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Advice Solo Travel Truth in Travel

Truth in Travel: How Hiking with Mansplainers Taught Me to Hit the Trail Solo

“Milk powder is the most complete form of protein,” said Jakob nodding sagely. Just the day before he had tried to argue with the same air of authority that Trump was a feminist. “I’ve brought 2kgs of it with me to give me energy, you should have done the same.”

He shovelled spoonful after spoonful of cement-like gruel messily into his mouth. His stomach was visibly bloating and straining against his down jacket; milk powder was crusting around the corner of his lips. Jakob was a very good looking boy (and he knew it) but watching the powder crusting around the corners of his mouth and dribbling down his chin was more than a little repulsive. He spoke with the pompous, unfounded confidence unique to white males.

It was the second day of the four day Huemul Circuit in Argentinian Patagonia. Although not particularly long hike it is lauded as one of the most difficult, but also most spectacular, in the whole of Patagonia. It involved ziplining over gorges, hiking over a glacier, near vertical climbs on slippery ground and breakneck descents. The views were some of the most mind blowing I’d ever seen.

What had also been mind blowing had been the amount of bullshit spouted by the two boys accompanying us. Patronising comments, dubious ‘facts’ and a grotesque amount of mansplaining.

“That’s not how you pitch a tent,” said Noam dictatorially on the first evening, hovering over us both like a gangly praying mantis. “Hammer the pegs in at more of an angle. You want them at about 70 degrees.”

We were both seasoned campers. Anne was travelling on a strict budget and had virtually lived in her tent over the winter. But Noam always knew best.

“I know a better way to roll up your sleeping bag,” he said condescendingly. “Adjust the straps more on your backpack like this to spread the weight more evenly. What brand are your hiking boots? You’re going to struggle. I’m amazed that your feet aren’t covered in blisters already. I thought about buying that sort of stove and then decided this one would be much better.”

Of the other 20 or so hikers on the trail at the same time as us, a good three quarters were male. One or two girls were hiking with their boyfriends and there was one other mixed group of four like ours with two women and two men. There were several pairs of boys, and boys hiking solo. No girl groups and no girls hiking alone, although the other girls that we met seemed to be as experienced or more so than their male companions.

I read an article once which claimed that statistically women tend to only apply for a job when they have 100% of the qualifications whereas men will confidently apply with 60% and it always stuck in my head. I wondered whether this was the same when it came to hiking, whether women would only set off if they were 100% sure of their capabilities, and that the only reason that there weren’t many girls on the trail was due to a lack of confidence.

“We should tie our food to trees so that the mice don’t get it,” said Jakob one evening. “We can use your dental floss.” We were camped by the side of a glacier and wildlife, even the huemul deer that the trek was named after, had been noticeably absent. The wind was so strong that at moments it had snatched our voices as soon as we opened our mouths, leaving us bellowing wordlessly at each other. We’d lost a plate and pan lid to the fierce wind whilst washing up in the river and we had had to duct tape together one of Anne’s tent poles that had snapped under the strain. But sure, Jakob’s suggestion of tying all our edibles to a tree using a piece of floss seemed like a great idea.

Anne and I stowed our own drybags of food safely inside the tent and watched half amused, half exasperated as Jakob constructed an elaborate cat’s cradle of dental floss and made several futile attempts to attach his box of milk powder to a branch.

On the final day of the trek we rose before the sun. We were camped at a place known as the Bay of Icebergs. The early morning light illuminated icebergs shaped like enormous chess pieces which calved and flipped over in front of us with thunderous bangs, exposing turquoise underbellies. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

“Why are you hiking with those idiots?” asked a Dutch boy we’d met on the trek, perched on the rock next to me. “You know that you could do this without them.”

The day before we had only just made it to camp before the sun set. We’d ended up waiting for several hours for Jakob who had eaten far too much breakfast, suffered from indigestion and had to wait for his stitch to pass.

It made me think. Anne and I had been waiting for the boys the whole time. We both hiked and camped regularly. So why did we need two not particularly big and not particularly strong men who certainly had no more than 60% of the skills required to survive in the wild to chaperone us?

