As a female, solo traveller, when I think back to the best moments I've had abroad, - there is one trait that resonates the most in my spirit. Trust.
Trust is defined by Merriam-Webster as the "firm belief in the character, strength, or truth of someone or something." In the world of travel - and especially backpacking -, there is an element of trust that (if you let it) forms quickly enough to allow you to see sights unseen.
It was in this spirit of trust that I visited the island of Omotepe, Nicaragua and hiked the Madera volcano. Admittedly trust is a trait that we characterize as taking a substantial amount of time to build. I mean the adage "trust takes years to build and a moment to destroy" is one that speaks to the long-tested building of trust, right?
Yet, when traveling, circumstances often put you in positions where a 'truth' has instantly connected you with others. That was the case in Granada, Nicaragua, when myself and two young male students disembarked a bus from Costa Rica.
It was dark. We each got our backpacks off the bus, and as the bus pulled off we stood there figuring out the next step. I've come to learn that in the world of backpacking, the backpack itself is a non-verbal agreement. After looking around to assess my surroundings, one of the males approached me with a smile and said in a heavily-Spanish laden English: "Hallo, do you know a hostal around here?" I looked around the very empty street and scrunched up my face as I shook my head in doubt. We laughed at my expression. I also realized that there were two lone taxis right behind the now departed bus. Trust, in this sense was established automatically given: our shared circumstance of being alone on a sketchy looking street; the knowledge that most folks with a backpack are hostel-bound; and that most hostels usually have space available.
I replied that I was actually heading to a hostel and that maybe they had beds available if they wanted to try? He shrugged and let his friend know the plan. We shared a taxi to the hostel where we introduced ourselves, Rai (the one who approached me and seemed to be the more outgoing of the two) and Sergio. The hostel had space for the boys and we spent some time chatting before bed. Ray and Sergio were students from Chile who were traveling through Central America. I was doing the same just with a shorter route - but with no set plans (remember in Traveling Solo Part 1 I mentioned that it’s okay NOT to have set plans while traveling solo!).
So after hearing Rai describe how they were getting to Omotepe, and hearing me describe my bus pass that allowed me to go as I please, with a 24 hours reservation window - we actually ended up hanging out the next day to explore Granada.
At the end of our first day in Granada, Rai asked after dinner: "So you come with us to Omotepe?" Sergio simply smiled. In the minute it took me to decide, instinctually I knew I could trust these guys. Why? Well, we spent the day sharing time, food, and photo opps. We split our costs individually, so they weren’t out to get me or my coins, and I didn’t feel I had anything to lose.
What I knew was I would get to have an adventure. That was MY truth. So we split a taxi to the port, where Rai met a Brazilian who joined our crew for the adventure of this Nicaraguan island. Upon arrival to Omotepe, we took a taxi to an area where we could find a place to stay. This adventure got off to a hot and somewhat aggravated start as we walked for what seemed like an eternity to find a place to stay. However, one thing I remember well was Sergio's positivity. For every huffing-puffing-complaint of mine, he would encourage me with a "Soon, we will find a place."
Now, I have to interject here and mention the following before I proceed: yes, I was a female, with three other men looking for a place to stay. Did I fear for my safety at any point? No, I did not. As we traveled together to find a place to stay, struggling together with our backpacks in the hot-ass sun, my gut confirmed I was alright. Not for the faint of heart, and not necessarily a specific rubric or checklist - but time earned outdoors counts in establishing trust with people you meet overseas.
We found a Hospedaje which is pretty much a cozier (read: smaller, shared with the host) AirBnB situation. It was one room with 4 separate beds.
Again, how did I know I could TRUST Brazilian guy as the add-on to our crew? Well, he never made a pass at me, or looked at me longingly. As for Rai, he doesn't swim in the lady pond, and Sergio was also talking about his girlfriend back in Chile. I also never got gang-rape vibes when I was around these guys. And I will be honest about the fact that I was following my Brooklyn instincts on if they were trustworthy.
It was at this hospedaje that we became a ragtag family. We explored the area, had dinner, and visited another hostel across the street, where we had drinks at their bar. Our host mom would yell at us in the morning "Chicos!" as she made us a breakfast of pancakeques (pancakes), fruit juice, and other fixings. We agreed we would hike the Madera volcano the next morning with our host Maria's son. I don't know what I expected exactly, but I knew I would be with my new friends, and at least I would have company.
It. Was. Arduous. I don't know why I thought hiking a volcano was something you just agree too but we had already taken off. I also don't know why I thought it would be short but by 11am I was drenched in sweat, with my heart oscillating between burning and beating rapidly. It was around 11am that we took a rest stop where our guide told us we were halfway to the "top." I thought it would be more of the (only occasionally) uphill, then flattened terrain, but the test was up ahead.
So, while we were basking in the rising sun for our first half, it had actually rained and was misty towards the top of the volcano. Not knowing I could substitute for a Tomb Raider extra, this is where the mud sucked my boots in, I had to channel my inner jungle Jane, and my new friends had to push me. Rai was having fun while I was turning into the potty-mouthed Grinch. Our Brazilian friend was trailing and that was the day we discovered his malfunctioning knee caps. Sergio turned into the best beam of sunshine despite the challenging crevices, my salty ass attitude, and the volcano we faced.
We made it to a very unremarkable "top" where there was a pond. Rai and Sergio went for it. I just watched. And hung out with light lunches before we made our way down. After a total of roughly 11 hours, a plethora of curse words, and the muddiest boots I ever saw, we made it back to our hospedaje around 6:20pm.
Did I see myself as a "hiker" before that day? Definitely not! But thanks to my friends along the journey I became one and have since also hiked Pacaya Volcano (just a quick workout after Maderas), Rainbow Mountain in Peru (with far less curse words), and some other places.
As a seasoned, female, solo traveler what I sense the most in women who haven't traveled alone is fear. I mean, even from people who don't travel at all I sense FEAR. It is a very American existence. Most of our behaviors are rooted in being AFRAID. It amazes me how the belief that danger awaits you at every turn in OTHER countries, but not at home, paralyzes people to not at least trying solo travel once.
I've realized these things, and it's a sad truth, that fear and trust can't reside in the same mind space. Only ONE can lead your mind in experiences. I am so happy that I led with TRUST on this trip because I saw things, and did things that I never envisioned myself doing. I also made new world friends in the process.