After living 5 years in Curacao and 2 years in Aruba, and visiting many other Caribbean islands, here are 12 things I learned.
White sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise sea water to swim in, beautiful sunny weather and a cheeky cocktail in your hand. Caribbean life sounds like a beautiful dream right? .....but, in reality Caribbean island life is not for everyone.
Even the frequent Caribbean vacationer who decides to settle here permanently, finds that daily life is not always the way they imagined. That’s why 30 to 40% of the people who move here do not make it through the first year. They return to their home country. I guess it is the leaving your home soil that makes it hard….. A small group of people truly like it though and stay.
1. Friends Think You Are At The Pool Or On The Beach The Whole Day With a Cocktail In Your Hand
This could be the fault of my husband. Whenever someone asks him if he is busy with work, his standard answer is that he just came out of the pool and has been in there most of the day..... Really? In fact, you've to work just as hard or even harder in the Caribbean than at any other place. In addition, to that, you've to play taxi driver for your kids to get them to school, sports, or any other activities they've to go to, because of the lack of public transport and bicycle paths.
But.... as soon as you are home, you can jump in the pool to cool off or go to the beach for a nice swim or a walk. Lazy beach days are very rare since we don't care for the sun that much anymore.
Cocktails? Yes, sure....just not at the pool or on the beach, and not every day! There are sunset dinners, happy hours all around, live music. you name it. We definitely take advantage of that sometimes!
2. Tomorrow Is Another Day....
Poco Poco (very slow), is a favorite word here on the islands. During my first Papiamentu lesson, my teacher told me that "Europeans and North Americans live to work and Caribbean people work to live", and she was totally right.
After living here for a while, you start to realize that things don’t always happen at an efficient pace in the Caribbean. It doesn’t have to be such a bad thing but instead, something to simply adept to and accept as part of the Caribbean philosophy.
You may be used to thrive on efficiency and productivity. But, from a Caribbean point of view, this sort of pace of work can be perceived as stressful and rushed. What’s the point in rushing if you have most of your life to work? That’s a valid point and that is why most people living and working in the Caribbean are not stressed. Tomorrow is actually another day…and it’s okay to continue what you started tomorrow.....
3. You Can't Always Get What You Want
Remember this song of The Rolling Stones "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need."? Well, they were absolutely right!
Although there are several large supermarkets here on the islands, this doesn't mean they always have what you need; boats didn’t come in, flights got delayed or they just forgot to order. This means no milk, no apples, no sugar, or tomatoes...or whatever it is that you wanted to get.
Once you found the things you can use, you have to painstakingly check every expiry date in the hope that you don’t get caught out buying overpriced out of date ketchup.
You can't always get what you want on an island, but you can find the things you need. So in case you're still empty handed for dinner after going to 5 different shops, you can pop down to the beach for amazing fresh seafood straight off the boat or take advantage of some fantastic little local eateries.
4. Poverty Is Real And It Keeps Our Gratitude In Check
I knew that poverty was real, but I never truly saw it or interacted with those who were troubled by it until we moved to the Caribbean. Curacao and Aruba are rich Caribbean islands, but there are also a large number of young single mothers, low-skilled jobs, unemployment, and low state benefits. There are many immigrants from other Caribbean islands or Latin American countries, which often illegally live here. People are living in shacks and children go to school without breakfast and lunch. The homeless, addicted, abused, and poor ones are not located in the tourist areas, but they are certainly present.
We help when we can and have learned that our problems are minor compared to theirs, so why should we spend time complaining? We're lucky to live in a safe neighborhood, sleep in comfortable beds, eat three meals a day, and have our family by our side. Not everyone here can say the same!
5. A Vacation Becomes Shopping
Choosing what to wear has never been easier since islands don’t have clothing trends and every season is the same. You wear a lot less, no jackets, woolen sweaters or boots, you just don't need them.
However, clothes don't last long in the strong sun rays. The islands do have shops, but don't have much choice; basically overrates designer brands or cheap Chinese quality, and not much in between.
No point on wasting your money on these, so we've mastered the art of packing lightly on our trips abroad and fill our suitcases with summer sales at the outlet malls. After all, we don't need a beach vacation!
6. Sundays Are Indeed A Day Of Rest
Island life is slow, and Sundays are all about doing nothing. In the Caribbean, most stores are closed on a Sunday unless there is a cruise ship in town. Some call us boring, but a beach day with some snorkeling, or day-dreaming in a hammock in the back yard, are perfect ways to end the weekend on an island.
7. Addresses On The Islands Are A Source Of Confusion
For some reason, neither Curacao nor Aruba ever switched over to modern address etiquette. Instead, they just assigned house numbers to all the buildings in a certain area, in semi-geographic order. For example, you would expect to find house number 78 next to 77, but that is probably not the case, it is probably not even on the same stretch of road.
This means that describing where something is, becomes a guessing game involving landmarks, stores, and geographical features.
8. Nice Hair Does Not Exist
With 85F and sudden gusts of wind, there is no question you're having a bad hair day every day. Unless you're blessed with gorgeous silky locks, nice hair is simply not going to happen.
Depending on your type of hair you either have to embrace the Shaka Khan look, or accept to look like Donald Trump even when your hair is tied in a pony tail.
9. Roads Are A Battle Field
Plenty of people here manage without a car but personally living here would be impossible if I didn't have one. Locals, normally the nicest and liveliest people on the planet either start daydreaming in their car or turn into F1 drivers.
If you're waiting at a red light, expect to either wait there forever because the one in front of you fell asleep, or the car behind you to beep its horn in case you still haven't got your foot on the accelerator and your car revving the moment the light turns green. Cars turn any direction without using their turn signal or overhaul you on a road where they are really not supposed to do that, almost giving you a heart attack.
When driving, keep an eye out for massive pot holes, hence, make sure you have a good spare tire and know how to change a tire. After a while, you will learn where each one is and become adept at navigating around them, like everyone else.
Besides the potholes, you’ll have to dodge dim-witted iguanas, dogs, goats and tourists who suddenly stop to photograph the iguana.
10. Living In The Caribbean Involves Co-existing With All Manner Of Creatures.
Beautiful colorful birds singing a song for you in the early morning hours, giant iguanas sunning on the porch, dragonflies the size of a bird, and lizards doing acrobatics around your bedroom.
You're getting used to them, and they're all totally harmless. The only annoying thing about some of them is the crazy amount of poo they deposit in and around your house.
11. It Is Always Dark After 7 PM
....and I love it! After a day of hot burning sunshine, it's great that the sun sets every day between 6 and 7 pm. Temperatures get more comfortable and everyone, including our dogs, get more lively. Friends and family that visit us from abroad are surprised about the early sunset. They're used to it being light until 10:30 PM on a summer day.
It is because you are close to the equator. This also means that sunsets are very short and spectacular. When the orange sun hits the sea it disappears within 10 minutes and fills the sky with the most beautiful colors.
12. Don’t Take It For Granted
You become to realize, the people on the islands are the nicest in the world, the views never get old, and you’re incredibly lucky to be living in a peaceful paradise far a way from the hustle and bustle going on in the rest of the world.
Despite its flaws, life in the Caribbean is pretty amazing, and there's nothing a little salt water and sunshine won't cure.
Interested in staying with us? Contact us for information about our oceanfront villa, one of the nicest Curacao vacation rentals.
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