Some time ago a post “Do you like sex ..? written by Lydia, solo female bicycle traveler from the Netherlands raised vivid discussions on facebook bike touring group. Lydia described both previous and contemporary cases, mainly during her travels by bicycle, when she was sexually harassed by men – it could be just by somebody using “innocent” word,, but she went through fortunately unsuccessful attempt of rape. Most men reading the post seemed not to realize the fact that such things take place. Yes, they do, since even when you are on a bike, nothing changes – men are still men and women are women. Obvious obviousness. I promised myself then to describe my stories of this kind from my life on the road. I was lucky they were not that drastic, but let’s call somehow definitely uncomfortable.
Japan. It is early sunday morning in Hiroshima – quiet, calm, no passers-by – the streets are extinct as if it was not Japan. This time I’m without a bicycle, I go sightseeing so just want to catch the tram. I’m at a tram stop looking at the timetable and try to find out when the tram arrives. A kind passer-by walks close and as I understand he wants to help me. He stares at the plate just like me for a while and then .. I grabs my butt, the front as well and soon after that runs down the street. I do not know whether the more it pisses me off, or makes me laugh .. “hope this two seconds made you happy man” the thought runs through my head, but I don’t feel well at all.
Thailand. I am pedaling at my own pace when a boy overtakes me on a scooter. “Hello!” he greets me so I reply “hello” as well. I hear greetings many times during the day, especially here, in central part of the country where people are generally very friendly towards rarely seen here foreigners. The boy, however, returns. When I stop, he something says something to me in Thai, pointing to a forest nearby. I wrinkle my forehead, but I don’t want to understand… It seems incomprehensible to me – this child does not even have his first mustache and has the audacity to submit me sex proposals. Me, that as a simple glimpse could be his mother. When he touches my breast I have no doubt I shout at him showing that I just call the police immediately. I see just a smoke of his quickly disappearing scooter.
Vietnam. At that time I have two companions but we lose each oher somehow passing through the town. I’m standing on the roadside somewhere in the shade and wait until they arrive. Young Vietnamese riding a scooter also stops there. So what, he stopped. Well, but he is saying something to me, then he shows some money. Well, I am not mistaken, he is offering money for sex. I send him to hell as well in Polish and quickly see his scooter disapperaing. When I tell my companion about this incident he is most interested in what color was the bill I was offered. “You were not curious, how much you was valued?” I hear. Well, how nice.
Cambodia. I cycle through the village, I stop here and there, I eat, shop then I go on cycling for several kilometers but I feel that in a thousand scooters every now and then I see the same one. Well, but I am not wrong, when the road gets empty, village ends and houses disappear I see this scooter standing on the side of the road and a man a little hidden in the bushes masturbating. Well, it is not funny.
Greece. Small town again, as I am shopping, I see passing by old man. He barely moves on walking slowly. After some time I sit down on the square using free wifi there when I see the same man approaching me. He walks slowly, heavily leaning on a cane. When it gets close to me he is curiously watching and says something. I do not know Greek, so in such moments I try to just be nice – a smile on my face and a gesture of helplessness – I do not understand what you’re saying to me, unfortunately! The man touches my hair. Well, here blonde is rather unusual color – in Asia it also happened to me that black haired people wanted to touch fair hair. But wait a minute! The guy is trying to get my head to his lips while pulling my hand to his trousers button fly. No man, y9ou must be joking! I push the old man, because I do not want to treat him nicely any more and I cycle on pretty mad.
Serbia. It is pretty cold, foggy evening in November so I do not want sleep in a tent and look for a shelter. I find the only gueshouse in this tiny village, talk to the owner about the price as he shows me the room. 15 Euro he says. Could it be 10? I ask innocently as 15 is actually a bit too much for me. Then he takes me and says – if we make love a little it wil lbe less. Oh well, really? My body is worth this 5 Euro discount? I push him away and require another room at different part of the building. I still think whether to stay but really the cold night is not friendly. I stay and lock my room tight.
And finally – Poland! A few years ago, when I was still afraid to sleep in the wild. I’m in the mountains looking for accommodation – I see a rural gueshouse, perfect place then. Can I put my tent here? I ask. Of course, no problem, there is a good place behind the house, grass trimmed, feel free. Nice place, pleasant atmosphere, there are some guests and prepare the barbecue. Safe, right? I fall asleep, but in the middle of the night a sudden noise wakes me up. A few men – four or five stand around the tent, shining their flashlights onto it .. and pretend to be bears. They are drunk so they roar, howl, talk nonsense and throw hints at me. Definitely they have fun, and I lie rigid with fear hearing only my heart pounding through my head and go through the worst scenarios. Alcohol changes people, I do not know what can come to their minds. I do not know how long it lasts, but when they finally go reeling with laughter, I grab my backpack with documents, jacket and run into the woods. I’m sitting there for two hours or so shaking do not from what more – fear or cold. Then I decide to go back to my tent but do not fall asleep. As soon as dawn rises I leave. My only regret is that I did not go to say “thank you” to the host.
These are just a few examples.
I do not want to get misunderstood. It is not that I feel permanent danger while travelling solo thinking that every man I encounter wants to try my femininity – on the contrary, I always say that a woman traveling alone inspires others to look after her and to help – this is what I experienced dozens of times.
Maybe someone can tell – your stories don’t convince me, nothing happened really. Fortunately, nothing bad happened, but I was not laughing. I felt fear, resentment, anger. I’m a woman traveling solo because I like to travel like this and do not want to be afraid. This, even innocent-looking situations should not take place.
Therefore – should a woman traveling alone be afraid of? My answer is, on the contrary to the prevailing positive opinions – sometimes yes, she has reasons to feel so. She should never forget that she is a woman and this little fact changes a lot. I have a few safety rules which I follow, I described them in the “For Women” blog entry and I believe that obeying them helps me to go safe.
Safe journeys to all!