Okay, I was expecting to give an update, but I didn’t think it would take this long. Wireless access at the hotel is still broken, so I’m having real problems accessing my email etc. I’ll update the picture with this post eventually, but for now, I’ll just recycle.
I decided to go downtown to see what their was to see. Downtown Willemstad is a UNESCO heritage site due to its European architecture, and I was interested in seeing it.
I learned my first lesson about Curacao and the Caribbean when I tried to go downtown. I went to the lobby of the hotel, and asked them to call me a cab. They said it would be there in a few minutes. A half hour later, no cab. I had gone into the lobby and asked them to call again twice, and although each time they said the cab was in its way — they could even tell me the cab number — no cab.
Eventually, the girl from the front desk offered to take me herself. At first I wasn’t sure what she meant, but eventually I figured out she meant in her own car. And so began the weird day of Curacao locals helping me.
Downtown is a short car ride from the hotel, and it was lovely. Because it was Easter Monday, a national holiday, everything was closed, and I mean everything. Once in a while you would see a cafe open I suppose, but everything else was closed and barred. Eventually, we pulled up next to the water and she said this was downtown and if I wanted to see the parade, I should take the bridge, but the bridge was closed because of the holiday, so I should take the ferry.
Now, you may wonder why a bridge was closed because of the holiday, I admit, that’s a bit odd to me too, but it goes beyond that. It wasn’t just closed — it was gone. Downtown Willemstad has two halves, Punda and Otrabando, and they are connected by a floating bridge that opens to allow for ships to go through. That bridge wasn’t even there. I have no idea where you put a bridge when it’s not open for the day, but wherever it was, it wasn’t obvious.
The ferry, however, was obvious and it was free, so I hopped aboard and rode across to Otrabando, which was just as closed up as downtown Punda. I get the feeling that Otrabando is the rougher side of the harbour, and when it was closed up and deserted, it was a little intimidating. There was a big crowd on the ferry though, all locals, and they seemed to be going somewhere, so I decided to follow them. As we walked along in the pretty impressive (and oppressive) heat, I kept thinking I was hearing music in the distance. I was always right that I was hearing music, but it was usually some guy sitting in his car blaring the stereo. I was walking pretty quickly, and I caught up with a Dutch couple who seemed to be going somewhere, so I followed them for a while. They were clearly a little nervous about all this too, because eventually the guy wanted to turn back, but the woman wanted to keep going. I didn’t think this boded well if these two, who were clearly the young, strapping, adventurous Dutch type, didn’t want to stick it out. Eventually, the guy won out after some surprisingly ugly arguing in Dutch, and they turned around. I pushed on. Eventually, I heard some more music in the distance, but this had some shouting and cheering associated with it, so I was encouraged and kept going.
Finally, after about 10 minutes’walk I turned a corner and suddenly instead of a deserted street, there was a parade, with about a thousand people crammed on curb watching. It was wild.
The parade wasn’t a North American style parade, it was more like Caribana, which tended to be a truck with a band on the back, followed by singers on foot, with a troop of dancers in costumes behind them. They were singing in Portamente, the local creole language, and whatever they were singing, the locals all seemed to know it because no matter what band was going by, the crowd would know the song and sing along racously. The costumes were big over-the-top costumes like you’d see at Caribana or Carnival in Rio or Trinidad, but more like local costumes. I’ll include pics where I can, and I took a few movies, but I was feeling a little self-conscious there in the crowd. This was a big parade, but it was also obviously a local thing, rather than a tourist thing.
The heat was BRUTAL and I had forgotten to put on sunscreen and I was feeling a little toasty, so I decided to swtich sides of the street to keep from showing up for work the first day looking like a cranberry. On the other side of the street were a lot of vendors, and I suddenly realized I hadn’t eaten or drank anything since somewhere over Georgia. I bought a hamburger that had everything on it, and discovered that here everything includes pickles and hotsauce (yum). I also bought a beer from what is best described to Canadians as a Dicky Dee ice cream cart, which was definitely odd. The beer here is good though, that’s for sure, because of the Dutch heritage.
Eventually, the parade was over and I decided to head back to the other side of the harbour to look around a bit.
I walked back, briskly, and stopped for another beer at a cafe that was open on the side of the river. I thought about getting some food because I was still starving, but the place I stopped claimed to be “authentic Mexican food”, and although Curacao is technically speaking not that far from Mexico, it still made me nervous. I decided to cross the harbour and see if I could find a local place that was open.
I hopped off the ferry and decided to walk down by the fort and explore. As I walked along, a guy came up to me and asked the time. I honestly answered that I didn’t know. Hearing my accent, he asked me where I was from, where I was staying etc. I told him where I was staying and he got all excited. “The Trupial Inn? I work there man! In the bar! Been there 10 years, very nice place! My name is Lucio!”
