My first thoughts upon landing in this island nation were: do I speak English or Spanish? Upon completion of my stay, I still wasn’t sure. In general, most people here speak four languages: Dutch, Papiamento, English, and Spanish. However, it seemed that the people that I greeted in English responded in Spanish and vice versa. It was interesting to note that after two months without sight of a foreigner, I felt like I identified more with the Spanish speakers than the English speakers. Still, a vacation in paradise was much appreciated, even with the overflow of tourists. You are probably wondering, why Curacao? Well, because of the flight situation, that was the only place that I could fly to at a reasonable price, and I am so excited I went. I had to stay the night because my flight out to Quito wasn’t until the next day, still at a fraction of the cost it would have been to fly the same day. In less than 24 hours, I fell in love with Curacao.
As with any tourist destination, Curacao had its rip-offs. For example, when I first landed, I was told a taxi costs $30 and the bus costs $2 to Punda/Otrabanda in Willemstad (the capital). However, buses are only for people with handbags, and since I’m not really what one would call a light packer, that wasn’t an option. As I drag back over to the taxi station, I am joined by a group of six people, all of whom are staying at the same hotel, how perfect. And, with the split cab fare, I only had to pay $5. Between all of the negotiating with the displeased taxi driver, I didn’t realize how hot it was until I noticed that all of us were dripping in sweat. It reminded me of Utila, in the BayIslands off of Honduras. Unfortunately, it wasn’t appropriate here to strip down to a bathing suit when not on the beach.
Two outfit changes and a hotel check-in later, I am strolling through the streets of Willemstad. On the west side, where my hotel was, is Otrabanda. On the east is Punda. They are joined by the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, a floating bride that disconnects on one side to let ships through and it affectionately called “the swinging old lady.”
I began my walking tour through town with my fellow taxi mates, who were all from Venezuela and here for a short weekend to spend their cupo (government allowance) and buy dollars. These people are nicknamed raspasos, and this is how the black market works. I decided to split up with them when they wanted McDonalds for lunch, as this was definitely not on my itinerary. On the lookout for a cute café that I had read about, I ducked under an awning as a quick shower passed and it turned out to be that very café! Lucky me. At the EetCafe de Buren, I treated myself to fresh squeezed orange juice and their Holland wrap and soaked in the sights.
After lunch, I embarked on the rest of my walk through town. I discovered the floating market, where boats from Aruba, Bonaire, and Venezuela dock and sell their goods straight directly from their attached fruit stands. A man gave me way too many bananas for $1, which I shared with friends later.
Nearby was the Jewish synagogue, which boasts the title of oldest continually used synagogue in the western world. It caught my attention, but was quite small and I didn’t want to pay the $10 admission fee, which I now regret.
Instead, I went to the Kura Hulanda slave museum, which was quite the trek across town in my cute summer wedges (why did I decide to wear those?). Upon arrival I was met by a man with a sad face and a sign that said closed for repairs. That’s when I wished I would have paid to enter the synagogue, but it was getting late and I needed to rest for a bit. I did accomplish a good amount of sightseeing by mid-afternoon though. The colonial architecture and vibrant buildings were beautiful and I met some interesting people, including this Rasta Car Wash man (and his cat):
I followed the road behind his house to a perfectly picturesque quiet alley of old homes.
I think that because I lived for two months in an industrial city that lacked cultural appeal such as museums (my favorite!), Curacao was overwhelming charming and I could have stayed for weeks. It was also nice to see foreigners, although that was a little culture-shocking, and no longer be the only gringa!
After disappointingly napping through sunset (Ali, napping? Shocker.), I showered and set out for a night stroll, delighted that I could safely walk around after dusk. I walked over to the Rif Fort, which used to guard Willemstad and the inlet beyond. Now, it serves as a high-end shopping area complete with many designer stores. I went there because it had a Starbucks and I wanted to check it out. After all, it’s only been two months since I quit the company that I had been working at for the past seven years. As I was checking out this year’s Christmas collection, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder and I turned around to see the face of someone I knew! How crazy is that? We laughed about it because it wasn’t just someone I knew, it was a former CU student and regular at the Sbux store where I worked for most of college, on the Hill. He is now a singer/dancer on a cruise ship and was at port there for the night. He came to Sbux for free wifi (who doesn’t?) and I came to buy some Christmas Blend coffee. What does it mean that we were both there? Probably that we’re addicts. It was a strange feeling to not be able to get free coffee beans at Sbux, and since I was out of the country I paid about double, but it was a nice treat since my Christmas abroad will be limited this year.
To end my amazing micro-vacation, I had an elegant dinner for one at Restaurant & Café Gouverneur de Rouville: a crisp glass of white wine (which I haven’t tasted since leaving the US, too expensive in Venezuela) and local stew which was to die for. I don’t normally eat a lot of red meat but this was a welcome exception. The Caribbean spices were mouthwatering and the chef had created some sort of cornbread garnish. My view from the balcony wasn’t bad either – it overlooked the pontoon bridge and the Dutch houses.
I think I have too many favorite parts about this quick one day vacation. Although I didn’t get to sip fruity cocktails on the beach (not enough time to lounge!), I loved the rest of the scenery and history of the island. I think what was most welcoming was being able to drink the cold and delicious tap water, which was not an option in Venezuela. I hope I can return to Curacao for some diving in the future.