As you may have heard, on the 22nd of February 2016, two girls Marina Menegazzo, 21, and Maria Jose Coni, 22, from Argentina were brutally murdered in the coastal town of Montanita in Ecuador. As part of my female solo travel adventures, I went to that town three times! A town where you go to surf, party and chill. A town that I felt safe enough to go to 3 times despite the fact that it took 17 hours. That tells you that I really liked it there, I recommended it to people and I went back as often as I could.
I have experienced female solo travel for over 1 and a half years of my life. Being a female solo traveller is not difficult but it definitely has its obstacles. It takes courage and the main threat that you constantly face in all honesty, is men. I am not saying all men are a threat, I am talking about a small fraction of them as of course many have become lifelong friends and accomplices to my adventures…but whenever I have felt awkward or uncomfortable it was generally because of men.
I had 10 months of female solo travel in Peru, during that time I became accustomed to being catcalled at and approached on pretty much every journey I took. If I got seated next to a man on a bus, there was a 90% chance he would attempt to talk to me. This isn’t because I am special or particularly attractive, I always dress appropriately and modestly but this is life for solo travelling women. Pretty much all of them deal with it on a daily basis.
I lived on a beach but I couldn’t go there alone at night because of men…I had friends who lived a 2 minute walk away but somebody had to walk me to their house because otherwise I would get harassed, followed or worse. Female solo travel in many parts of the world has the unwritten rule that you don’t ever walk around alone at night. The comments and stares you get becomes so normal you learn to phase it out, to ignore it unless they approach you. You have to judge the situation and find the best way out, usually I find looking straight into their eyes and telling them “No!” works just fine. Don’t ever look intimidated, let them know you are not easy to mess with and walk away. I want to tell you this doesn’t only happen in Peru, it happens in Dubai, it happens in London, it happens everywhere, guys beeping at you, whistling, catcalling…these type of men can be found anywhere.
Those girls were 21 and 22, travelling together from Argentina. Now if something happened to me, people would probably say “we told her not to go somewhere so far alone, its so dangerous”. These girls were criticised for travelling alone to another country. They went to a country on their continent where they could speak the lingo and they knew the culture. Is it even considered female solo travel when they travelled together!? They were exploring the world, OUR planet, they were fulfilling their souls.
Nothing makes me happier then travelling, nothing makes me feel more fulfilled or alive then going to an unknown land and seeing how people live in different parts of the world. Don’t I have that right? I am a responsible adult, I know how to look after myself so can’t I go on holiday alone without people rolling their eyes. I enjoy my own company, I enjoy meeting new people and I love everything about it. Those girls died and people wanted to know what they wore to provoke it? They weren’t, but if they were in a bathing suit on the beach would it mean it was their fault? A man tried to come onto a 21 year old girl and while defending herself he smashed her skull, which part of that did she deserve? Was it because they were women travelling alone or was it because those men are disgusting animals who preyed on two young girls?
When I read about the incident I was with my parents and I was upset because it was somewhere I had been and I was so happy there so I felt particularly sad for those girls. They had to endure that on the very day they were due to go back to their families. When I told my parents they told me they don’t want anymore female solo travel! I understand they just want me to be protected but is that what the world is coming to? That rather then trying to correct the behaviour of these men, women have to stay at home and hide from them? Is that the solution?
I remember a specific situation where I was with a male friend , we met a mixed group of locals who we hung out with, as the night continued one of them began saying some really inappropriate things to me and I reacted, I was angry and I actually got up and left. My friend thought it was “banter” and he didn’t defend me or tell them to stop and I got annoyed with him too.
It is our duty as people to draw lines, to let people know when they have overstepped a boundary. As women we have this constant battle to ignore and protect and avoid, but as men you have a duty too. Those girls were not brutally murdered because of themselves, they were victims to two disgusting human beings. I often saw the token “gringo” who made his way into this gang of local men who hang out on street-corners harassing women. You wouldn’t do that in your own country, you would never associate with that type of person so what makes you think its acceptable or even “cool” abroad? You have a social responsibility, as men you have a duty as well to speak up, to protect women when you can, to not encourage it because you think its banter, you surely have more intelligence then that.
As humans, we have a responsibility to protect each other, to stand up for one another and to try and make this world a little bit safer if we can. We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves and not judge other people, not to jump to conclusions but to realise that somebody just lost there daughter, sister and friend, that could have been me. I dread to think what all the people would say who told me not to go to South America alone. Would they feel accomplished that they were right or would they realise that I never deserved that?
I know some of you are thinking why put yourself in that situation, but it’s the same situation at home, the only difference is they aren’t foreign men. Solo women travellers deserve just as much respect as anyone else, let me tell you it takes balls and a lot of faith to be able to do it and it is not an act of defiance, it is an act of self fulfilment. It is the only time I am ever THAT happy so let me be without the judgement, it happens to women at home too and the fact is nobody deserves it and being in another part of the world does not mean you are careless or more deserving of it, they are all victims.