The feeling of intimacy with the new scale of the Caribbean tour that we had inaugurated almost four months earlier was proved almost immediately.
We had landed, half an hour ago, from Port of Spain, Trinidad. On the way between the airport and the center of Willemstad, we get into a Hiace-style van, one of those very popular and economical, which welcomes passengers on the way.
Sitting in front seats, we listened to the dialogues between everyday passengers and the driver, who knew them from a cherry tree. From casual conversation, the interaction evolved into chatter. Without expecting it, the more we listened to them, the more we seemed to identify sounds and words.
We avoid being hasty. However, among so many other expressions and terms of the local Creole, “okay” and “uncle” continued to be repeated, these, much more than some others.
When we arrived at the final destination of Otrobanda, we were convinced to double the influence of Portuguese in Papiamento, the official dialect of Curaçao and Aruba, also spoken in Bonaire, island B” of the famous ABC trio of the Dutch Caribbean.
Otroband. on the way to Punda
We got off at the last stop of OtroBanda. We had booked accommodation in one of Punda's streets, but with the map studied, we knew that the distance between them was short.
We're on our way. Shortly thereafter, we came across the Sint Annabaai channel that separated us from Punda.
To the southeast, as around, the sky remained clear and blue, in keeping with the dry and windy atmosphere that was felt. Only speeding caravans of small white clouds roamed it.
This deep firmament reinforced the architectural elegance and, at that distance, mostly chromatic, from the Handelskade, the waterfront enclosed by a line of exuberant historic buildings.
We entered the Rainha Emma mobile bridge, which, in the following days, we would cross over and over again. We felt, for the first time, its strange wiggle.
The bridge leaves us facing what seemed to us the most intricate of the buildings in the complex.
Penha is the headquarters of one of the Caribbean's pioneering beauty products merchants, with open doors since 1708.
It appears at the entrance to the kind of historic shopping center located along the Breedestraat, the route we continue our walk.
We enter the rooms at about four in the afternoon. With “office-type” work to be completed and the days in Curaçao still open, we didn't go out.
The next day dawns the same. We made the most of it, with long, strenuous walks through practically all the streets and alleys, to start with, the ones in the Punda around.
Holland's Leading Slave Depot in the Atlantic
Time and history dictated that Willemstad unfolded into well-marked areas. This diversity of yours only interests him.
Punda was the first zone to appear, from 1634, the year in which the Dutch conquered Curaçao from the Spanish. Its name derived from Dutch of punt, the Tip.
Jealous that Spain – or any other colonial rival – might aspire to the island, the new owners rushed to erect walls.
Three decades later, until the Dutch abolition of slavery, Willemstad remained the main hub for the trade of slaves in the Netherlands, captured or acquired on the west coast of Africa, sold to the remaining colonial territories of the Caribbean and the Americas, not just the Dutchmen.
This trade has increased Punda's population at a great rate. The colony's potential attracted new traders.
XNUMXth century: the arrival of Sephardic Jews still on the run from the Inquisition
At the end of the 1497th century, King Manuel decreed the expulsion of all Jews who did not convert to Catholicism. In XNUMX, about twenty thousand Jews gathered in the port of Lisbon, determined to leave.
Many headed to northern Europe, especially Germany and the Netherlands. A part of the Netherlands, a part, crossed the Atlantic and settled in Nova Holanda, the territory of the north of Brazil occupied and explored by the Dutch West India Company.
In the complex context of dispute in the north of the Brazil between Portugal, Holland and Spain, Portugal prevailed. As a result, the Portuguese Court of the Holy Office dedicated itself to identifying and punishing the Jews who had fled from its action in Europe.
Thousands of Sephardic newly arrived in Nova Holanda again fled. Many headed for New Amsterdam (later New York). Others dispersed to Caribbean and West Indian colonies. Starting with Curaçao.
The Portuguese and Portuguese-Creole component of the Papiamento dialect comes from the language introduced by the Sephardic Jews, from the dialects spoken by slaves arriving from Portuguese territories, from the present-day Guinea-Bissau of Cape Verde and even São Tomé and Principe.
