|A knife attack on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia still evokes bad memories for Andrea Muizelaar, the first Top Model winner. (Veronica Henri, Sun Media)
WHITBY -- The inaugural winner of Canada's Next Top Model was finally enjoying her first-ever vacation on her own, a dream come true in the sunny Caribbean.
But like her former modelling career, this was another dream that would end in heartbreak.
Last week Andrea Muizelaar's fantasy cruise suddenly turned into a violent nightmare that has left her with a knife wound, bruises and a determination to never to leave these borders again.
"The world just stopped," the shaken beauty recalled yesterday in her parents' kitchen. "I didn't have any thought except, 'I'm going to die.' "
The 21-year-old was a week into her nine-day cruise when she and a friend decided to head into Castries, St. Lucia -- their final port -- to take some last photographs before the ship sailed back to Miami. They ventured into a neighbourhood just outside of town that was built into a hill that would afford them a great view.
Muizelaar never imagined there was anything to fear. It was 1:30 in the afternoon, they were just 10 minutes from the cruise ship and there was even a police station at the bottom of the hill.
And after all, she says, the ship's travel notes never warned of any danger. Instead they cheerily advised passengers that they "won't tire of exploring St. Lucia."
On their way, they passed three men coming out of their homes. There was nothing menacing about the scene: it was broad daylight and there were children laughing outside a kindergarten. And then there was the scenery.
"The view was spectacular," she says, wincing at how that pretty picture could turn so ugly, so fast.
After taking pictures for about 10 minutes, they decided to head back down the hill to the ship. But now they were being followed by two of the local men.
When the third suddenly appeared from behind a bush, she knew they were in trouble.
The rest is a blur.
"I know he got hit first," Muizelaar says of her friend, who doesn't want his name used. "He was punched in the head and they held a knife to his throat."
Meanwhile, the third knife-wielding man turned his attention to her. She doesn't remember his knife, or when its blade sliced into her upper arm. She doesn't remember the details of their struggle that left bruises all over her tanned skin.
What she does remember -- what she can never forget -- is the repulsive feeling of his skin pressed against hers.
Muizelaar began to scream and never stopped. "I thought this was it. No one's going to come. We're in a spot of town where they hear people screaming all the time. I thought it was over."
Still, she fought with all her might, finally breaking free and running down the road, screeching for help.
A group of women emerged from their homes wielding baseball bats and offering assistance.
By then, her attackers had fled and her friend, later diagnosed with a concussion, stumbled back to her side.
Her ordeal, though, didn't end there. She says both the local police and the cruise line offered little assistance or sympathy.
"I don't want this to happen to anyone else," she says, explaining why she's come forward. "I think the cruise ship should have warned us."
For Muizelaar, it is the latest in a string of tough breaks which have befallen the former reality TV winner.
Canada's Next Top Model gave her a $100,000 contract that turned out to be subject to income tax, her former modelling agency sued her, and she never did land any major shoots after winning.
Last year she quit the business. "The biggest reason was because I was severely anorexic. My choice was between my health and possible fame.
"And I wasn't making the money everyone thought and people were not treating me like a top model."
So Muizelaar decided to leave the toxic modelling life behind, move back in with her parents and enrol in a college business program, at which she's now excelling.
This cruise was supposed to be her first-ever vacation. She had missed a family trip to Jamaica because of the reality show, so she decided to use some of her winnings to treat herself to a holiday.
"I guess you could say I've had a bit of bad luck," she admits ruefully. "It's by far the worst experience of my entire life. Top Model was hard, yeah, but this was my life at stake."
But if the cutthroat modelling world taught her anything, it's that she's stronger than she thought.
"I'll be okay," she says, fixing you with those piercing green eyes. "But I'll tell you one thing -- I'm never going to travel outside Canada again."