Tag Archives: Women

When travel and terror collide

www.travelola.orgBack in October 2002, two bombs went off in the midst of Kuta nightlife, killing 202 people, many of whome were travellers enjoying a bit of social time in Bali. Ten years on, survivors have returned to Indonesia to remember those who died in the blast.

I’ve met a few people on my travels who document their journeys, but often, like me, their writing focuses on foreign intrigue, on misunderstandings, on the quirks of being out of your comfort zone. Some travel writing goes deep and addresses the big ones, but so much stuff out there seems to only skim the surface of cultures and countries that would more than likely require a lifetime to properly understand.

And now as my own written journey looks to leave South America once again, I can’t help but think how fortunate I was during my travels throughout Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. No muggings, no violence, no hold-ups. South America, many people warned me, was still a highly dangerous place to visit, particularly as a solo female traveller. For some reason, I was undeterred, and I refused to buy into the scaremongering.

And South America showed me her beautiful sides, her warmth, generosity and a little dash of chaos. People opened their doors to me, invited me to socials, looked after me when I was sick and alone. And they encouraged me to keep an open mind and heart. I did at times feel uneasy, there were a few moments of military interrogation that shook me up, and in some places there were guys in the street shadows bearing batons. But no dramas for me, thankfully.

But of course not everyone is so lucky, I appreciate that. When I heard about the recent kidnapping of two tourists on the Ecuador-Colombia border, I stopped in my tracks. One of the captured women was my age. The girls were doing the same Cuyabeno jungle tour that I had done back in October 2011. And they described wading through the same mud that I vividly recall.

It could easily have been me. Not that that’s the point, but rather it made me reflect on travelling and timing, on coincidence and luck. These girls did nothing different to what I would have done. It’s not as though they could have been more savvy about the situation, unless you suggest that they should never have visited Ecuador in the first place (and the idea of never leaving ones home comforts out of fear would surely only serve to narrow our views on the world, to close off to different cultures and people? No, please don’t go there.). The girls were released, evidently traumatised, but alive.

Ecuador with its varied terrain and climate and wildlife remains my favourite South American country to travel in. This news won’t discourage me from going back, but it might make me more aware, more alert. Not that that would necessarily make a difference, though. The girls, having been through such an ordeal, may well feel very differently. I’d be curious to know whether it has affected their entire perception of the country.

Because how can such an event not impact on your entire psyche? On your attitude? Different people, I guess, will find different coping mechanisms for traumatic travel stories, ones that hopefully won’t quash their zest for adventure.

Returning to Bali in 2012, one girl who has worked towards finding some solace in the aftermath of the bombings is Hanabeth Luke.

In January 2012 I temporarily put down my backpack in New South Wales, Australia where I met Hanabeth, – a surf chick tomboy mixed with a good dash of feminine quirk and a twist of British. During chats I discovered that she was writing a book, something to do with the upcoming ten year anniversary of the Bali attacks, but I didn’t pry. It seemed too sensitive a subject for strangers.

As time has passed I’ve learnt more, although I’ve undoubtedly learnt more about the spirit of Hanabeth than the event itself. Being in the now is where we’ve been at, in some way as important as remembering. But I will read her book, and I will try to understand what surviving the Bali bomb feels like, what losing a love actually means. Right now it is beyond my comprehension.

The people returning to the place of the 2002 Bali bombings have had ten years now to try to make sense of what happened, ten years to grieve and reach some level of acceptance. I can’t imagine the process ever stops, and that for different people there will be different ways of working through the pain. Writing one’s journey, for example.


Filed under activity & sport, culture, dancing, ecuador, health, indonesia, random, solo travel, south america, south east asia, surf

Who goes to watch women beat the crap out of each other?


Outside the venue in El Alto

I’m not quite sure how I ended up parting with 80Bs. (£7.29 / US$11.49) in order to go and watch a load of women taunt and beat each other up in the rougher La Paz district of El Alto, or why I didn’t stay behind with my hungover friends and eat pizza on a Sunday afternoon rather than join a load of excited locals and a few busloads of bemused backpackers to sit down to three hours of fakery.

But I did.

Cholita wrestling, as it is called, has been packaged up and commodified for the tourist market. Vouchers for drinks and popcorn and little welcome packs containing postcards and a mini figurine are included in the entry price. I do wonder, however, just how inflated the ticket prices are compared to what the locals pay? And wouldn’t some of the kids in the audience enjoy the goodie bags too?

Cholita seems to gain its meaning from the cholo, a reference to a Hispanic man of mixed racial background. It is often associated with low-income and a tough sub-culture. Cholita can be used in a positive sense but is often associated with that of being a tough girl. Cholita wrestling, therefore, is tough girls fighting it out.

