As a solo traveler, I’ve learned the hard way that there is no one to count on but myself. That means I have to be über-responsible, always alert and on guard.
Traveling in second- and third-world countries, every day is a training ground. Literally, the ground must be watched carefully, or I will fall, trip, drop into a hole, or have my feet slide out from under me. Falling is by far my biggest travel fear, and I seem to have a trip per trip, no matter how careful I am.
The other great fear is losing something extremely valuable, like the keys to a rented apartment.
My first excursion to San Cristóbal de las Casas involved renting a casita way out in the country. A friend of a friend had a six-month lease on the casita with one month left. She needed to return to the states and I could rent it (very cheaply!) for the last month in her stead.
I arrived in the city by early evening and tried unsuccessfully to find the landlady who had the keys. I ended up staying in a posada, much like a hostel but without the bunk beds. The next morning I got the keys and went around town looking for a good place to have breakfast.
Afterwards I could not find the keys. I didn’t remember what I’d done with them. I checked every pocket, every little zippered compartment in my luggage. The landlady was already gone and I couldn’t get another set.
It turned out they’d fallen out of my pants pocket at the restaurant, and the waiter found them, barely visible, under the round equipale table base. After that I was scrupulous keeping track of them, so much so that it caused some difficulty later on.
The casita was a long taxi ride out into the campo and quite a hike (63 stair steps) up a hill from where cars could park. I had brought clothes that were too lightweight for the high-altitude cool environment. I needed a pair of jeans.
At the big Mercado nearby, I walked into a clothing store and told the man what I was looking for. He scrutinized me carefully and asked if the jeans would be for me. When I nodded he shook his head–they only carried chica sizes!
A few doors down, I spotted some plump ladies shopping for clothes and sure enough, they carried grande and X-grande sizes. The saleswoman handed me a pair of jeans with a large tag. In full color, it displayed a woman’s derriere compressed into skin-tight jeans, topped with the word: Stripper!
I pointed at the picture and said “No tengo el cuerpo de una Stripper!” The other ladies burst out laughing. Not a woman in that store had a body remotely resembling a stripper.
The jeans were my size, but every dimple, lump, and bulge was outlined for the whole world to see. No stretch jeans for me!
Later on, in the evening, after drinking with some neighbors, and more than a little boracha, I hiked up those 63 steps in the dark. I knew exactly where the keys were – in the little coin pocket of my linen pants. But they had gotten crosswise and I couldn’t get them out. Some long threads from the pocket seams were wrapped around both keys. They were practically woven together.
In the darkness I had to take off my pants and stand on the patio in my underwear, wiggling the keys around. The little coin pocket almost unraveled when I got one key turned and pointed out the opening. For 10 minutes the keys fought back before they finally came loose. Too bad there was no audience that night, I got to be a Mexican stripper after all!
Editor’s note: Sherry Hardage lives in Los Alamos and has been traveling solo in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe since she retired from Honeywell in 2009. She is a photographer, writer, and guide who organizes tours of Chiapas, Mexico through her website: www.mexadventures.com
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