Now it is time for a Crazy Travel Story again. This time it is the skilled travel blogger Claire from Traveltio that shares her story about a pretty scary taxi ride she experienced together with her friend Taylor.
Sometimes you get that “icky” feeling.
It’s a postcursor to the “uh-oh” feeling that you should have listened to about a mile and a half ago, when your taxi driver blasted through that red light taking you in the opposite direction of your house and toward the airport.
It’s the precursor to the “oh shit.” And we won’t even go there.
I got comfortable with these stages of distress—timed somewhere within one to two minutes of each other, 30 seconds in extreme cases—a few years ago when my best friend Taylor and I found ourselves in the back of a windowless van hurtling away from our beach house and toward an undisclosed location in St. Maarten.
On many occasions I have thought back about the warning signs, the first when our driver switched cars, the second when his new ride wasn’t a taxi but a big black van, the third when he didn’t announce a surprise detour…see where I’m heading with this?
The thing is it all started out so innocently; at a beach side dance club on a warm summer evening.
I was sipping something blue—first red flag: never ever drink the blue drink—and the spotless white marble dance floor was semi-crowded as a couple twirled the salsa around me and my cocktail. Taylor was getting acquisitioned to my left, I was keeping beat with my hips and praying no one would ask me to dance so I didn’t have to admit the horrible truth that I didn’t know a single step of salsa. All was well; all was chill.
By the time I got to the bottom of my Purple Durple Blue Smokin’ Hurricane*, I knew it was time to go—not because of my drink, but the crowd was thinning and somehow Taylor hadn’t shaken off her suitor, and he was starting to look a little aggressive.
“Hey Tay, my drink is empty. Want to come with me for a refill?” Locking arms with my best friend and nearly dragging her away, I heard a faint “thank you” in my ear as we skated around the bar and headed straight for the taxi stand outside.
The thing about St. Maarten that makes it so unique is the charming local history —half is Dutch (the touristy side) and half is French (the laid-back side)—but it does mean there’s a little craziness when it comes to traveling. The airport is on the Dutch side, the nightclubs are on the Dutch side, and all of the madness of the tropical party atmosphere is, you bet, on the Dutch side.
With a few people in front of us and a few people behind us, we knew getting home without picking Taylor’s amour back up was going to be a grab and go now or get sucked back in sort of deal so we went three taxi’s back, and asked if they could take us to Baie Rouge. The guy in the passenger seat was tall, thin, wearing wire rimmed glasses and a crisp short sleeve denim button-up; all in all a very stand-up choice.
Pulling up and parking the car, we let ourselves into the back while he sat and talked with another taxi driver for a second—something about the new regulations for taxi drivers and their papers. Without skipping a beat our driver turns around back and says: “Hey can we switch my other car? It’s got my official license tag so if we get stopped nothing will happen.” Silent nods of my head, and Taylor’s head led to us jumping back out of the seats and standing by while he switched rides. It all seemed above bar; responsible. Until he pulled up the black 16-person passenger van with no windows except on the drivers and the rear.
At this point you say to yourself, “Self, do not get in that car.” But neither sides of my brained worked well that night and Taylor and I piled into the backseat with only the slightest apprehension.
Charlie was friendly, making small talk about the weather, how many tourists were in town this season, when he casually dropped in the conversation he needed to grab some gas. Gas is cool, we thought. Getting stranded will definitely put a damper on my plans for spending the rest of the evening in a bubble bath. Plus, there were about twenty gas stations on the 10 minute drive between Baje Rouge and our abode—a quick fill-up was unlikely to really slow us down.
We got to the crossroad for the Dutch side and the French side almost unnoticed, and habit made me expect to turn left; when we didn’t I jerked my head up.
“Taylor, did we just miss our turn?” I whispered into her ear. “Aren’t we going to the Dutch side now?” Turning away from me to get a closer look out of the driver’s window, she nodded yes.
“Hey Charlie, we’re staying on the French side. I think you made a wrong turn,” Taylor quips.
“Nah, nah. I’m just getting some gas,” he replies, smooth as ice, as he continues down the dimly lit road.
After 15 minutes, we’d had passed by the brightly lit walkways and shops of Phillipsburg, and were making our way back out, further and further to edge of the island where the airport was. As we turned off a road with no street lamps, I grabbed Taylor’s hand and held it in my own.
Rattling along a gravel path, Charlie pulls past an iron fence keeping in a runway, and into a small gas station with a convenient store. Littered outside were many people clutching brown bagged bottles and half-smoked cigarettes, plunked on the curb, lounging in the window sills, and one on the hood of his car. Charlie pulls into the empty spot next to the hood sitter, leaves the key in the ignition and gets out. We see him talk to the seated guy next to us for a minute, before heading around to the back of the store.
“Tayl—,” I start to say before she cuts me off.
“Claire, we’ve got to get out of here. I don’t know what’s going on but it doesn’t feel right.”
“Out there? Do you see what’s out there? We have nowhere to go.”
“But we can’t stay here, what if he’s not taking us home what if he’s…”
But we didn’t finish our conversation and Taylor never got a chance to tell me what she was afraid he was going to do because he rounded the corner with another guy behind him, carrying a large plastic trash bag and what looked like a monkey wrench.
At this point I was thanking anyone I could name for picking up a local SIM card while at the airport (it’s so easy to use once you unlock your phone, and it will save you money too) and being so ecstatic at the full bars that I was halfway to dialing the police before I noticed they had popped the hood, not the door, and were busy rummaging around.
Thinking back, the monkey wrench should’ve been a sign that we were having car troubles but after the silence, the off-road drive away from our destination, and the creepy trashbag, we for sure thought we’d be the next two girls to go missing while on vacation.
Charlie had a full explanation—he didn’t speak English very well, and didn’t think it was a big deal he took us on a field trip—but once we reached our street on the beach we didn’t wait for him to get to our door. Instead we tossed him our money, clambered out the side door, raced up to our gate, and never looked back. We locked the doors twice that night, stayed in bed all day the next day, and vowed never again to take a taxi after a night out. Now we drink less, and take the car.
Every once and awhile Taylor and I will bring it up as a pastime; something we talk about over dinner after not having seen each other for months. But mostly we let our wild imaginations rest, and try to force ourselves to forget how quickly you can go from normal to panic mode —we put it at an average of 1.59 minutes, compiled scientifically from the estimates of our own descents into meltdown. And we try to stay away from those news stories about missing teenage girls.
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