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hewby 13 Oct 2012 02:06

A reflection on vulnerability
Hi all,

I just thought I would post this reflection here from my blog, for those that were interested about the ups and downs of solo motorbike travels, and to get an idea of other women travelling as to how they deal with difficult situations, fears, and such....

'In the high lonely hills between Veracruz and Oaxaca city, on one of the best motorcycle roads yet, I park the bike on a pull out and walk to the edge to take a photo. The ground is covered in garbage and smells like human waste. A man carrying a machete comes out of the bushes and walks to my bike, his machete nonchalantly swinging in his hand. I quickly take my shot and walk back to the bike. He says something akin to asking me for money, and motions for food. Thankfully I have some Dulces in my tank bag and hand him a bag of homemade sweets. We talk a little, but slightly on edge I am steadily working towards packing up my bike to take off. He tries to assist zipping up my tank bag, then the zipper vents on my thighs….. I brush his hand back and say in broken Spanish. ‘No, its too hot. I need the wind’ and thankfully at that point my key is in the ignition and I drive off. Innocent or no, it’s a reminder of my vulnerability.

The debate in Australia around the events of Jill Meagher’s rape and murder, and the roles women ’need to take for their safety’ play in my head. My friends hold strong varying views on this and the social media in Australia raged for weeks. While there was alot of information circulating to assist women make themselves feel safer, there was also an outrage from women fighting against the fear mongering. Like many of the women commenting on the news, have said exactly the same. "It is my right to walk the streets and travel where I like. Tell men not to rape and murder!' I can be a woman like Jill Meagher who told her friends 'No don’t be silly. You don’t need to walk me home.' My refusal not to be scared, to be independent at times causing my occasional downfall. I have noticed possibly the Australian in me, used to refuse help from a man. And in that, I think maybe many Australian women have trained our men not to offer. Living in the UK and Canada my views and attitudes have softened. I can now accept a door being opened for me, a bag being carried, a walk to my car. I can even enjoy it. I can thank and love the men that offer, and not send a curt reply. Content that it doesn’t mean that I am not capable, but more an acceptance of a gift of another.

But still I refuse to live my life in fear, and not do the things I wish to do, even if this means solo. I assess the risks and then take them. And yes my risk tolerance is greater than most, for I often find thankfully for me the benefits have outweighed the danger. This risk tolerance has lead me to experiences that make my life feel more than full, and as I often tell my poor mother ‘If I die doing something that I love, know that I have lived’. I hope that by doing these things I advocate and show others that it can be done, and not to stop doing something that you dream because of fear, whether it be small like putting your hand up to complete a presentation, or bigger such as travelling the world solo. Women like Tiffany Coates, Sherri Jo Wilkins, Lois Pryce and Danielle Murdoch just to name a few are out there on bikes riding through all sort of countries including Iran and the Middle East, Africa and around the world.

I talk to other women on the internet that have been inspired by my ride and look to solo motorbike travel. Yes, there are times of extreme challenge, where your head gets the worst of you, and you struggle with feelings of being totally overwhelmed. Yes, there are times of loneliness. There are some times of fear, but each day I feel like I am learning more about so many things. Small interactions stay with me. Moments of pure joy as I celebrate my freedom, my adaptability, and my luck to grow up in a country that gives me access to a passport visas, and the right as a woman to even ride a motorbike, or travel alone. I am thankful for the people at home, encouraging me, listening to me, talking to me in a language I understand. Offering advice and assistance when I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of even the little things like managing the bike maintenance, or dealing with the technology that I rely on. Yes, it is worth it. Yes, I tell myself I can do this.'

maximondo 24 Oct 2012 09:49

You are 100% right - we can not live our lives in fear and we have to trust our instincts. But what people do not realise because we have less outside distractions these instincts become more honded when you start travelling and you do trust them and begin to rely on the heavily.

If you are unlucky and do have something that is about to or is happening don't be scared to react because no matter where you go in the world, no matter what culture you are in someone touching you unwillingly is wrong.

I personally have had three situations on this trip where I have had to speak out, first time in India I was getting a massage from a man and he took it too far - I learn from this, not to put myself in that situation again by only let women massage you. In India again, a young boy touch my breasts, but I fought back by actually punching and kicking him. I surprised myself because I have never had to fight before but here I was wanting to make sure this kid never did it to anyone again. Then I stopped and asked if I could have his photo (he being an indian - stood there (silly boy) and I then said - now im taking this to police, your family is going to be shamed. I hope this was enough to scare him for the rest of his life. Another time in Iran, I thought I was being drugged, but before I thought I was about to be incoherent, I assessed the situation and called the guest house owner who placed me in his friends house (there was only one man staying in this house) He immediately came and realised I had a reaction to what I was eating! Silly me. But I was happy about how I responded to a stressful situation by preparing myself before it was too late.

I hope these stories don't scare you, they are just three moments in my 2 year and counting trip which were bad but I learn from everyone of them and in the end nothing happened because I spoke out.

