I truly do not know the right way to process a global and domestic tragedy while also trying to find the happy in our mundane. On the home front I can say we haven't left our property since Sunday and we continue to do the best we can in a very strange situation.

~ ~ ~ Back to Curaçao

Thirteen days ago: We're on Day 6 in Curaçao, a Friday, and the only day I made everyone wake up early to do something. One of the things I had on my list before we left was to hike Mt. Christoffel, or Christoffelberg, the highest peak in Curaçao, which sits inside the country's largest national park. We love hikes and national parks! Of course we will do this!

I read that because of the heat, you aren't allowed to climb after 10 a.m. and the recommended start time is 7 a.m. No problem! I thought, we'll be up when the sun hits the water and ready to hit the trails. I had zero doubts about our stamina or willingness to wake up early to make this happen.

Except we swam hard and jumped off cliffs all day every day and no one ever woke up before 8. Finally, on Thursday night I told my family it was time. This was something I REALLY wanted to do, so, because they love me (or they know James does and if he's getting up early, they are too), we set alarms for 6:30 a.m.. We didn't actually get out of bed until 7 a.m., and then there was breakfast and packing, so we headed off for the national park about 7:45.

This was definitely too late.

We drove into the National Park about 8 and walked into the little trailer that serves as the Visitor's Center. We payed our entrance fees (about $40 US), got a map and some verbal directions and a warning to drink a LOT of water and to get started as soon as possible. We piled back in the car, drove across the street, waited for the gate to be lifted by a ranger who checked our receipt, and then drove along a very tiny winding trail to the peak trail parking lot. Once there we could see the mountain before us - we've got this!, loaded all our water bottles into James's backpack along with our first aid kit and some snacks, and set out.

It was long (2 hours), it was steep (1.4 miles), and it was HOT.

So, so hot. I'm not someone particularly affected by heat or humidity- I grew up in Houston and do hot yoga and go straight back to work. It takes me forever to work up a sweat and I thought I was in pretty good shape.

After only about half a mile, it was clear I was lagging behind. The kids were nimbly climbing the rocks that make up the trail, James keeping pace beside them, even loaded down with water, while my heart kept racing and my lungs felt like they were having a hard time keeping up.

I took breaks, shaking my head and bribing the kids with snacks to get them to stop with me, wondering what on earth was wrong with me. We pressed on. As we got closer to the top I was dizzier and I realized my fingers and feet were getting numb. Being me, I shared this with no one and kept hiking, confident that fingers and feet were optional and this would all go away. I took more breaks.

The kids were puzzled.

The views were spectacular. I appreciated the chances to stop and admire them.

Once we were finally at the top I realized I was genuinely about to faint, so I dropped to the ground and put my head between my legs, slowly counting my inhales and exhales, losing my vision to blackness and wondering how on earth I was going to get down. I had created a plan for James to carry me while Landon took the backpack and the girls divided up the water bottles to lesson the weight when I felt feeling in my limbs start to come back. My sight came back. Nauseous now, I took small sips of water and opened a package of crackers. I was nibbling them slowly when the kids realized no one had lovingly suggested a family picture while atop this magnificent peak and went off to find me and inquire why I was on the ground. By this point I could focus my pupils on their sweaty happy faces and immediately suggest just such a picture.

So I don't know. I never eat breakfast because it makes me sick and can't drink water on an empty stomach (a Catch 22 I usually solve by drinking hot tea first every day, but it was too early and too hot to do so that morning), so maybe that was the problem. I will say that the climb was strenuous- not a high degree of difficulty (though you definitely needed your hands to pull you up a few times), but very steep. And with the temperature and humidity and fact that you might not be hydrating as well as normal, it can catch up with you. You should also start by 7 a.m. like LITERALLY EVERYONE recommends.

But the views were amazing. You could see the whole northern point of the island and the water all the way around. Apparently you can also see all the way to Willemstad, but unfortunately I don't think I ever looked that direction. It's pretty amazing to stand and know you are on the very highest point of a whole island and see all its beauty before you.

The climb down was great and James didn't even have to carry me.

I could feel all my limbs and my pupils were of a proper size. The views were truly incredible and I am so very glad we did the hike.

The cacti still all wanted to bite your face off, but the path was pretty clear and the iguana sightings were plentiful. The kids loved it.

After our hike we had planned to also stop at Shete Boka National Park, but we were soaked in sweat and pretty wiped, so we headed up and around the top point of the island. A restaurant named Sol Food had been highly recommended by our house managers and owner, but it didn't open until 12, so we stopped for appetizers at a restaurant overlooking our favorite jumping cliffs of Playa Forti.

James went to go jump, obviously, while the kids made friends with an iguana.

I continue to be amazed we ever sat somewhere looking at water like this and it almost felt normal. (And also that James throwing himself off a cliff and then swimming back to shore, climbing some stairs, and joining us for appetizers was also very normal.)

We ate french fries and smoothies and Cora discovered a love for fried yucca. We headed to Sol Food and had the very best pizza we'd had in a long time made by the owners- ex pats from Massachussetts who came here for their first five years of retirement thirteen years ago. They were a delight, as was the tiny restaurant and its tasty food, and after we were done we changed into swimsuits in their bathroom and headed to our beloved Grote Knip.

I read under a giant shady umbrella while Cora swam and splashed and sang grand musical numbers to herself on the sand and James and the big kids discovered new taller cliffs to scale and jump.

Every time I looked up my shady lounge chair someone related to me is jumping off something and looking very pleased about it. This cliff required you to scale it with a rope someone installed a long time ago and Claire felt very powerful indeed as she climbed her way up over and over again.

Just as it was time to leave, Cora decided it was time for her to jump off the cliffs on the other side of the beach (the ones we jumped off on Day 2). After some uncertainty, she scrunched her face, bent her body in half in an interesting form of preparation, and LAUNCHED.

She landed with a splash, popped up beaming, climbed the rocks back up, and has maybe never been so proud of herself.

It was a great day. We returned home, made big salads (the grocery store had farro!) for dinner, put the kids to bed, and listened to the ocean on the deck while checking the news on an island with zero Coronavirus cases, feeling increasingly disconnected from and concerned by about what was happening (and not happening) in the US. It was a genuinely strange feeling each night and only got stranger as we got closer to leaving and things looked increasingly worse at home.

But the island remained a beautiful place to be.

(All Curaçao posts tagged here.)


  1. Plus 1 on not finding the home schooling as horrible as I thought it might be. Love the pictures as always.

  2. Every time I read your blog lately I am like James is a rockstar! You are too but I doubt I could homeschool with the ease he has taken to it. That's amazing! I am so glad you made it up Christoffel I wanted to hike it but I was only there in the afternoon and I would have died of the heat.