I had read that if a taxi charges you more than 15 soles to Miraflores from the Lima bus terminal that you are being ripped off. The first man tells me 25.

“No, me dijeron 15.”

The man next to him takes my offer and turns to the other driver: “Te perdiste la oportunidad llevar una reina!” (“You missed the opportunity to drive a beautiful girl!”)

The taxi door is locked by the driver’s control. When we reach the hostel he offers not to charge me in exchange for a date. I am anything but flattered; he looks old enough to be my father. I tell him to unlock the door, hand him 15 soles, and scram.

That night I go out dancing with Argentineans and a cute blonde from Ohio who doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish. A guy walks behind me and pulls the bow on the back of my dress; I barely catch the straps as they fall. Someone at the club had decided to bring his own booze and was making drinks at a table. He hands one to blondie. I have never ripped a straw out of someone’s mouth so quickly. “Love, you don’t know what he put in there.”

This has been on my list of things to write about for some time. The murders of the two girls from Argentina in Montañita, Ecuador and the way that some people treated the incident fueled my need to say something. Of course the majority are horrified by what happened, but there have also been comments along the lines of, “Que cacheras” and “They were two young females in a place with lots of alcohol, and they trusted strangers; what did they expect?” Ecuador’s Assistant Secretary Cristina Rivadeneira said, “Surely something was going to happen to these girls because they were going to hitch hike to Argentina…something would have happened sooner or later. Unfortunately, it was here.” Violence against women is brushed off in this almost nonchalant manner because we are, well, women. If something happens to us, we are held responsible because we surely could have avoided the situation. I have stayed in the homes of people I did not know more than 30 times through couchsurfing, and on this trip alone hitch hiked more than 2000 kilometers. I have never been robbed, violated, or felt the situation was uncomfortable or beyond my control (knock on wood). I never fully trust anyone but I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Newsflash: when you are traveling, everyone is a stranger.

“You have such an advantage traveling as a woman.” I have heard this comment too many times during this trip, and it throws me every time. This comment, of course, comes from men who never have to experience the disadvantages. I love Latin America. The friends I have there are some of the most wonderful, genuine, and honest people I know, and my male friends treat women like absolute queens. But even they know the male-dominant (machista) culture exists. In Córdoba a guy who was a friend of my good friend offered to walk me back to my hostel after a night out. The sun was up and I was completely sober. When he stopped at a hotel and I declined his invitation to go in, he told me to go screw myself and to find my own way back before hopping in a taxi. In broad daylight in Guayaquil a boy who could not have been older than twelve tried to grope me from behind; his father laughed it off. A security guard at the Museo del Oro in Bogotá asked if I was traveling by myself. In attempt to avoid a conversation, I lied and said, “No, my boyfriend is from here,” but all that earned me was the response, “And he let’s you go out alone?” Such comments are not made exclusively by males. As exemplified by the secretary of tourism’s words above, intentional or not, women perpetuate this culture as well.

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I do feel it is more advantageous to travel alone. Finding accommodation, transportation, deciding where to eat and what to do – all of these are simplified. I meet relatively few men traveling on their own. The ones I do know have insane stories: a Canadian who crossed the Darien Gap by foot with the Colombian guerrilla forces, a guy from Philadelphia who hitch hiked Sub-Saharan Africa. But the vast majority of males I have met are traveling with their girlfriend or a friend from college. I come across solo females far more frequently, and they are inspirational. In New Zealand I met a girl from France. She was 25, fluent in English and Spanish, speaks a bit of Norwegian and Arabic, has a Masters degree, and has been to more than 60 countries. In Thailand I met a Korean girl who is probably small enough to fit in my backpack. She had wandered solo through places like Pakistan and East Timor. Her boyfriend is German but she doesn’t like to travel with him because “he is a baby and complains if he isn’t perfectly clean.” The only other person at my hostel in El Bolsón, Argentina was a recently married girl from Tahoe. Despite both of us being from California, we did not speak in English: she is a Spanish teacher and was just looking for a bit of adventure before going back to work. These women and countless more are empowered, intelligent, and fearless.

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Too often when I ask a person why they consider being female an advantage the response is, “Free drinks.” First of all, I am more than capable of purchasing my own, and second, if alcohol is what is breaking your budget then you need to re-evaluate your spending. Furthermore, just because we might receive something free in terms of monetary value does not necessarily mean nothing is expected in return. I do not know that I would say it is an advantage to be a woman. I would, however, say we are deemed as more trustworthy because we tend to be perceived as less threatening. Do you know what things are advantageous? Being respectful. Smiling. Taking a genuine interest in the culture. Following local customs. Learning the language, even if only a few phrases. The world is a mirror: the way you behave towards others will be reflected back to you. If you wish to have advantages while traveling, keep in mind that you are not just a tourist, you are a guest, and you should treat your host country as such.

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This issue is obviously not unique to Latin America. It exists and I have experienced it in every country I have been to, from Cambodia to New Zealand. Even if they do not mean harm, the people (men and women) who question my choices are only reinforcing the stigma that something bad will inevitably happen to me solely because I am a woman. If something were to happen, I would hope it would not deter or discourage females from doing things outside of their comfort zones. It is 2016 and somehow women still live in a world where we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. That being said, the positive experiences I have had on the road monumentally outweigh those that are less savory, and even though it means taking more precautions I will continue to find fulfillment in my adventures.

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