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Curaçao Carnival’s Grand Parade

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Events related to Curaçao’s Carnival, such as the Tumba and the Horse Parade, had been taking place throughout the months of January and February. And they were all leading up to the Grand Parade: a long procession of music, costumes, drinking and dancing, and a celebration of pure joy.

Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"

The parade gets started at 10am, and doesn’t end until well after the sun has gone down. Luckily, spectators are under no obligation to show up on time. It begins in the northern neighborhood of Santa Maria in the morning hours, but doesn’t reach the heart of Otrobanda until around 5pm. And by then, after seven consecutive hours of partying, the guys and girls marching in the parade are in great spirits.

We showed up on Breedestraat at around 4:30pm, just before the first groups arrived. The harlequin costumes and make-up worn by the participants are wildly colorful, and every group decides upon a different theme: casinos, boats, and India were some of this year’s. Most of the groups march with two big trucks; one to carry the DJ or tumba-playing band, the other to carry liquor.

Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"

Imagine a military procession, with rigid rows and columns of stern-faced men and women marching in perfect synchronization. Carnival’s parade is exactly the opposite of that. There is no order here, no discipline. These crazy harlequins are having the best time imaginable, drinking, shaking their butts, posing for pictures, and running over into the crowd to greet friends. And it’s impossible to watch without being infected by the Carnival fever. Multiple times, I caught myself unconsciously dancing to the Tumba beats … I might have even tried shaking my booty.

We followed the parade all the way to Brionsplein, where we grabbed seats under a statue and had almost as much fun watching the spectators as the parade itself. Carnival is an island-wide party, and we didn’t see an unhappy face the whole evening. Of course, there might be plenty of unhappy faces the next morning, when all of Curaçao wakes up with one massive hangover. But we could worry about that tomorrow… for now, let’s dance!

Caribbean Carnival Costumes

Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
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February 8, 2016 at 8:19 pm Comments (0)

Getting Down at the Tumba Festival

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The first major act of Curaçao’s Carnival celebrations is the Tumba Festival, held every year in late January. This is a week-long competition to choose the official song of Carnival, during which dozens of songs battle it out to be the top jam, all performed live in front of a big crowd.

The Tumba Festival has an official history stretching back 45 years. It’s related to “tambu,” which was the traditional music of Curaçao’s slave population. Although they had only percussive instruments to play upon, Tambu was an important part of the culture and remained socially relevant even after the end of slavery, thanks to its pointed, political lyrics, sung in Papiamento.

Switch a couple vowels around, add in some other musical influences, and Tambu becomes Tumba: still sung in Papiamento, but played with a heavy dose of Latin and jazz. The Tumba Festival has grown to become one of the most popular annual events in Curaçao, with tickets to the Friday night finals increasingly difficult to come by. The winner of the festival is named King or Queen of Carnival, and the winning song becomes the official anthem of the celebrations.

Tumba is almost exactly how you would expect a Curaçaoan style of music to be, with performances that are loud, colorful, relaxed, and intent on having a good time. The songs are repetitive and go on for ages, but the musicians on stage don’t mind. Huge bands comprising dozens of horns, keyboards, guitars, drums, singers and dancers are all having so much fun loosely playing along with the rhythm, that they’d allow the music to go on indefinitely.

Of course we didn’t understand a word of what they were singing about. And once we had listened to a few Tumba songs, we’d heard plenty; they’re all quite similar to each other. But the people here love this style of music, and the finals on Friday night turn into a huge party which goes on until three or four in the morning.

The title of Tumba King 2016 went to Rubertico Balentien, who won the crowd over with his rousing tune Nos dos ta bati bai (We’re Going Together). Check it out if you want, and see if you can resist dancing to the beat.

Location of the Stadium on our Map

Cheap Flights To Curacao

Tumba Festival 2016
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January 25, 2016 at 10:14 pm Comments (0)

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)
Curaao Carnival's Grand Parade Events related to Curaçao's Carnival, such as the Tumba and the Horse Parade, had been taking place throughout the months of January and February. And they were all leading up to the Grand Parade: a long procession of music, costumes, drinking and dancing, and a celebration of pure joy.
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