The Soul of a Place


My love-hate relationship with travel is this. I love exploring the world; I hate the actual travelling part. If I could, I would beam myself there. Being a lifelong fan of sci-fi, a part of me often thinks teleportation could be a thing if we threw more money and brains at it. And, at the biggest flash mob ever, all clicked our heels three times. But, hey, if Facebook is trying to read our minds through skin and Amazon is looking for warehouse space on the moon, why isn’t someone working on teleportation?

It would be BIG.

Anyway, after reserving a seat to Curacao, WI, I braced for the hard, cold reality of being stuffed onto another plane with strangers who might or might not share similar sensibilities about good manners, positive energy and not snoring or sneezing the flight away.

In general, I am not good with travel toothbrushes and tight spaces without easy escape. I’m the one who jockeys to sit near the exit door. I’m the one who almost comes undone from the piercing, stinging attack in my ears on descent. No, horse-smacking gum does not help.

But as much as I find flying annoying, the unmistakable feel of breathing in another place always fogs my fool brain with a bit of sedation so I arrived in Curacao, travel-weary, but okay.

I checked into the resort, poached a half-dozen tourist brochures from the front desk and headed for the beach. Turquoise waters, cloudless skies, a gentle breeze. It would have been disrespectful not to wiggle into my bathing suit and greet it.

The next day, I hired Xavier, a driver whose passable English mapped to my passable Spanish. I did not know how to ask to see the soul of his island in Spanish and if I could would he have thought I was crazy? I asked instead to see the neighborhoods, good eats, caves, museums, and the beach the locals love. Also, I wanted to hear about his life.  At 22, with shy grey eyes and Afro-Latin features, he was quietly funny, proud of his job and happy to tell the story of how his mother, born in nearby Bonaire, visited Curacao during Carnival and fell for his father.

With him and many of the islanders I encountered, the cultural exchange went both ways. None of them had visited Washington state (or the United States) so they were curious and I gave it to them this way: Evergreen, but lots of rain, lakes, beaches, mountains. Coffee and tech. Friendly but cliquish, kid-approved, progressive. The first winter might break you, but the summer will put you back together.

The transplanted Guyanese chef who prepared a Hibachi-style meal without even breaking a sweat in the ruthless humidity came back with this: “I’m not a lesbian, but if you’re looking for a roommate, I’m available. No husband, no kids, and I can cook.” She was serious, so I thought about it.

Travel reminds me to be a good ambassador for the U.S. because 45, who was coincidentally out of the country at the same time, is screwing relationships up royally.

Travel reminds me to keep it simple. To pack light and be open. To lean into whatever calls me, trusting these will be the most memorable souvenirs.

Travel reminds me to slow it down. Linger. Take everything in.  Engage, listen, wait.


Along the way, I swallowed the shadows of poverty and inequities too. How could I not? It didn’t escape me that the average houses were small and sometimes shack-like unless closer to town or the beach, where they were bigger, nicer and had protective bars on the windows. The streets had Dutch signs, the vendors had Dutch money, and the brown-skinned locals were required to learn Dutch in primary school along with Spanish, English and the native Papiamento. Although it had seemed, in my mind, when I was planning the trip, like I’d be getting a two-fer vacation and early glimpse of Holland, the colonist imprint was unsettling. It is often like this in paradises stolen and I can’t always reconcile enjoying what beauty I find with being pissed off about the past; the greedy, brutish inclinations of those who bumped into lands and claimed them. I tried to balance it out by putting money directly into the hands of the locals. It was not enough, but it was something.

I also caught the city bus into town one day, shopped the huge, some-of-everything marketplace, sat in the sun and ate a green fruit I didn’t catch the name of but tasted like mango, walked over bridges, caught a little ferry with an arbitrary schedule. I rooted around for the African museum too, got lost in an area where no one spoke English. Preoccupied with my map, I bumped into a local fisherman hauling two buckets of fresh catch. He chuckled this raspy, knowing chuckle and said “It’s down the alleyway up the road, above a beer stop.” He walked me there. I bought him a beer.

One thought on “The Soul of a Place

  1. This was such a nice read. It sounds like you had a wonderful experience. You’re right,
    travel does remind you to slow down. I love that feeling more than the traveling itself. I love being reminded that I don’t need to be in such a rush.

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