The Truth About Solo Female Traveler in Curaçao
“I know they put something in my drink and I can’t remember what happened last night. I’m hurt and scared. Should I go to the police or just fly home?” read the post in a Facebook group for female travelers that I am a part of. There was such a poignant sense of confusion and desperation in those few sentences that I couldn’t simply scroll past the post so I stopped to read through the comments. To my surprise there were hundreds of comments from other women offering advice and sharing their own stories of assault.
Reading through the stories was jarring for me. Women who were seasoned travelers and seemed well put together online bravely shared stories of seemingly innocent encounters gone wrong. It made me realize how quickly things could go for me during a recent layover in Curaçao:
I decided to rent a car for the day since when my flight to Trinidad from Curaçao was delayed until later that evening. Driving is exhilarating to me so I was looking forward to being on the road again. The feeling of the wind in my hair and the sound of my favorite music blasting through the speakers as I maneuver through the streets gives me a sense of being in complete control.
I drove through the capital, Willemstad, taking in the scenery of the Dutch Antilles which felt both familiar and completely novel at the same time. I parked my car on the Otrobanda side of the capitol to get my first glimpse of the postcard perfect colorful homes and shops across the tranquil St. Anna Bay that had become synonymous with Curaçao.
As I waited for the ferry to cross the bay to the Punda side to see the historical Dutch architecture up close, I listened in fascination to the musical lilt of Papiamentu being spoken around me. Like all the patois of the Caribbean, the language itself tells a lot about the challenges faced in this new environment by the enslaved Africans that created it to communicate with one another. I heard a mixture of African words intertwined with Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch.
I dawdled on the banks on the Punda side to watch the cruise ships cross the bay with their passengers waving their flags emphatically and grinning ear to ear.
When the Queen Emma bridge floated across the bay to connect the 2 sides of Willemstad, pedestrians poured out from one side to the other as if traffic and commerce had suddenly come to life. I had to marvel at the fact that there weren’t more floating bridges in the world. Once I saw it in action, floating across the ocean, the simplicity of it was so ingenuous that it bordered on obvious.
After gawking at the modern marvel, I strolled through Punda until I came upon the Floating
Market. The Venezuelan merchants who travel to Curaçao with boats full of fresh fruits and vegetables to sell everyday did their best to charm me into making a purchase.
Finally, when one asked if I had been Haiti’s Miss Universe contestant and tempted me with freshly ripe mangos and keneps (2 of my favorite things in the world), I ended up walking off with a bagful of each…for the culture.
I’d rented a car specifically to be able to drive to the beach, a pleasure I wasn’t willing to deny myself even if it was only for a brief trip. Unfortunately, when I got back in my car, I wasn’t able to connect to Google Maps for directions. I pulled out the physical map that I’d received only to realize I couldn’t tell up from down, left from right. Rather than wing it, I rolled down my window and asked a tall, broad shouldered young man standing on the corner how to get to Cas Abou Beach in English. He stared at me in confusion for a moment before a flurry of words in Papiamentu poured from his lips. Now it was my turn to look confused…
We blurted out words and phrases in different languages until we finally settled on Spanish as our common tongue. “Esperame,” he asked me to wait for him while he ran back into his office building.
I assumed he’d gone to ask someone to come out and give me directions. Instead, a few minutes later, he came back outside alone, grinning widely, and hopped into the passenger seat and nodded at me. I hadn’t even realized my doors were unlocked and now I suddenly had a strange man in my car!
Seeing the look of confusion on my face, he said confidently, “I’ll show you the way. You’re never going to find it on your own without a GPS.”
I made a split-second decision…
And off we went.
As we followed winding roads out of the city towards the beaches, the landscape became dry and sparse, cars and homes few and far between. I was singing along to my iPod and indulging myself with the keneps that I was now happy that I’d purchased from the Floating Market. I was enjoying the drive and our conversation about Curaçao, but I always kept one eye on him even as he made no moves other than to tap his feet to the beat of the music.
I realized that I really had no idea where he was leading me to so I kept an eye out for landmarks I’d read about on my flight and mentally tried to map the twists and turns that would lead me back to the city in case I had to drive back alone. On our way, we stopped at the salt planes to see the few flamingoes who showed us absolutely no interest at all. There stood the slave monument built to commemorate of the 1795 slave revolt, one of the landmarks on my map.
After 20 minutes of winding roads and a dirt path that challenged my little Toyota rental’s fortitude, we finally arrived at Cas Abou Beach. He had been right, there was no way I would have found the place on my own- even if I had had a GPS!
The beach was lightly sprinkled with a few other tourists and large palm umbrellas facing the seductively turquoise ocean. The white sand was enveloped on either side by lush green cliffs, giving me the impression that the earth was cradling the beach in a loving embrace.
I couldn’t hide the delight on my face as my companion watched my reaction to my first glimpse of the beach. I wanted to run to the water and splash around, but first I had to change into my bathing suit. To my dismay, there were no other women in the changing room as he waited for me outside.
Once changed, I picked an umbrella farthest from the other tourists and left my camera, keys, and my bag there as I submerged myself into the ocean and released all my inhibitions into the water as I swam. Occasionally, I would look back to ensure that he hadn’t run off with my things and left me stranded at the beach.
Not wanting to miss my flight, we hit the road for the 20 mile drive back to town after only an hour. As the wind whipped my wet hair around and the sunset turned the skies various shades of purple, he looked over at me flirtatiously and said, “I like you a lot. When are you coming back here?”
I tiptoed around his flirtation, mindful the fact that I was still miles from civilization. “I don’t have any plans on coming back here. I only got stuck here because of a long layover,” I told him.
“You didn’t enjoy yourself here,” he asked with a look of concern on his face. I assured him that I did- and I really had. Curaçao was beautiful in a way that calmed my soul.
“Then you should come back to see me,” he said suggestively.
A lifetime of being a woman meant that I had learned to politely turn men down in ways that didn’t bruise their ego and arose their anger. I mentioned my boyfriend and carefully navigated the conversation to other topics until he got the hint that I wasn’t interested and dropped the subject.
I dropped him off near town and drove back to the airport. Although nothing out of the ordinary had happened, I've cringed several times just writing this at the realization of how things could have gone wrong at multiple points during that day in Curaçao. Perhaps I am a little too reliant on the kindness of strangers abroad. Perhaps becoming a seasoned traveler has made me overly-confident. Even after having harrowing series of experiences in Cairo years ago, I’ve taken it for granted that there is a dark side to traveling solo as a woman and, while luck alone has caused only good people to cross my path on this road, I will be more mindful of putting my safety first.
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