Back in July my friend at Sand & Stilettos posted about the first Curaçao Marathon. I immediately started planning my runcation and posting on twitter to try to find other runners interested in heading down to Curaçao.
— Gabi Torres (@LeanGreenGabi) July 3, 2014
A marathon on my own island? How could I miss it!
Turns out, I had to miss the marathon, because of my hamstring injury, but thanks to that July 3rd tweet, I would get the opportunity to vicariously live the race through Natalie DiBlasio’s experience.
“Ut oh,” I turned to my boyfriend Brent as we stepped off the plane onto the Dutch island of Curaçao in the Caribbean. “I have to run a marathon in this?”
It was 9:30 p.m. and pushing 85 degrees with humidity I hadn’t felt since August in Washington, D.C. Not ideal marathon weather – but I wish I had known then that I had nothing to worry about. The inaugural KLM Curaçao Marathon wouldn’t be my fastest marathon – not by 47 minutes, but it would be a near-perfect experience I’d never forget.
The course was scenic, the island beautiful and my time in Curaçao was majestic. But let’s back up – we have a marathon to get through.
I arrived in Curaçao the night before the marathon which started at 4 a.m. I stayed at the Hilton about 6 miles away from the race start and finish. In a hurry to get to bed I took a quick peek at the hotel beach – a breathtaking inlet surrounded by short cliffs and mountains in the distance. “In 12 hours from now I will have run a marathon and I’ll be here, eating, drinking and doing whatever I want,” I reminded myself. But now? It was bed time.
I set out my race outfit, climbed into bed and set my alarm for 2 a.m. What seemed like a whole four seconds later my alarm went off. It was 1 a.m. in my U.S. East Coast time zone brain but I was ready.
I got to the Lions Dive Hotel and Resort where the race started and finished. Spread on the beautiful beach lounge area at the hotel was a buffet for runners. Eggs, fruit, vegetables, cheeses, pastries, juices – everything you can imagine. Unfortunately for me I can only handle a plain bagel before a marathon so I got a half a cup of coffee and sat looking over the shimmering water trying to get my pre-race jitters to knock it off.
I walked over to the race start which was marked with flags from at least a dozen countries. The starting area was calm – there were less than 100 marathoners and the races were staggered. The full marathon started at 4 a.m., half marathon started at 6 a.m., 10K started at 7 a.m. and 5K at 7:30 a.m. Just a few brave souls, loyal cheerleaders and hard-working organizers were in the hotel parking lot before the marathon start. There was plenty of time to pose for pictures with the start line and all-too-far-away finish line.
A few minutes before the start, the marathoners – all 81 of us – were moved to the corral. There weren’t any corral markers but we didn’t need any. We had a long way to go to sort it out, we were all planning on a hot day and there was plenty of space. With a simple countdown, we were off.Immediately runners started chatting. Some had come in groups, but others were just meeting for the first time. I found myself with with athletes from Curaçao, Trinidad, Aruba, Holland and Sweden. “What’s your name young lady? And how many countries have you done?” asked a man named Robert from Florida – he goes by “Cowboy” and wears a cowboy hat to boot. He told me about the Marathon Globe Trotters – an incredible sounding group it only took him a quarter mile to convince me I wanted to be a part of.
The race wound around a few neighborhoods, through downtown, across the “Swinging Old Lady” – a pedestrian pontoon bridge that swings with the current, through an old fort, along the Curaçao waterfront, over the Juliana Bridge (a 185 foot climb over the sea) and back through to the Lion’s Dive Hotel. The half marathoners were done there and the marathoners ran through the starting chute a second time for one more lap of the course.
All along the course cheery volunteers were giving out water in bottles. I must have gone through 9 of them, but never was without a bottle in my hand. As we passed, groups of volunteers and bystanders shouted encouragement in a number of languages. My recently learned “Danki!” – that’s thank you in Papiemento – came in very handy.
At the start, the sky was dark and the course was lit only by the moon and the streetlights. As I came back into town after climbing the massive Juliana Bridge for the first time the morning filled with the sounds of roosters crowing. From the sound of it, I thought roosters might be the go-to pet for residents of Curaçao. I heard them nonstop for miles of the course. As weird as it sounds, hearing roosters crow as the sun rises was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I smiled as I started down a small hill to get another bottle of water from a volunteer who cheered “success!” with a smile. As the sun continued to rise and the day warmed, the miles got longer and harder. I opted to switch to a run/walk for the last 10K or so, realizing that slowing down to hydrate, take in the sights and relax was the best strategy for my body in this climate.
Running through the course twice was a blessing for the rest of the trip. I had a great grasp of where I was for the next few days and knew how to get around the big chunk of the city we had run through.
