by Johannes Arens
Curaçao is mainly known in Germany for the azure blue orange liqueur of the same name since the 1960s. Even if the sea lining the white beaches of the Antilles island is easily as blue, this piece of Dutch territory has a lot more to offer. It has even discovered how to attract gay tourists.
The sun sets so fast when your are so close to the equator. Within a quarter of an hour, the sky changes from a bright blue to a flaming orange and finally a dark violet in a dramatic play of colours – until the sun sinks into the sea. The outdoor terrace of beach club and restaurant Moon, about 15 minutes walk from the city of Willemstad, is the best location to enjoy this spectacle of nature. The waiter serves an ice-cold “Awa di Lamunchi” – lime syrup on crushed ice – and lights the lanterns on the terrace. Waves are crashing gently on the rocks underneath the terrace.
“Fish or meat”, he asks. Given the diversity of Creole cuisine you can be glad that the experienced chef takes one or the other decision on your behalf. “Fish please”, after all we are in the middle of the Caribbean. Even though the Venezuelan coast is only 70 kilometres away from us and clad in darkness, on Curaçao you feel isolated – from everyday life and from the rest of the world. The island state might be a bit sleepy, but anything but behind the times. While most of the other islands of the Caribbean are not necessarily gay-friendly, the inhabitants of the 444 sqkm of Curaçao have long understood that gay tourists are generally very pleasant people.
One of the reasons why Curaçao is hosting a kind of Pride for the sixth time this year. “Get Wet“, the annual Pride weekend in September, is a small but fine affair. A meet-and-greet reception in the museum garden of Kura Hulanda Resort, a screening of a gay film on Willemstad beach and a beach party on one of the white beaches in the southeast of the country. “For an island like this, 300 participants are a lot,” says Kurt Schoop, one of the organisers. “We started with private parties in the backyard”, says the full-time business consultant, “recently we are officially a foundation, and last year we had sponsors on board for the first time with Amstel Brewery, charter company Arkefly and the Kura Hulanda Hotel”.
The inhabitants of the tropical island are not only open-minded and talkative, but above all linguistically gifted. With Papiamentu, Dutch, English and Spanish, most children already speak four languages. The Creole language Papiamentu, like the history of the island and its inhabitants, is a mix of different cultures. At meals they use the French term Bon apétit, strawberries are called stròbèri, potatoes like in Dutch ardapel, and the heart beats Spanish as a kurason. Curaçao was discovered by Spanish sailors exactly 510 years ago. The original inhabitants of the island were Indians. Strong guys whose body size is estimated to be up to 1.80 metres based on skeleton finds. The Spanish, on average about 20 centimetres shorter, called the island “Isla de los Gigantes” and shipped almost the entire population as slaves to the new sugar cane plantations on the island of Hispaniola, home of modern Haiti and Dominican Republic in these days.
But it were the Dutch who developed the natural harbour of Willemstad into one of the largest slave markets in the world and made the island one of the richest in the Caribbean. Slavery was officially abolished in 1863, but the descendants of the abducted Africans remained and still shape society today with immigrants from other Dutch colonies. The island is still part of the Dutch kingdom, and will remain so, even though independence is a much-discussed issue on all six Dutch Caribbean islands.
It is hardly imaginable for tourists that politics are so dominant on a dream island like Curaçao, where life seems so colourful. Turquoise and yellow the houses, azure blue orange liqueur produced in an old mansion. Pink flamingos that you might spot in one of the flat salt lakes in the west with little luck, at leat at the Sea Aquarium on the island. If all this does not satisfy you, you can go diving and enter into a universe of shimmering luminous sea creatures.
The beaches of Curaçao are ideal for diving excursions. Just a few hundred metres from the beach, the sea gets really deep, so you won’t have to go on a boat to reach diving terrain. There are countless diving schools that also rent snorkels and goggles. The beaches along the west coast of the island look exactly as one imagines the Caribbean. White sand and palm trees, crystal clear water and colourful fish. “We let tourism grow slowly here on purpose,” points out tourism officer Stephen Pomario. “As Willemstad and its colourful houses have World Heritage Site status since 1997, high-rise hotels are no longer allowed to be built anyway. We also make sure that there are enough freely accessible beaches along the coast. After all, tourists and locals should have an opportunity to mingle.”
While tourists enjoy life on the beach, which is quite affordable for Europeans, many young islanders make use of guaranteed places for study and of educational support to live in Europe for a few years. This also provides opportunities to try different lifestyles far from their families. This is what Jeroen (42), a senior bank employee, did, who prefers not to give his real name. “I preferred to go to the Netherlands for my coming-out. I was in a gay sports club, went to the relevant bars and could simply try out my new life.”
On Curaçao there is only one, albeit very busy, gay bar, Lyrics. It is located in the Waterfront Arches of Punda, the district of Willemstad to the right of the bay. “In my opinion, however, a gay bar is not the right concept for this island”, he muses, “I believe that it would promote tolerance even more if gay men and women visibly mingled among heterosexuals”. Ryan Rosario, who has recently joined FOKO, the only gay and lesbian organisation on the island besides the festival organisers GayCuraçao, also went to Europe for his coming-out. “It is a small world here,” the 34-year-old opines, “but a lot has changed in the last five years. We gays are much better off than before,” he says, “but homosexuality is far from being as self-evident as in Amsterdam. “Everyone is welcome,” says Visitor Information Officer Stephen Pomario. “So many different people live together here on the island. It’s actually quite easy when you respect each other.”
The Tourist Board offers training courses several times a year. “We train hotel employees, taxi drivers and tourist guides to provide a good service to tourists. This also includes Gay Cruises. You have to be prepared to handle up to 1000 guests at once”, the 39-year-old tells with a wink. Targeted worldwide advertising campaigns suggest that the main target is party- and beach-loving gay Americans and Europeans. Curaçao uses the continuing negative image of other Caribbean islands such as Jamaica or the Bahamas and their homophobic tendencies to slowly but positively position itself as a gay paradise. Curaçao is on a good course there.
(Published in Spartacus Traveler 02/2010)
Curaçao for gay tourists
Official hompage of Curaçao Tourist Board
HOW TO GET THERE
KLM offers daily flights from ten German airports to Curaçao via Amsterdam, operating a B747 -400 on the long-haul flight. Return tickets are available from 815 Euros (keep your eyes peeled for specials on the airline’s homepage), www.klm.com
Floris Suite Hotel (Piscadera Bay) Resort designed by Dutch star designer Jan des Bouvrie, about three kilometres west of Willemstad. Completely furnished apartments , just a few minutes away from one of the beautiful beaches, www.florissuitehotel.com
Kura Hulanda Hotel & Lodge (Langestraat 8 (Otrobanda), Willemstad Playa Kalki 1 (Westpunt)) Dutch dentist Jacob Gelt Dekker fell in love with Curaçao in 1998 and transformed old colonial buildings in a delapidated neighbourhood in the west of Willemstad into an elegant resort. The equally appealing lodge can be found in the far west of the island, www.kurahulanda.com