Although a very low key set-up with plastic seating and wooden benches, there was very clearly a created sense of them and us; tourists versus locals: tourists got ringside seats, locals seated further back. No integration. A little strange.


Local crowds watch the action

I had been warned about the dangers of this event. Want to go to the toilet? You’ll need to be accompanied by a chaperone, a guard. The seating segregation? Necessary. Watch your back. Don’t make eye contact. Whatever you do, don’t throw anything at the audience or at the wrestlers; people might flip out and attack you. I had gone with all these potential scenarios in my head, curious as to what exactly I was getting myself into. And still not sure why I was going.

In reality, much of the warnings were hyperbolic, maybe for the benefit of letting us backpackers feel brave, as though we’ve done something a little daring and exciting during our time in La Paz. El Alto is, after all, known as being the roughest part of La Paz, home to the poorest population of the city and a place where life expectancy is just 62 years of age. Backpackers, meanwhile, are rich enough to have travelled to this far-flung part of the world. What a difference.

So my experience? Not being a fan of the likes of WWE, I found the wrestling a little strange. Why people get excited about acted fighting is a little beyond me. I tried to understand it but the closest I got was appreciating some of the skills used to slam down an opponent without breaking their back.

It started off with two guys, the warm up. They paraded the audience, warmed us up.

Then on came the first woman, a thick-set lady with a mean stare and traditional dress. I watched a man beat the crap out of her. All for entertainment. Of course she wasn’t hurt, this was a performance, but spectator gasps indicated the controversial nature of the act. During one move, front seaters excitedly insisted that they saw some scrotum escaping from her pants. Maybe it wasn’t just the fighting that was fake but gender was also being simulated? Who knows. I was further confused. This was all turning out to be a bit of a pantomime.

During the break, I ventured out a little into El Alto with Casey and Kate, two fellow female travellers. A Sunday church group were singing and dancing, ladies swishing their layered skirts and smiling away, men partnering them with a little more sternness, music accompanying the whole affair. A young boy bounced about, weaving in and out of the group, getting up close to our faces and grinning a slightly unhinged grin.

Sunday dancing and smiles

Further along were various stalls and a cluster of table football tables. Casey challenged a local to a game. ‘Money’, they insisted, clearly a little amused by this woman interrupting their Sunday afternoon play. It was a case of put your money where your mouth is, I guess. She lost. Grandly. They gained 20Bs.


Casey challenges the local men to a game… and loses gracefully

Back inside the makeshift stadium and the fighting continued, culminating in the pairing of two agile women. This time, there was little doubt about their gender. Shorter frames and toned legs covered in a bustle of skirt material, these girls were fit and ready to take each other on.

With each flip, bounce on the ropes, slam on to the floor and chase around the ring, the crowd cheered. These women worked it. Not in any great professional sense, but they were the best of the bunch. Little kids went wild, geed on by their overly excited dads. The performing women each tried to gain support from the crowd. Sides were taken.

Some tourists started to throw popcorn at the two competitors, who in turn decided to attack the audience with water bottles, squirting liquid all over the place. The empty bottles were then used to bash their opponent; headlock and then bish, bash, bosh.


Cholitas break loose before turning on the crowds and eachother

Another tourist flung a chair towards the ring. He was flung out of the door by security. Plonker. We’d had a pep talk about that kind of behaviour on the bus ride up. Testing the water, I guess. Maybe it just added to the fun and my inability to recognise the comedy value means I’ve become dull? Hmph.

And then I got a bit bored of the whole thing.

Watching the cholita wrestling had been a strange, new experience for me and watching the crowds was only marginally more interesting. Whilst I’m glad that I went, I wouldn’t go back. Been there, done that, got the goody bag.

Will I keep my mini cholita figurine? Yeah, maybe.


Filed under activity & sport, bolivia, culture, south america

Brazil celebrates: an International Women’s Day present


International Women's Day, present from hotel

Brazil, with its first female president, seemed like a good place to be based for International Women’s Day in March 2012.

If I’m honest, as with so many celebrations and important days when you’re travelling, I really had no idea that anything special was meant to be happening.

But I arrived back into my hotel room after a busy day sightseeing in Taubaté (yes, the hard life of a traveller) and there, on the coffee table, was a big, balloon modelled flower along with a little note.

A nice and colourful surprise that got me thinking about the many strong and influential women out there doing all sorts of things to ensure a better, safer and more equal future for us all.

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Filed under brazil, culture, random, south america