By Kate RIBEIRO
For the past 20 years, I have been lucky to call Curaçao my home. That wasn’t always the case, for the first 20 were spent in the United States, but upon graduating from college, my life was destined for a warmer climate and slower pace. So, from the moment I stepped off the plane at the Hato International airport, I felt right at home.
If that seems strange to you, listen to this true story. There is a family living in Curaçao who originated from a major metropolis in the United States. Tired of the rat-race and feeling as though they were not living out their true potential, they enlisted the services of a life coach. Through a battery of questions, they hoped to determine what their ideal city would be, never imagining it would be outside of the United States. High on their list were priorities like: great school, multi-cultural environment, tolerance among people, temperate weather, safety and peacefulness. When the life coach entered these into her magical program, the city revealed as the number one choice was not a city at all, but rather the beautiful Dutch island, Curaçao. Five years ago the family packed up their belongings and moved to the sunny island and have been living out their dreams ever since. So what is it about this island that has captured the hearts and souls of so many?
For me it’s the genuine beauty that can be seen in everything from the people to the architecture, from the many languages to the white sand beaches. It’s everywhere. It’s the reason I call Curaçao home.
With approximately 171 square miles, Curaçao would be considered a medium sized island. In a car it takes roughly 90 minutes to get from East Point to West Point; the North coast is rocky while the South is tranquil. There are upwards to 40 different beaches along its coastline, and in the interior, Curacao’s Mt. Christoffel boasts the second highest peak in all of the Dutch Kingdom. It sits in the middle of the ABC island chain just off the coast of Venezuela and just below the hurricane belt, so the temperate weather Curaçao experiences is felt 365 days a year.
The 150,000 people who make up Curaçao come from 70 different nationalities. That richness in diversity is seen in the faces of the people and in the languages spoken. The Yiu di Korsou, or son of soil as it translates from the local dialect Papiamentu, no longer looks like one race. The blending of cultures and races on this island has resulted in the beautiful mix of people. And that can be seen in their attitude and approach to life.
If this all sounds too good to be true, it’s not. This is my reality. This is my home, and these are my people. So come with me as I take you on an insider’s tour of Dushi Korsou.
The pulse of Curaçao can be felt in its capital city, Willemstad. The city is made up of two parts: Punda and Otrobanda, and these two parts are connected by the famous Queen Emma pontoon bridge, or “swinging lady”. The bridge, which was built in the late 1800s, is a foot bridge for pedestrians wanting to cross the Santa Anna Bay. Throughout the day, the bridge swings open to allow ships to enter the harbor. If you get caught on the bridge when it begins to swing, you can enjoy a nice ride. Otherwise, you can take the ferry free of charge. Up until the mid 20th century, pedestrians wearing shoes were charged a small fee to cross the bridge. The story goes that the poor, who were proud people, would keep their shoes on and pay the fee, while the wealthy merchants would remove their shoes and pocket their pennies
Just around the corner from the “swinging lady” is the “floating market”. Here you will find the Venezuelan fruit and fish boats. It’s impossible to walk by without being approached by a half dozen or more sellers, but their charm, delicious produce, and inexpensive prices makes it enjoyable. I’ve even passed by without a coin in my pocket, and was given a mango and banana just because he thought I might enjoy them. And indeed I did!
As you make your way through the city, be sure to notice the impressive architecture. The Dutch colonial buildings that line the Handelskade have landed Curaçao on different “Most colorful cities in the world” lists, and has designated it a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is reminiscent of the Dutch homes that line the canals in Amsterdam, but unlike the grey, black and white color of those buildings, Curaçao’s radiate the vibrant colors synonomous with a rainbow. I guess the shape resembles the culture, whereas the colors resemble the climate.
One building you have to enter, regardless of your religious beliefs, is the Snoa, or the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synogogue. Heralded as the oldest operating Synogogue in the Western Hemisphere, and located in the heart of Punda, the Snoa’s beauty and serenity can be seen and felt once you step inside the high walls surrounding it. The first time I entered, I thought the floor was white carpet until I stepped on it and realized it was sand. The contrast from the white floor to the rich Mahogany Holy Ark to the cobalt blue stained glass windows makes this reverent place one of peaceful reflection. In some ways it reflects the reason why I love Curaçao so much.
I can’t imagine anyone coming to Curaçao and not going to the beach. There are popular beaches like Mambo and Jan Thiel that cater to the tourists, but if you’d like to venture a little further out, the best beaches on the island are found along the Southwest coastline. Grote Knip, and its little sister Klein Knip are two free beaches that capture that quintessential Caribbean feel. Their waters, with their gradient shades of aquamarine contrast against the white, soft sand and the baby blue sky. The fishes of every color swim freely around you, and the clarity of the water makes it unnecessary to wear snorkeling gear in order to appreciate these marine creatures. Floating in these buoyant waters is easy and refreshing for the salty water is always warm and invigorating. The palapas on the beach provide a bit of shade, but be sure to bring your sun screen, for the sun is strong, and you can easily waste the day away lounging in a hammock or on a beach chair.
If you are looking for somewhere great to dine, Curaçao has many fine restaurants. Cravings is probably the best sushi restaurant in the entire world (and believe me, I’ve eaten a lot of sushi). Other favorites included Janchi’s for local cuisine (the iguana is great), L’aldea, a Brazilian steakhouse/bird and animal sanctuary (I kid you not), Tempo Doeloe for authentic Indonesian food, and the somewhat remote, very informal (you might have to set up your own chair), but addictively delicious Yoyo Ala, where the only thing on the menu is chicken wings and French fries.
This little paradise I call home is just that, a paradise. The warmth of its people and the beauty surrounding it have not made me miss my homeland, but rather has allowed me to feel so fortunate to call it home. It is where I belong; it is where I am happiest.
KATE RIBEIRO is an English teacher at the International School of Curaçao. She is married, has 4 daughters and freelances for various publications.
Photography essay by DANIEL TRAVIESO
Assistant: Elizabeth Ribeiro