Curacao’s Colorful Culture

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The restaurant owner slipped something in my hand with a wink, and then was gone. He gifted me a little colorful coin purse with “Jaanchie’s” emblazoned on the front as a thank you for savoring his food. But it really wasn’t necessary – the somewhat tough to find lunch spot that didn’t even have a menu was the best food I had on the Caribbean island of Curacao.

DSC_0895 (1024x787)Silver platters shaped like fish can be filled with chicken, beef, goat or, for the brave, iguana meat. There’s plenty of “Bright” beer to go around, an island staple, which is the perfect way to cool off midday. As I noshed, classic Spanish songs wafted through the humid air, played by a trio of smiling weathered musicians who sang like birds.

It was an introduction to the various cultural influences this tiny island offers visitors. Located so close to South America, Venezuela in particular, Curacao offers a strong spirit of Dutch, Latino and even Indonesian vibe throughout food, language and music.

Transported Through Tempo Doeloe

DSC_0846 (1024x730)Sure, there’s luxury resorts and those endless miles of blue Caribbean views, but Curacao has something a little extra. Most locals speak several languages; the words flying around in the air make or an exotic jumble of communication.

The spice wafting through its cuisine follows suit – there’s so many wonderful flavors that taste other-worldly and are always memorable. For instance, the Indonesian establishment Tempo Doeloe has taken influences from afar and creates an extensive menu of traditional, yet progressive dishes. Served in small copper bowls along a heated display, the adventure of dipping a spoon into each steaming stew is unmatched. The pork and fried bananas are amazing – and so it everything else, especially when covered in house-made peanut sauce.

Shete Boka Park’s Eruption

I do love a nice nap on the beach, but Curacao has places to explore as well near and far from shore. The Shete Boka Park is covered in volcanic rock, constantly slammed by dramatic waves. I wove in and out of the cave system, carefully picking my steps to the edge of the ocean. Whether up top of the cliff to overlook the whole scene or navigating the rocks below, the park is a playground for geology and sun worshipers alike. How the land has been formed plays an integral role in the local island life.

Curacao Aquarium Encounters

DSC_1627 (1024x637)The culture surrounding the ocean is just as ingrained in Curacao as is any other tradition. It would be a shame to journey to the island and not spend a big chunk of time lapping up the gentle waves and views of the colorful marine life. Although it is simple to experience great snorkeling almost anywhere, a great place to start can be the Curacao Aquarium. They have a program called “Animal Encounters” that takes care of gear and a guided tour around the open ocean tanks, fenced off by secure rope nets.

The reward? An up close and personal interaction with some native creatures. I may have yelped and screeched while sting rays gently glided over my legs and a 200-pound Goliath grouper emerged from the shadows, but I was always in good hands.

Downtown Willemstad

DSC_0012 (1280x892)Everything seems to begin and end in Willemstad. Once a colonial outcrop, this center of civilization in Curacao hold true to its roots and has let new traditions blossom as well. I started the trip overlooking a rainbow of businesses along the canal, constantly maintained to give the city it’s iconic first impression. Go across the swinging bridge to Gouverneur de Rouville for a beverage and a lovely view. Then venture back to the main drag and keep an eye out for the little details – such as some cheeky and risqué wood carvings embedded in the trees right in front of the Governor’s House. Don’t miss going through the tunnel nearby and seeing old cannons and later a church with a large cannon ball still stuck in one of the walls.

DSC_0008 (1024x686)Back in town is another kind of display of faith – the oldest Jewish temple in the Western Hemisphere. It’s called Mikvé Israel-Emanuel and boast some beautiful features. Not only are the intricate details of the interior beautiful, the dark wood is only more striking next to the light colored sand floors. Sand was used to muffle footsteps in the past to avoid prosecution.

Don’t waste a faraway journey just sitting on the beach – get inside the heart of Curacao, one of the Caribbean’s most diverse and interesting islands.

 

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Eileen Cotter is a freelance travel writer who has a few notches in her belt throughout North America, Central America, Asia and Europe. She currently resides just outside Boston, Massachusetts. While writing for a wide variety of websites and travel magazines, her preferences so far has been covering various unique festivals worldwide, trying strange foods at tasty restaurants and encountering eccentric landmarks. By far her favorite place to roam is southern Spain and her future dream trip is exploring the Fiji Islands. Her blog is CrookedFlight.com.