That morning we ran naked into the lake underneath the rising sun and swam amongst the bergs. We made coffee and sat on the pebble beach watching the slow yet steady progress of an iceberg shaped like a slug making its way across the bay and as we sat there we made a pact with each other that from that point forward we would hike with other girls or we would hike alone. We had had enough of male ego.

The first time that I set off on a multi day hike alone I was filled with self doubt but I was determined. Of course hiking with someone else is always safer, but there is no reason whatsoever why I need a man to escort me on a hike. Since I’ve been hiking solo or with other girls I’ve met far more people, enjoyed myself so much more, and I’ve been able to pitch a tent without having the angle of the tent pegs scrutinised.

All that I needed to do was take the male ego out of the equation.

 

Food Truth in Travel

Truth in Travel: Chicken Schnitzel

Our new series, Truth in Travel will share the not so pretty side of travel. We will be sharing stories that need to be shared in order to increase awareness and to make the world and the travel world a more inclusive place for all. Sharing the truth is now more important than ever in order to see the changes we all want to see.

It was in October 2016, I accompanied my husband to Vienna in Austria while he was there for business. He was at a conference for three working days, in which I was so thrilled to explore the beauty of Vienna without any time restrictions or a partner with conflicting plans! We had moved from San Francisco ten months prior to this conference, so we were eager to travel to every city we could. Europe wasn’t unfamiliar to me, as I was born and raised in Scotland before moving Stateside. But I also wasn’t fully aware of the mentality in some places in Europe.

Prior to my trip, I spent countless hours pinning posts, reading blogs, and researching cool photography spots. There seemed to be so many things I knew I would love from the Hundertwasserhaus to the Vienesse Sachertorte and was so excited to be going.

It was the 12th of October, a chilly Wednesday morning. I packed my camera, put on wooly socks and lots of layers, and set out to explore the city by myself. All those exciting feelings of when you’re in a foreign land, hearing a foreign language, were kicking in. It didn’t take long for the buildings and architecture to captivate me, the imperial traditions to enthrall me, and the old coffee houses fascinate me. After climbing 50 meters high in St Stephan’s Cathedral, I was hungry and knew exactly what I wanted – chicken schnitzel! I had marked a place I would have lunch at for the three days my husband was going to be at the conference and there was no doubt in my mind which would be first – Cafe Diglas.

Cafe Diglas is a classic Vienesse coffee house serving traditional Vienesse food. Besides the food offering, there was another reason I really wanted to have lunch there. I once saw a photo of a woman on a rainy day, dining there sitting by the window looking out. Raindrops speckled her face and from above shone an angelic yellow glow from a light fixing, where the lampshade was dressed in a tutu skirt. After doing some more research, I learned that all the lampshades by the window booths were tutus and this got me really excited – the little things. Famished, I reached there past lunchtime rush hour where many people were vacating tables. It took a while before anyone noticed me, and being new to a city, I was still figuring out how the dining situation worked – do I wait to be seated or grab a table. A couple of elder women walked in five minutes after me and were seated immediately. That prompted me to seek the attention of the staff and asked for a table for one, hoping they would place me under one of those dusty pink tutu skirts. The server told me to follow him. I walked in past the bustling bar area, hearing the clinking of glasses, the murmur of chatter. I passed people putting on their scarves and coats, thanking the staff for their service, saying goodbye upon exiting, embarking from their empty tables. I next passed the window seats with the tutus I so longed to sit under, questioning myself why I couldn’t have sat there. The server guiding me to my table was fast so I couldn’t reach him to ask. So I kept following, walking now in a part of the restaurant that didn’t even seem like the restaurant, up a dark corridor, where the sound of the faint classical music was replaced with the clanging sounds of pots and pans. Soon after, the server introduced me to my table – an isolated table in a peculiar spot next to the opening of the kitchen. There were no windows, no natural light, and no other customers. I was puzzled and afraid to ask why I was seated there when there were plenty of vacant tables. But I plucked up the courage to ask why I couldn’t sit in the main restaurant to which I was told there were no available tables if I don’t have a reservation. I swallowed hard and had a knot in my stomach. I was soon given a menu and the waiter walked away.

