notes of a Steinway in the hands of Richard Clayderman
stumbled across the hotel restaurant. Something
akin to romance was in the air as the man at Table
15 made a play for the woman on Table Three. The
waiter acted as go-between. The woman sat tight.
Table 15 smiled foolishly, then looked at his
lap and began to flick breadcrumbs from his napkin.
On another table
a woman in a salmon-pink sleeveless top with matching,
slightly undercooked but already flaking arms,
played with her pink, perfectly cooked lobster.
She was a big woman with firm ankles; Dutch, like
the other Europeans, she probably answered to
The waiter brought
a second planter's punch to Table Three, who was
dark skinned, dark haired, attractive. Table 15,
who looked like Ernest Borgenine, stared fixedly
at the macaw cage. The macaws were asleep. They
had heard Richard Clayderman before. It was just
another Caribbean night.
A shooting star
illuminated the sky. Out on the beach a worried
fiddler crab, its eyes on stalks, stared, apparently
aghast, when I put my foot over its hole. When
I lifted my foot it took off on what seemed like
a drug-assisted dash for safety. A lot of things
are drug-assisted in the Caribbean. Here on Curacao
they have their share of problems.
the diver who risks nitrogen poisoning almost
every day to reach 150 feet down the side of the
reef, where he harvests black coral and makes
it into jewellery, was sitting in his small wooden
hut, fashioning a tiny twiglike piece into one
of a pair of ear-rings. The hut overlooks the
beach within the complex of rooms which form the
Princess Beach Hotel, just a few miles along the
coast from Willemstad, Curacao's port. The beach
of white sand was transported here from another
part of the island.
'They found a
Colombian woman dead in the hotel a year or two
back,' said Knubben. 'She had been dead two days
when they found her in her room. A condom full
of cocaine had burst open inside her stomach.
She was a messenger. The Colombians call them
gallianos, Spanish for chicken - they lay an egg
of white gold. We're just two hours from Colombia
by fast patrol boat. You're bound to get drugs
the place. The Calvanistic Dutch society in this,
the largest island of the five that comprise the
Netherlands Antilles, does its best to keep the
cocaine at bay. So the smugglers go to St Maarten,
the half French, half Dutch island 500 miles to
the north which is duty free and customs free.
St Maarten, or St Martin if you are on the French
side, has a reputation of being a gateway to Europe
It also has a
reputation for nude sunbathing and draws America's
rich and famous. Diana Ross, Robert Redford, Henry
Kissinger, Richard Nixon . . . they all come to
St Maarten. Only Venezuelans used to go to Curacao
in any number, but that is beginning to change.
It has been discovered by the Dutch, who are arriving
in greater numbers.
They do not go
for the palm trees. There are palm trees about,
but most of the vegetation is scrubland peppered
with divi divi and machineel trees. The guide
books, which appear to take great delight in stoking
the neuroses of American tourists, warn about
the sap of the machineels.
Willemstad, with its pastel Dutch facades, must
present one of the most welcoming sights in the
Caribbean for the cruise ships. The tourists come
for the shopping, but they also come for the diving.
Curacao's greatest wonders are under the waves.
Its sister island, Bonaire, is the favourite of
diving aficionados who seem able to rate coral
and fish like gourmets rate restaurants. But Curacao,
all the same, rates pretty highly.
I am a diving
Philistine. To me, one piece of coral looks very
much like another. The fish look very like those
I have seen in aquariums in bad-taste living rooms.
Still, since diving is the thing to do in Curacao,
I went to see Rudi at Princess Water Sports and
For $65, Rudi
taught me what to do with an aqualung. Basically,
he said, all you need to remember is to breathe.
Then, he said, you have to know what to do when
you cannot breathe. Rudi was a great help. I never
let him out of my sight.
This was not one
of those places where you need to be certified
in every sense of the word and sit around, tanks
on backs, in swimming pools with other Americans,
all rigid with fear. Rudi lied about diving being
safe, about never having seen a shark, sharks
not being vicious anyway, and about barracudas
We entered the
water to run through the drills. 'We don't go
more than 30 ft deep on this first dive,' said
Rudi. From then on it was all hand signals. He
made the hand signal for 'Look, there's a lobster.'
The lobster had seen too many of its fellow lobsters
snatched away. It retreated into the piece of
builder's pipe it had made into a home.
At the point where
the breakwater parted for us to descend on to
the reef lurked a shoal of barracudas flashing
their razored jaws. They did not look scared.
Later I learnt that they sometimes go for shiny
medallions around divers' necks. I checked the
depth gauge. It read 30 ft.
I began to concentrate
on my breathing. I never realised one breath took
so long. I also concentrated on the depth gauge,
which now said 40 ft. Rudi was going deeper. I
followed at a fin's distance.
The reef side
is a jungle of different corals - staghorn, yellow
pencil, brain and sponges. The purple tube sponge
looks like an exhaust pipe from a dragster. All
the fish are little coloured things. There were
no guppies. The depth gauge now read 50 ft.
The wonders of
the reef became subordinate to constant checks
on the depth gauge, the air gauge, clearing the
mask, feeling for the spare mouthpiece and keeping
Rudi's flipper in vision. We had reached 60 ft
before Rudi turned around and began flippering
back with the current.
Later, as he adjusted
my gauge so that the proprietor would not notice,
he explained: 'You did the drills so well I thought
we'd be OK to go a little deeper.' The $65 included
a boat dive the next day. It was more of the same,
though this time deeper still. But divers are
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