For most people, the draw to a Caribbean island includes sandy beaches, non-stop sunshine, umbrellaed drinks or perhaps a romantic getaway. I wouldn’t turn any one of these down and it is true that Curaçao delivered on each of them (OK – maybe not the romantic getaway part for me, but I saw plenty of couples looking at each other with googly eyes, so I’ll include it) but the real reason for my visit to the island of Curaçao was to attend a capoeira batizado. While a martial arts event may not be on everyone’s travel calendar, it certainly does motivate a good portion of my travels. But don’t worry. This post won’t be all about kicks and technical martial arts terms. Instead its about things that everyone can relate to: community, challenges, friendships and having a wonderful time.
(From time to time I write about capoeira on this blog because it is one of my passions that often fuels my travels. If you are new to the martial art of capoeira and my journey, please check out more HERE.)
For those who have never been to a capoeira batizado before, it is a multi-day event organized by a capoeira school that brings in visiting students and teachers for workshops, discussions, parties and on the final day, a “baptism” into the group for the new students and the chance for more experienced students to graduate to the next cord level. It combines the best elements of a vacation, a party, a family reunion, band camp, boot camp and a birthday party.
Instrutor* Congo, who organized this event, began teaching capoeira in Curaçao about two years ago when he moved back to his hometown of Willemstad after living and training capoeira in Holland for over 10 years. With approximately 35 students, he’s done a great job of maintaining a strong capoeira community while also holding down a full time job and two adorable and very high energy twin girls.
I met Congo back in 2012 when we both traveled to Budapest for another capoeira event. We kept in touch as we met on other capoeira adventures and through postings/messages on social media. When I saw that he had a batizado scheduled for this past October, a little lightbulb went off in my head. Doing what I love (Capoeira) in a place I’d never visited before (Curaçao) while getting a chance to visit an old friend (Congo). Well, that’s a no brainer. So off I went to look for a decent priced ticket to the island.
I can’t thank Instrutor Congo, his wife Ingrid and his students enough for the warm welcome they gave me. One thing that you notice when you take part in a capoeira event is how much hard work the students and their families put in to make the event run smoothly. All airport pick ups, island transportation, sightseeing and accommodations were provided by Congo and his students. They made sure we were fed, housed, entertained and overall had an amazing time on their island. It is kind of like a mini Olympic welcoming committee (minus the corruption)!
And as is so often the case, it is the people that really make an experience memorable. In addition to getting to spend time with Congo and his family I also met new friends from Curaçao, Trinidad, the Netherlands, Canada, the US and even Saba, an island I just learned about on this trip. I also got to train with a friend I hadn’t seen since 2006 and had a surprise reunion with a friend from Holland. Whether its sharing a sweaty hug after a hard training session, laughing while singing capoeira songs on the transport van or sitting on the beach with your new found friends, there’s nothing like a capoeira event to solidify great friendships.
And aside from the beautiful location and the welcoming people, this event was special for me for another reason. While I have attended a number of batizados around the world, this is the first time I was asked to teach a workshop. Let me honestly say that for me it was an honor to be asked. I love capoeira, have trained hard and have taught classes in my home academy for years, but to be asked to share your knowledge with others…well, that was a big next step for me in my capoeira career. There are many professional capoeiristas who travel the world giving classes and workshops, and with any luck one day I’ll get to do more of this, but like they say, you never forget your first time.
I’ll admit I was a bit nervous as I was preparing for the workshop – wondering how it would go and how it would be received. I found myself standing in front of about 20 kids of various ages and sizes hoping they wouldn’t all rebel and run screaming from the room. Haha! I should have known that that would not happen, but sometimes your mind makes up crazy scenarios. Luckily, there was no mass uprising, but I did have an additional challenge of teaching kids who did not all speak fluent English. There was a mix of Dutch, Papiemento and English speakers in the room so everything I said had to also be run through a translator. One of the children’s fathers kindly did the honors….Thank you, Dank ja wel, Masha Danki, Paul!
As I know that not everyone reading this is a capoeirista, I won’t bore you with the details of the class, but overall it seemed to go well. As this was my first workshop, I definitely made some mental notes about things I might do differently in the future (it is true that the teacher learns right along with the students!) but still I was happy with how things went and I think the kids were as well. I made them work hard, but they were smiling and having fun at the same time. And what a great surprise at the end of the class! Instrutor Congo was speaking to all of the kids in Dutch and Papiemento but my translator said he wasn’t allowed to translate it back to me. Hmm…why not? But before I had time to wonder too long, to my surprise, all of the kids rushed at me and gave me a huge group hug. So sweet! I’ll admit I had to blink back a few tears at that point.
While I am the kind of person who is happy to get on a plane just to go somewhere, having a purpose like participating in a capoeira event, seeing old friends and making new ones, taking on new challenges and creating wonderful memories makes the trip even more special. I am so thankful for experiences like this. Thank you Capoeira Brasil, Curaçao. See you next year!
* (Note: this is not a typo; that is how you spell instructor in Portuguese)
**Special thanks to Tisha van Bedaf who allowed me to use her photos of me teaching class. I very much appreciate it!