Curacao, Christoffelberg - 372m/1220ft
I arrived in Curacao a day later than planned due to my flight with InselAir from Aruba being cancelled the day before. I had already contacted the guest house while still in Aruba asking them to hold the room for me as I would still be traveling albeit just to stay there for the evening before flying onto St Maarten.
I left Curacao airport after the departure card formalities and walked the 30 minutes to the hotel via a local shop to buy a few drinks for that evening. What caught my attention was that the shop had bars from floor to ceiling, It certainly had a slightly different feel than Aruba. Upon arriving at the spot on my map I was unsure as to where the guest house actually was. It wasn't where it had said on either of my maps or their website. I asked a woman from the property I was by who offered to phone the guest house for me off my confirmation and she was told said it was quite a bit further down but the owner would meet me shortly if I waited.
After 5 minutes she arrived but said she needed to pick a friend up from the airport first. Thankfully I wasn't in a rush so we headed back to the airport. I waited for 45 mins in the car until they returned and finally could head to the hotel to relax. It was pleasant enough but I still felt disappointed in losing the day in Aruba as it had certainly cost me this high point which is located in the north of the island. My next flight leaving early the following morning to St Maarten.
I was offered a lift to the airport that morning around 07.00 by the owner and was once again on my way to Curacao airport. Upon arrival I saw that my flight was delayed and the staff who were unhelpful said they wouldn't have an update until at least 11.00. Not good! It sounded very similar to the crap they (InselAir) had said to me the previous day while in Aruba, Which had lead me to spend most of the day in the airport.
My plan had originally been to catch a cheap public bus to Christoffel a small town near the highest point in Curacao, but I now had the option now to get back on track if I could gamble and catch a taxi to the national park, make a speedy ascent and then head straight back to the airport before the announcement at 11.00. I decided to see how much it would cost but baulked when I was told the price and tried to negotiate. She was adamant that it was a fixed price.. Which it clearly stated on the board. So I used the situation to my advantage and pointed out that there are no passengers landing as most of the flights were also delayed or cancelled. So it would be beneficial to her to make some money for a few hours along with me getting a discount.
We finally agreed on $100/£75 return with 2 hours waiting time included. We soon set off to the north of the island. Upon reaching the national park I bought a ticket and convinced the taxi driver to take me closer to the trailhead (She wasn't legally allowed to but time was tight) I jumped out of the taxi leaving my bag with her just taking my passport, camera and wallet and said I would be back within 2 hours. I started jogging down a sandy trail, Surrounded by tall Cactus. It was well defined and easy to follow, there were rocky sections and a few sections where scrambling using your hands were required but straight forward nonetheless. I passed several people mostly westerners before the steeper final section to the summit which I reached in around 35 mins. The views were extensive but I couldn't afford to wait around, So as soon as I had taken the pics and videos I scrambled back over the large boulders on the summit area and jogged when possible to save time as I had no urge to miss this flight due to me being late.
I was pleased to see she was still waiting when I returned although she didn't look pleased and said the national park had reported her to her taxi company.. I said its all part of the adventure and that quietened down the issue before it became financial.
I jumped out the cab when we got back to the airport and jogged to the departure lounge. I looked at the clock and it was 11.17. Phew! Good going! I headed over to the desk, A miserable looking woman stared and said they hadn't heard anything and were expecting an update around 13.00. The gamble had paid off and another country high point too albeit more expensive than planned. Although the knock on effect of the delay now means it's eating into my time in St Maarten.
A few hours passed with the time pushed back further until 17.00. I had spoke to a few locals and they said the company had an inspection last week and they grounded all of their fleet and only have money to make one aircraft operational.. The one I flew here on the previous evening. Not good news at all as they are the only airline that fly from Curacao to St Maarten. Just after 17.00 they announced that the flight was cancelled and we would have an hotel for the night and a flight was scheduled for tomorrow.
Just as in Aruba the hotel was over the top and too nice for a struggling airline ~$200 per night. Spa/Sauna, with food and drink extras but reception said InselAir would pick up the bill for everything. It goes without saying I ate very well that evening along with the rest of the group. After two cancelled flights I had totally lost confidence in them but simply had no other way of getting to St Maarten. (Flight via Miami $800-$1000)
The following morning we headed back to the airport and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the board said scheduled and not delayed or cancelled. I headed through to the gate after paying a hefty departure tax and was surprised to see only one other person in the gate room. The departure time approached and only 10 people were here? I asked someone by the desk and they said the flight was delayed for an hour but it was definitely going to leave today.
