Confessions of a Rape Victim – a Solo Woman Traveler’s Tale

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In the spirit of #MeToo, a global movement that raises awareness to any form of sexual harassment that women face everyday around the world, I shall share the story of a woman who has faced a heart-wrenching ordeal, an event that any person should not be able to experience no matter who, what, where they are. Yet, this amazing woman stood up and faced this unfortunate event with grace.

Her name is Jess (not her real name). She is free-spirited, clumsy, unorganized, but with a big heart that she wears on her sleeves. She laughs big, she cries hard. She is independent. She is a dreamer. She breaks norms. She travels the world solo to prove that even as a woman, you can do so many things on your own. But her main goal is for the world to know that there is more good than evil out there.

But Jess is not only that. Like me, she works in the health industry. Along the way, she volunteers in medical missions to help people around the world. Her dream of combining her dream of helping people and traveling the globe is finally coming true.

Despite all her achievements, Jess is like many other women in the world. She is told many times to stay home and focus on her career, get a husband, build a house, and have children. Her friends would tell her to stay in her country to help the people there instead. She was told that traveling solo to places beyond her own is dangerous. Jess is often caught with guilt and confusion. Is she being selfish? Should she listen to other people before her own heart?

Jess chose to follow her dreams. However, no matter how happy she is fulfilling the life she’s always wanted, solo traveling doesn’t come easy. There are plenty of times when you have to eat alone, do things alone. While you travel solo, making friends along the way is a major charm of it. This leaves Jess lonely sometimes.

In one of her lonely days, Jess turned on Tinder. Tinder is an app that let’s you connect to people nearby. It’s always been on her phone, checking on it from time to time; chatting with boys but only met very few of them who became her life long friends. “Why not use it this time again?” She thought.

It was dinnertime. She was supposed to meet up with her newlyfound friends but they ended up staying in. Disappointed, she grabbed a beer at the local taco store. Suddenly, she heard that ring in her phone: a message from her tinder match asking her to meet up for dinner. She thought, “cool! I’ve got someone to dine with.” She scrolled for his photos and he looked decent –he’s a French guy practicing yoga and his photos look fun with him having a wide smile on his first photo. He’s got the perfect body with perfect abs and muscles on the right places, too.

In a few minutes, the guy drove up to her place. He looks older than his profile in tinder. But he looked hot still; his hard biceps showing underneath his sleeves. His English was with a very hard French accent. He didn’t smile so much. He seemed serious. At that moment, Jess thought it might not be a good idea. But oh well, she was hungry and needing of a conversation.
And so they did. She had a burrito while he had pizza. Then he started to talk about signs. He asked, “ What’s your zodiac sign?” She answered, “I’m a cancer. How is this relevant?”

“It is important to me. We have to match. You’re a perfect match to me.” He said this all in a straight tone. No smile, no excitement.
It was getting awkward for Jess. She’s met a lot of different personalities in her life and she thought this is just one of those difficult ones. Probably the only thing that she enjoyed talking about was traveling. She couldn’t wait for the dinner to end.

Finally it was time to go. He asked her to go to a bar with him. She said she was tired. He pleaded. She considered. She finally said yes. She thought, never again after that night.

She hopped on to his motorbike. He said he has to pass by his place to get something. She thought why not. They arrived. It was an apartment close to a party hostel with loud banging music. He asked her is she wants anything. She said she wanted water. She went inside. When she was about to go out again, the guy bolted to the door and locked it.

“What are you doing?” the guy said in angry tone.
Jess couldn’t believe what just happened but remained calm, “I want to leave. Let me out.”

“You can’t leave. Don’t you get it? We’re a match. I won’t hurt you if you let me kiss you.” He grabbed Jess’s face and planted his mouth onto her. She pushed him hard but he only tightened his grip. He then cupped his hand on her mouth. “If you scream, I’ll be forced to hurt you. There’s no one around to hear you anyway. This is just one night. I don’t get why you don’t like me.”

Jess’ thoughts raced fast. What can she do? He’s more than 6 feet tall with powerful muscles built in his body. If she screams, he’d probably choke her. “I don’t want to die” was all she could think of.

Jess cried in silence as the guy did to her the despicable. At that moment she felt he was stripping her off of her dignity, her self-respect, of everything that she believed in herself and in other people. She felt low as he forced himself inside her.

Finally, the ordeal was over. He kissed her tenderly this time. “See, it’s not so bad? I don’t get why you resist. You can go now if you want to.”
Jess grabbed her stuff and ran for the door, tears streaming out her eyes.
“What to do now?” She thought she should go to the police. “Then what?” Her thoughts couldn’t comprehend what just happened and what she should do with it. They’re both in a foreign country where having sex among travelers is a norm and where the police couldn’t care less.

