Next to an unpaved driveway on the south end of Santa Cruz beach on Curaçao’s wild west end, a hand-painted sign points toward “Boka Santu Pretu,” which the map from my hotel doesn’t even show. But where is the trail? Cactuses and thorn bushes choke the steep hillside, terrain fit for boots and machetes, with no view of water in that direction. In other words, perfect.
Remoteness and difficult access are positive signs for someone hunting down a great snorkel spot. Experience has proved this sad fact: The more people kick around and slough sunscreen into the water column, the poorer a reef gets. So with fins, mask and a sliver of hope, I set off into the bramble. Climbing down a rocky embankment, I emerge onto a deserted beach. Limestone outcrops on both ends protect the little bay, and small waves break over the shallow reef. Lovely and lonely.
I swim out over the 20-foot wall. My eyes bug from behind my mask. Life! Invisible from above, yellow tangs and damsels flit in and out of the coral formations, which I can see actually moving. Suddenly inundated with color — a parrotfish cruises by — I realize something I know from books but have never witnessed firsthand. Coral is a living creature, and the reef is an ecosystem. I realize I’ve stopped breathing through the tube. I just hover, trying not to disturb this life.