14 March 2016

#Viajosola from the Perspective of an Infrequent Solo Traveller

When I read the news about what had happened a few days ago to two innocent female travellers, saying I was shocked would be an understatement. As a girl and a passionate traveller, I know that the best feeling in the world is to feel independent and be able to discover the world through curious and inexperienced eyes. Be surprised and amazed every single day by people I meet and things I see. Feel happy, young and free.
When I found out that two backpackers, Maria and Marina (21 and 22 - my age) were unjustly murdered in Ecuador by two men while travelling through Latin America, I felt heartbroken. After reacting to a sexual assault, the two girls were killed and their bodies were left on a beach in bin bags. After they were found, a girl called Guadalupe spoke out for them, giving them back some of the dignity they had no chance to express as victims. Here are some of the things she wrote:

Yesterday I was killed.
I refused to be touched, and they blew my skull with a sclub. Like waste, they put me in a black bag, wrapped with tape and I was thrown to a beach, where hours later they found me.
But worse than death, was the humiliation that followed. 
They started asking me useless questions. To me, can you imagine? A dead girl, who cannot speak, who cannot defend herself.
What clothes did you wear? Why were you alone? Why would a woman travel alone? 
You got into a dangerous neighborhood, what did you expect?
And only when dead I realized that no, that for the rest of the world I was not like a man. That dying was my fault, and it will always be. While if the headline would have said “two young male travelers were killed” people would be expressing their condolences and with their false and hypocritical double standard speech would demand higher penalty for murderers.
But being a woman, it is minimized. It becomes less severe, because of course I asked for it. Doing what I wanted to do, I found what I deserved for not being submissive, not wanting to stay at home, for investing my own money in my dreams. For that and more, I was sentenced.
I ask you, on behalf of myself and every other women ever hushed, silenced; I ask you on behalf on behalf of every woman whose life was crushed, to raise your voiceWe will fight, I’ll be with you in spirit, and I promise that one day we’ll be so many that there won’t be enough bags in the world to shut up us all.

I hate re-reading, pasting, highlighting these words, but awareness needs to be raised. In my blog I mostly enjoy writing about positive content, focusing on what I liked rather than tragedies like this one. I am so upset while writing this, but by not talking about these issues we are only nurturing ignorance. I also feel pressured to write about the issue as a travel blogger, and for the girls' invitation to stand up through Guadalupe's words.

Of course, this tragedy left all of us speechless. It is unacceptable, unfair, inhuman. For what it is worth, I still want to write these words myself. I have been re-tweeting images of brave girls who are claiming their right to follow their passion for solo travel, tweeting the hashtag #Viajosola in Maria and Marina's honour, something that everyone's doing these days; but that isn't bringing them back to the world. It's a way to resisting the feeling of being small and powerless.

I am not a frequent solo traveller. Yes, I have travelled bymyself to Madrid for the weekend once. It sounded like a big deal to me at the time, but it really wasn't. I have only visited museums and went shopping by myself! There are girls who bravely travel all over the world during most of their year. Right now I can't even think of travelling to India, Thailand, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia with someone. These are only the first names that came to my mind.

I really admire those girls, and one day I would love to be able to say that I have done what they did too. It is on my list, but I... still haven't had the courage to do it.

That's it. I couldn't bring myself to do it. Not because I don't have time or money or don't feel like it. It's because I am scared to. Only now do I realise that the main reason for this is because I'm afraid of what could happen. I'm afraid of being robbed, approached by dangerous men, not being able to defend myself. There. I said it. I couldn't go to Latin America during my year abroad because I was too scared. And that's horrible, because it would have made such a difference in my life experience. Instead, I will probably have to wait until I'm older and can go with someone who can accompany me, who can protect me. A man. Because I'm not enough to protect myself.

The few times that I solo travelled, I was so excited. It was thrilling most of the time. Leaving my country and coming abroad itself was and still is breathtaking to me. I know it's not like travelling, but it's dealing with everyday tasks and challenges of a life by yourself. It feels great to be independent, strong, free.

In the same way, visiting places with my best friend was always amazing. Yes, she is a girl. We made it to the UK, France, Italy and soon Spain together. Our dream since high school is to travel to India when we are older. I wonder if we'll be able to make it and get out of safe Europe though?

In 2016, the world still isn't ready to accept so much for a woman. The accusations of Maria and Marina's clothes and travelling by themselves to dangerous places are the first questions that popped up in our heads when we found out about their death - let's not deny it. I also had those thoughts, but hated myself for them. We need to let go of that kind of male dominant thinking and stand out for them. Don't call me an annoying feminist, following stereotypes originated out of ignorance; a feminist is someone who stands for equality and not for the superiority of women. We should all be feminists if you ask me.

All of us - strong, positive women - want, is to have the same chances as men. Young and older girls deserve to be able to travel safely, not feel threatened and be able to nurture their passion of wanderlust, release their adventurous spirit. Is that asking for too much?

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  1. Great post. It frustrates me too that the stigma that comes with this kind of abuse is "what was she wearing" or "why was she alone." None of that should matter. These girls were living our their dream of traveling solo and that alone should be celebrated. I am terrified to travel alone in my own country let alone overseas. Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece and giving those innocent girls a voice.

    1. Shannon, thank you for taking the time to read this and comment :) I agree with you, Maria and Marina were just being brave! They are to be admired and not condemned. I know the feeling as I am also quite scared to travel by myself, and I am usually in safe countries. Speaking out is something they can't take away from us and we should all collaborate in raising our voice.