In the island of Curacao, you may hear (or even see) the expression “Dushi”. As explained by my guide Charla of the Curacao Tourist Board, “Dushi has a lot of meanings…but it mostly means sweet, nice or good”. The phrase perfectly fits this beautiful island.
I was only in Curacao for 1 day on a Princess Cruises port stop. Most tourists that visit she explained are either from the cruise ships like myself or they are predominantly European with lots of vacation time. “To experience and absorb the real lifestyle of Curacao you need to stay 2+ weeks”.
With such a very short window of time for my visit, we quickly set out to explore the island and find out what makes Curacao so “Dushi”.
Curacao has history
The Dutch colony of Curacao, discovered in 1499, is located in the Southern Caribbean, just a short 60 miles north of Venezuela. As a result, you will see Arawak, French, Dutch, Spanish, West Indian, Portuguese, and African influences throughout the island – in language, food, religion and architecture. Approximately 80% of Curacao is Roman Catholic but there is also a large Jewish Settlement (Scharloo) dating back to the 1650’s and continuing today.
Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to 16 museums, is the capital of Curacao and where most of the action is. Separated into two portions – the Punda and the Otrobanda “other side” – by St. Anna Bay. The Punda is the start of town and where you will see most of the tourists shopping and eating along the water’s edge. Otrobanda is where most of the residents live. It’s quite the contrast and if you want to see what it’s like being a local take a stroll through the streets of Otrobanda and feel like you belong. You can cross back and forth from Punda and Otrobanda via the Queen Emma Bridge.
The Queen Emma Bridge, called the “swinging old lady” by locals, is a pontoon bridge originally built in 1888 and restored in 2005/2006. Charla told me with a giggle that it is free to cross NOW but originally there was a fee of 1/2 a cent to walk across the bridge if you were wearing shoes, but if you had no shoes on there was no fee (people caught on very quickly). As I was walking across the wooden bridge (with my shoes on) I could feel a slight bobbing motion and the slight sway of the bridge as it floats over the water. I was told that if you are crossing when it is windy, or the water is rough it’s as if you are drunk, and I can well imagine this because even in calm waters I found it difficult to walk in a straight line.
The 167 meter (548 feet) long bridge opens and moves to the side about 30 times per day to allow for ships to enter the harbour. When the bridge is open, free ferries called “ponchi” are in operation to accommodate people who wish to cross from side to side.
Curacao – More than meets the eye
It is worth mentioning that even though St. Anna Bay looks narrow it is very deep. It’s misleading when you are standing on the Queen Emma Bridge, and you look inland towards the 56 meter (185 feet) high Queen Juliana Bridge. But if you follow it further it opens up into a vast and deep shipping port area with container ships and dry docks.
Curacao played an important part in WWII because of it’s hidden harbour and resources. Curacao, unlike other islands in the Caribbean, is more than just sunshine, beaches and tourists. There is major industry here with an oil refinery, salt mines and shipping all due in part to this harbour.
Colours of the Rainbow
When first arriving in Willemstad you will instantly notice the very colourful, brightly painted houses and buildings throughout all the streets. Curacao is one of the most photographed islands in the world due to these buildings, and I have to say, they look exactly as depicted in the photos and postcards! No photoshop filters required to enhance these colours.
So, the story goes.
The buildings were originally made from sea stone and mortar. Over time the salt leeches out of the stone and gives a white chalk appearance (aka efflorescence). The governor at the time felt that the bright sun reflecting off the white buildings hurt his eyes and gave him headaches, so he declared that all buildings be painted in a colour other than white. It was later discovered (after he left office) that he was part owner of the local paint factory.
Now, for uniformity and easy identification, all official government buildings in Curacao use the same shade of yellow for their exterior walls.
What makes Curacao Dushi? It’s the people you meet…
Charla shared with me personal photos of her dressed in traditional folklore costume that she had just taken a few days prior…
It was Easter week, and Curacao had just celebrated the annual Seu Folklore Parade that marks the beginning of the month-long Harvest Festival. The parade takes place in Willemstad on the first Monday after Easter and is celebrated with offerings, dancing in the streets, traditional costumes, songs and musical instruments. It’s a tradition and is steeped with meaning as it reflects back to the Curacao’s history as an African slave trade harbour. The dancing (wapa) and music (seu) are meant to symbolise the swaying motion of the slave workers as they carry their large baskets of fruit and vegetables through the fields to the warehouses.
It’s this rich cultural history of the people, their welcoming nature, and the stories like the ones that Charla shared with me that makes a place unique. It draws you in and wraps you in a warm hug and makes you laugh and smile and feel like you belong – if only for a short while. This coupled with the perfect year-long weather, the sunshine, and the beautiful surroundings is what makes Curacao truly Dushi.
Oh, how I wish I had more time to spend here…
Read more of my tour of Curacao as I visit the floating market and the beaches of Curacao…
My tour of Curacao was generously provided by Curacao Tourist Board. My opinions are my own.