Just make sure you listen to your gut feeling and don't be scared to fight/ yell/ scream. "Saving face" in the community means more to them than to you who is leaving the next day.

Take Care and Enjoy - I can tell you a million amazing moments to counteract these three bad ones!

hewby 25 Oct 2012 06:31

Thanks for your insights Maximondo. Lovely to hear from a seasoned female adventurer such as yourself. it is interesting the ups and downs of it all. Been toying up the possible advantages of dying my long blonde hair dark to reduce the attention and touching. I jokingly think maybe even some dark contacts might stop comments and the intese staring into my blue eyes too? Not really keen on changing my physical looks but if it might make things easier it might be worth it. Any thoughts from others?

Had an incident the other day when i left my guard down, feeling safe and secure in the city of Oaxaca. decided to check the location of my destination on my phone in daylight close to a busy local square and a man pulled a screwdriver on me and demanded my phone. I refused and pushed the screwdriver away. Wishing a little for the "thats not a knife" scene in crocodile dundee! Thankfully he walked away, but sadly i was too shocked to take his photo for the police! But it gave me a timely reminder to lift my game and keep my privilege a little less obvious.

But also tonight home from dinner at the home of a local female friend I have made here and love being a woman on the road alone. It too opens many doors and wonderful friendships and experiences.

And the adventure continues....

Belle 25 Oct 2012 10:28

You know what? Solo travel is scary, exciting, and it is addictive as well as exhausting. But once you get the thing about being your own person and learn to listen to yourself and be confident enough to react and adapt to what you feel, then some how it works out.

Instincts result from experiences, plus a bit of adrenaline and some fear, and properly channelled they are a magic formula, especially good if used when uncomfortable. But the crucial thing is to listen to yourself in time, while you still have an element of control, and not allow another to seize the initiative.

Over the years of riding bikes and just wandering about, I've had a variety of scrapes and situations but the only time I can honestly say I have been really scared and felt vulnerable was here in the UK, on a safe and organised campsite in Edinburgh, when a gang of drunken yobs tried to torch tents - while people slept inside. And they tried to nick my bike. But on reflection, had I reacted to my instincts more quickly, I could have extracted myself earlier and avoided much of it. But I felt silly because it was familiar territory and wasn't supposed to happen there, so I waited, allowed them to take the initiative, and then had to respond to their actions. In the end the police rescued me, but none of the other campers or the wardens even came out to see what was going on, although they must have heard because there was such a din - yet next morning, they were all full of what they would have done etc. But it taught me a very valuable lesson - trust your instincts, react promptly, don't rely on anybody else, and don't be swayed by familiar conventions, attitudes or places; be your own person and do what you need to do. :thumbup1:

Belle 25 Oct 2012 10:45

Oh and meant to say on the hair dying front - don't bother. Tie it up or stuff it under a neck tube if you think it might reduce unwanted attention in certain places, but don't dye it. Women with dark hair or short hair get problems too (even old birds like me)....because we are different and always will be. We are strangers and not from their bit of the world.

And we're female, which lets face it, women on bikes still causes consternation here... so don't expect or bother to try and fit in as you won't. Just do what you need to to adapt so that you get what you want, and use it to your advantage when you can, but always ride safe.

hewby 26 Oct 2012 04:03

Thanks Bele, nice to get a negative on the hair dying/cutting front. Yep, just going to learn to live with it. listen to my gut and not let it get to me. perspective is everything!

maximondo 26 Oct 2012 12:44

I second the change in hair...

I have dark hair and I still get a lot of attention but I also get confused as an Asian or and India - Just the other day I got asked how India was at the Rwanda border crossing! He had my passport in his hand! :rofl:

I am sorry to hear about the screwdriver incident! I would have done what you did and I would have felt safe in a busy place. It took balls to stand up to him and not give him the phone. Well done!

About 8 months ago, I meet a solo motorcyclist guy and fell hopelessly in love with him, now I am dragging him back the way he actually came - so i am no longer travelling on my own anymore, but I have to admit, there is a huge difference when travelling with a man especially because we decided that he does all the money transactions. In a nutshell, it is SO MUCH EASIER! and you get a lot less hassles!

I am actually going to write an article about this change because it is so different, some for the good like love! hehehe and respect because the locals think you are married and I am travelling the way women are supposed too - silly traditions! They never understood why I wasn't with my family or husband when I was alone.

Take care and be safe!

Bluebus 16 Nov 2012 22:17

In some respects risk is about frame of mind and acceptance that certain situations are best avoided whether your male or female. Infact although men are unlikely to suffer rape they are much much more likely to suffer viloent crime than women. personally i think the victim culture has alot to answer for. we spend alot of lives acting as if we are victims and this attracts trouble. Its hard but when travelling alone i think the best approach is to banish all thoughts of weakness, hold your head high and go as you are. accepting that there are inherant risks in being away from home, that the horror stories are not the norm and in reality most humans are well meaning. Unless youve been daft, and put yourself in a vulnerable position, most bad encounters are a matter of bad luck and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I was badly beaten up once for no reason, it took me many years to realise that the only way to get over the fear was to accept that i was just unfortunate. shit happens and when i travel and camp on my own i deal with this in 2 ways.

