Written by Fidgit
We were sat on a curb, it was 9 am but already hot enough to make ice cream a viable after-breakfast option. We were waiting and debating, as we usually are during the heat and when an ice cream cooler is nearby. Today’s topics revolved around the latest news articles coming out of Colombia.
I have no illusions about what we are up against regarding that country. While the FARC signed a peace treaty in 2016, splinter cells are active everywhere, particularly along the Ecuadorian border, kidnapping and murdering. Streams of desperate Venezuelans are pouring across every border. Currently a dam is failing, and last year flooding ripped out an entire town.
Colombia has been on my radar since before we started walking, and I have kept an eye on it since the middle of nowhere northern Argentina, when a kite surfing couple pulled over their small RV when they saw me walking. We took a mate together and discussed the scope of what lay ahead of Neon and me.
He had been to Colombia and gave salient advice:
“If you are approached by a person dressed as police, check their shoes, the real police wear black leather boots. If they have on rubber boots or anything else, do not trust them or give them your ID.”
My two compatriots and a few on my advisory board who have walked through Colombia in recent years, Joey and Justin, did so under the guise of being homeless men. As women, that option is not a safeguard. So, we were sat on the street corner, beginning the discussion of our options for navigating the dangers.
As we did, a man walked over and sat far too close to me. He leaned in, the smell of stale beer and cigarettes hung heavy around him. We generally deal with these individuals by pretending not to speak Spanish.
This did not allay his advances. He kept asking if I spoke Spanish, insisting.
I just smiled, said “hola” then just said “gracias” to his every phrase.
I felt uncomfortable about his proximity. Then he gestured at my hip-belt pocket, “that is where you keep your money, isn’t it?”
“No plata,” [No money] I replied.
“Oh yes, you have money. I know you do. If not, you wouldn’t be here. I bet you keep it in that pocket.”
Already this had gone further than I should have allowed it but I was in a false sense of security, also, I honestly had no money for him to take anyway, so I stuck my hand out in a gesture and said, “you give me money?”
“No, you have money,” he leered.
I felt that walking away at this moment would betray something, so I continued pretending not to know Spanish.
He turned to another man next to him, exasperated, “They don’t speak any Spanish, she doesn’t understand a thing.”
“Oh no, she speaks perfect Spanish, I head her speaking to the shop owner last night,” the other man replied.
While they talked, I told Neon my impression and we quickly walked away.
Overall, the whole interaction felt gross, and unsafe. We have them often enough and with each round become more confident in extracting ourselves. Ever since that old man grabbed me and would not let go in Villa O’Higgins, then later the other villagers told me they had found a girl tied up in his house, I have given myself permission to be ruder than I ever thought permissible during my upbringing.
I realized, this particular old creep was merely a precursor to what may well lie ahead and as we plan our options, to consider interactions like these, standard.
Some lessons I took away:
-Walk away, immediately. Heck, don’t even let them get close.
-Maintain your story line consistently throughout. Up until now I have been fine with simply not speaking Spanish when it is convenient, but trusting the women, chatting amiably, only with groups of men am I suddenly mute.
That will not work.
-Stay close together. Even as Neon and I currently work to create space from one another to preserve our sanity, we will have to be jemelas [twins] through Colombia.
Dealing with male aggression is not something I write about much but is something we deal with almost daily. Be it a construction crew cat calling, a taxi driver asking if I will marry him so he can enter the US, a pervert saying he can smell my panties while smacking his lips, a shop owner asking if I miss sex with my (made up) boyfriend, a toothless man on a motorcycle blowing a kiss, or a border guard pressing about why I’m not married, it is an almost constant barrage of what I am coming to identify as “sexual harassment.”
This is not to say all men behave like this. We have met and been helped by a number of honorable and genteel men along the way and certainly our journey is supported and empowered by many very good men all around the world (THANK YOU).
What I am saying is, in my experience of interactions along this hike, the trustworthy ones are a minority. These negative exchanges account for a good number of our interactions and has made me skittish and my first reaction to men has become guarded and defensive.
I am training myself to approach an interaction factoring for the worst possible outcome.
And, I resent this.
It is a wedge to the honest connection I came down here seeking to engender, but safety has to be a top priority for us and one which becomes all the more pressing in the months ahead.