Is horrible. It really is.
When I decided upon venturing to Latin America, l received numerous warnings about Latino dating culture: “Don’t get involved with any guys down there…you know…machismo,” I was told. While dating is the last thing on my mind, I soon realized machismo isn’t just about dating…it’s about guys constantly whistling/hissing to you or patting your behind when you walk down the street (even if every inch of you is covered and they swerve over to you on their bicycle which also happens to be holding their 5-year-old son). It’s about men taking the prerogative to invade your personal bubble, masturbating in the streets or flirting with any female in sight before moving on to the next one.
So far I have felt much more unsafe in Latin America ( at least Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua) than Southeast Asia, Kenya, and of course, Europe. And I attribute this to machismo. While Southeast Asia is generally more chilled out now (maybe it’s the Buddhist thing?…besidesBurma of course…), Latin America is not. The type of crime here scares me- it’s quite premeditated, vindictive, and systematic, often involving many accomplices. Taxi scams are common- taxis are allowed to pick up other passengers en route, and cases have occurred where the driver will pick up a friend who will rob passengers at gun or knifepoint, bringing them to an ATM machine to withdraw all their cash and then dropping the victims off in a remote location. Armed robberies upon foreigners are all too common here.
In Bogota, I took a 2 minute cab ride with a local guy, and when the driver charged us too high a fare (seeing as I’m a foreigner and with his blue eyes and caucasian features from his Spanish descent, the local looked so too), the local protested and paid what he said was the normal fare. A verbal fight escalated into a bloody full-on fist fight on the street with a crowd gathered round as I stood there offering to pay (didn’t matter…this was now a macho-macho fight). When the taxi driver threatened to kidnap me if the local didn’t pay more, we both ran away until the crazy driver followed us around the corner, parked, ran out with a crowbar in his hand sprinting toward the local guy. I darted off as soon as possible in the other direction. Like, wow….all this for a dollar. Take a chill pill “men.”
Yes, poverty is behind a lot of the desperation and violence. But so is attitude. I’m not quite sure how the women here put up with it- men are notorious for leaving their wives, kids or impregnated girlfriends only to do the same again. Of course there are exceptions and this is quite a broad brush I am painting, but I’m not afraid to call out a blatant trend. Most of the country’s small businesses are owned by women, who in most instances singlehandedly raise their (many) children and keep the households running. This is true for many developing countries, but machismo adds a certain punch to it.
I’m currently working on an article about microfinance projects for women- how the simplest of loans could help kickstart a small sustainable business like honeymaking or jewelry crafting. There’s no shortage of women’s rights issues to focus on here- from underground abortions (all abortion is illegal in Nicaragua) to domestic violence to teen pregnancy rates, Nicaragua has its fair share of obstacles facing women I’d argue are on par with many Middle Eastern states.
Normally I don’t acknowledge the hoots and howls, but occasionally, after about 30 in one day, my anger will accumulate so that I flip off the culprits or tell them to “callate,” or shut it.
The calls mostly happen on my runs, but I run anyway. Lately I have been running along the ocean to the top of a nearby mountain with a statue of Jesus towering above all of San Juan del Sur, the beach town where I live.
San Juan is a funny place- a small fishing village turned surfer haven. One local remarked that he didn’t like how tourists have come into his town, saying he disliked the dreadlocks and half naked guests and resented gringo hotel and restaurant owners for exploiting local labor.
The double-edge sword of tourism is most definitely a recurring issue here in Nicaragua. Tourism has provided jobs as tour guides, waiters or conservationists to many Nicaraguans, but also makes them dependent on a foreign growth model and changes local culture into mimicking carefree gringos here to have a good time on vacation.
I only have two days left in San Juan before returning to the middle of the country! Here is a photo of my running mountain with the Jesus statue! Gets me every time…