The explosion of colours. The smiles. The history. None of the internet research I did prepared me for this gem in the Caribbean.
I arrive late and am touched by the warm and welcoming breeze of a typical Caribbean night as I’m driven to the hotel eager and ready for my first morning on the island.
I begin to photograph the teen parade finals while Carnival is in full swing, a kaleidoscope of costumes and colors. With music blaring from flatbed trucks in the foreground I make my way back to the hotel stopping on the side of the road to take photos of a vendor lost in a sea of colorful kites waving in the wind.
Heading out to Westpunt for a feel of Carnival from a more local community environment, I watch Robin Hoods and Tinkerbelles on horseback set against a natural environment and incredibly, I experience the same level of stimulation as the day before. After several hours of shooting, the skies turn black as if on cue. I shelter myself from the pounding rain in a wonderful Westpunt family-owned pizza restaurant operated by a wonderful couple from New Hampshire. Dry again, and fortified with a delicious homemade meal and spectacular patio views, I head out to explore the beaches in Westpunt.
Snaking down dirt roads through towering cacti I arrive at what must be the quintessential private Caribbean oasis beach. Surrounded by jagged cliffs, rocky outcrops, and more cacti, I’m certain that every other person on the island was in the streets for Carnaval. There I stood, surrounded by infinite beauty, the only person in what could easily have been my very own private paradise bathed in turquoise, coral and peace.
Taking the drive back to the city as the sun sets, I pass through a small town where locals play dominoes (apparently a very popular game on the island) and cowboys pull up to local convenience stores on horses and local teenagers modified Japanese racing bikes.
I stay to watch a group of local boys as they splash around in the surf grabbing the last few hours of daylight. Back in the car toward Punda, I notice another cluster of kids this time flying kites on a dusty soccer field. We stop again.
Always camera-ready, I capture shots of locals being locals, until we stop at the Landhaus/studio of Nena Sanchez to chat on the front porch with a glass of wine and friends as the final rays of sunlight disappear on the horizon.
My third day was decidedly a color study of the back alleys of Otrabanda, a very special place indeed. Connected to the main city of Punda by a floating bridge, we leave the famous Dutch street façade captured in every photo essay of Curaçao and enter another world of back alleys and narrow streets, a labyrinth of life against a palate of colonial architecture in various stages of decay and renovation. Beauty at every turn, I find myself snapping away in every direction.
All too soon, daylight colors burst into evening festivities. A night parade signaling the end of Carnival culminates in the heart of the Otrabanda where throngs of people, including myself, line the streets for a 4 kilometer stretch with coolers of beer and mixed drinks. Inhaling the smoke from their BBQs, I hear the sounds of the first trucks, generators in tow, providing the power to their megawatts of music and stadium style lighting.
As the final floats of exhausted participants come to its end, I begin my walk back across the floating bridge bonding with other tourists and locals for having shared the exhilarating experience of Carnival in Curaçao. I drive down the Caracasbaii to the hotel, rest my weary head on the hotel pillow and look forward to tomorrows sunrise and another day of smiles, colors, and excitement.
Photos and story by: Ricky Friedlander