Our Nightmare in Aruba-- Part 2

See part 1 of the story here. 

After an hour or so of wild driving and trying to locate our host, we had finally connected with Tom (*name is changed to respect privacy) and were now following him down paved side-streets and onto windy, dirt roads.

What wasn't wrong with the Airbnb?

We pull into a dirt parking space, and walk behind the host’s main house into the back courtyard that houses a tiny cottage.  In a span of 3 panicked heartbeats I know there are so many things that had been misrepresented about this listing.

1.  The location is not “less than a 5 minutes walk to hotels and beach, it is more like 20-25 minutes for adults and 45 minutes for an adult with little kids in tow.

2. The AC hanging on the wall barely works. Really, its only working part is the "on" light. Understanding now that we have grossly underestimated Aruba’s September summer weather, we know there is no way we can stay in a place with a non-working AC unit. Standing in the house, beads of sweat dripping from everywhere, I look at the kids who are sweaty-faced and red-cheeked. If I had any thoughts of trying to make it work for convenience sake, they immediately leave me.

We all spend that first night sleeping in our underwear and were still sticky and uncomfortable.

3. The full-kitchen listed as an amenity on Airbnb is in reality a:

  • 2 burner gas stove
  • a fridge
  • 3 dirty plastic cups, 2 of them are cracked
  • 4 mix-matched plates
  • 2 bowls
  • a couple of old pots
  • a few mix-matched utensils

The list goes on, including no washing machine on site, despite being advertised on the listing.  And in the middle of my eyes darting around the room picking up all the discrepancies between reality and the listing, I hear the host explaining away the boxes of empty beer bottles in the backyard by telling Angus that he has poker parties every weekend, right outside our cottage door.

We checked in on a Tuesday afternoon, and that night after a stressful dinner that physically felt like we were eating in our neighborhood YMCA sauna, I emotionally curl up in the fetal position and try to will the day to start all over again, only this time, I wouldn’t get on the plane headed to Aruba!

I want a mulligan.

Feeling like we are primitive camping in hell, the slow panic that began as soon as we saw the property has reached an Olympic runner’s sprint inside of me.

We cannot do this.

This is not what we signed up for.

This was totally misrepresented.

We have to find a new place.

How will we even afford it?

Can we get a refund on this place?

So, what did we do?

I spend the next 8 hours Tuesday night, including the twilight hours early Wednesday morning, scouring the internet for another location in Aruba, checking on the kids, and lightly sleeping.  I am sick with worry; my stomach is in knots.

Wednesday’s sun rose, and with very little sleep and a whole lot of anxiety, I kick into gear, feed the kids and head out.

Following Airbnb’s protocol, I notify the host through the app that we are not satisfied and are requesting a refund, minus our one night’s stay. I am grateful for Tom’s early morning departure for work.  It was the one moment of relief I had since checking in: I wouldn’t have to have this talk face-to-face right now, before I had a resolution. I wouldn't have to say, we really hate your place, but will be here a while until we find another, more acceptable location. By the way, could we get more towels? 

You never know how someone will take this kind of news? Will he be upset? Will he cause a scene? Will he get violent? Remember, we were asking for over a thousand dollars in rent money back. That’s a lot of money on which he may have been counting.

And if he misrepresented the listing was he an altogether, unethical guy?

With most monthly 1-bedroom rentals starting at $4,000 for the month, I was pretty nervous about finding anything remotely in our price range. However, I end up negotiating another rental I find on TripAdvisor that will cost us only $400 dollars more than we are paying with Airbnb.  And we can check in right away! It really ended up being an amazing deal! (See our Aruba budget here.

I come back to the cottage around lunch and we begin packing everything up. It is a whirlwind. The poor kids are confused, while at the same time relieved because it means we don’t have to stay in the “hot house” anymore. I can only compare the next few minutes to that of an evacuee fleeing a bad premonition with her family and a few belongings.

Why the rush?

I want to be out of the cottage before the host comes home. I want to avoid a confrontation in a foreign country and handle everything online. At this point, it has been 4 hours since I had sent the email to the host, and I haven’t heard anything back. We are counting on Airbnb to help bring resolution. We hope for a refund, but at this point, whether we get one or not, for our family’s sake, we have to leave. 

We throw our belongings and the few groceries we had purchased into bags and begin loading the car. We are almost gone, scot-free, except as we shut the trunk and begin buckling the children in, the host pulls into the driveway.

Our hearts drop.

What should we do?

Drive away?

We keep expecting Tom to come out and talk to us, but he doesn’t.

Why? He went inside his house and hasn’t come out.

What is he doing in there?

Angus decides he wants to do the honorable thing and just check in with Tom to be sure he understands why we are leaving.  I sit in the running car with the kids.

It is a tense moment as Angus knocks on the host’s front door.

I begin contemplating my exit strategy if things go very wrong. I can’t put the kids in danger.

What are my options?

Drive away and leave Angus?

Sit and try to call for help?

What is the emergency number in Aruba anyway?

I have no cell service. I can’t even look it up.

I decide I have very poor options.

It was the most helpless I’ve felt in a long time. 

The lessons I am learning are piling up on me like bricks. I know if we ever go on another international adventure, I’ll handle things very differently.

Tom answers the door and the conversation begins. I am far enough away that I can’t make out the words. But I do see something alarming in his hands.

A knife in Tom’s hand, waving around as he speaks to Angus.

The knife. 

The knife. 


Is he intimidating us? Threatening us?

Tom peeks around the door to look at us in the car, then keeps talking. Terrified and confused, I'm wondering what an appropriate response should be to this situation.  Do I wave a gentile hello at the guy who is about to stab my husband? Do I give him my baddest bad-ass face from the clown car piled with suitcases?

And right before the full-blown anxiety attack kicks in, Angus is walking back to the car. 

And we drive away.

We'll never understand why Tom answered the door with a knife. Maybe he was slicing some ham or filleting a fish for lunch? Who knows. Good ole' Tom. 

Next post, we'll show you our new digs. Simple to most, but to us, it's a pretty special refuge, especially after what we just experienced. We'll also share some tips for choosing an Airbnb location wisely.

Do you have a horror travel story? Share it below. 




Samantha Nelson4 Comments