Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cruiser-unfriendly Curaçao – Checking in Procedures

When arriving in Bonaire, you take the dinghy ashore, walk to Customs and Immigration (open “25/8”), fill out some paperwork and after about 15 minutes, you are checked into the country and good to go, free of charge. In Curaçao, not so much. After four years of cruising, mainly in the Caribbean, it proves to be the most time-consuming and inconvenient country of all the places we have stopped at.  First and for all, you are anchored in Spanish Waters (more about that later) and the check-in procedures have to happen in the capital Willemstad, about 30 minutes away.  You are dependent on bus schedules and opening hours and you have to walk all over town and get back to your boat when finally done; this is how it works…

Mark and I arrived on a Friday, late afternoon and you are supposed to check in the country within 24 hours. So, first thing Saturday morning, around 8:30 am, we take the dinghy to a cramped and small dinghy dock, walk to the bus stop to catch the 9am bus, wait for an extra 20 minutes until it arrives and takes us to the bus station in town. From there, we walk to Customs (Douane) in Punda and wait until someone opens the door. The formalities take about 30 minutes and we are off to Immigration in Otrabanda, on the other side of the river, supposedly under the big Queen Juliana Bridge. The floating pedestrian Queen Emma Bridge is broken, so we hop on the free ferry, shelter during a massive rainstorm, and walk along the shore. We pass a gated rundown area and wonder where to go. There are no signs anywhere; when we ask a local, she sends us back to the other side of town. We persevere, following a dirt track until we find ourselves under the massive bridge, up high, in the middle of nowhere. Not good.

We backtrack, return to a main road and ask a bus driver where Immigration is located. He points us to the rundown area where the gate is now open. No signs! We have to check in at a little booth, receive a permission card and look around the dilapidated buildings. Where to go? Back to the booth, where we ask for directions. We are pointed towards one side of the long dock and try again. This is an unattractive cruise ship dock area, but we cannot imagine that it is actually still in use (it is).  After another 5 minute walk, we reach two buildings, of which one is set back and says in small letters “Immigratie” above the door. Ha! Inside, we fill out the paperwork, call for the officer and get our stamps. We mention that we are anchored in zone A in Spanish Waters. Now, there is one step left: Port Authority to buy our anchor permit. But… it is Saturday and the office is closed. We walk all the way back to Punda, explore a bit over there (which doesn’t count), wait 30 minutes for the bus and arrive back home after 5 hours of total time spent on checking in. And, we are not done yet!

On Monday, I go back to Willemstad. Wait, ride the bus, and run (this time over the Queen Emma Bridge) to the Port Office, about 1.5 miles away, because it is approaching 11:30 am and the office closes at 11:45 am, until 1:30pm… Sweating profusely, I open the door, right in time. I wait in line, buy an anchoring permit for US$10 and we’re done! In Curaçao, you are only allowed to anchor long term in Spanish Waters, where there are four zones to do so, restricting sailors to a relatively small area in this massive bay. You pick your zone and have to stay there, unless you go back to the office (and purchase another permit ?). There are a few other – more attractive – bays to anchor, but you need a separate permit for each one of them, pay US$ 10 every time and leave that area after a maximum of three days. 

Permit in hand, I make my way back home, after another 3 hours. That brings the total check-in time to 8 hours, before we feel comfortable and settled. Now, we are ready to battle a few boat projects and see what Curaçao has to offer. More about that in a next blog!

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