Guest blog by Nancy Hawker: I have met many women during my travels who have said they are too afraid to travel alone because they feel too vulnerable. There are special challenges, but there are also many rewards. Traveling alone empowers women by developing their independence and self-reliance and it presents the opportunity to develop intuition and ingenuity. I have learned many things about myself that I never would have learned, and met people I never would have met had I been traveling with a friend. I have put together a website with the purpose of encouraging all women to get out there and go it alone at least once. Nancy’s Blog: Women Travelling Alone
Traveling around the world by myself, I have met many unusual characters about whom I have written a few stories, both scary and humorous. I like to keep an open mind, but as a woman traveling alone there’s a necessity to balance my safety with my need to connect with others. If I sense an individual is a threat to my well-being, I avoid them. However, that has rarely been the case. I have learned that in life nothing is ever as it seems and even the most innocuous encounter can turn into something memorable, as was the day when I met Jim.
I was crossing into Costa Rica from Panama. The border between the two countries was chaotic, jammed with travelers wandering around looking dazed in the heat and dust. I followed the others from my bus, not knowing where I was going and the bus driver was no help, a cranky little man from the get-go.
Everybody from my bus trudged into one building where immigration officers checked our luggage. Then we packed up, moved off to another building and waited in another line for a stamp in our passport, after which we stood in another sweaty line-up to pay a ten-dollar fee for entry into Costa Rica. We went back to the bus and waited while the engine was torn apart and put back together by immigration officers. We were then checked a final time for the correct stamps and visas.
After four tired hours of waiting and being checked we were finally on the road, but within the hour we were delayed again by a washed-out bridge. The bus driver cursed and almost stripped the gears pulling over. Gingerly, we stepped down into the muddy road and wandered off. A few haphazard shacks and lean-tos with sweaty, dark vendors sold food and household goods and kiosks were set up for refreshments. White plastic tables and chairs were scattered around. It seemed more of a recreational area than a town.
I walked around for a while to stretch my legs then stood surveying the kiosks, wondering where to sit. An older fellow waved me over.
‘Have a seat,’ he said, pointing to the chair opposite him. ‘I’m Jim.’ He held out his hand and I it. He told me he was 75 years old and had eight kids, two of whom, he said, were multi-millionaires. I ordered a beer.
As we drank and waited for the bus, he told me that he had worked at a large corporation in Houston as an engineer for twenty years. Now he was divorced and retired and living in Guatemala in a house that cost him only $150 a month, with maid, and that’s where he was headed, ‘if that bus ever gets back on the goddamned road.’
He had thick white hair and bushy blonde eyebrows and fidgeted on his seat and although he was a shipwreck that had been underwater for ten years now, he was still a good-looking man. His hands shook as he drank his beer.
‘You having another?’ he asked before tottering off to buy two more.
‘No thanks. I’ve got one.’
‘Is that your beer?’ He looked surprised at the unopened beer on the table when he returned.
‘Nope, that’s yours,’ I said.
‘Is it?’ He pretended that he didn’t remember buying it for me earlier and popped it open. ‘Oh well, I’ve only had four beers now so one more won’t hurt.’
”No you haven’t. You’ve had at least six.’ I looked down at all the empty beer tins on the table.
‘Oh, you’re counting. You sound like my ex-wife.’
‘You know what Rodney Dangerfield said. He said – me and my wife were very happy, and then we met each other.
‘And what was that other one. You know – my wife and I never argued the whole time we were married. I didn’t want to interrupt.’
‘That’s really funny.’
‘Why do men die before their wives?’
I don’t know.’
‘Because they bloody well want to.’
He told joke after joke about marriage, swigging his beer and yelping yippee every now and again.
‘Ya know, I could just stay right here and get a hotel room. Wouldn’t bother me a bit.’
‘I don’t think there’s a hotel around here,’ I said, looking over my shoulder.
‘Well, that’s a damned shame. I’m starting to enjoy myself.’
‘I think we’re getting back on the bus soon, and there’s no bathroom on the bus.’
‘Well I just had four beers and I’ve pissed out two so I should be okay.’
We boarded the bus and as a result of the bridge not being fixed, we took a scenic detour down by the Pacific and then back up to San Isidro. I wondered about Jim in the back and his bladder and how he was doing. I was glad I didn’t drink much because the cranky little bus driver would never have stopped to let me out if I’d had to go. But soon enough we were pulling into the bus station at San Isidro. Everybody was collecting their stuff from the overhead compartments when I heard Jim’s voice from the back.
‘Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Let me pass!’ He was frantically pushing his way through the bus.
‘I gotta piss! I’m gonna piss my pants if I don’t get offa this bus! Lemme through!’
He charged out of the bus and galloped over to the bathroom on his bad legs. A burly fellow stopped him, wanting payment before letting him into the washroom, but Jim pushed him back and said he was gonna piss all over him if he didn’t get through – Now!
I walked down to the hotel that he had recommended, and as I looked at it I wondered why I had taken him even remotely seriously. But there I was. A complete dive, it was on the main strip right across from a local bus station. My dark, stuffy room smelled like a freight-train of dirty shorts and home-rolled cigarettes, but I was too hot and exhausted to look for something else. I took a shower and rested before going out for a walk, only to bump into Jim coming out of a tavern. He was carrying a plastic bag.
‘Why don’t you join me for a few drinks later?’ He held up the bag and burped.
‘Thanks. Maybe later,’ I said.
I had a seafood dinner in town, had a few drinks, talked with some people, then walked back to the hotel, but before going to my room I told the woman behind the desk not to give out my room number to anybody, for any reason. I read my book for a while before dozing off, but it wasn’t too long before I was awoken by someone shouting and banging in the hallway below as they wrestled with all the doorknobs. I sat up on my elbows and thought I must have been dreaming, because along with all the banging I kept hearing a name echoing throughout the building.
‘Naaaaaancy! Naaaaaaancy! Where you at? Naaaanceeee!’
I lay in my bed with my eyes open, not moving, waiting for the echo of his voice to fade. Finally, I heard a thump, a door hit a wall, another bang and then a door slamming, and that was the last I ever heard from Jim.