1: i accept that there is an inherent risk and that im choosing to take it
2: worrying about it doesnt help it attracts trouble and makes you look like an easy victim

I completely agree with Hewby swallow the fear, tell yourself you can do it and 99% of the time you can, the other 1% is chance. The only other addition i would have is dont indulge in the victim culture. Mass media spreads fear, women are constantly told (and tell each other) they cant do things because of their vulnerability, This a terrible dis-empowering lie. Dont believe the hype, if enough people dont it ceases to exist.

lorraine 26 Feb 2013 14:16

"there is a huge difference when travelling with a man especially because we decided that he does all the money transactions. In a nutshell, it is SO MUCH EASIER! and you get a lot less hassles"

I couldn't disagree more! In truth, I would say it all depends on the two people. And perhaps when that initial love phase wears off. (Hope it doesn't for you!) One of the huge benefits of traveling as a solo women traveler in the Middle East, especially as a photographer/writer, is you have access to both world - men and women. With the two men I traveled with, I was the one who had more experience, which translated to me doing double the work as a solo traveler. Sure, delegation was needed more. But it can be very tiring 'taking care' of a second person. I do think in my experiences we were mis-matched, so stay-tuned to see if I have better luck with Door Number Three. ;-)

jcravens 3 Apr 2013 01:59

this is a terrific thread
"some how it works out. "

Not always, and I think that's one of the many points "Hewby" was making in starting this thread with her excellent post. If it's somehow always worked out for you, and you haven't been robbed or raped, traveling or not, great for you. Chalk it up to making good choices AND good luck on your side. But remember that people who have been raped or otherwise traumatized while traveling tend not to blog about it or do a presentation at Horizons Unlimited about it- even though they were aware of their surroundings and did their best at risk assessment, something horrific happened to them and it most certainly didn't work out for them. And remember that they may have been just as cautious as you were - and they still got targeted.

Women's safety is a really difficult thing to talk about, because it seems like the speaker is either branded as being overly cautious / being a fear-monger, or is being unrealistic and flippant about the very real possibilities of being harmed - there's no inbetween. Travel safety shouldn't mean feeling ever-restricted or continually afraid or never taking risks, but it also shouldn't mean "Hey, just pay attention and do whatever you want to do and it will all work out", because sometimes, no matter how many precautions you take, you get targeted - and I'm getting really tired of hearing about how the American woman raped while traveling in a mini bus in Rio a few days ago, or the Swiss woman that was gang raped while camping in India, were at fault for their own brutalizations. Some of the choices they made are choices *I've* made while traveling.

I've been to Egypt twice, pre-Spring uprising, and had no scary incidents whatsoever. I have a friend who traveled near the same time and had her breasts grabbed and some rather horrible things said to her about what various people wanted to do to her. Was I more aware or dressed more appropriately than she was? Or was I luckier? If you hear both of us tell about our experience, me saying "I felt perfectly safe" and her saying "I was terrified," who is "right"? I think we both are. And that's what can be SO frustrating about safety - there's no one answer, no magic bullet, that will absolutely, positively, keep you safe - so much of it can be just about being lucky.

I have a colleague who spent two months in Morocco. She had a wonderful time - until the day before she left, when she was gang raped while waiting for a bus. What did she do that day, or not do that day, different from the other 50 or so days she had been there? Nothing. What's the lesson here - don't go to Morocco? Don't go to Morocco for more than 57 days?

Knowing the risks, reading horror stories and listening to a few first hand accounts, I still travel abroad. I do it because I hunger for the payoff of traveling. I know that there are risks right here in the Portland area (which, if you watch the local news, is apparently on the verge of anarchy in terms of crime), therefore *not* traveling doesn't necessarily make me safer. While traveling, I make the best choices I can, and I hope in the moment that they are the right ones - and that I have a lot of luck on my side. I read accounts of crime in other countries and, when I go there, try to have those in mind. So far, the risk has been worth it. I hope it always is.

More of my thoughts about safety for women travelers.

4paws 21 May 2013 15:07

Awesome thread.

I travel, hike and camp a lot as a solo women.

Jcravens, your link is great info.

A lot of it I came to the hard way.

The best thing about self defense and self reliance is the non-easy target vibes you give off. Its in your body language, a kind of unspoken don't mess with me I can handle it
I come from some bad experiences in the past and that used to make me more likely to get problems a kind of expect trouble and get it body language!

All the "bad" things were from guys who were "trustworthy" ie friends of friends, teachers..

The most important thing (as you say) is to not give a 2nd thought to other peoples feelings if you feel uncomfortable or at risk

I felt pretty edgy in Morocco but no bad events

SturgisChick 23 May 2013 06:40

Wishing you all safe and happy travels.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain

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