She made it to her place. She felt defeated. What has become of the world she had loved to explore? She believed in the good of all people. She trusted so much. She cried her heart out in despair.

Three days after the ordeal, I met her at a bar on the same island. We talked. We had the same passion for traveling and we hit off right away. Somehow, we came to discuss #metoo. I was surprised by her strength to tell the story to me despite of the fact that it only happened a few days ago.
“I just have to learn to be strong. There’s nowhere to go but up. I cannot nurture this negative feeling, I have a mission to complete” she said with conviction.

Was there anything that should have been done differently? Should she have gone to dinner alone? Shouldn’t she have used tinder at all? Should she have walked out from the restaurant the moment she felt weird about him? Should she have screamed at all even under threat of being hurt, or worse, death?
I have used tinder a couple of times and I’ve met several awesome people there. I am also fond of meeting strangers especially those that love to travel. Fortunately for me, I haven’t been in any situation as what had Jess had to deal with.

I asked her if she’s still keen to travel solo and meet people along the way. Her beaming answer was a big YES. No evil man can ever stop her from pursuing her passion. She still believes that there are more good than evil people in the world and she’s still out to prove that.

Jess reconciled with herself. After days of blaming her self, she finally understood that it wasn’t her fault. There are things that she can learn from her experience but nothing will stop her from doing what she loves and neither should any woman stop herself from pursuing their passion.

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A Travel Guide to Apo Island Marine Sanctuary, Negros

After Oslob, South Cebu, we decided to have a side trip to Apo Island, a marine sanctuary where turtles freely swim and where the marine life used to be healthy. It is a very small island, about 1 kilometer in length, lined with healthy corals home to diverse underwater animals. However, the Yolanda typhoon that ravished the country last 2013, destroyed about 90% of the sanctuary. The marine sanctuary that used to be open for the public is currently closed for rehabilitation.

Nevertheless, the rest of the island is still worth the visit, with plenty of turtles feeding close to the beach, quite a number of corals for snorkelling and diving, and the white sand beach perfect for swimming.

Apo Island is located south of Negros, North of Siquijor Island and west of the Island of Cebu. The island can be part of your South Cebu or Siquijor Itinerary.

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The iconic rock formation welcomes guests to the island.

To get there:

We got to Oslob from South Cebu Terminal in Cebu City by bus and stayed there for three days as part of our South Cebu itinerary. You can get any bus from the South Terminal and go directly to Lilo-an Port.

This is how we got from Oslob to Apo Island:

  • Oslob to Lilo-an Port – about 30 minutes bus ride
  • Lilo-an Port  to Sibulan Port, Negros – 20 minutes by ferry,  P62 pesos/person
  • Sibulan Port to Dumaguete Bus Terminal – either by a small jeepney with other passengers  (20 pesos) or take a tricycle for 100 pesos
  • Dumaguete Bus Terminal to Malatapay, Zambuangueta – either by bus for 50 pesos or a small jeepney for 20 pesos. The ride takes about 30 minutes.
  • Malatapay, Zambuanguita to Apo Island – about 40 minutes by boat. We were lucky enough to join the locals in a boat and only paid 300 pesos each for the ride. Others have to charter a small boat for 2000 pesos for 4 persons. It is advised to wait for other travellers if you are travelling alone so that you can divide the expenses.

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Other fees: Once you enter the Island, you’ll have to pay an environmental fee of 100 pesos, mask for 100 pesos, and a guide for 100 pesos if you wish to swim in the Turtle sanctuary. However, you can do without a guide since the turtles swim everywhere. Of course, basic rules in interacting with the animals apply, as in no touching, no swimming and kicking so hard. Also, remember to keep your distance from the turtles.

Where to Stay:

Apo Island can be visited for a few hours on a day trip. However, we spent a night at Liberty Lodge for 2150 pesos/night. The fee already include free breakfast, lunch, and dinner excluding the drinks. It is located right at the beach on Apo Island. Keep in mind that there is no 24-hour electricity on the island. Power goes off at 9pm to 9am.

What to do:

  1. Swimming with the Turtles

Turtles are everywhere. You can easily spot 2 to 3 turtles at a time. The giant turtles are easily distracted and tend to swim away from any perceived threat, so please approach them gently.

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A giant turtle feeding near the coast in Apo by Martien Janssen, http://www.travelimagez.com
  1. Visit the Marine Sanctuary

On the other side of the island is the Apo Island Marine Sanctuary. It is currently closed from guests for rehabilitation. I had the privilege of snorkelling that area for three days about 7 years ago before the typhoon hit. It was dubbed as one of the most diverse sanctuaries, boasting different species of colorful fishes and corals. But now,  90% of it was lost after the typhoon. Needless to say, this visit was a bit emotional for me.

