Curacao: Exploring Punda and Otrobanda

Bon Dia! That’s good morning in Papiamento and Bon Bini means welcome. Two common phrases heard and seen all about Willemstad.

We started the day with the Bario’s Otrobanda Breakfast which included eggs with roasted bread, smoked salmon, a pumpkin waffle, yogurt bowl with fresh granola and home made banana jam.
Our first walking excursion was to Punda, the oldest part of Willemstad. To get there, we crossed the St. Anna Bay over Queen Emma pontoon bridge.

The Queen Emma bridge is hinged and opens regularly to enable the passage of ocean going vessels. On the opposite end from the hinge is a small shelter where an operator controls two diesel engines with turning propellers.

When the pontoon bridge is going to open, bells and alarms go off. Gates shut off the ends so people can’t enter or leave. If you’re on the bridge, you just stay there and go along for the ride

Punda is the location of the world famous Handelskade: the waterfront collection of multi-colored buildings that has become Curacao’s most characteristic image. It is one of the most known UNESCO world heritage sites.

Dutch buildings in brilliant pinks, blues and yellows line the waters of St. Anna Bay.
Greeting us on the Punda side is a giant Christmas tree fully decorated.
Fruits and vegetables from Venezuela are sold in stalls along the St. Anna Bay. Boats arrive early morning to replenish the supply of goods … this is known as the floating market.
The markets have so many colorful things to choose from — fun to look at.

The floating market is where Venezuelan merchants would dock and sell their fresh fish, produce and spices. Curacao is predominantly arid and it is near-to-impossible to grow in quantities sufficient enough to support the local market and visitors. Today’s more efficient shipping methods and larger scale grocery operation (and the difficulties in Venezuela) threaten to make this once vital market obsolete.

Queen Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Marie, longest reigning Dutch monarch.

Wilhelmina Park is in the heart of Punda. This is where you will find the brightly colored signs ‘Curacao’ and ‘Dushi’ for photo-opps.

Dushi is a Papiamento word that means ‘tasty’. You see it everywhere. It comes from the Spanish word ‘dulce’ which means ‘sweet’. Biba Dushi means ‘living a sweet life’.

Next to the statue of Queen Wilhelmina is the Papiamento word, ‘Dushi’ which translates as Sweet!

Curacao is home of the ChiChi, a well rounded Caribbean figure. She represents the vibrant, dynamic and responsible older sister. The statues are handmade and painted in bright Caribbean colors by local craftsmen and painters at Serena’s Art Factory.

Chichi is the Papiamento word for ‘big sister’.

She represents the eldest daughter of the family who binds the family together in a loving and caring way. She is a much appreciated female role model in the Caribbean community of today and a very live part of its colorful heritage.

Chichi is an expression of big love and big care.

The Chichi statues were created by a German woman named Serena Israel. When she came to Curacao, she realized there was a lack of jobs especially for women and that the island needed a souvenir that was distinctly Curacao. Serena was a seasoned mold maker. She dreamed up the idea for the Chichi dolls based on the women of Curacao. But rather than make them herself, she aimed to give the islanders something of their own: to teach them how to make the plaster dolls they inspired through an extensive trainee program with the artist herself at the helm. As the women prove themselves over time, Serena raises their pay as a form of empowerment.

Next stop, I see a building that looks like a church. So we wandered over there. It was once a synagogue but now is a public prosecutors office. I would never have guessed that.

Once a Jewish temple, now it’s the Public prosecutors office.

We wandered through the streets of Punda. More colorful buildings, coffee shops and restaurants.

Next stop is the New Market. It’s kind of like an outer concourse of a baseball stadium and you just walk in a circle. It’s like a flea market where you can buy beauty supplies, clothes and other random things. We bought a couple beach towels. There are food vendors too.

David peruses the countless items at the New Market.
Lots of fruits and vegetables are sold here.
I loved this little food stop. It looked like someone’s kitchen with the ladies preparing food. A nice dining room table makes customers feel at home.We stopped for a beer and to watch the World Cup soccer. The silverware drawer is where they kept the cash.
Plasa Bieu is were the locals dine. It’s an airy, rustic market with picnic tables and counters serving classic Curacoan eats.
Pumpkin pancakes made to perfection.
Another Curacoan dish served with rice.
David chose Mahi Mahi and I went with one of my Spanish favorites, Oxtail. Both were awesome.
Blue and orange coconut.
This is a view of the Juliana bridge which amazes me. Cruise ship used to pass under it. They are banned now because of the damage they cause to the channel.
Sinter Klaus Controversy

They used to celebrate St. Nicholas Day here which is typically December 6. From my American perspective, you would put your shoes outside your door and St. Nicholas would come by and fill them with treats which would be found the next morning. It’s a little different here. St. Nicholas would arrive by boat and deliver gifts to the children. We thought it would be fun to see this … until I started reading some controversial things.

A Dutch woman explained this to us. She said countless years ago, St. Nicholas came to Curacao and bought a slave. He gave the slave his freedom. The slave, an elf-like character’s name was “Zwarte Piet” which translates as “black Pete”. Black Pete was so grateful that he told St. Nicholas he would be his helper. Typically, Black Pete was portrayed by white people in black face with red lipstick. Anyways the tradition came to a halt in Curacao with Covid. During the covid break, somebody portrayed Black Pete as a black Dutch politician originally from Suriname … in poor taste. It was racist and objectionable which made the celebration unappealing. Now instead, Curacao celebrates a children’s day on December 20th.

Trevor Noah provides Black Pete insight on You Tube.

We’re back on the Outrobunda side of the Queen Emma bridge. Lots of holiday decorations.

Located at the entrance of the St. Anna Bay on the Otrobanda side is Rif Fort. It was built in the 19th century to protect Curaçao from pirates and other invaders.
Now Rif Fort is used as a very touristy shopping mall located near the cruise port dock.
Next to Fort Rif is a decorated shopping street.
A small manger scene sits beneath a towering palm tree.

Next stop is Netto bar. It is the oldest bar in Curacao and home of the famous green rum, Rom Berde.

This little hole in the wall had 16 fans and 2 air conditioners blowing, yet many of it’s customers preferred standing outside.
Netto bar is home of the famous green rum, Rom Berde. It reminded us of the NE Minneapolis establishment ‘Tony Jaros River Garden’, home of Minnesota’s original Greenie, a potent lime-y drink.
The bar is full of pictures and paintings of idyllic Curacao and late owner, Ernesto ‘Netto’ Koster, with famous guests in his bar such as the Dutch King Willem Alexander.
Down the street is a shoe store, apparently shoes cost an arm & a leg here.
The Queen Emma pontoon bridge at night.
A quick stop for a bite to eat on the way back to the Bario … apparently Captain Morgan is a Holland soccer fan. Holland vs US is tomorrow.
Back at the Bario. Time to plan tomorow’s activities.

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Jane is a resident of Browndale neighborhood in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

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