Dear Boys of South America

For any of you who behave like real men, in a respectful and honest manner, then I am not talking to you. I do not have any problems with you whatsoever because many of you are lovely human beings that I have had fabulous interactions with. This letter is addressed to the “little boys”. The ones that haven’t grown up to realise their manners or civic responsibility. The ones who view women as property and objects and behave as though they are entitled because they were born with a Y chromosome. You. I’m talking to you. Because there are some things I would like you to know.

1. Honking your horn at me incessantly as you make your way down the street does not make me like you. It makes me annoyed. You are behaving like an ignored five year-old jumping up and down screaming “I’m here! I’m here!” Well guess what? That’s lovely, but I really don’t give a fuck. I give minus fucks when you are doing so with your girlfriend on the back of your motorbike or your mother.

2. Making comments about my appearance as I walk down the street whilst salivating all over your own chin is not a way to pick up women. It’s disgusting. You remind me of the salivating dogs in the street that roam around sniffing each others arses.

3. You are not entitled to touch my body because you have a Y chromosome. In fact, when I tell you to stop touching me, that does not translate to ‘please, put your hand on my boob or my vagina’.

4. Just because I am a solo, white, female traveller that is not married, does not mean that I want to marry you and I am here with the sole purpose of finding a husband. Unless you’re my old boss. Who is a man, by the way, and used to ask me every week as a joke. But at least he asked my name first and gave a shit about who I was as a person before he tried to put a ring on it (jokingly).

5. When I tell you I am not interested in talking to you, that is exactly what I mean. It does not mean that if you follow me down the street asking me questions that I am all of a sudden going to think to myself, ‘yeah, respectful human who respects the wishes of others by doing what they ask them to, I want to have a big long chat with that person’. Not going to happen.

6. I am not an object. I am not property that you can fight over or argue about. I am a person. I will do what I want, not what you decide for me among yourselves.

The truth is, I am sick of it. The amount of times I have been sexually harassed verbally and physically on this trip I cannot count on both my hands and my toes. Some of the stories would horrify you. And while there are some lovely and incredible men in this part of the world, the general culture of males here needs a serious looking at. As a western woman, this is confronting. What is more concerning is that to the women here, this is the normal. They accept this because it is such standard everyday fare. But it is not ok. And we need to make a united stand about how ‘not OK’ this is.

I know that currently in the world, there are many different cultures attacking this very issue. And progress is slow. It always is because it takes generations of good examples to raise respectful boys and nurture them into being respectful men. And when the constant example for every five year old boy is that yelling and screaming obscene shit at women down the street and touching them inappropriately is the standard thing to do, this is just going to continue to propagate. So please, boys, stop teaching your sons to behave like disrespectful arseholes and man up. Teach your sons how to be real men. Respectful. Considerate.

And to be honest, you are making it even more difficult for the nice guys who are respectful because I have gotten to the point where I assume that the majority of you men on the street are crotch-grabbing arseholes and I want to run away from all of you. I want to hide. I even felt uncomfortable laying on a beach the other day when I realised there weren’t many people around and there were three of you walking towards me. I was on high alert. This is not how I should feel in the middle of the day on a beach, and yet it is. Constantly on edge, constantly looking for who is around me and how to avoid people and situations, constantly getting ready to fight back. What a way to live in the world. Aren’t you lucky that you never have to think about these things?

But you know, I am a woman, and that is the price that I pay for being born with two X chromosomes. My genetic defect appears to give you rights that are so much more privileged than mine. But remember who grew you inside their body and then looked after you to make sure that you were alive in this world. That is right. Your mother. A woman. And just like every woman, she is having to deal with this shit too. Without women, you wouldn’t be here to behave like you do, so maybe you should show some more respect and stop behaving like such self-entitled, possessive and ignorant arseholes. So on behalf of all women in this world, man the fuck up, boys. I’ve had enough and so have the rest of the world’s women.