I should have got up and left. I should have stood up for myself and demanded one of the vacant tables. I should have questioned why I was seated where nobody could see that there was a brown woman eating chicken schnitzel. But I didn’t. Was it my British politeness that didn’t want to cause any bother? Was it because I didn’t want to spoil the rest of my day after spending so many great hours in the city? Was it because I didn’t want to accept that I had been discriminated against by the color of my skin?

My heart sank. I felt like I had been punched in my stomach. My throat was dry. But I refused to show the waiter I was troubled by his ill-treatment and immersed myself into my phone, acting busy and unphased, but really typing about my experience in my iPhone notes. I ate my chicken schnitzel, paid the check, even left a tip in case I was treated even worse, and left, saying bye to the staff with a broken heart and wet eyes.


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Caribbean Journal

Havana: An Honest And Quite Dissonant Review

I spent a week in Havana in the middle of January 2016. I know my body came back, but my heart and my head are still over there. I’ll try and tell you why.

Of course, being a photographer in love with architecture and color I was more than excited to get there and start shooting.
Which is exactly what I did. The first morning, as we stepped out of the Casa particolare where we were staying in Old Havana, armed with my camera, I started shooting like there was no tomorrow and frankly, I was using the thing like a weapon, putting all those textures, colours, movements and character in my loot bag. Oh how exquisite! How beautiful! A photographer’s dream. Look at those cars! Check out these façades! I can’t get over how all these ruins are pretty! And this grime is so photogenic! Look! Even the people participate in the visual fiesta, look how colourfully they dress! Thanks guys for making my pics even prettier!

I was so proud of myself to be in Havana before foreign tourism money transforms it into a Caribbean Disneyland. I was there to grab all the rough character and stash it in my camera for all to see how it should be seen.

I could’ve gone on for the whole week like that. Shooting and accumulating pixels.

Then it hit me.

This place is not paradise at all. I’m sure not everyone in Havana or Cuba lives like this. But from what I saw in the least touristy parts of Old Havana we were fortunate enough to call home, life there is everything but a fairytale.

Everything is so difficult for the Habaneros. They live in very harsh conditions. Their houses threaten to crumble down every minute.

The regime is much closer to communism than I thought. The police spies on the population and there is a delation atmosphere. Sometimes neighbours turn on each others if they are envious or suspicious. There is not enough food and people have to line up at specific times to get basic pantry staples. Yes, every child goes to school in their impossibly cute uniform and their health system is accessible to all. But they often have to combine 3 jobs to make life a little sweeter. Teachers and doctors leave their profession for a job in tourism because of better salaries. There are almost no private businesses, every store, bank, hotel are government run. The grocery stores are bare and sad. Yes, there are some individuals who sell produce, coffee, baloney, lighter fluid, bread, crackers etc. on the streets but it hardly makes for a healthy diet. So despite the food ration tickets, Cubans very rarely have a 3-meal day. Forget protein altogether.

But the worse thing in my opinion is seeing all the young crowd unemployed and roaming the streets of their neighbourhood aimlessly. Sure they look happy when they run into friends, but I swear I’ve seen void in the eyes of youth sitting day in day out. And that alone is the saddest thing. There clearly isn’t any hope for a better future and what got me screaming in my head was when I realized they had stopped dreaming. Period.

What country makes even the slightest dream impossible? Who is entitled to keep its people imprisoned in the name of an idea? An idea that proved wrong the world over.

I really felt I needed to share this because I think it’s unfair to point out only the incredibly beautiful ruins of Havana while spreading the word that Habaneros are so happy and carefree. They for sure are sweet and warm, but there is such unnecessary suffering and a critically unfortunate waste of potential and talent.

Will opening to the United States make it all better? For sure not in the beginning, new money typically does not get in the ordinary people’s hands. But if only the young can learn what it is to dream again there is great hope. I wish them luck and all the means to make their dreams come true.

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