From artists to herbalists, farmers to photographers, the warm and friendly people of Curaçao are the country’s greatest attraction. Almost everyone you’ll meet has lived somewhere else — whether that’s Holland or Hong Kong — but they keep coming back to this delightful Caribbean island. Meet the vibrant and joyous people who call Curaçao home.
Femi Peiliker, restaurant and farm owner / My husband, Joshua, and I moved back to Curaçao three years ago from Amsterdam. We were born and raised here, and a lot of teenagers go to Holland for college, so we left here for University. I never thought I’d come back, but we saw this opportunity and jumped right on it. I’d never run a restaurant before, just worked as a waitress. We started farming, just trying out different crops, and in June our restaurant, Hofi Cos Cora, will be open for two years. When we moved back we knew we wanted to do something on this property — something eco-friendly, promoting the green lifestyle. Joshua started farming here. His family bought the property five years ago. Curaçao wants to be an independent country, but they need to be able to provide for themselves and that was one of the initial thoughts behind it. What can we do with all of the local produce and not be so hung up on import products?
Rignald Tokaay, tour guide / I love my life in Curaçao. It’s beautiful. When you’re walking around, just raise up your hand and say “bon dia.” That means good morning. Everywhere you walk in Curaçao, that’s what you’ll get. I have four children working in Holland, two boys and two girls, and I have four grandchildren in Holland also. I spend a lot of time with my friends, and my family. There’s 10 of us still here — six boys and four girls. I’m a twin and we have another set of twins in my family. I think my father was drinking too much iguana soup. I also love to boat. My spot is more on the west side. I like to eat the catch of the day. I could eat fish every day. I’ve lived here all my life and I think I will die in Curaçao. I wouldn’t want to die anywhere else.
Dinah Veeris, gardener and owner of a herbal garden / I started to learn about medicinal herbs in the 80s. Before that, I didn’t have any interest with herbs. My mother had a little garden and I was a teacher, but when I started to listen to her she knew so much — she changed my whole view of life, of health. Then I started to investigate. I worked with 20 elderly people for five years, and then I quit my job and started to bring plants here from all over the island. The first plant I got is the tropical oregano. It’s a plant that’s very good for the stomach, and it tastes like mint. I liked it very much, so I planted it in the garden. Herbs are not only for physical ailments. They also work on a spiritual level. People come here when they need something, when they’ve been to the doctor a lot of times and it doesn’t work. I give them a bath with my hands, and get rid of the negative energy they have inside of them. It makes them feel much better.
Nashantara Romer, recent return to Curaçao / I left for Holland for university 10 years ago, and returned to Curaçao four years ago. I was starting to miss my family. It’s very relaxing here. I take time for myself. After work I go to the beach or stop to have a drink and meal by the water. I watch the sunset and then I head home. The people of Curaçao are our unique selling point. We’re very open and charismatic. Things like sporting events bring people together. Curaçao plays in the big league, and everyone watches.
Luuk Gerritsen, bar owner / A classmate of mine was running the sales department at the Hilton Hotel and around the same time everything I was doing in The Netherlands was coming to an end. I wasn’t really very happy at work, my relationship just ended and both of my roommates left the house, so it was kind of a natural thing to move away. Why not go to another country, right? The first cocktail I made was a Ramos Gin Fizz. I had no idea what a Ramos Gin was. Now I know it’s not a gin, it’s a drink. I was frantically looking for a Ramos Gin on the back bar. There’s plenty of beach bars that do the tropical drinks really well, but there’s some that still use stuff that’s pre-packaged, which I’m not a fan of. I still think fresh is better, especially if it’s in such abundance, as it is in this area. For me, it was a trigger to open a bar focused on classical twists, things you wouldn’t expect. My soon-to-be-wife and two-year-old daughter keep me here. But it’s a market that’s also growing a lot. It reminds me of Amsterdam eight to nine years ago. There are a couple of people starting to get the scene up and running.
Tirzah Statia, recent return to Curaçao / I was born and raised in Curaçao and I love the island. I lived here until I was 18, then I moved to Europe, and after 16 years I came back. I’ve been back for about 11 months. My whole family is here. My family is a combination of Dutch, German, Spanish, and Dominican. Some of my mom’s ancestors were slave owners, but we know the other side of the family is descended from slaves based on our last name. I’m the only dark one in my family on my mother’s side. My grandfather is white, with blue eyes, while I’m a mixture, with curly hair and brown skin. What I like about Curaçao is that now you can see that everyone is living together — slave descendents, slave owners, people who just moved to Curaçao during WWI or WWII. I embrace it because you learn from both sides – what slave owners went through as well as the slaves. It’s a beautiful history I have here in Curaçao.
Garrick Marchena, visual artist/muralist / I started drawing at a pretty young age, first because of my mother. She used to be a seamstress. Her specialty was wedding dresses. You know, the intricate stuff. She used to have clients come to her house and sketch them up, she would draw them wearing the dresses, and that would blow my mind. I also have an older set of cousins. They were three guys, and they used to share a room, and it was fully painted. And it had a mouth open, almost like going inside the mouth of a person. That always stuck in my mind. Those are my two main sources of inspiration. After that came hip-hop, graffiti, and b-boying. Most of the paintings I started with were without permission. I would just go out and paint. I’ve been very good since I was 14 at painting faces. Ever since then, I’ve been getting better and better by practicing. I decided in 2009 to do that out in the streets. And that was it.