Thanks,

Dano

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Why Attitude Is Everything

So in the last couple of days, I could have thrown a strop, carried on, got depressed, felt sorry for myself and told myself how stupid I was. You see I went horse riding in the Podocarpus National Park in Ecuador and at some point while I am happily trotting my way down steep and bumpy hills, my backpack zips have opened themselves up and strewn every single thing inside all over the trail. A non-comprehensive list of shit that I lost is as follows:

  • My water bottle
  • My favourite jacket
  • My spare camera (that if I am to be a bit honest was a little bit fucked in that if you wanted to use the thing you had to keep the battery turned the wrong way while not in use so that the whole thing didn’t die in thirty minutes and you couldn’t change the settings or do anything. Half the time it started recording for shits and giggles).
  • My black bikini (good luck to anyone who gets their hands on that one and manages to find someone with boobs big enough to fit in it to sell it to).
  • My sarong
  • A 9/10 empty bottle of sunscreen
  • A 9/10 empty bottle of bug spray
  • Medicines
  • The hostel room key

Within thirty seconds of realising that this had happened, I started to laugh. I could have got upset with myself for not noticing. I could have got annoyed with myself because I should have zipped it down the side and maybe the pressure of the trot wouldn’t have opened my bag. I could have gotten upset about losing all of my things.

Instead I adopted the ‘shit happens’ attitude that my mother always harped on about, laughed and got on with it. The thing is, one of the biggest lessons I have learned in this life is that it isn’t what happens to you that is the most important thing. For the most part, we cannot control much of this anyway. What is most important, is how you choose to react to it. And yes, I use the word choose.

So much stress is created in this life by people getting worked up about things that shouldn’t be important. I looked at it this way. My good camera was still in my bra. I can buy another water bottle (the old one was shit and leaked anyway. The new one is still shit and still leaks anyway, but not the point). I have another bikini. Who needs a dirty sarong anyway. And jacket…. well, I am sure it will make somebody else very happy and warm. The thing that irked me most was losing the hostel key because it wasn’t mine to lose, but they didn’t care either. And thankfully I decided not to take my wallet with me that day so that I could go to the bank. I avoided losing my ATM card by doing this. And as much as they said that they would “look” for it, I know that this is Ecuador. There’s no chance in hell I was getting any of it back.

But things are things. They are material possessions that we shouldn’t place so much attachment to. And yet we do, all the time, get worked up about these material possessions when they break, go missing or whatever. The truth is, by doing this, we are creating our own stress. I would prefer to believe that someone else is now with my stuff and using it for their own use, just like I used the umbrella I coerced from a security guard in the English pub under the theory of the “lost goods karma train”. OK, I was drunk at the time, but the theory stands. I lose something that someone else finds and uses, I find something that someone else loses and use and love that until it dies, which I did with the umbrella.

We tend to forget that as humans, we make mistakes, things go wrong. People blame themselves and experience guilt for the most menial things at times, like losing all of your stuff. But in these moments, there is nothing at all you can do except accept. Accept that this is the circumstance, that it is how it is, and move on with a smile on your face. Because I could have let it ruin my day. But I chose not to let it. I chose to let the incident go and laugh about it, and that is what makes all the difference. If as humans, we could learn to forgive ourselves easier, forgive others easier, and learn to let things go, we would save ourselves so much stress in the long run.

And yet, we don’t. We get angry, worked up, overthink and can’t let go. We make things so much harder for ourselves than they need to be in so many cases. OK, so a guy or a girl was shit to you, get rid of them and move on. Who needs to spend all day analysing why this other person is or behaves like an arsehole. So you accidentally dropped your favourite piece of food on the ground and ruined it. Meh. You accidentally shrunk your jeans in the dryer? Give them to someone who needs them and move on. These types of thinks are not worth a second thought. So don’t badger yourself about them. Because it is how we approach the trivial things in our day to day lives that affects most our overall happiness. You can choose to be stressed and angry,  or you can choose to let it go and just be happy.

