Do you remember your first time? The anxiety, butterflies in your stomach, that gut feeling that your life would never be the same again? No matter how ready you think you are,nothing quite prepares you for it. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was May 2004, a couple months before my 21st birthday. A gift to myself because I couldn’t keep wondering for much longer what the experience would be like, so I did it. I did it and I enjoyed every single moment , from being in the clouds for 2 hours to walking outside of Hato International realizing I wasn’t at home anymore. I was in Curacoa. Yes! Nothing can replace the feeling of that first trip. For me,travel was a necessity, I was continuously haunted by the unknown and what lied beyond the borders of home. When I booked my first trip , it wasn’t about the place anymore , it was just about going . Frankly, at that point I couldn’t care less about the destination, I just had to travel.
Living in the Caribbean , travel is not always easy. As a Jamaican national ,I am constantly reminded that travel is a privilege not a right. Oh, the hassles of visas. In order to leave my country I have to prove I have reason to come back. I could go to some other Caribbean countries with only a passport but with limited direct flights it would mean transit via the United States which would require a visa , a process that sometimes make winning the lottery seem more possible. With no visa and limited resources I went to a travel agent to explore my options for travel. I had two, Panama and Curacoa so I took my chances with the latter as I was scared of being alone in a country where I did not speak the language. Though Curacoa is a Dutch speaking country , English is more widely spoken there than it is in Panama.
I arrived late afternoon at the Otrobanda Hotel and Casino , with no plan and only 3 days to get one , or not . The hotel is conveniently located in the center of the capital city , Willemstad. Willemstad is divided by the St. Anna Bay Harbor with the town of Punda on one side and Otrobanda on the other. Otrobanda literally means the other side. Otrobanda Hotel overlooks the harbor from the Otrobanda side and offers a breathtaking view of Punda. I was in awe of all the beautifully colored buildings and the charming architecture. There was not a single white building in site and I later learned the story behind the right colors of the city. It is said that the stone and cement buildings were originally white until a former governor claimed that he was having headaches when the sunlight reflected off the buildings . He later ordered that all the buildings be repainted in various colors hence the reason for the colorful buildings. Another variation to the story is that , an ophthalmologist sited the buildings as the reasons for his headache. That said ophthalmologist happened to be a part owner of a local paint factory,a fact the governor later discovered. Whatever the reason behind the colors , they buildings add a unique charm to the Dutch colony.
From my room, I had a view of the Queen Emma Bridge which proved to be quite memorable as it had me questioning my mental health. I remember watching peering outside my room window watching people walking across the bridge and thinking I would explore Punda the next day. Shortly after , I took a nap, woke up and the bridge was nowhere to be found. Though puzzled I gave little thought to what I had or had not seen and spent the rest of my afternoon strolling around Otrobanda and lounging around the hotel. In the morning I woke up and glanced outside my window to watch the sun come up above the harbor but to my surprise , there was the mystery bridge again. A couple of hours later after getting ready to explore the city , I peered out the window and lo and behold the ridge disappeared again. My mission for the day was to have breakfast and discover what had happened to the bridge , or rather to prove to myself that I did not deserve a trip to the psych ward.
A complimentary Continental breakfast was included in the price of the room , so I went up to the hotel restaurant and had breakfast on the terrace overlooking the harbor . As I dined a Cargo ship went by . I was convinced at this point that maybe I had imagined the bridge until thirty minutes later I witnessed the bridge being moved into place. It turned out that the Queen Emma bridge is a pontoon bridge (floating bridge) . It is moved every couple of hours to allow ships to pass through the harbor. When the bridge is moved then there is a free and automatic ferry service that transports commuters from Punda to Otrobanda. The bridge does not support vehicular traffic so you have to walk across. I was as equally fascinated by this bridge as I was happy that I was not crazy after all. After breakfast I took the ferry across to Punda and wandered into the beautiful shops and cafes in the area . On my way back I walked on the floating bridge and it was quite a “moving” experience,literally. Honestly , I was terrified as I wobbled back to Otrobanda but there were dozens of persons walking by so I did my best to act natural.
I spent my three days site seeing and just getting lost in the days or sitting outside the Haagen Daz people watching and taking in the sights around the beautiful harbor. I wish I was the traveler that I am today as I probably would have seen and done more but I was overwhelmed and content with just being able to experience another country. I will one day revisit and relive the memories of my first time. Curacoa is a beautiful and culturally diverse island. The official language is Dutch but a local dialect called Papiamentu is spoken. Papiamentu is a mixture of Dutch, Spanish, French, Portuguese, English, and Arawak Indian, a testament to to diversity of the island’s inhabitants. English and Spanish are also widely spoken.
My experience in Curacao , opened my curiosity about the world and various cultures,it further opened my appetite for travel. Do you remember your first travel experience? Where did you go? Would you visit again? If you are considering your first overseas trip, just do it , it will be totally worth it. Choose a country where you speak the language, if available get a guide book like Lonely Planet or Moon Travels to help you plan what to do when you’re there and to maximize your experience.
Drop me a comment, I would love to hear your stories or any travel questions you may have.