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4 Scary Encounters As A Solo Traveller + Lessons Learned

July 20, 2018

I never thought about getting this insightful or flipping the sides to what I usually share on the blog. If you’ve been following my recent Instagram stories, you would have realized that I just did a small segment of Q&A’s to which I was asked to share some scary encounters as a solo traveller. Throughout my years of travelling, I’ve experienced a few things that have made me question my will to travel solo. I am sharing 4 scary travel encounters as a solo traveller and lessons learned.

1. Ecuador + Lessons Learned 

I will start off with my very first solo trip. I sort of this love-hate relationship with Ecuador. If you wondering, Ecuador is where it all started. The travel bug, travel inspiration, that feeling of wanting to explore non-stop… Yes, that sort of thing, but it is also where I had my first scary travel encounter.

My trip to Ecuador happened spontaneously in which I had less than 2- weeks to prepare for the big chance. I did not speak the language, neither did I really have any friends there. (I will backtrack on this statement). Though, it was one of those decisions I was willing to take on without hesitation.

Now, being completely out of the situation and really thinking back to that time, I think I was a little unprepared. For example, I didn’t realize how inexpensive Ecuador was/is or how high in altitude Quito was/is. I was an Amateur at travelling, I didn’t know exactly how to get (or feel) prepared. This was my first solo trip in 2012.

My first 24hours in the country’s capital was on point. I did a few of the touristy things which I loved. I visited the Equator Museum, did some sightseeing in the historical part of town, indulged on some of the local cuisines, you know, that sort of thing. However, one of my scariest travel encounters happened within the first 36-48hours of being in the country.

Held at Gun Point in Ecuador 

I had just met up with a friend there (a friend of my sister’s) to which I had only met the day before. At the time, she was the only connection I had prior to arriving in Ecuador. On my second evening in Quito, we decided to dine out at a local restaurant along with another friend. This particular night, it was sort of a Salsa, Bachata, Merengue night which I loved.

I was loving this! An adventure-filled day and now a few of my first broken Spanish sentences while we wait for our order of local dishes to come through.  To add, we were also having a few glasses of Aquadiente (a flavoured-liqueur product of Colombia). It was the way to celebrate; celebrate my visit to the country.

If you’re familiar with the Latin culture, it is very common for a Caballero to approach and ask to dance. I’ve accepted dance invites in loads of places; Cuba, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia. I love the Latin American music culture; the fancy foot works and I love that fact that the Caballero is the one in charge to lead, thank goodness for that, as I am still very much an Amateur. All in all, I am just amazed by the technique everytime.

However, on this particular night (we were almost finished eating), a Caballero walked in, approached our table and asked to dance, to which we declined to which is perfectly normal. Nonetheless, he wasn’t pleased and shortly after pulled out a gun. For the first few seconds, I was in shock. I was in shock, in disbelief and asking myself how could this go so wrong.  At that time, I had no idea what was being said, (my other two friends did), but from the looks of it, he was angry. Angry because we said no to dancing to Salsa, Bachata, Merengue (whichever one was playing at the time). If you’re asking about the reaction of the other diners in the restaurant, it was almost closing time and if I remember clearly we were the only ones on the floor at that moment.

That night has been such a blur. It is almost an experience I try to suppress in the back of mind. It was my second night ever abroad solo and I had another 2months and 28 days to go. We, however, managed to walk away (more like run) after minutes of going back and forth and trying to calm this caballero man down.

Lesson Learned:

I am still unsure as to what lesson I learned here. No one can be fully prepared for something like this so mentioning ‘preparation’  would be futile. However, maybe it has something to do with maintaining your composure and remaining calm in an unfortunate situation. Things like this do happen and it could happen anywhere. Processing it and really giving it some thought — I really didn’t let it dampen the rest of my time to explore the country. In fact, I took on 5 other countries solo after that.

My first 24hours in Ecuador

2. Santiago, Chile + Lessons Learned 

If you are an avid reader of the blog, you would have known that Santiago became my home for a few years. My intention was to master the language while I was there and use it as a base to visit the other South American countries. Let me just add that South America is still one of my favourite continents to explore; I have this thing for it that is unexplainable.

I have been in and outside of Chile more than 10 times, but before I completely settle in and call it home, I was pickpocketed on a crowded train.

Santiago is a huge metropolitan city with 7-million inhabitants. Their metro system was fairly new at the time and would be crowded for most of the day. Once again, as a solo traveller, I hardly knew anyone there and was a complete beginner in learning the language.

Pickpocketed in Chile

Like any regular day, I was in commute from Point A to Point B. I had just gotten back from the bank and boarded the train. Upon deboarding, I realized my bag was opened and my wallet was gone. If you are one of those persons who store everything in your wallet, don’t do this. My wallet had everything — from cash, to bebit/credit cards to ID’s. Specifically, losing your bank cards overseas can be a pain and this literally sent me in panic mood as I was travelling Solo. Travelling solo abroad has many perks, but in moments of distress, it can be daunting. In a situation like this,  I couldn’t call up a friend and say, “hey, this happened!  Cover me for a few days” , which is not so “solo traveller” friendly. Though, thank goodness for moms and a kind employee at my hotel… oh and Western Union.

Lesson Learned:

Never you travel with all your cards, cash and ID’s in one place. If you can, try to leave a bank card, some of your cash at your hotel/airbnb/hostel, whatever the case may be. Visa Credit Cards offer a cash advance(to be picked up at a bank or money transfer service) for situations just like this. Research this before you travel, just in case. Also, for the record, do not travel around with your passport, make a photocopy instead.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

3. La Paz, Bolivia 

Going through this listicle, not only have I realized that all my scary encounters have happened in South America but it also happens to be one of my favourite continents to explore. These encounters, however, haven’t changed how I really feel about the region or the countries. With that being said, let me quickly hop on to scary encounter number 3.

