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Bon Pascu i un Felis Aña Nobo!

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It’s always fun to see how people around the world celebrate the holiday season. Every culture that recognizes Christmas has its own traditions, and New Year’s Eve can be wildly different depending on the country you’re in. We suspected that Curaçao would turn New Year’s into one big, loud, outdoor party… and we weren’t wrong!

Neither Jürgen nor I have ever been Christmas guys, and in Curaçao, it was especially difficult to get into the holiday spirit. I mean, it’s 29° (85°F) out and we’re at the beach! Our families are far away, we don’t have a tree, and we didn’t even think about presents. Just being in Curaçao seemed a good enough gift.

Curacao Christmas

But if we weren’t in the Christmas spirit, it’s not because Curaçao wasn’t trying. Curaçaoans love the holiday. People buy Christmas trees (despite firs not being exactly native to the island), string lights up along their houses, and play Christmas music… often songs we know, but with a Latin twist. Sons and daughters living overseas come home, and families get together to celebrate around a pan di jamón: a Christmas sweet bread stuffed with ham, raisins and olives.

Santa Claus doesn’t visit Curaçao. Instead, the gift-giving duties are taken over by Sinterklaas, who arrives on December 5th. This is the big day for the children, when they get most of their gifts. Historically, Sinterklaas has been accompanied by Zwarte Piet, an assistant dressed as a minstrel and wearing blackface. Unsurprisingly, Zwarte Piet is a tradition in decline, although you can still find his grinning face on Christmas cookies in the supermarket.

Although Jürgen and I mostly sat Christmas out, we made up for it on New Year’s Eve, an event which Curaçao goes crazy for. You don’t have to be around Curaçoans for too long before realizing that they love to party, and New Year’s Eve is the perfect opportunity. It’s a big day, and they get started early; by noon, we were already drinking beer at an event in Pietermaai where they’d be celebrating with something called a “pagara.”

Pagaras are super-loud, super-long strings of fireworks which are set off all over the city, all day long on New Year’s Eve. At two kilometers in length, Pietersmaai has one of the biggest, and we watched the whole thing explode, deafened by the noise and choking on the smoke. It was awesome… though it was probably a good thing that we already had a few drinks in us. My ears were still ringing the next day.

The pagara reminded us both of the noise fireworks called mascletàs, from our home town of Valencia. But we had no time to wallow in nostalgia, because we had to hurry to Otrobanda for another party, and another pagara. This was a more private affair, to which we had been invited by a friend. Before the firecrackers got going, there was a band playing tambu music. This is a style of music originally from Africa, and today the band was singing about the year that was, improvising lyrics which lampooned the island’s problems and politicians.

A couple hours before midnight, we walked down to Brionplein, where seemingly every person on the island had congregated to usher in the New Year. We found spots to sit on the Queen Emma Bridge, and waited for the hour to strike. When it happened, fireworks exploded in the sky all around us; from the wharf, from Fort Amsterdam, from somewhere in Otrobanda, and we shared hugs and kisses with the total strangers who happened to be standing near us. It was a fantastic way to ring in 2016, and the best New Year’s we’ve had in a long time.

Curacao Christmas
Curacao Christmas
Curacao Christmas
Curacao Christmas
Zwarte Piet
Curacao Christmas
Curacao Christmas
Curacao Christmas
Curacao Christmas
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January 2, 2016 at 10:40 pm Comment (1)

The Queen Emma Bridge

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Two bridges connect Punda to Otrobanda. For cars, there’s the towering Queen Juliana Bridge, which reaches a height of 56 meters above the Saint Anna Bay, and is the tallest in the Caribbean. And for pedestrians, there’s the Queen Emma Bridge, which rises zero meters over the water. The Queen Emma, you see, is a floating bridge.

Queen Emma Bridge Curacao

On first learning about Willemstad’s floating bridge, my first thought was, “Well, that makes sense. There’s no reason to force traffic up and over the water. I wonder why more bridges don’t simply float?” I needed a few seconds to remember that things usually have to pass under a bridge, as well. With the huge oil refinery in Willemstad’s harbor, a lot of big ships need to get past the Queen Emma — and none of them are submarines.

Queen Emma Bridge Curacao

So, whenever a ship needs in or out, the bridge must open. But this one doesn’t raise and lower — it just moves to the side. The Queen Emma rests atop of a set of pontoons. The final pontoon, connecting the bridge to the Punda side, has a motor and a driver. And when a ship arrives, the entire bridge opens on a hinge, just like a door. For small ships, the bridge only needs to open a crack, but for larger vessels like oil tankers, it will swing all the way over to the Otrobanda side.

It’s a strange sensation to be on the bridge as it opens. First, the operator will close the gates on either side, and anyone still on the bridge has to wait. Usually, it’s just a couple minutes, but occasionally it takes fifteen to twenty. In the meantime, anyone who isn’t stuck on the bridge can cross between Otrobanda and Punda using a free ferry.

And even when the bridge isn’t opening, it’s never stationary. As you might expect, a floating bridge undulates with the water and, on a choppy day, everyone walking across appears to be totally drunk. And if you are totally drunk, well, good luck. At night, on our way home from Pietermaai’s bars, we saw a few stumblers nearly fall into the water.

The Queen Emma was built in 1888, but renovated in 2006. It’s really unique and, at first, the idea of a hinged bridge is amusing. However, it becomes less amusing, the longer you live in Willemstad. We used it almost every day and I’d estimate that 30-40% of the time we wanted to cross to Punda, we had to wait. It didn’t take long for the novelty to wear off, and for us to join the locals in sighing with frustration, when the bell started to ring.

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Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
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December 19, 2015 at 9:45 pm Comments (0)
Bon Pascu i un Felis Aa Nobo! It's always fun to see how people around the world celebrate the holiday season. Every culture that recognizes Christmas has its own traditions, and New Year's Eve can be wildly different depending on the country you're in. We suspected that Curaçao would turn New Year's into one big, loud, outdoor party... and we weren't wrong!
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