There are some amazing positives about travelling on your own. You can wake up as late as you like, you can decide to have a lazy day on a beach without being pulled to an all day museum excursion. You have no one to fight with and no friendships will be in tatters by the end of the holiday. Your whole trip can be completely flexible and you only need to leave a place when you feel ready. Not to mention, you are more open to new friendships as you meet other travellers in hostels. When you’re in a group or couple, you tend to stick to your comfort zone, speaking your language and not discovering any authentic local culture.
That is why I chose to travel solo. It’s my first time travelling alone, and although I’m an independent person in life, we all need company, especially when you’re on the other side of the world out of your comfort zone.
This hit me when I left the loving embrace of my best friend’s family in Mexico and arrived in Morelia, Michoacan, which was my stopover on the way to Guadalajara. I was recovering from two terrible days of food poisoning (completely brought on by myself eating 4-day-old leftovers of my own tuna pasta bake), and I was feeling weak. Despite wanting to curl up and sleep for days, I still didn’t miss the comforts of home. After all, what was home for me? My temporary share house with the bitchy housemate who never spoke to me? My grandmother or mother’s house, where I had never lived? No, home was where I could sleep and watch Netflix. Unfortunately, my hostel in Morelia was a place where I could do neither of those, thanks to the bed whose springs I could feel in my back so severely that I laid my clothes out underneath me to soften the pressure, and the wifi that didn’t reach my room, rendering me netflix-less with food poisoning for two days, unable to trust myself to eat anything, perpetuating the feeling of weakness for another day.
Morelia, as I had been told, was quaint, pretty, and safe, but without a local to show me around, I didn’t know the best places to visit. I was sick of museums ad cathedrals, and I just wanted to sit in a bar and talk with someone. Unfortunately, when I headed to a suggested restaurant, a drunk local leered at me and asked if I was there alone. After telling the guy I understood everything he said to his friend in Spanish and he would be wise to stop looking at me in that manner, I had no choice but to head to the main plaza to eat in a restaurant, therefore paying more than I really wanted to.
After a couple of days resting, I headed to Guadalajara, a place where I had heard was full of culture, nightlife and mariachis. I was very excited to meet a local of the town, who knew a lot of great places to show me. Unfortunately he had to cancel only a few minutes after I booked the trip, and I found myself heading to a hostel again with no idea where to go or what to do.
The following day, I headed into town, walking through the leafy neighbourhood of Chapultepec on the hour-long walk through the city centre to the Mercado San Juan de Dios, the largest rooftop market in Latin America. On the way, I was approached by the usual street vendors and beggars, which U had become used to in Mexico City. However when I arrived at the market, I discovered a whole new level. I was accosted by every market seller on the second floor, basically beaten down into a chair at a restaurant where I ate the most unfulfilling tasteless birria and charged 40 pesos for a coke (the same price as in Australia, and should be around 15 pesos), .
I left the market without even looking at the rest of the wares, too annoyed that because I was white, they assumed I would accept that price for a coke, and more annoyed that I hadn’t had the gumption to argue, but just accepted it like the weak tourist that I was.
I decided to walk to the famous Plaza del Mariachi, where I heard mariachis lined the streets to plays for passersby. In the few hundred metres, I noticed all the stares pointed towards me as I walked. Men leered, vendors followed me, beggars held out their hands, taxis shouted at me and women looked at me as though I was an intruder. In Plaza del Mariachi, I saw a lot of people standing around dressed as mariachi, but only one band playing at a restaurant in a corner. I sat on the only bench in the plaza to watch, but couldn’t listen to a thing because a woman was intent on selling me something and wouldn’t leave.
I waited angrily for an uber, having been quoted 3x the price for a taxi, meanwhile being again leered at, this time by the mariachi dressed men. I could feel my angry frown covering my face, which made me incredibly sad. It reminded me of a local in Morelia who chatted to me on my second day and after a while talking, he told me that when he first saw me, he thought I had an angry face. I used to walk down the street with a smile, hoping that it would be contagious to others on the streets of Melbourne – after all, life was good. But walking these streets, I felt that I needed to have some wall up to defend myself, some unapproachable look that says “I’m not someone you want to come close to, I don’t want your jewellery, your taxi or other useless crap you have to sell, leave me in peace for one minute PLEASE!” It was the first moment since I began this journey in March that I missed something from home. The freedom to walk alone.
I returned to the hostel tired, angry, and alone. I tried to explain my thoughts to my hostel companions, but as men, they could only understand the part about being sold to by street vendors. They kept telling me I should take the stares and advances of men as a compliment.
Is it too much to ask to walk the streets without being looked at like somebody’s lunch? That within 30 seconds of men leaving my presence every man who passes me whispers something lewd under their breath? Why should I take this as a compliment? This is how women accept approaches by men?
So, now I’m in Latin America, a realisation that I’ve been warned by friends would happen eventually. I’m white, I’m blonde, I have blue eyes, I’m female and most of all, I’m alone. There may as well be a neon sign on my head flashing the words “HERE I AM!! TARGET ME!!!”
So, I head to Puerto Vallarta with two other backpackers from my hostel in Guadalajara in the hopes that some time with others and the cool feeling of the pacific ocean on my skin will wipe this angry look off my face and restore my joy to keep going.