Jews settled and their prolific businesses in Punda.
Expansion out of the Walled Domain of Punda
With them, the number of homes and commercial buildings increased enormously.
In such a way that the authorities were forced to approve the expansion of the colony outside the walls, at a distance of about 500 meters that would allow the cannons of Fort Amsterdam to target ships offshore, with no buildings in between.
This new settlement, Pietermaai, extended to the south-east of Punda and the Waaigat inlet that delimits it to the north.
Day after day, we wander through both.
We confirm in Punda, the most urban profile of Willemstad, full of four and five-story buildings of corsage, culminating in attic waters with a jagged facade, in an obvious transposition of the architecture of Amsterdam and from other parts of the Dutch metropolis.
And, emerging from the complex, the synagogue of Curaçao, built by Sephardic Jews who arrived from Holland and Brazil, is today the oldest synagogue in the Americas, with a sand floor, as has become customary in the Caribbean.
There we sat and followed the dissertation of an American rabbi who unwound it tim-tim by tim-tim with each new group of visitors.
The Secular Villas of Pietermaai and the “Dutch” Buildings of Punda
In Pietermaai, aging houses predominate, ladies of a dazzling colonial decadence. Some have been transformed into bars and restaurants that combine old but elegant furniture with murals, paintings and other creative decorations.
Willemstad is, throughout, a dazzling street art gallery filled with three-dimensional murals that take advantage of the shapes of water meters and other inspiring creative features.
Due to hyperinflated prices, its marginal is reserved for cruise passengers.
Further in, the inevitable multinational franchises are also present. Despite the successive tides of disembarked tourists, Willemstad preserves some old and genuine nooks and crannies.
The tavern that advertises snacks from krioyo kuminda that we identified without much effort: the pasty, Serbes i refreshment, pan ku krokèt, ku frikandel ou ku hotdog.
Elsewhere, the eccentric traditional iguana soup is also served at Plasa Bieu!, the gastronomic extension of the Old Market.
The Influx of Venezuelan Migrants and their Culture
A few years ago, this market had a floating fruit and vegetable wing over the waters of Waigaat that depended on the arrival of products and vendors from neighboring Venezuela.
It ceased to function when President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closing of the borders with the ABC islands. Condemned by the poverty that is spreading in their nation, Venezuelans continue to arrive, many of them (almost all) by illegal means.
They settle in and enrich Curaçao's centuries-old ethnic and cultural melting pot.
At dusk, sitting on one of Handelskade's terraces, we heard some of them chattering in the soft Castilian of the southern Caribbean.
And, shortly thereafter, captivate customers with generous singing of rumba, reggaeton and other Latin American hits.
At that time, due to some navigational need, the port authorities kept the mobile bridge retracted. To replace it, they made available a small ferry with a high deck.
Pleased with the variant, we complete the journey on top of it.
One and another time. To and fro, until we get fed up.
Crossing to the Discovery of Otrobanda and Scharloo
Finally, we will disembark to discover Otrobanda, the neighborhood opposite Punda, its rival almost mirrored, although without the same architectural fascination on the other side of Sint Anna Bay, referred to as the “Hispanic side”, due to the profile of its inhabitants .
There we visited the Kurá Hulanda anthropological museum, which exhibits and explains the history of the slave trade in the Atlantic. Yflen Florentina, herself, a descendant of slaves living in Curaçao, guides us.
We ascend to higher levels of Otrobanda, among airy houses, here and there, chatting with its residents, at times, with strenuous attempts to employ one or another expression of Papiamento.
Until it gets dark. We descend back to Sint Anna Bay. From its edge, we admire the artificial lighting of Handelskade's front rising out of the twilight.
We went back to the bridge, which is operational again. We return to the banks of Waigaat.
We venture into Scharloo, the fourth district of Willemstad, in its genesis, an abandoned plantation where, later, wealthy Jewish merchants raised their villas.
It evolved, thus, to become the city's graffiti sector, until, around 1960, it entered another one of the delicious declines of the island.
There we sat on a popular terrace. There we enjoy cold Brion beers. We had the time on our own. Willemstad and Curaçao deserved so much more.