One man is credited with almost single-handedly spearheading the super speed revival - Jacob Gelt Dekker, a former Dutch dentist turned international entrepreneur-philanthropist. Curaçao Tourist Board executive director Jim Hepple calls Dekker the chief catalyst for Curaçaon renewal, and Dekker himself isn't shy about cheering the new Otrabanda.
"The pushers are totally gone! Prostitutes are gone! Beggars, gone!" he exclaims. "All the people now have jobs."
The pioneer project that Hepple says, "has boosted the tourism outlook not just for Otrabanda but for Curaçao as a whole" is Dekker's Kura Hulanda, a picture-perfect eight-square-block village-within-a-village containing an 80-room luxury boutique hotel (with art and furnishings supplied, in part, from the "spare parts palaces" of a couple of sultans and rajahs Dekker met on his world travels) plus an international cultural studies institute and a world-class African/Caribbean museum of anthropology, archaeology, and art that has drawn more than 100,000 visitors since opening in 1999. Though the sprawling, deceptively casual-looking museum contains artifacts worthy of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the collection's highlight is a life-size walk-in slave ship galley that conveys with inescapable poignancy what it must have been like to make that trans-Atlantic voyage, chained. Grown men climb out of the cramped hold crying.
Rather than the standard approach of razing the crumbling 17th- and 18th-century Dutch colonial houses on the Kura Hulanda site, the artistically gifted Dekker restored them beautifully - with an architect, but largely according to his own personal plan - to house the museum. An adjunct eco-resort, with a luxe lodge and a nature preserve dedicated to bringing back native Curaçaon birds, is scheduled to open in the fall.