 

The Altitude Game

Let me start, for anyone who doesn’t know me, with a bit of history. Four years ago, I attempted to go to Everest Basecamp, but at 4,400m, after a day hike to acclimatise, I awoke in the middle of the night coughing up handfuls of water. I had pulmonary oedema, and I was a very sick girl.

Because of this, I have what I would consider a very healthy respect for altitude, because that kinda tends to happen when something nearly kills you. It was four years before I would go back to a high altitude again, and I won’t lie. It scares the shit out of me.

Many people ask why I still do it. And the fact is, I do it out of love. Some of the most amazing hiking in the world can be found at altitude. I am currently in Peru, and there would be so much that I would miss if I didn’t try. And that is the thing, I try.

Hiking was never something that came easy to me. Even when I was a kid, I was fit enough to dance six days a week and couldn’t run a lap around the oval. Even now, I could go ten three-minute rounds in a boxing ring and struggle to climb a steep hill. Anything that is a repetitive movement and hard work with the lower body, was something I always struggled with. Add to this now that I have scar tissue on my lungs and hiking a hill is an arduous task for me. It is something that I have to undergo in a somewhat meditative state. It is very, very slow. Constantly focused on my breathing and keeping it regulated. Constantly focused on trying to keep my heart rate down and just putting one foot in front of the other. I am like the tortoise in the tortoise and the hare. I will get there in the end, but I get there at a crawl.

My frustration in places like Huaraz, where I now currently stay, is other people. People breeze in, behave like they are experts, have no issues at all with altitude, give everyone advice like they know everything and trek their way up the hill so easy it’s like a piece of cake. I sat here the other day and listened to a group of people moan about having to go on a trip with “people that are just so slow. I mean, if you’re going to be slow, don’t come because you are just going to annoy everybody else because you can’t keep up with us.” I sat there and listened to entire group of people essentially bitch and moan about having to be placed on a trip with me, or people like me. And to be honest, it made me a little bit upset. This is not the first time I have heard it. I am sure it won’t be the last. But for all people out there with this attitude, I have something to say.

You don’t think at all about what you’re doing or the fact that you could be at high risk of sickness and possible death all the time. By the grace of genetics, you managed to skip the hell that many of us face with our bodies when confronted with less oxygen. You don’t consider that for some of us, this is one of the hardest things we will ever do. You especially don’t think about the courage it takes to stare death in the face and to then face that fear and to get back on the mountain because you have never, ever had to do it. You don’t think about how hard it is. It is acceptable, being awful to those that struggle. And yet despite all of the challenges that I face that you don’t know about or understand, I am there and I am doing it. It takes more courage than I could ever expect you to know.

You don’t think about what medications to take or how to balance them to make sure that you are ok, constantly fretting about side effects or what you can or cannot take, eat or drink with them. You go out for beers the night before and get drunk. Or how many days you need to stay somewhere to properly acclimatise because last time you got sick you didn’t have altitude sickness symptoms and that scares you even more because there is no warning sign that seriously potential problems are coming. You laugh, because its a silly game. But this isn’t a game to some of us. What you do think about is how much of an inconvenience people like me are to you on the mountain. As you do your best, I do mine with the disabilities I have been given. And yet you judge me for them and that hurts.

We are all so impatient in this world that we lack the patience required to understand and support the struggles of another. And if I am ever confronted with someone who struggles more than me I usually stay with them and coach them. Because the best thing we can offer is support and not judgement. And I know about judgement from the faces of every single person who looks at me with a face that says ‘she’s not going to make it’ that then turns into surprise when I do because they underestimate my will.

I am about to trial my prophylactic medication for the first time tomorrow. I am nervous. But if it works out for me, it opens more doors for things that I can potentially do. Some people call me crazy. I just feel determined. And yes, I am a little scared. But to be honest, I would be stupid not to be. If I wasn’t scared, I wouldn’t have a respect for the mountain. And that respect for the mountain makes me appreciate it and want it more than anyone. It makes my sense of achievement greater. Because with each small and slow step that I take, I am overcoming something that everyone tells me that I can’t or shouldn’t do. This is my journey. And I am doing it my way. Don’t even try to tell me I can’t or that I shouldn’t. Because if you do, like everyone else before you that has told me this, I will prove you wrong. That much I know. So you can moan and complain about having me on your trip all you like, but I am sticking my fingers in my ears and I am not listening. La, la, la. Because like it or not, I am doing it. And I’m doing it slow.