As I came into the finish, clearly wiped out, Brent ran out to meet me, slowly running with me for the last half mile. He peeled off as I ran through the finishers chute to a cheering crowd and blasting music. We were herded down to the beach to get medals and water, pose for pictures with the palm trees and relax before the race’s after party. When I finished the party was just getting set up so I opted to go back to the hotel for a much needed breakfast-shower-nap-stretch bonanza.When I arrived back at the hotel I could hardly wait to lay in a beach chair under the umbrella made of palm trees. Because I had taken the race easy, I was in much less pain than after marathons past. With a slight waddle, I followed Brent to the water sports rental shop on the hotel property. If there is one thing I love as much as running, it’s swimming in the ocean. Toss in some beautiful clear water, tropical fish and snorkeling gear? I am in heaven.
We snatched up snorkeling masks and fins and plopped ourselves right in the middle of a school of colorful fish. Completely distracted by all of the sea life, I forgot my legs had just run a marathon. We kicked around, diving below the surface to get a closer look at the spotted trunkfish negotiating a snack with some algae. We followed schools of fish as they scurried around rocks and waited to see if a puffer fish would puff. No luck there, but we were quickly distracted by a fish we determined to be a barracuda when we later looked at a fish poster in the dive shop.
Finally tired out and heads clogged with water, we walked back to our chairs to relax, read and nap with the sounds of the waves crashing around us.That night we went to the a fabulous restaurant called Gouverneur de Rouville, right on the Otrabanda Waterfront which overlooked the two bridges I’d run over in the morning. I opted for the seat looking toward the Swinging Old Lady as I inhaled my chicken skewers with peanut coconut sauce. It took me all of three minutes to fall asleep as soon as we got back to the hotel. I woke up with the signature I-ran-a-marathon-yesterday waddle and went out on our room’s balcony to get in a much-needed stretch. From the balcony I could hear the waves and could see three adorable cats hanging out in the sand.
Once I was stretched out and able to tackle the walk from the room to the elevator for breakfast we went into town to get a closer look at the downtown I’d run through twice the morning before. Curaçao is known for it’s floating market – a group of boats that gather in the port to sell their fish and artisans selling their crafts. There were tables and tables of beautiful, colorful tropical fruits and salesmen with thick accents claiming theirs was the best around.
After an incredible steak lunch at the the Renaissance’s CRU Restaurant (nothing like a steak the day after a marathon) and some perusing in the old fort-turned-shopping-mall area, we went off to the Hato Caves. It was hard for me to believe that this little island had sandy beaches, lush forests, rocky cliffs and barren caves. We walked through a cactus garden – another surprising sight – stopped at an enclosure with at least five turtles, and then paused to let a hermit crab pass.
A tour guide explained that the cave overlooked a plantation from the days when there was slavery in Curaçao. Slaves, he explained, escaped and came to live in the cave – sneaking back to the plantation at night to steal food. He pointed to the roof of the cave with a flashlight to show where the ceiling had been marked with smoke from their torches. We quietly – mouths closed – looked up at hundreds of bats in a particularly dark part of the cave. They fluttered at the quick sight of the flashlight causing the young kids – and me – to squeal with excitement as seeing these mysterious creatures in motion. The cave tour took about 45 minutes but I could have stayed all day long. In my next life I think I’ll be a cave explorer.
It wasn’t the only cave we saw.
The next day we took a day trip to the West End of the island – a region known for its stunning beaches and diverse landscapes. Our first stop was at Shete Boka Park. In Curaçao, the northern part of the island is rocky, with cliffs and caves carved out by water crashing along the coastline. Travel south and you find the soft white sandy beaches you see on brochures. The Shete Boka Park is home to a number of inlets – one in particular has a cave you can climb down into. Go too far and you’re at risk of being whisked out to sea or smashed into a rock, but just a few steps in and you can see the roaring water, wave by wave carving out it’s next cave. We’ll check back in a few million years and see how it’s doing.
We took a short drive across the island to the south and stopped at beach after beach – each slightly different than the beach before. One was big and wide with plenty of sandy beach, another a small cove home to fishermen and their boats, the next even smaller with chickens and cats on patrol. Something for everyone. We had a flight to catch so we only got to spend quality time on one beach in Williwood. A dip in the warm water, a stretch in the sun and we had to hurry to lunch before catching our flight home.
Brent did a weather check “Looks like we might have some snow back home.” Oof. We enjoyed one last meal at the Avila Hotel (the island’s oldest hotel, which used to be a hospital – very cool) at a table overlooking the ocean. Since we landed, everyone had told us to be sure to try the keshi yená, that’s cheese stuffed with all kinds of savory foods. Ours came with chicken and vegetables and was absolutely delicious. I am waiting on the recipe to try it at home…but something tells me it won’t be the same without that island breeze to accompany mealtime.All too quickly it was time for us to leave the beautiful island paradise and head back to the land of jackets and mittens. Without a doubt I would run this marathon again. The organization was wonderful – especially for an inaugural event – and the post-race playtime options are endless. No one is in a rush to do anything in Curaçao – and that’s perfect for post-marathon legs.
See ya next year Curaçao! Te otro biaha!