Jina Balani, local business owner / I’ve been here for 30 years. I came here when I got married at 19. It’s grown in the last 30 years, but we still enjoy the beaches and the nature. I’m a yoga teacher, so that’s what keeps me in Curaçao. I like the beaches, and although I don’t go hiking in the mountains, I like them. All three of my sons were born here — the older one went to Africa and to Hong Kong to work, but he came back. I guess Curaçao just pulls you back. My second son went to Holland to study but said, “the beach is my life and came back.” The third is studying in America. On the weekends I like to form a group of friends and go out to Riffort Village or go to Pietermaai district. I think I’ll retire here. It’s a very laid-back kind of life. My sisters and family live in Hong Kong and they’ve been asking me to come, but I can’t live that fast life. Life is laid back here and I enjoy it.
Chanelle de Lau, Miss Curaçao 2016 / A lot of people around the world don’t know that in Curaçao, we eat iguanas. I still haven’t tried it yet! But I think I might do it one of these days. Some people say it tastes like chicken. When it comes to traditional food here, I love what they call pumpkin arepas – they’re like pumpkin pancakes with raisins. You get them at Plaza Bieu, which is a nice, local restaurant here in the city. They also have goat stew and an okra soup called guiambo which is also famous here in Curaçao. On a day off, I really like to go to the beach. I love the beaches here – they’re kind of like secluded coves, and when I’m there I feel like I’m whisked away to the middle of nowhere and it’s really peaceful. My favorite place to explore is a natural pool very close to a cocktail bar called Mojito’s. It comes up to your waist. It’s a saltwater pool, and not many people know about it, but the people who do call it the doggy beach because people like to walk their dogs there. And you’ll just swim and feel like noone is watching, and you’re all alone. Christoffelberg is also a nice exploring spot, it’s a mountain a lot of people climb around here.
Vinod Daswani, local business owner / I was born in India and left when I was nine years old. I moved to east Africa, then west Africa, then England for my high school education, and then the United States. Then I ended up in Curaçao at the age of 24 because I was following my father’s business. I met a local Dutch/Surinam woman, who became my wife, and we opened a retail business. It didn’t pan out, so I went with my passion, which is electronics. Anything that plugs in, I understand. I started building home theaters, conference rooms, and renting equipment for seminars, and soon enough I became the premier company that does audio-visual production on the island. Having traveled to a lot of places, what keeps me coming back to Curaçao is the multicultural environment and the multilingual practices. You have people from different countries living here in perfect harmony.
Ana Freitas, soapmaker and small business owner / I’m the owner of Integra Natural. We make soaps, body lotions, hair care products, pet care products, and cleaning products. They’re made mostly from herbs, plants, and fruits from Curaçao. We started five years ago. My daughter Tatiana was 10 at the time and we were on vacation in Orlando. She wasn’t happy about the budget we gave her for shopping, so she decided she wanted to make some extra money by making a lip balm. When we started researching we noticed most of the ones you can make at home have a lot of chemicals, so we made a natural-based lip balm, which she started selling at church and school. When I saw the reaction to the product, I decided to go deeper and see what else was needed in the market at the time.
Lysayé de Windt, small business owner / I’m the cofounder of Curaçao Cares, a center for volunteerism and nonprofit support. Our cleanup projects are not just for cleanliness and for beauty. We are a Caribbean island and we want to keep it clean – yes for the tourism, it’s extremely important – but it’s also important for our own health, our surrounding coastline, and beautiful diving spots. But these fish are the fish we eat — and all of this plastic comes into our own food. In the end it’s for our own health. Art is not only at the center of our work, it’s at the center of this neighborhood, and it’s at the center of this island. Our culture is extremely vibrant. If you look at Carnival and the things that people create, we are so resourceful. With the little bit that we have we are able to create amazing things — our culture, in our music, the handicrafts you see all over the island.
Alex Dijk, waiter / I was born and raised in Curaçao and then I moved to Holland for studies, which a lot of kids do when they get older. They either go to America, like Miami or Boston, but most of us, especially those who speak Dutch, go to Holland. I’m back in Curaçao to figure myself out, think about where I am and where I used to be. My parents and family still live here. I feel strong ties here and I want to connect more with them — but also not connect with them. I still feel some deep attachments and I’m trying to let that go. It’s all part of my goal to free my mind. I like to go surfing on the weekends. The waves get choppy, but it’s like a big family of surfers we have such a good time and there’s such good energy. For me, it’s home. Surfing for me is about interacting with the elements of nature. The beach I like to go to is Playa Canoa.
Arnulfo Reyes, vendor at the floating market / I sell fruits and vegetables from Venezuela at the floating market. (The floating market isn’t actually floating. It’s called that because sailors from Venezuela come here to sell fruits, vegetables, and fish and dock their boats behind their stalls.) We’re not allowed to bring things like diapers, wheat, flour, rice, or oil because they’re scarce in Venezuela, but fruits and vegetables are okay to bring. I come here for four months at a time, and usually take two trips back to Venezuela to replenish. I used to be a photojournalist in Venezuela and worked in newspapers, and I was good but I wasn’t making enough money. In two months here, I make 5,000 bolivares, which is enough for me to live in Venezuela for six months. I can make how much I make in one month there in one day here in Curaçao.
Christy Beaujon, photographer and copywriter / I’m part of Creative Lab (a coworking space), and we’re really trying to develop this area and attract more people like us, other entrepreneurs, other creative people who believe in the area and are developing the area. Besides my other job, I’m really trying to promote the Creative Lab. We are the creative hub of Curaçao. It used to be historically very beautiful, then it got all run down. Then slowly, they started to rebuild everything as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Initiative. I was born in Aruba, and I came here when I was five or six. I left the island when I was 18, which is what most people do here. They leave to go to university, so that’s what I did. I left to go to art school and after 13 years I decided to come back because I missed the sea, my family, and the warmth of the island. Europe gave me so much, but it’s not my place. I love my island.