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Curacao! Curawow?

Last time I promised you all a bit more information about backpacking on a Caribbean island, so here we go: before we set out, we didn’t exactly know how much time to plan for Curacao, so we decided on 12 days, which also had to do with P.’s birthday. Considering this island isn’t too big this seems like a rather long time, but things here are slow, especially when travelling on a budget…

Take transport for example: unless you rent a car, you depend on the bus system, which mostly consists of white minibuses which you flag down at a “Bushalte” (or anywhere else really). You then tell them where to go and they drop you off there, but only after they did the same for all the other passengers who were already on that bus. So it takes time, but kinda works like a taxi since they bring you right to your house. At 3 NAf (around Euro 1.30 or USD 1.70) per ride they are rather expensive, especially for the locals, which you’ll often just see walking next to the road. Anyway, we got to see a lot of “real” Curacao that way, which is cool, but the whole system is a bit unpredictable and waiting for 40 minutes in the scorching midday heat on a Sunday was rather frustrating. There’s a great quote to remember in situations like this though:

“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.“ – G.K. Chesterton

Our accommodation was rather nice, especially because it’s more or less the only backpacker place on the island. It’s not in a particularly good location, since it’s neither close to the beach nor the town center, but it has a lovely garden, two great dogs, a cute cat and you are bound to meet interesting people here. We were especially lucky with our initial group, since we all got along super well and did all kinds of things together. I found this kinda cool since the youngest member of our gang was 21, while the oldest was 53. This also allowed us to pool our money to rent a car for 3 days, which finally gave us the option to explore some of the nicer beaches in the northwest of the island (Kleine Knip is my favorite, so if you ever make it to Curacao, make sure to check it out). Anyway, you all definitely added a lot to our Curacao experience, so thanks guys!

One thing I really found attractive about Curacao is the mix of languages and cultures. I have a soft spot for creole languages, so I obviously really liked Papiamento. I almost was tempted to attend a course, but I’ve done enough strange language courses in the past when I got carried away while traveling (Nepali for example). Besides Papiamento there’s still a lot of Dutch, many people speak English and there are a fair few Chinese and some South Asians around. It’s this hotchpotch of cultures and the fact that Curacao’s main industry is not tourism (yet), that make the place rather interesting.

Considering how long this mail already is, it’s rather surprising that I haven’t talked about one of my favorite topics yet: food! The local cuisine is an interesting mix of various cooking traditions, with Dutch things like Kroket and Bitterballen next to more Caribbean fare like Papaya stew, plantains and obviously loads of seafood . On top of that there are many Chinese takeout places referred to as “Snacks”, which serve decent but rather uninspired staples like fried rice and noodles. Compared to many of the other options they are rather cheap though, so they became a regular contributor to our diet. They also serve a lot of vegetarian food, which made my life considerably easier, although I have to say that while the local cuisine is rather meat heavy, people were generally very helpful and considerate and just made up vegetarian dishes on the fly for me, which is more than can be said for a lot of other places. Last but not least there’s also quite a few Surinamese restaurants and “roti shops”, and although we only got to try one, I have to say we instantly became fans (veggies and roti, what’s not to like?).

So, how to sum up our Curacao experience? Overall, it was a pretty good and enjoyable stay. The Caribbean is not Asia, so on a backpacker’s budget it may not be easy to have that perfect lazy beach holiday. Especially compared to Thailand or Malaysia, where 15 Euro per day gets me all the luxury I need, meaning a decent room in a nice place and good food. On Curacao the same was closer to 40-45 Euro per day (including the 3 days of shared rental car), which is a bit steep for the kind of journey we are on. But after a rather stressful period in Vienna we both needed to wind down, so this was a bit like a little holiday before the actual trip. Besides that the pleasant weather, perfect sea and beaches and the interesting cultural mix definitely made it a worthwhile stay.

Would I recommend this place? If you are willing to spend a bit, definitely. Compared to neighboring Aruba it’s actually pretty cheap, but if you are on a budget, your perspective changes. A car definitely is a worthwhile investment, so if money’s tight, try to find people to team up with, even if it’s just for a couple of days. Also, if you do wanna spoil yourself, invest in a trip to Klein Curacao! Granted, 75 Euro for a day trip is quite the investment when you are traveling for a long time, but a couple of hours on an uninhabited Caribbean island were definitely worth it in my book.

The next mail will probably be about Paraguay (which is where arrived last Sunday), so stay tuned!