What I Reckon: Bus Bitches’ Bad Behaviour

Don’t ask me why. I am not entirely sure. But there generally is a sense of self-entitlement and lack of respect from Latina women on buses, that I have experienced across three countries now, that is driving me absolutely fucking insane.

When I am sitting next to you on a night bus, or any bus for that matter, I should not have to feel like I am fighting for my territory every step of the way. Such invasion of territory because you do not know how to sit in your fucking chair is ridiculous. Manners 1-0-fucking-1 people. It is like Patrick Swayze says in Dirty Dancing “This is my bus space, this is your bus space. You do not come into mine, I do not come into yours.” (Actually to be fair I think he was talking about ‘dance space’, but the same principle applies).

How a normal amd respectful person sits in a chair.

The following is a list of ways that you should not invade my bus space.

  1. With your arse

I like to call this “bum wars”. This is where said woman turns herself on her side, usually facing the window, pulls her feet up onto the chair or somewhere on the side wall and attempts to curl up and sleep. While doing this, she usually sticks her arse out so far that she, if you let her, winds up occupying at least half of your seat space. And don’t be fooled. This is her plan. She doesn’t give a fuck about you or your arse space. You are going to have to fight for every single inch of that arse space including, getting under it when she shifts weight and applying appropriate force in the opposite direction to reclaim your space. Be wary. She has the upper hand because she can leverage herself with her feet from the side wall. Hold strong. Flex that core. Endure those hip bruises (that I have actually gotten from engaging in bum wars) to show that bitch who is boss. This is my seat bitch. You will not take it from me!

Bum wars position. Notice how I’ve only left half a chair for my neighbour. This is not a respectful way to sit in your seat.

I remember a small victory that I had with one of the four women I have had to so far endure bum wars with. I held so fast onto my space that in the end she gave up and sat upright in her chair like you are supposed to sit in a fucking chair. And then she proceeded to put her feet all over the backs of chairs and all over the place. Win some, you lose some, but this was definitely an improvement.

2. With your elbows

Some bitch I wound up sitting next to last night on the night bus was establishing her territory right from the get go. Even by refusing to stand up and let me get into my seat. She made me crawl over the top of her while she loudly gossiped on the phone as if I were an inconvenience. This one also decided that she was entitled to my space with her elbow. Not only did she put her elbow on the armrest, this bitch had to hang her elbow several inches over the armrest into my ribs, which thus began ‘elbow wars’. And she knew what she was doing. Because when I pushed my arm down next to my ribs, still in my space, she continued to push back. And then I continued to push back, still within the confines of my seat. So then she decided to get with foot real estate by spreading her legs like a bro and having a war with my foot. The positive thing about being a young, fit, and strong individual with will power of the Gods is that I will out-fucking-hustle you with patience every fucking time. After about two hours, she gave up and retreated into her space for a while. But not before deciding that she wanted to again launch another assault in the form of raising her arms behind her head so that I now not only have to endure her fucking elbow in my face, but also the stench of her smelly armpit.

Also not a respectful way to sit in one’s chair. My elbow is occupying precious rib space of neighbours.

3. With your feet or legs

I get that sitting on a bus is not always comfortable. But just deal with it. This does not mean that you should stick your feet on the back of my chair space over my knees. Stick your feet on the person-in-front-of-you’s chair, and annoy them (unless I am the person sitting in front of you), but there is no need to cross your legs over into my fucking bus territory and invade my already small area with your stinky, infested feet.

This also stands from the view point of those that are so lazy that they can’t even sit in their seat and feel the need to lay down across three, the two in their space, then occupy the aisle, and then even better, but their stinky fucking toes in my bus space. “Hello! Sitting here, get your filthy fucking feet off me!”