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We used to perch our tents on the beach and wake up to a cool breeze from the ocean. Then we’d snorkel in the marine sanctuary, now destroyed by a typhoon. Photo by: Martien Janssen http://www.travelimagez.com
  1. Sunsets at the Apo Island resort

Hidden away by cliffs, the Apo Island Resort seemed to be a perfect private area to watch the sunset. The iconic rock on the water is also good for jumping and diving by the more adventurous ones.

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Martien Janssen of http://www.travelimagez.com takes a timelapse of the sunset on Apo Island

Overall, Apo Island is still worth the second visit. Although the community has grown, it still maintained its untouched nature. The people there are trying their best to preserve the island.

Has anyone tried the day trip to Apo Island? Or have been there before the typhoon struck? Share your experiences in the comments below.

The beginning: How I caught the travel bug and actually enjoy it

Be warned: this is a long post; But for the love of travel, read through this, you might just hop on to a plane to your next adventure!

I’ve always wanted to travel since I was a kid, the moment when I first flew on a domestic flight to see another part of the country. Yes, that young, and I still remember how awed I was with the different landscapes, the different language of the people, and the variety of food I had tasted. Then I grew up watching National Geographic and other channels that feature the beauty of the world. There’s just so much to see! This was way before budget traveling was a hype among the young, the fresh grads, nomads and the like. It was the time when I thought only the few braves ones could go traveling.

Fast forward 14 years later, I had just gotten my medical degree, the world is now closely related through cellphones and internet. Everything just seems to be at the palm of your hands. I have traveled quite a bit already in domestic destinations but always with friends or family. Then I got to do my dream job in my dream place, Siargao Island. The island is bustling with travelers and tourists alike. Here I met a friend from France who has been traveling for four years straight. He went on to tell his adventures while traveling; kayaking in a lake in New Zealand, dog-sledding in Canada, diving with sharks in Tahiti, driving on the Salt flats in Bolivia, hiking to Machu Picchu, getting lost in a village in Thailand, surfing in Siargao, Philippines, and so much more! Needless to say, my love for traveling was rekindled then.

My traveling plans have been put off for years because of studying, so I wanted to do traveling with a bang. Why not backpack my way solo in my first international trip? I went to Thailand and Singapore, with only a 65-L backpack I bought just 3 days before my flight. I booked my hostels, walked on strange streets, getting lost in translation and REALLY getting lost in a foreign country. I met friends in my hostel that gave me taxi money because I couldn’t take anything out of my ATM (which I didn’t prepare for), explored temples, sun-bathed on a Royal football field, and lots of crazy things.

I learned a lot from my first trip. I believe that you don’t have to plan everything in detail. Common sense and beautiful strangers will help you out in sticky situations. I also learned to appreciate other culture. In a train in Bangkok, I saw a monk, a girl dressed in just her bra and skimpy shorts, a student with a long dress, a Thai guy with his hair dyed yellow, and nobody stared, nobody bothered. I think it is the Buddhist culture, having an inner peace so that you are not bothered by anything else. This is just my observation and I think it’s beautiful.

I struggled in my first solo travel as well. I stayed in Phuket for 3 days, on the 3rd day, I couldn’t take it anymore. When you are traveling solo, sometimes you just want to talk to a person, but in my hostel, everyone’s like a zombie. Their heads were hanging low and looking at their cell phones endlessly. The good thing was I spent most of the time with a Thai receptionist and I learned a lot about their culture. And I thought it was way better.

I flew back to Bangkok and stayed in a hostel again, hoping for the best. And indeed, I had a blast. My roommates were friendly, some are just hot-headed, but it’s alright. I enjoyed every moment spent with new found friends, eating street food I’ve never seen before but oh-so-delicious, exploring the big city on foot. They even spared me taxi money when I had no money left. Until this day, we still make contact with each other hoping to meet someday soon somewhere.

Travelers do not just appreciate the scenery but also learn about the culture of people. I learned about why people act the way they do which could annoy us sometimes. I love talking to the locals and see insights of their own culture. I also like to talk with my fellow travelers and learning about their background. In a way, this also makes me appreciate my own culture. I realized that we are all beautiful people in different ways.
Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people sorely need it sorely on these accounts.” Traveling just widens your perspective in almost everything.

Oh how I love the sense of accomplishment after I traveled solo in another country.But I still have so much to learn from traveling, cultures and places to explore and people to meet along the way. I’m already excited for my next trip.

I hope hear of your own travels soon.
Thank you for reading!