The pilot and crew boarded and after another hour or so we were finally about to leave Curacao. We headed down the stairs onto the bus that takes you to the plane. Over 15 minutes we waited before being told to disembark as the bus was needed by a flight that had just landed. By this point small groups had formed so we were shaking our heads and chatting with one another. The bus returned and we re-boarded.. Still we didn't go anywhere, After 20 mins the fumes near to me at the back of the bus were intoxicating to the point a lady was feeling dizzy and feinted. They opened the doors and I jumped off. While standing next to a ground controller I overheard him say back upstairs so I just jogged back up to the gate before the rest were told. I had a few minutes up there and spoke to a check in girl who said there was an electrical fault and the pilot has just said he is not happy to fly.
The group returned upstairs and we were told us nothing by InselAir! No surprise but later on they said we would be leaving in an hour, after more false promises and a few $ food vouchers they finally announced that the flight was cancelled. I had a flight the following evening booked from St Maarten to St Kitts. But I knew if I could at least get to St Maarten tomorrow I would still be able to get to St Kitts although possibly having to sacrifice the highest point in St Maarten. It was the usual scramble for hotels vouchers, Families first, Solo passengers last. It was after 9pm when me and the guys finally got our hotel and taxi vouchers.
We got to the hotel and they faffed with the check in and then with the food but more importantly I had to make a decision. Do I book a flight for the following day just in case we are delayed yet again? It would cost $150 but it would then mean I can still climb the last two, just missing St Maarten out. I decided to book it as a safety net in case we were delayed by 5+ hours an I missed my other connection.
Of the two minibuses mean't to pick us up the following morning only one arrived. I was on the second and phoned InselAir from the reception desk and they said they will send another. After an hour of waiting and several phone calls it finally turned up but we are due to take off in 50 mins and its a 35 min ride to the airport. The looks on our faces on that minibus were of disbelief.
I once again arrived at Curacao airport and jumped out of the minibus and ran to the check in desks. Everyone was standing there... You have got to be joking I said to the group. They said it was delayed but we would be checking in soon. We did checked in and headed upstairs. After waiting 4 hours my gamble had paid off.. I had missed my connection but thankfully had booked the flight for the following day. The hours passed and I had some good conversations with most of the group, things were looking up the InselAir woman gave out free food coupons, Surely a good sign that it wont be long. As it turned out they cancelled the flight about 15 minutes later. But they announced they have planned to lease out another airplane that was already here but it needed to fly to Suriname and back before it was our turn to use it. It was bizarre but It still would have me in St Maarten in time for my flight to St Kitts the following day. A few whispers were floating around about them not having clearance to fly the leased plane but nothing official and to make matters worse the Surinam flight was now delayed which would of course have a knock on effect for us. An hour later there was shouting and people surrounding the desk. They had cancelled the replacement flight due to no clearance to fly. I knew exactly what needed to be done as I had been looking at an escape plan throughout the day just in case and using a few tricks I used my remaining food voucher and booked a direct flight to Amsterdam the next afternoon along with a flight to London and the train home. Finished my meal.. Headed downstairs to get the hotel voucher and it was manic. Not from our group but the new group of passengers who had just been delayed. We had past caring after 4 cancelled flights and they soon quietened down when I along with several others said it was our 5th Cancelled flight in 5 days.
It was after 10pm when the single passengers got our hotel tickets and left. I finally got to bed at 12 and within a few minutes the phone in the room rang saying Insel are putting on 3 flights tomorrow and I'm on the 06.50 one so a taxi will be there at 05.00 to collect us. Great, My flight to Amsterdam was in the afternoon. The taxi didn't turn up so we walked the 15 minutes to the airport. I gave my ticket to one of the people who they had wrongly told was on the early flight and I decided to head back to the hotel to try and sneak in to get some breakfast.
I stayed at the hotel for a few hours and saw online that the first group had finally taken off to St Maarten due to be followed shortly by the rest. I heading back to the airport and sat opposite the InselAir office as it had a spare power point. My flight was due in 5 hours but I had to wait for an e-ticket from the self service machine. I looked up and saw two lads walking into the InselAir office. Nooooo I said.. I recognised them. I went over and they said only 2 flights are taking off today as they have cancelled the third. They had been given new tickets for tomorrow. Day 7!
I checked in an went to the gate which ironically was next to the St Maarten one and it comes as no surprise.. Quite a few of the group were still there waiting for the second flight that was delayed. I shook my head and walked over to them. The room was quiet and you could just sense a lot of people were at breaking point and had enough. I was so pleased by this point that I had my flight booked for Amsterdam.
It goes as no surprise also that I boarded and departed while they were still waiting and when I arrived in London the following day I noticed that one of the people I was talking to had added me on twitter so I messaged him and said "How did you get on yesterday after I left" To which he replied.. "Nothing.. Same Situation." "Cancelled yesterday and also today with no expectation on when It will leave." So he booked tickets to go via Miami the following day.
Absolute shambles and an unbelievable mess from day one. What makes it even more disgusting is the fact that the airline won't pay any compensation as It's not like European airlines and and my insurance have said they won't pay anything due to it being an issue with the airline. Well over £1000 out of pocket along with needing to redo the 3 high points I've missed at a future date.