Why didn't the Beach Boys want to take me to Curacao? Is it because they're too lazy to find a good rhyme?* This island deserves to be included in every list of gorgeous tropical destinations set to music. I could have stood on this bridge for hours, enjoying this view. This was taken just outside the site of our excursion for the day, the Curacao Sea Aquarium, home of the Dolphin Academy.
I struggled for a long time about whether or not I wanted to take the opportunity, while in the Caribbean, to swim with dolphins. Holland America's excursions offered several levels of dolphin interaction, from watching a dolphin show at the aquarium, to getting flippers on and jumping into the lagoon with the animals. My biggest concern was whether it's ethical to swim with these captive creatures for our own amusement - I've heard stories about dolphins being mistreated, and I hated the thought of contributing to an unethical industry. I did a lot of research before finally deciding I was comfortable signing up for the "dolphin encounter" at this specific aquarium, which would put me in the water on a platform, with a dolphin trainer bringing one of the dolphins over for a closeup.
We were told not to wear sunscreen because it would irritate the dolphins' skin, but with our skin already as red as it was, we went ahead and put a little on anyway - on our faces and shoulders, mostly. Apologies if we gave any dolphins sea-eczema, but we just couldn't bear to get more burned. After the pre-encounter briefing and signing of the "we won't sue if we die here" waivers, the group was herded out to the lagoon, where we saw a group of splashing dolphins, with their silvery skin, their bottle noses, and their big pink dolphin wangs. Yes, they were rocking out with their... snorkels... out. I'm not sure whether there were females involved, or whether all of the participants were consenting, but to whom do you report when you witness a possible cetacean rape? The trainers completely ignored the goings-on, so it can't have been too unusual, but I can tell you that I spent the rest of the day very very glad that I decided against actually joining these huge horny bastards on their turf. (Their surf?)
Pasku, "our" dolphin, was young, playful, and disobedient, swimming off all the time to bother his favorite trainer, who was working with others across the lagoon. Only three years old, he was already huge, and made of solid muscle. The trainer kept having to whistle and bribe Pasku with fish, but eventually everyone in our group got a chance to meet him, pet him, and "chat" with him. It was really an incredible experience, and I'm so glad I had the chance to do it. The best part was when Pasku rolled over for belly rubs, which apparently dolphins love as much as cats do.
We took some time to see the rest of the aquarium, skipping the kiosk where they sell professional photos of your dolphin encounter for a whole lot of money. I bought a real sugar Coke at the little cafeteria, which was as delicious and refreshing as it sounds. After the taxi van brought us back into town, we shopped for souvenirs but quickly retreated to the Westerdam to nurse our sunburns, which by that time were pretty painful. I would have liked to see more of the city and the island - these 8-hour stopovers are just enough to give you a taste, but it's not long enough to see much beyond the tourist traps, especially if it's your first time.
*I'm going with "Barbados, Curacao, be my lusty beach frau." This stuff writes itself.