Better yet, there are the bros who seem to think that their testicles resemble those of Randy’s on South Park when he microwaved them to give himself ball cancer and they got so big he couldn’t get through the front door. Just do a bit of a rearrange. You don’t see me sitting there with my arms spread out like I’m Jesus because I have giant boobs. Get over yourselves!

Sitting like a bro cause I have a misguided belief that I have bull-sized testicles.

Of course, the biggest problem with this is passive aggression. If you politely point out to someone that they are invading your space, they look at you like you are then the bitch and they then find other ways to invade your space or annoy you for a six-hour journey. And then if you choose aggression, aggression, be prepared for a fight because the Latina’s know how to get their bitch on. So instead, I choose to fight with patience and passive aggression, by holding fast to my areas in a way that will often wind up with them tiring out because they don’t have the strength of body and mind to keep the strong-hold. And if they even look like taking another part of my area, I launch another assault front with another part of my body to prevent them entering my territory. Eventually they will relent to the impenetrable walls of the Dano defence and maybe just for once, I can get some fucking sleep on a bus.

PS. To the one man who invaded my bus space because he was overweight. Yes, at first I was annoyed. But I realised later that there was nothing you could do about it and you tried your best. You even kept me warm in the frigid air conditioning by being a human radiator and offering to share your blankey with me. I’m ok with you. You’re a lovely and considerate human. If only now we can smack down on and teach the rest of the Bus Bitches some manners and the bus can be a wonderful place for all.

 

Stop being lazy and ignorant! Learn the Language!

It is a really sad thing when you come across people who have been travelling in a country for a substantial amount of time or have moved there to study and after three months of being in that country, they have made no effort whatsoever to learn any of the language. For me it is something that just happens. I am interested in it. I want to learn. While I don’t profess to be able to speak any languages fluently, I am quite proficient in Spanish after spending 8 months in Central America and then another 8 months in South America, where I returned to Spanish school to get my head around more of the culture and to be able to connect with more of the people here. I do not, like so many other, just expect that because I am a tourist, that you should have to learn English to speak to me. That to me is ultimate disrespect towards the people you have traveled to meet. Not even trying to meet them halfway in their own country, where I’m concerned, is downright rude.

Of recent times, I have travelled through several Arabic speaking countries and have had the locals teaching me how to say things in Arabic. Despite my limited amounts of things that I could say, most locals were amazed at how ‘excellent’ my Arabic was. And by amazing I mean ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, ‘how much?’, ‘do you have change?’, ‘is it free?’, ‘don’t touch me’ and ‘pigs might fly’ among a few other silly phrases I would use to joke around with the locals. They would literally tell me ‘wow, you Arabic very excellent’. I guess this is quite a rarity for them. But these things enabled me to walk down the street and manage to order myself a kofte on my own and pay for it, and afforded me a form of independence from the group trip that I was on. Most of the others on the group trip looked at me like I was insane for even wanting to try. Too much effort.

Another language that I found super useful was learning some Indonesian. When heading into the wonderful world of Java, or anywhere outside of Bali to be honest, the English becomes limited. I have quite fond memories of really disjointed conversations I have had in Indonesian/English with local people. Especially the three women I met on the bus coming back from the Dieng Plateau who were also teachers and were quite sassy ladies. They told me I was beautiful on a bus full of strangers and they all started hollering and hooting at me. I got quite embarrassed but it was also quite amusing.

At a minimum, when arriving in a new country, you should learn to say ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, ‘please’, and ‘how much?’ I know that sometimes in European countries you are changing country and language every week and this makes it difficult to retain or learn very much at all. But if you are going to a country and planning on spending a couple of weeks to a month there, do yourself a favour and start to learn some language skills. You will find that the locals will be more receptive and helpful to you, and that you will learn so much more than you bargained for about the people and the culture because you have bothered to make the effort. It shows you have a respect for and an interest in the people where you are visiting. And that in itself, will act to enrich your travels and your life for the better.