Whilst I was based in Chile, aforementioned I used it as a based to visit the surrounding countries; Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and then came Bolivia.

Racial Profiling in Bolivia 

This was one late evening, I boarded a premium long-distance bus to embark on a 12-hour bus journey from Laz Paz to Sucre. This was my first time in Bolivia and I was truly having a good time in the country’s capital. Before I was on to the next city and before the bus left the station, a few sellers were able to hop on to showcase some little goodies, snacks they were selling.

For the long-distance ride, I was sitting maybe 3 rows from the back of the bus but there was this well-suited Caballero seated about 3 rows behind the driver, whom will be our subject matter for the evening. We were about 7-8 seat rows apart. I am not entirely sure of the exact number as I wasn’t counting.

What took me by surprise was that during the last few minutes right before the bus departed one of the sellers possibly took his (the Caballero’s) bag from the overhead storage which was directly over his (Caballero’s)head. I am only suggesting that this was probably what happened based on the chatter from other passengers onboard. However, I remember this so vividly as it was my first ever blatant racial profiling/discrimination incident. To carry on with the encounter,  I remember how he cried and shouted that the stolen bag had all his documents, his laptop etc. By this time, I had the language down pat. I was fluent! I was a fluent Spanish speaker which came in so handy right at this moment. However, I felt his pain as I know what it feels like to lose your things while travelling, though he was a local.

This was on-going and the Caballero kept walking back and forth checking every overhead bin for his bag, suddenly he turned around and pointed me out. Mind you, this bus had about 50 other passengers, but I just happened to be the was the only Black person on board. Even though I was about 7 rows behind him, I was pointed me out and it was suggested I was apart of the “robbing” even though the sellers who came on the bus earlier weren’t even black people. They are all Bolivians. Guys, am I allowed to curse on here? I cannot put words to how I felt. I was embarrassed and everyone was starring and this “poor little black girl”.  Though, I did not pity myself. This, however, was by far the first ever, blatant racial profiling I was yet to experience.

Shortly after a few police officers were on spot, who proceeded to “have me in question”.  This was unacceptable and I am happy that at that moment I was happy I was able to fully “defend” myself by speaking up.

Lessons Learned:

It doesn’t hurt to pick up a second, or a third or fourth langauge. It also pays to know your rights as a foreigner.

Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

4. Colombia 

I love Colombia! It’s been one of my highlight countries in South America. Having spent more than 2-months travelling around, I have seen so many different parts of the country and have experienced so many different things.

As compared to my previously mentioned scary encounters, I am happy that when it comes on to Colombia it is nothing as, as  intense. However, it is worth mentioning as some of the things to look forward to or to prepare for as a solo traveller.

Stranded in Colombia 

If you vicariously live through me or through my travels, you would know I like to go off-the-beaten-path. Just a few months ago, maybe a year, I was travelling in Colombia Sola. On this particular day, as I mentioned on my Instagram stories, I was travelling by bus and needed to connect by ferry to get to my final stop. Upon arriving at the ferry station I was told that there would be no more ferries for the rest of the night. If I remember right, this was about 8 pm. I was alone and since it was an off-the-beat location there were hardly any other travellers, tourists around.

After going back and forth with a few locals, I came to the conclusion that I was stranded in Colombia. Just to add, ferry stations are usually not located in the best part of town, so I ultimately I was in the middle of nowhere, it was late-night and I was alone. I had no backup plan. With the help of a few locals on spot, I was able to find a hotel for the night and I was good to go to catch the ferry in the morning.

Lesson Learned:

Always have a backup plan in case your bus, ferry decides not to show up. Also, it is not a bad idea to quickly look up the town you’ll have a stopover in either just to have an idea of where you are exactly.

Boyacá, Colombia

I haven’t allowed these experiences to hinder me from doing what I really enjoy, in fact, I am in my 6th year of solo travelling. Better prepared and ready for whats to come.

If you have had any scary encounters while travelling I’d love to hear them in the comment section below.

 

Happy Travels!

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  • Reply Jhunelle J ♦ www.simplylocal.life July 22, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    I would certainly have a panic attack at each turn mentioned! Just recently my cell phone was stolen right out of my hand, and to be honest, it left a bad taste in my mouth for a few days about the country…and that’s as a local! I can’t imagine the impressions that would be left if a similar instance happened in another country that I’m less familiar (and “forgiving” with). Kudos to you for continuing and enjoying your solo travels regardless.

  • Reply Rochelle | AdventuresfromElle July 21, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    It’s refreshing to read a post on the other side of solo female travel. I won’t lie– knowing all of what can happen esp as a black female alone in a strange country, worse when you don’t speak the language, is scary but I can’t wait to get the experience someday soon. Things can go wrong anywhere. Just have to take the necessary precautions and then hope for the best.

  • Reply RasBenjiMassop July 21, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    I simply honor your approach to life and to world travel as it relates to life. You have more courage than 10 big, bad, men put together.
    At some point please compile a book (with plenty pictures of course) or video documentary, or some other medium to share your experiences with generations to come.
    One Love Still!

    • Shea Powell
      Reply Shea Powell July 23, 2018 at 9:39 am

      Hi Rasben, thank you so much for the read! (:

  • Reply Michelle July 21, 2018 at 10:25 am

    Oh, WOW! Thank you so much for sharing, Shea. I hope your readers also know that these experiences can happen anywhere. Keep up the good work. I really do enjoy reading your posts.

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    The World Up Closer