If I were to ask a collection of random women if they would be willing to cycle through Peru alone, they would laugh, ask “Are you crazy?” and then shake their head with a vigorous “No”. Even if I were to ask a random collection of female cyclists, I would probably get a similar reply.
Which is why I didn’t ask a random group at all. Instead, I found myself about four women who have cycled alone in South America and asked them for their impressions, if they felt safe, how to stay safe, and so on. Here is a collection excerpts from their responses (not all are native English or Spanish speakers but I’ve kept them in their original form):
Naomi, in case you do end up riding solo and discovering the joys of life as a single woman, I can assure you that everywhere in the world I have been received like a long-lost daughter; it seems that a woman traveling alone on a bike is a curiosity and arouses every woman’s maternal instinct. From Argentina to Colombia, Australia to Japan, Ireland to Morocco, I have had the incredible good fortune to be warmly welcomed into people’s homes for meals and overnight stays without any concern for my safety or well-being. These have invariably been the most memorable experiences from each of my trips. - Lucy
I have never had any problem while shopping or while searching for a place to stay. When it comes to hotels, the only tricky part is
when you get the hotels which only have a staircase that goes up. I try to
avoid these hotels, or run up the stairs as fast as I can. [to avoid leaving the bike unattended] Everyone along the road has been real darlings. I feel that I am in one way safer cycling on my own as everyone around me are very concerned about my safety. It is very easy to get invited to stay in peoples houses, I do not get turned down when asking to camp, the police has escorted me across a heavy trafficked bridge, I ve been getting a days ride to a city bikeshop when my tire burst and I simply get a lot of help when I need. Sometimes I even get help when I dont need it. I get asked if I want a ride when I am climbing and if there are men around when I get a flat, they want to fix it for me. I also get more attention then I want, but most days I can ignore the cat-whistles. My Spanish is not good enough to give them a lecture in feminist theory so I simply ignore them.
When it comes to precaucions I am pretty picky regarding where I stay at night. Usually I camp at either family restaurants where there are women and children around, or stay at guarded places such as army camps, toll stations, firestation or such. Camping in an area with macho men in uniform might not sound as a good choice, but it seems as if they take great pride in keeping a woman safe and are usually very polite.
I have so many wonderful experiences being a solo cyclist and I feel very well taken care of. - Hanna
Lo que yo puedo decirte es andar sola no va causar te ningun problemas si no te da cuentas de los machistas que te silvan por la carreterra o que te llaman “princessa” o “muneca”… a veces me pongo en mi bulla para no escuchar nada y andar con placer… por la noche, siempre me busco lugares bien seguros, y si no hay, yo pregunto si puedo accampara a lado de una casa (si veo que hay una mujer!).. y la gente aqui se cuidan mucho de una chica que va sola… a veces te offrece comida si no es una cama por la noche!!! es increible, de verdad!!!
yo espero que va disfrutar de tu viaje sola, para mi es muy lindo y muy intenso!! te vas a tu ritmo, te paras cuando quieres, comes cuando quieres… y tienes mas opportunidades de communicar con la gente local!! - Debo
I have done a lot of travelling alone and really enjoy it and would highly recommend it. The best advice that I can give you as a solo traveller is to be aware and don’t put yourself in situations that feels unsafe, listen to that feeling if it doesn’t feel right. I have never really had any serious problems but you need to be smart and I don’t mean paranoid just cautious. Remember there are a lot more kind people in the world then there are dangerous people. I find that as a solo women traveller people seem to lookout for me a little more. - Jeanette
So you may be asking yourself,” Whaaaat? But what happened to the Argentinian fellow, Axel, you were going to ride with?” Well, he is still on the road, but is about three weeks behind me (in bike-time) and I wanted to get going sooner than that. Also, there is an Italian fellow about five days behind me, an American about 4 days ahead, and two Swiss cyclists about two days behind me, so I am very close to potential partners. The Swiss asked if I wanted to join them and it wasn’t until this moment when I realized I really wanted to cycle on my own – at least for a bit. Yes, for the adventure, and also simply for the time alone. It is day six of solo-cycling, and I am not yet convinced that it is my preferred method of travel. This is not because of safety, since I feel safer here than I often did in the States, but because I enjoy company and the sharing of a beautiful view, or getting soaked by a water-spraying truck in a construction zone and laughing with someone at my side. I am being patient with myself, absorbing the newness of my circumstances while continuing to enjoy the ride.
And while I try out the solo-cyclist adventure, I am blessed with amazing views of the Cordillera Blanca, the friendly waves of passers-by (it reminds me of Colombia!) and yes, the somewhat annoying but easily ignored cat-calls that arrived as soon as Manna left. I would have thought that ladies would have given him cat-calls in his spandex shorts, but I suppose that is not the direction of things here.
The remainder of my stay in Lima before returning to my bike in Trujillo was enjoyable as I visited my first South American school, El Niño Jesus, thanks to friends in Germany, Darinka and Holger, who have fostered its growth for many years. It was very rewarding to once again hear the direct and curious questions of children (How old are you? But you look young to be so old! Do you have children? Why not? And of course one whispered to me: Are you a man or a woman?) I also finally played the tourist card and went to a couple of very enjoyable museums.
Lucho, from the most famous Casa de Ciclistas, saw me off to the edge of town to bid me farewell. I was in good company before beginning the ride alone. Being on my own, I think even more now of friends and family and hope those in the States enjoyed Thanksgiving. I had box-wine along with red sauce and spaghetti, cooked over my stove in my four-bed hostel room all to myself. The turkeys here in Peru get to relax until Christmas.