With that said, sometimes it’s difficult to write about the low points of your trip. Despite the beautiful landscapes and enjoyable tours, that one bad incident can mar your whole experience, no matter how much you try to not let it happen. Revisiting the incident via blog post can feel frightening – you’re opening yourself up for judgment about a situation that had a deep impact on you. Honestly, I would not have written this post if it weren’t for my friends (both male and female) that thought it would be helpful.
In November, I took a great trip to South Africa – Pilanesberg, Johannesburg and Cape Town. After a stressful/exciting few days in Pilanesberg (the safari life is not for me), my sister and I headed to Joburg. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of things about Joburg – “it’s unsafe”, “people will mug you”, “never have your cell phone out!” People warned us off of visiting Joburg and told us we’d enjoy the safe haven of Cape Town much more.
While those things may be true for some people, we never had that experience in Joburg. Everyone was warm and friendly and we never once felt unsafe. I adored my time in Joburg, particularly in Soweto. I wish I had more time there to explore what the city has to offer.
We arrived in Cape Town in the early afternoon and after resting up a bit, decided to head to our 8pm reservations at Mama Africa restaurant. Mama Africa is located on bustling Long Street – a street popular with tourists and locals alike, saturated with bars, nightclubs and restaurants.
After dinner, we decided to walk back to our hotel – the Hilton Cape Town was just a 5-minute walk from Mama Africa and it wasn’t very late out – 10pm, tops. While walking down the sidewalk to our hotel, I saw a group of men walking opposite us. My NYC mindset made me clutch my purse a little tighter and quicken my step – I didn’t want to assume the worst, but I did want to be prepared. Sadly, what I assumed is not at all what happened.
The group of men (4-5 of them) linked arms in walking towards us. As we approached, we tried to turn to our left and right and go around them, but they deliberately blocked our path. Suddenly, one lunged directly at me – grabbing me into a bear hug. At that point, my mind is racing as to all the different things that could happen next – will I be mugged? Will I be raped? Where is my sister?
As I’m struggling against the man, he begins to aggressively grope me while his friends laugh and root him on. I’m fighting against him with all my might to release me – shoving him, punching him, grabbing his arms – and he just laughs continues his unwanted advances. Fighting someone off while you’re in a bear hug is pretty much futile. All of my strength is going into fighting this man off and all it does it make him laugh even more.
Eventually I’m able to wriggle myself free of his arms and probing hands. My sister and I scurry away as quickly as possible – I learn in the moments that follow that she had to work to distance herself from one of the other men. For something like that to happen on my first night in a city, it colored my entire time in Cape Town. After that, we were sure to be in our hotel rooms by 9pm each night – no longer did I want to hit the hot spots I’d read so much about. In my mind I replayed the incident over and over, thinking “what did I do wrong? If I had done this or that, this wouldn’t have happened.”
The fact of the matter is that this could have happened in NYC. It could have happened anywhere, which is a saying that a lot of travelers love to trot out. But it didn’t happen to me in NYC, or my hometown of DC. It happened thousands of miles away from home, in a country where I didn’t even speak or understand the language of my attackers. A country where I didn’t know where to go to feel safe, or locals to speak with or even alternative routes to get around in that area. Until something “that could happen anywhere” happens to YOU in a foreign country, I’m not sure you fully understand. The statement “it can happen anywhere” doesn’t account for how the emotional and mental impact can be 10x worse when it does happen to you so far from anything familiar. It doesn’t account for the lack of resources and support available to you as a traveler in a foreign country.
One of the worst things that happened as a result of this attack was the shattering of my confidence as a female traveler. I know I’m street smart and can handle myself in most situations, but I began to question my own judgment.
In all honesty, I’ll never stop traveling. I recently came back from Colombia (without incident) and have another trip scheduled next month. Despite what happened, I can’t allow an isolated incident to affect my passion to see the world. However, I urge people to think twice about using the statement: “It can happen anywhere.”
Here are some resources and tips for female travel safety that have been helpful for me:
*Make sure you don’t miss another 9 to 5 Wanderlust post! Enter your email to right to subscribe to the blog!*