Penis Waggling and Other Woes

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Reflecting on my experiences as a female traveler.

I was wracking my brain, thinking about the 17 countries I’ve visited and the 3 others in which I’ve lived, trying to come up with something for this “Travel Writing Challenge” which my friend had presented.

womens-day_0My thought process was basically: I have loads of great memories and stories that my friends find hilarious, but what could I write on that has universal appeal. Hmm… International Women’s Day is coming up! Let me write about how women face unique challenges while traveling…

I know, I know. It’s 2016. The world is better now, women have equal rights! But actually, not in all countries. Plus, there are innumerable ways in which the female travel experience differs from that of males. (I refuse to apologise for the “clickbait-esque” title… I couldn’t resist the alliteration coupled with added shock value).

to go the toilet boliviaFirst of all, every woman has a story about a bathroom experience: having to pee in a bush in the middle of nowhere; having to spend a whole night grossing out your hostel-mates in a shared bathroom after suffering food poisoning; having your thigh muscles nearly give out when you had to use a “squatty” after hiking more than 30 miles down the mountain from Aguas Calientes… don’t even get me started on the lack of toilet-paper availability or the stingy bathroom ladies.

As someone who is currently a non-breeder, I can’t even imagine what it must be like for the brave souls who decide to take their children on adventures in developing countries. I guess the bonus would be that if you soiled yourself on a long over-night bus ride, at least you’d have a plausible scape-goat!

brokedown palaceOn a more serious note,  the single-greatest issue women face while traveling is safety. I remember sitting in a restaurant in the town just outside of Iguazu Falls where I, my back-packing pal, Meghan, and a smooth-talking, über-attractive South African man were having yet another massive portion of beef for dinner.  When the guy went to the restroom, Meghan and I started joking about how we might be in a reality version of Brokedown Palace.!

We had a great time, but were heavily guarded and therefore declined an invitation to another bar in favour of our hostel room. In fairness, this was probably as much to do with the fact that we had an 18 hour bus ride looming ahead of us in the morning as it did with the fact that we might be duped into inadvertently smuggling drugs across the border!

shar david rowboatI have to say that I have been very fortunate to have met amazing male friends during my travels. Some of whom are still close friends. “David from England” and I had to resort to sharing a bed on more than one occasion on our travels in Peru due to lack of available accommodations, and he was always the most gentlemanly of gentlemen.

Fortunately, I found decent men in Chile as well.  I couldn’t find a cab back to my hostel at the end of the bar-hopping session I’d been on with some guy friends I’d met in Mendoza and linked up with again in Santiago. I had to sneak into Mark’s shared dorm and squeeze into his cramped cot for the night. Fortunately, he had extended the offer out of sheer concern for my safety if I tried to cross the city late at night in a state of inebriation.

el borrachoOk. I admit that some of the situations I ended up in could have been prevented with better planning, finding a good wing-woman, and by drinking less, but let’s be real. Sometimes people just get carried away; Therefore I’m simply grateful that I chose good company.

No matter how careful you try to be, sometimes, perverts strike seemingly out of no where. One of my friends was walking down a busy street in Buenos Aires, and was summoned by an older gentleman sitting in traffic. He appeared to be asking for directions or some sort of assistance, and, though she was sensible enough not to approach too closely, she couldn’t help but see him waving his penis to and fro with a twisted expression on his face as he uttered (presumably vulgar) Spanish phrases.

This friend and I later traveled to Havana together, and while walking back to our casa after dinner one evening, a man standing on the sidewalk by some bushes and waggled his penis at us. We shrieked and ran, shouting our disgust and outrage. What else could we do about it though? Nothing. Besides, we were the ones committing the offence of being blonde white women wandering down a semi-lit street at night. Although not physically touched by these creeps, we still felt violated… definitely not as common an experience for men to have.

On the bus between Cusco and Lima, I had the unfortunate luck of sitting next to a creepy grey-bearded man who “accidentally” put his hand on my leg due to the close proximity of the bus seats. After the second “accident”, I glared at him and tried really hard to battle the drowsy effect of my motion sickness meds. The third time it happened, I flung his hand off, and got up, walking the aisle with the hope that a seat had opened up. Seeing none, I retreated to the restroom, which was smelly and disgusting, in spite of the sign indicating that no #2s were allowed in that toilet. By the time I came out, the man had absconded, and I had the seat to myself. Not speaking the language and being a minority in a rural area in a foreign country made me feel too worried about speaking out. I didn’t know what the repercussions would be for a solo female, so I just endured it, later feeling violated and helpless.

gibraltor monkey

“Gross! That dude’s an animal!”(Photo: Lisa Palka)

Two girlfriends of mine were vacationing in Gibraltor, and thrilled to find a semi-secluded chunk of beach where they could sunbathe un-bothered by vendors or noisy monkeys. After some time, they noticed a man on the hill above them, presumably picnicking. They happened to get up to leave a short while later, and visually learned that the only thing this man had brought to the picnic was an Oscar Meyer. They high-tailed it out of there, erring on the side of caution.

Now, just to be clear. I have logged thousands of miles adventuring in foreign lands. I’ve hitch-hiked, couch-surfed, and taken busses so rickety I’m still not sure how they held together on the roads.  I’ve slept on a hammock in the jungle, under the stars on a beach, and in a bathtub. I have dived with hammerhead and bull sharks, surfed, rock-climbed, parasailed, paraglided… all of these things and more, the woman writing this has experienced first hand. It’s only fair that we create a world wherein other women can do whatever they choose, whenever and where ever they choose to do it! It’s time that we develop stronger policies and government accountability. We owe it to ourselves; to the women who fought the good fight before us; and for those who will come into this world; to provide hygienic restrooms and allow privacy during toilet-time; but most of all, we need to ensure that women feel safe, and that they have allies who they can count on.

Anything could happen to anyone, and traveling solo as a woman presents risks and special challenges, but I refuse to stop doing the things I love to do because I’m afraid. Live fearlessly, and do your part to tackle the problems facing women within your community.

fbe7d5aa5e7b689af61bc28a58c41e94It’s heart-wrenching that in 2016, human-beings are still inhibited by the simple fact that they were born women. I’d love to know what YOU are doing to empower women and to create equality where you are. Please leave a comment or follow me on social media! Facebook, IG, Twitter, and Tsu.