It’s not always easy being a female solo traveler
I throw my apple in the trash can and wipe my hands off of my arms. They’re sticky; because of the sweat, the sun screen and the juice of the apple. My hair looks like a bird’s nest en some locks fall in front of my eyes. My clothes are disgusting: they smell and are covered by orange sand. I smell like I just visited a dump area. I’m anything but a beautiful, cute, attracting girl right now.
“Welcome in Wadi Rum, my friend.” A guy welcomes me and puts my backpack in the jeep. He’s shorter than me and wears a long robe. He introduces himself as Suleiman*. For today I don’t have any plans, so we decide to drive around in the desert and take some pictures. “And then you can use my office to finish some work on your computer”, he adds to that. Sounds like a plan.
The jeep starts and we drive in this big, endless ocean of orange sand waves. After a while he parks the jeep next to a big rock. “We’re here.” I’m confused. “Where are we exactly?”, I ask with some hesitation. He laughs. “You wanted to finish work right? Well, this is my office.” There I am: in the middle of nowhere, while Suleiman is taking some mattresses out of the jeep and throwing them on the ground. I’ve worked at a lot of different places, but this one is definitely one of my weirdest working spaces so far.
“How do you feel about me?”
I open my laptop and start my work while Suleiman is setting up his hookah. The strong smell of apple tobacco distracts me, so we start talking about our lives. His father died when he was 15 years old. After that he had to take care of the whole family. Can you imagine doing that and having such responsibilities when you’re still a kid? I listen with admiration to his story and his view on life. After that it’s my turn. I talk about my travels, my lifestyle and my job. “Wow, you’re life is so interesting.” There is a silence, although it’s a good one. But not for long.
Out of the blue he asks me the question that changes the atmosphere between us: “How do you feel about me?”
What the hell is this for kind of question? Before I can think of a proper answer Suleiman continues. “I think you’re a really interesting person and I am attracted to you. It’s been a long time since I had these feelings. You’re funny, smart and beautiful. So… How do you feel about me?”
I thank him for the compliments, but I tell him I’m not interested in that kind of relationship. I make it clear I don’t have those feelings for him. He looks a bit dismayed, like a kid who just lost his toy. “But we can be friends, right?” I try. It doesn’t matter. “Wait, you’ll see. At the end of the day you will love me too”, he says.
Head over heels in love in the desert
The more time we spend together the more frustrated I get. I’m stuck in a deserted desert with a guy who’s head over heels in love with me. He clearly is not used to hear ‘no’ as an answer. Every time he tries to grab my hand I make sure I pull away just in time. And every time he tries to hug me I will take a step further away from him. I try to convince him I have a boyfriend in Israel, but that doesn’t matter to him. “He’s not here right now. Who knows what he is doing in Israel while you are here. You should not think that much and enjoy the moment.”
Nothing seems to help. He promises me a house in the desert. A good job. The best views in the world. Plane tickets. And much more. He even gives me a necklace of his mum. I keep saying that I don’t wanna have it, but he keeps putting it in my bag. It’s time to say bye to the nice Jessica and be a little harsh. His love sickness is making me crazy. I feel more and more uncomfortable because it feels silly to keep repeating that I REALLY DON’T LIKE HIM.
“Please come and save me!”
We go back to Wadi Rum Village and my phone has reception again. I send my friend Rick* a message. “I know you wanted to come the day after tomorrow to Wadi Rum, but can you please come one day earlier? There is this desert guy who’s in love with me and I don’t want to spend another day by myself with him.” A few minutes later my friends confirms that he will save me tomorrow. Yes!
The next hours feel like forever while we are waiting for a couple to join us in the jeep. 30 minutes… 45 minutes… 1 hour…. Suleiman finally gets all the hints of me not liking him and his mood swings up and down like a jojo. “I’m so happy that I’ve met you today. But life is so unfair. Why is life so unfair?” While he is whining about the situation he plays sad love songs on YouTube. James Blunt, Celine Dion… They are all there. “Why is love so unfair?”, he keeps repeating.
When the couple finally arrives the atmosphere in the jeep changes. It looks like he finally accepts the situation and tries to focus on other things. It’s finally less awkward. For just a minute. After dinner he asks me to join him for stargazing. No, thanks. I get shivers even by the idea of it. “It’s great for photos”, he tries again. I tell him I’m tired and I shut the door. I check again if the lock is working. I don’t want this guy in my tent in the middle of the night…
It’s getting from bad to worse
The next morning my friend Rick and some other travelers are joining us. They stay in the same camp and we decide to explore the area together with a jeep. Suleiman looks a bit angry when I’m leaving. He clearly doesn’t like the fact that I will hang out with these guys today instead of him. Even though he doesn’t say anything about it his body language says enough.
I have an amazing day. The whole day we climb rocks and hills, we walk through canyons and we visit the most amazing viewpoints. I’m taking way too many pictures and at the end of the day we reflect on a perfect day during an incredible sunset. This landscape doesn’t get boring at all. After the sunset we walk back to the camp. Of course Suleiman is there again. Within seconds the atmosphere is awkward again. Even my friends notice it and make jokes about it. I have enough of it. I’m gonna ask my boss to leave Wadi Rum one day earlier than planned. Unfortunately I don’t have reception. “You can use my phone, outside of the camp”. And so I join him in his jeep, driving into the darkness of the night.
His phone isn’t working either. Every now and then I hear my boss, but having a proper conversation is impossible. I don’t want to send a message via Whatsapp – because then he can read it as well – but I have to. I come up with a bad excuse: I need some WiFi and there isn’t any in the desert (I know, Captain Obvious) so that’s why I need to leave earlier. “You can use my phone for WiFI”, he tries. But I ignore his answer. I don’t wanna bring this guy in trouble; people can’t help falling in love with someone. But it’s getting more and more awkward so I need to end this as soon as possible.
It’s not always easy being a female solo traveler
De next day I wake up early to take photos of the sunrise. Rick decides to join me and together we see how the rest of the world awakens. The silence is magical, almost surreal. It’s nice to be able to share those moments with someone else, without talking about it. Afterwards we walk back to the camp and I put my camera in my bag in the tent. In the meantime I overhear the conversation between Rick and Suleiman: “Where were you? Where did you sleep tonight? Where is Jessica?” It sounds more like an interrogation rather than a conversation. “Chill dude, we just took some pictures together of the sunrise. No need to worry.” I close my tent and Suleiman looks at me, but I avoid looking back at him. We hurry to get some breakfast and after that we can finally leave this place. The necklace I leave in the tent.
“I didn’t realize until now – traveling with you for a couple of days – that women have to deal with this kind of shit a lot while they’re traveling alone. There are so many creepy guys out there and they can be so intimidating. This is what girls have to deal with every day, isn’t it?”
Honestly I was surprised by the response of my friend. Do guys really not know and see the things we girls have to deal with every day? Being a solo female traveler is not always easy. You’re vulnerable, much more than guys traveling by themselves. Through the years I’ve heard so many sad stories about similar awkward situations: inappropiate words, unwanted intimacy and even rape. Even if a girl doesn’t have anything she can lose something along the road: her innocence and her dignity. Her trust in herself and in humanity.
* The names in this story are changed