I'd been in Curaçao for five hours, and my disorientation was complete. It kicked in the moment I arrived and met my driver, Chernov, a portly Curaçao native with a name straight out of Dostoyevsky, features that could have been South American, West Indian or European, and an accent that might be taken for Puerto Rican. On the 40-minute ride to my hotel, I had caught a sunset glimpse of a landscape that was blatantly bewildering: cactuses and sand dunes that looked more like the American Southwest than the Caribbean. Choosing to get my beach fix for a couple of nights in "the country" (the island's rural west end, 35 minutes from the capital of Willemstad) before devoting the rest of my time to adventures in the historic city, I'd booked into Lodge Kura Hulanda, a beachfront resort with a pan-African aesthetic. I was checked in by a woman from Amsterdam and escorted to my room by Herbert, from Venezuela. Along the way, he called out to a bellman. "That doesn't sound like Spanish," I remarked. "That's because it's Dutch," he said.