In Curaçao’s capital city, Willemstad, there is a magical floating bridge. It spans the St. Anna Bay and connects Willemstad’s oldest neighborhood, Punda, with its lively neighbor, Otrabanda (“other side”). When a boat needs to enter or leave the harbor bay, the bridge swings open to allow ships to pass. See that little cabin on the left side of the bridge in the picture above? That’s where the operator sits and controls the two diesel engines that turn propellers mounted perpendicular to the bridge’s length, allowing her to swing parallel to shore several times a day.
As our boat reached halfway down the narrow channel, the pontoon bridge connecting the two sides of the harbor swung open like magic.”
Theodore Taylor also fondly references this famous pontoon bridge in his juvenile fiction story, The Cay. Based on such rave literary reviews I knew Curaçao’s floating bridge was one of the first things I wanted to see when I visited this quaint Dutch island.
The colorful arches that adorn Curaçao’s floating bridge rotate through a rainbow of colors that shimmer across St. Anna Bay. We were lucky enough to catch the bridge opening twice during our visit. Once at night and once during the day. Both times were spectacular.
Most floating bridges are built as temporary installations, but the Queen Emma Bridge, otherwise known as the “Swinging Old Lady,” is presumed to be the only permanent wooden pontoon bridge in the world. It was built in 1888! There used to be a fee to cross, but only if you were wearing shoes. That’s right, between 1901 and 1934 you had to pay 2 NAf cents to cross. Interestingly, Curaçaoans who wore shoes regularly would take off their shoes to dodge the toll, but the poorer pedestrians (who were more often than not barefoot) would save their shoes for the special occasion of crossing the pontoon bridge and proudly paid the 2 cents.
The first time we saw the floating bridge open was at night while enjoying a quick snack of local food at the Iguana Cafe right on the water. (As an aside, food was just okay, but the atmosphere and location was spot on!). We were sipping on some yummy Curaçao liquor enhanced piña coladas when my daughter said, “Uh…family…does anyone see things moving over there?” (I hadn’t told her the bridge swings open because I was hoping to surprise her!) Hee hee!
Video: The Floating Bridge Swings Open
After the bridge floated open, a little tug boat-looking vessel passed through and then the bridge swung closed again. The whole process took only a few minutes. It was pretty neat and we were looking forward to riding on the Swinging Old Lady if we were lucky enough to be crossing when a ship needed to pass into St. Anna Bay.
To our good fortune, on our next trip to Willemstad we were strolling across the bridge when suddenly a bell started ringing. The locals started running for the other side, clearly not as entertained by the bridge as we were! We stayed on and went for the ride. It’s a pretty unique experience to say you rode a floating bridge!
Although not easy, I was able to track down a few English language books set in Curaçao. Before I went to Curaçao, I read the very excellent juvenile fiction book, The Cay. While I was there I discovered, The House of Six Doors. I read that while lounging on one of Curaçao’s many gorgeous beaches and watching the kids swim with the sea turtles.
If you are headed to Curaçao, the Queen Emma floating bridge is a must-see! Enjoy!
Know someone headed there or fascinated with bridges? Don’t forget to share!