Colorful wooden boats dock along the Sha and Lionel Caprileskade in Punda — stalls brimming with fresh fish and produce dot the pavement. “Paisana?” (fellow country woman) merchants ask, probably noticing my dark hair and light complexion. Swift callused hands clean and fillet fresh fish. That distinct smell of barku (“fresh”, salt, and sweat) fills the air around us. Cars move slowly up the street, looking to make drive-buy purchases from merchants uber-eager to step into traffic to sell their fruits, vegetables, fish, honey, cigars, and some of our very favorite treats (awesome in their own right). These merchants are from Venezuela, not from Curaçao. Yet their colorful wooden boats are iconic Punda. Their trade has been passed down through generations of men who hail from poor Venezuelan coastal towns (40 miles from Curaçao). They leave their wives and kids behind in Tierra Firme for months on end – so that they can support them. They live aboard their wooden boats and have created their own little Venezuelan community within Punda.
These hard-working floating merchants provide a steady supply of fresh fruit and vegetables to predominantly arid Curaçao, where such produce is impossible to grow in quantities sufficient to support the local market.
Below is a phenomenal documentary by Joan Kaufman, distributed by Documentary Educational Resources.
The Floating Market isn’t easily accessible to the West side of the island, so some savvy local merchants buy fresh produce from the market, wrap them in plastic, and re-sell along the side of the road.