If Hollywood is to be believed, whenever a woman travels to a tropical destination, she becomes embroiled in a love affair with a dark, seductive local man with an exotic name and a thick accent. My mother, only half-jokingly, asked me not to fall in love with anybody on this trip, lest I set up house with him here and refuse to ever live in Canada again. I hate to disabuse anybody of the stereotype, but I am not taking on any hot young lovers here. On the contrary, I am struggling to prevent myself from strangling the local men when they make their clumsy, overly-aggressive advances.

I knew before I left home that Latin American machismo would mean I would be exposed to wolf whistles and heavy-handed pick-up attempts. I had even considered wearing a fake wedding ring to dissuade persistent unwanted attention, as I had sometimes resorted to in Asia. I decided against it, but I find myself regretting that decision. I am getting pretty tired of the local men’s dogged insistence that I should fall madly in love with them. I hate to say it, but it just isn’t going to happen.

Last week, for example, I hired a taxi to take me back to the farm after my day in town. The driver started out by regaling me with the history of the town and its tourism industry, which made for a mildly entertaining story to pass the hour-long ride. Unfortunately, my attention to the conversation backfired, when the driver decided my interest extended to the contents of his pants. Suddenly the topic veered from birdwatching to how he’d like me to spend the night with him. I politely declined, and changed the subject back to birds. He offered to take me camping in the jungle overnight to show me the local wildlife, including the wildest life I could imagine, nudge nudge, wink wink, if you know what I mean. I refused even more firmly, and asked him to stop talking about this.

This is when the conversation turned from annoying pick-up attempt to persistence bordering on the unreal. The driver started saying I was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. I told him to can it, and besides there are plenty of pretty women around town. He replied that none were like me, and I told him to forget about it and find a woman who actually wanted a relationship, rather than one who clearly didn’t. He started trying to convince me that I did want a relationship. Didn’t I want a hot, romantic fling in the jungles of Ecuador? (No, and certainly not with a 45-year-old taxi driver who was almost certainly married.) Wouldn’t I like to have a good time? (No, I was having a much nicer time when I wasn’t being harassed by horny local men.) My refusal of his every advance did nothing to dissuade him from spending the entire remainder of the hour-long drive pestering me to sleep with him.

When I eventually got back to the farm and told the story, reactions and suggestions varied. Ingo, the seven-foot-tall German farmer, said I should have repeatedly told the driver to shut up, getting ruder each time, and then refused to pay him upon getting out of the vehicle. Genny, his wife, who is an Ecuadorian woman and has had similar experiences with the men here, said that there was little I could have done, but that the driver had been inappropriate and that she’d lodge a complaint against him. Ingo offered to stand over her shoulder as she confronted him, baring his new shotgun. One of the other volunteers suggested that I pretend to be a lesbian, or married, and keep up the charade the entire time I was in Latin America. I don’t imagine that would deter the offenders, though, and I don’t see why I should have to live a lie to avoid repeated unwelcome advances on a regular basis.

Overall, I have no idea whether there’s anything I can do differently to discourage the persistent attentions of random men. I carry a knife in my purse, in case any of them thinks of going further than trying to pursuade me, but pulling a weapon on someone who is more annoying than threatening would probably only escalate the situation. On the bright side, though, at least I can assure my mother that I’m unlikely to fall in love with anybody in the near future, unless men in other South American countries show a different kind of machismo than what I’ve seen in Colombia and Ecuador so far.

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