Curaçao awakens the senses

According to a number of scientific studies, the brain of a person who’s born blind or deaf has the ability to rewire itself to heighten other senses such as taste, touch or smell. This phenomenon is referred to as cross-modal neuroplasticity and theorizes that because the part of the brain designated to interpret the sense does not function, it transforms that part of the neural system for other purposes. Some have even compared it to a sort of “superpower” for the blind and deaf.

About 20 years ago I lost my sense of smell (aka “smell-blind,” “nose blind” or anosmia). There are some scents I miss (flowers, wine), while there are others I’m glad are gone (no need to clarify). But it wasn’t until the 2018 North Sea Jazz Festival on Curaçao that I noticed some of my other senses had become stronger, or, perhaps, more refined, and I was astonished when another “sense” was completely reawakened.

ABC Islands

In the Caribbean’s Leeward Antilles, Caribbean cruisers can comfortably ride out the hurricane season on Curaçao (pronounced cure-ah-souw). The largest of the ABC islands, Curaçao is 40 miles from the coast of Venezuela and flanked by n Aruba to the west and Bonaire to the east. The self-governing islands were formerly part of Netherlands Antilles (the Dutch arrived in 1634), and the most frequent visitors come from Holland, other parts of Europe and South America. The primary languages spoken are Dutch and Papiamento, a Creole language that combines Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arawak, and African languages. English is also widely spoken, but it is always appreciated when visitors attempt to use at least a few phrases in the local language.

“Music can change the world because it can change people.” -Bono

Since all three of the ABC islands were formerly part of Netherlands Antilles, their characteristic architecture is similar. Tropical-hued buildings with steep, red-tiled roofs line the harbor and colonial Old Town streets of Curaçao’s capital, Willemstad. Every souvenir shop displays a variety of products hand-painted with the artist-worthy street scene, and you’ll discover it’s impossible not to photograph it for yourself from every possible angle. The buildings’ colors always look fresh and bright because they’re repainted about every six months due to the salt air that denigrates the paint. A few blocks in from the harbor, creative paintings adorn building walls, tree branches are carved into figures and in a park, an upside-down boat is decorated to look like a huge, fancy fish. In other cities or areas of the world, all these colorful stimuli would seem like discarded junk, but somehow, here on Curaçao, the vibrant colors and textures kindle and inspire future art projects.

Historical Sites

No cruiser should leave Curaçao without a visit to the Aloe Vera Plantation since most of the products sold in the U.S. actually contain very little aloe in them. The aloe plant has its origins in Egypt, and it’s generally thought that Christopher Columbus introduced the plant to the Caribbean and New World. Aloe plants need very little water and only 5 acres of the 10-acre farm are planted, yet there are more than 100,000 plants. Each plant must grow for at least two years after which stalks are harvested twice yearly. I sampled a piece of the gelatinous raw aloe—it’s cool and chewy but has no taste—and then applied the raw liquid to my skin, which immediately felt more hydrated.

Food & Drink

Cruising in the Caribbean offers a myriad of opportunities to sample locally grown food and drink. A guided tour of the Genuine Curaçao Liqueur Distillery is not only fascinating but also offers free samples at the end. The liqueur is made from sun-dried orange peels and distilled in the original copper still that’s been used since 1896. The finished liqueur is a clear liquid, and then color and flavors are added. Imitation products have attempted to replicate the Genuine Curaçao Liqueur (certified kosher) made by N.V. Senior & Co., but the original comes in a patented glass bottle with bumps on it—like an orange peel.

Music Everywhere

For me, the three nights of the Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival revealed the most noticeable difference in my senses. In spite of the event’s name, since its first edition in 2010, the artists featured are from many music genres—hip-hop, rap, latin, rock, reggae, dance, disco, you name it. I was initially most excited to hear KC and The Sunshine Band, but I soon tired of the crowd and heat in front of the outdoor stage.

I wandered to another venue in one of the air-conditioned tents where there were many open seats. On the stage were three backup singers, several musicians and 90-year-old Burt Bacharach sitting on a bench at a grand piano singing songs I remembered from childhood: Alfie, I Say a Little Prayer, The Look of Love, What the World Needs Now. Burt’s frail shoulders were hunched over the keyboard and his voice a little wobbly at times, but the notes and lyrics recalled memories of hearing the songs in the living room of my childhood home, where we’d play vinyl albums on the console stereo and listen together as a family.

The songs were written during a much different time in our world, but I feel the lyrics are still relevant today. Five decades have passed since many of them were first written, and a litany of experiences, most of which are good, are mixed in with those decades. In those moments of listening to Burt in a tent on Curaçao, I’m acutely aware that my sense of time passed has never been stronger.

To plan your 2019 cruising calendar around live music events, go to for a list of 2019 music festivals accessible by boat.

Cruiser Resources

Barbara Beach Marina
15 slips available up to 200’

Curaçao Yacht Club
108 boats less than 80′
Closest to the town of all marinas, just a 10-minute drive from Willemstad
+5999.767.4627 or 767.3038

Kima Kalki Marina
Small, private marina in Jan Thiel area on the eastern side of Curaçao
Fits about 40 boats up to 80′

Palapa Marina

Seru Boca Marine
Near Santa Barbara Beach and Golf Resort
135 slips up to 100′

By Liz Pasch, Southern Boating December 2018
Photos courtesy of Curaçao Tourism Board and Liz Pasch

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