I shook his hand and introduced myself. I said it was nice to meet him, but was looking to get on my way. He asked where I was going and when I said I was just looking around, he offered to show me the town, anything I wanted. I wasn’t sure if this guy was legit or what, so I thanked him and tried to head off on my own. He asked where I was going, a little shocked that I didn’t want a tour. He said that the route I was planning had nothing I would want to see and that it was a dead end. I said that was fine, and walked off abruptly after thanking him, thinking that was the end of it.
Turns out, he was right, it was a dead end eventually, though it was a nice walk with a fort and some other historic buildings. With no complaints I doubled back and started walking toward the core downtown area of Punda. A block or so into my walk, I turned the corner and the guy was there again. “Hello my friend John, see? I told you, nothing down there. Come with me, I show you around, I show you good time!”
I was a little nervous, because in my experience, people this enthusiastic to help you generally turn out to be selling something, or worst case, are looking to rob you. I figured he was taking me in the direction I wanted to go anyway, so I would go along.
He then proceeded to give me a walking tour of downtown Curacao. Even though his English wasn’t very good, it was quite enthusiastic. I saw the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western hemisphere, I saw the floating market, which is where boats from Venezuela come to Curacao to sell their goods. I saw church that used to be a disco, or vice versa. It was a little hard to tell, I’ll be honest, Lucio’s English wasn’t the best.
Eventually, Lucio asked me if I wanted something to eat. Although I was hungry, I was leery of his motivations a little bit still, so I said I would probably just like to head back to the hotel. He then asked if I wanted a beer, so I thought okay. We went to a cafe by the water filled with locals who knew him and all seemed like good people, so I relaxed a little. I offered to buy his beer, which he said was great, but that we’d pay at the end. After the first beer (really my third) he got up, I presumed, to pay, but he came back with more beer. After that round, he got up again, and I said I didn’t want any more, but he just smiled and said, “Don’t worry, just one more round.”
So I had another beer, as he told me about Curacao and Aruba. At one point, someone came by and bought a handful of beer and walked off with it. I mentioned to Lucio that you couldn’t do that in Canada, that you had to drink the beer in a bar, not on the street. This was not a good topic because Lucio seemed to think that it meant I wanted to buy beer and go someplace with it. I kept trying to correct him, but the best I was able to do was to get him to figure that I meant was that in Canada, they don’t carry around bottles of beer, but we use plastic cups. No idea where that came from, but it was fine.
He kept talking about a big party that was happening that night and that I’d love it because of all the weed and ganga and ladies, who according to his gestures, were all impressively endowed. I told him thank you, but I had to go back to the hotel now. He then said, “Okay, but do you mind if I buy dinner here?” I figured for the free tour, buying dinner and a three rounds of beer was fine, so I said sure. So he got up to order dinner, so I thought, and came back with more beer, but this time, in cups, “just like they like in Canada”, so you can walk with it.
I asked him if he had ordered dinner, and I gave him some money for it. I asked him where a bank machine was, because I only had $5 left for a cab to get back to the hotel. He reached over, snatched the five, and said, “Don’t worry, this is plenty, I’ll take care of you, come with me!” He grabbed his beer (in a cup) and sauntered off toward a nearby parking lot. Figuring now I had nothing to lose, I followed him, to the far side where a large crowd of locals were milling about. Mini-vans were pulling in and locals were swarming up to them. Lucio ran up to one and talked to the driver. He shook his head and pointed to a different van. Lucio spoke to the driver, who nodded her head and opened the door. Immediately about 2 dozen locals ran for the door while Lucio pointed and shouted for me to get in. I was a little skeptical of this but Lucio started freaking to get in while the woman also kept vigourously pointing to one of the seats at the back.
I got in, just barely, and found myself surrounded by about 10 Curacao locals, mostly kids, as the van peeled out of the parking lot. They all seemed to know each other and happily chatted and sang along with the radio as we drove along. I knew the area well enough to know we were at least headed in the right direction, plus this did seem to be licensed private bus, so I just sat there and soaked up what I could of the local culture and sights and hoped they would eventually drop me somewhere useful.
Eventually, the guy at the front of the mini-van, who it think was a passenger, asked me if I spoke English. I said yes. He then blurted out a mixture of words that definitely contained some English that sounded, roughly, like, “This lady gonna drop you off badda ballaallaa promenade, then badda badda badda right there.” Of course I did what any good Canadian would do in this situation, I nodded politely as if I had understood every word perfectly. A couple of minutes later, they pulled up to a mall called The Promenade, then looked meaningfully at me in a “Okay, time to get out” way, and so I did. Fortunately, I happened to have a brochure for the hotel with me, and I figured out where I was based on the map and walked the 2 minutes to my hotel and I was home, hungry, drunk, sunburned, but overall, pretty happy with my day.