Most travellers head to the Caribbean in search of a relaxing, tropical paradise. Here at the SGE however, we prefer our island visits to have a touch of danger and adventure! We heard of a small, uninhabited island, home only to ruins once used to quarantine slaves, a forgotten graveyard, shipwrecks and an abandoned lighthouse. Join us aboard a catamaran as we sail off in search of the mysterious remote island, Klein Curaçao!
We’re in the old Dutch Colonial Caribbean outpost of Curaçao, up early and heading to meet our guide at the Pirate’s Nest Bar. The bar is located at the Caracasbaai, a small marina and beach on the southeast of the island, a rocky outcrop dominated by Fort Beckenburg, built in 1703. Even by the high speed catamaran, the voyage is just under two hours; a rough crossing heading east into the Caribbean Sea, across waters where for many years, the chief profession was piracy.
The first glimpse of Klein Curaçao, (Dutch for ‘little’) gives you an idea why it has been uninhabited for generations; it is desolate and almost entirely flat, with no shelter provided by the coral landscape. Palm trees are scarce and the only signs of life on the half square mile island, are a couple of crude, fisherman’s huts, simply built for temporary shelter, but those have fallen in, and not used for years.
All you have for company are the birds and sea turtles; it feels as if no one has ever lived on the windswept, desolate island. Until you see the lighthouse. It was once a striking pink, the colour of coral shells, but the paint has faded, and most of the vibrant red tiles that were on the roof have fallen away.
The 66 feet tall lighthouse was built in 1850. Climbing the rotting, wooden stairs, you reach the old living quarters of the lighthouse keeper. The rooms are empty and stripped bare, but the paint on the walls – banana yellow and a lush green, show it must have looked quite picturesque once.
There had been other attempts to settle Klein Curaçao; in 1871, John Godden, an English mining engineer mined phosphate here, but swiftly abandoned the enterprise; with no natural source of fresh water, the remoteness of the island proved insurmountable.
Seventeen years later, the Imperial German Navy tried to build a naval base on the island, part of the planned creation of their colonial Deutsche Karibik.A fierce tropical storm carried away the first wharf and the Kaiserliche Marinenever returned.
The western side of the island, where we came ashore, is a genteel, Caribbean beach – white sand, sea turtles, and clear green water. But the eastern side is far more savage; relentless surf pounds the jagged coral reefs. Climbing to the top of the abandoned lighthouse, you can see the wrecks of the ships who foundered here.
Wooden sailboats, more modern pleasure cruisers, and most startlingly of all, the hulking, rusted ruin of a stricken oil tanker. Stranded on the coral reef, sheared clean in half is the wreck of the Maria Bianca Guidesman, ran aground on Klein Curaçao in the 1960s.
And that is mostly all there is to see on the tiny island; unless you walk inland, away from the Maria Bianca Guidesman, where you’ll find what looks like a collection of white stones. Some are arranged in a semi circle, others laid out to make a wall, now just a few feet high.
The stones look anonymous, but they tell a terrible story – for these are the ruins of a rudimentary, quarantine hospital, once used to keep slaves. Part of the Dutch West India Company’s slave trade between Africa and its colonies in the Caribbean, slaves stricken with illness during the sea voyage bound for Curaçao were quarantined here.
If the slaves survived, they were taken to Curaçao and the sugar plantations. Near the piles of stones, plain wooden crosses, bleached white and without names, tell that some never left the island.
EXPLORERS NOTES –
We traveled with Bounty Adventures, who will take you on a 9 hour trip to the island and back, drinks and lunch included aboard the high speed catamaran. They mostly promoted the snorkelling available in the untouched waters of Klein Curaçao, but wander around the island, and you’ll discover mostly forgotten traces of the Colonial past.