I wrote this post back in March of this past year (2019) and then hesitated to post it. As I am picking up my blogging again now that I have closed the hostel and started traveling again, it feels important to not skip over it. The Fu#*!%d up stuff is part of the journey as well and I don’t want to hide it away and paint a picture of my life in paradise that is perfect. Paradise is not always paradise. So here ya go:
This is a hard blog post to write. A story I think is important to share, but one that leaves me feeling vulnerable and opens the doors to judgment about my choices. Also a story that could help someone to get out of a bad situation and it also validates and gives a voice to some of strange responses and experiences women still go through in our culture. In the chance that my story reaches someone who needs it, I bravely offer it up.
I have been out here living on sailboats with my doors and hatches wide-open to the cruisers around me – my yoga practice on the bow open for anyone to witness. Most of my showering and peeing is off the back of the boat, exposing much of my existence to anyone who passes by. I am not afraid to be vulnerable and to live with my windows and doors wide open.
So dear reader, I have decided to give you my story about being more discerning as to when to say yes and when to set boundaries when situations change. I do not want this piece to instill fear, worry, or stop you from saying “yes” to risks and opportunities in life; my life has been full of grand adventures because I have not been afraid to say yes to opportunities that involve risks and usually bring me great rewards.
During my last week in Panama I faced one of the most momentarily terrifying situations of my 43 years, on the peaceful beach where I took my prayer walks and gifted myself time for a daily yoga practice. The beach I walked daily, very near the marina where I was living was a long, sandy stretch, with a constant wind and breaking waves. Egrets fished there in the mornings and an interesting assortment of shells, seeds, trash, and man-of-wars washed up upon the shore each day. I would walk this beach in silent prayer each morning and collect the beautiful objects that caught my eye to make the temporary altar on the sand in front of my yoga mat for my day’s practice. In my two weeks of doing this, I think I had seen 4 people. It felt quite safe in the isolated, gated marina where I was aquatinted with all of the cruisers living there and most of the marina staff, and I had softened and let my guard down.
On the day of this particular story, I was on my mat, deep in my practice when I noticed two young men on horses that I had never seen before coming down the beach. I was relishing in the glory of my beautiful life as they rode by adding to the simple beauty of the moment and we waved.
Just after they passed me, one of the young men dismounted and asked me in Spanish if I’d like to ride his horse. Having fallen in love with horseback riding as a young girl, I was excited by the opportunity to get on a horse on this lovely beach. I hesitated about interrupting my yoga practice, yet didn’t get any intuitive gut feeling that this offer could be dangerous to accept. It was a small horse and I knew how to ride, and the young men seemed kind and innocent. I moved my mat and yoga props back from the sea, and put my phone in a bag, which I brought with me. I normally did not take my phone to the beach, but that day, fortunately, I had carried it with me to take some photos.
After the young man helped me into the saddle, he jumped on as well, on the rear of the horse and grabbed the reins. I didn’t necessarily expect that he would ride with me, but it also didn’t seem awkward. I made small talk in my limited Spanish as we rode down the beach. I was primarily focused on the horse and how much I loved riding on the beach.
Shortly after we went around the point in the long beach where I could no longer see the marina, the men veered off of the beach and into the brush, moving inland. As the horse traversed the terrain, I focused on shifting my weight on the horse and enjoying the memories of riding trails as a young girl. Suddenly, the young man behind me slid forward onto the back of the saddle, pressing himself into me. At first it seemed like he was trying to keep me stable as we went up and down little gullies, but quickly I realized he was making an advance as his hand slid down to my thigh. I swatted his hand away and said no to show that I was not interested, but was not very forceful or aggressive in my action or words.
This is the place that I keep looking back at in the unfolding of events. Throughout my life as a woman I have fended off so many unwanted advances that have never turned into anything dangerous. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes as commonplace as swatting at a fly, becoming normalized as an annoyance I have dealt with on dance floors, in various public places, and traveling without a male companion. It’s a sad state of affairs to realize how common this behavior is and that I have come to be so accustomed to it that I didn’t see it as an immediate threat. I swatted him away a few more times and he slid back off the saddle.
I started saying that I would like to go back to my stuff on the beach, but the young men kept the horses moving inland. At this point, I knew things didn’t feel right, but I still didn’t feel afraid or unsafe. I was beginning to assess my exit strategy if the guy didn’t stop the horse. My foot was in a lot of pain, and jumping off while the horse was moving was not a good option for me.
I am a strong woman and have always been able to get myself out of situations. As I look back at my thoughts in those moments, I can see there was an element of denial in how seriously not ok the situation was becoming. I believe in the good intentions of people and have been fortunate not to live in cities or cultures where I have to be so on guard – which has also left me somewhat naïve to the harsh realities of the ways of many humans and the need to defend yourself from them.
At this point, I wasn’t too far from the beach, but was definitely not near other people. There was an abandoned hotel that I had seen on a walk a few days before that they led the horses towards. The men stopped the horses there and I had my opportunity to get off. The young man, who had gotten off the horse before me, asked if I would like to go in the building. I clearly said no, grabbed my bag containing my phone, and dismounted. As soon as I hit the ground he grabbed me firmly by the wrist and tried to pull me towards the abandoned hotel. I forcefully yanked my hand away and took off walking at a rapid pace yelling anything I could think of in Spanish. “Enough! I don’t like this! I don’t want this! You are very young! I have children your age!”
I obviously need to practice some more aggressive phrases in Spanish. Like “fuck off” or “Stay the hell away from me” or “I’m calling the police!”
The other man just stayed on his horse the whole time and watched the scene. The young man who had grabbed me jumped back on his horse and rode along side of me as I yelled at him and made my way back toward the beach. As I look back, this was the point I should have pulled out my phone and called my friends at the marina, but again, I still didn’t feel like I couldn’t handle what was happening. After about a minute of my yelling, the man on the horse veered away and went back inland as I continued to move in a rapid walk. Feeling more frustrated than afraid about how rotten the glorious moments of riding a horse on the beach had turned into something so lame and also with my own choice of not being more aggressive towards his advances, I kept walking. I stayed focused on the beach ahead of me and getting back to the safety of the marina.
As soon as I reached the sand, still just beyond the bend where I could not see the marina, the young man came riding up in a trot with his lasso out and ready. He was actively pursuing me with the intention of catching me in a lasso. The terror of the situation suddenly overtook me. The look in his eyes was like that of a wildcat pursuing his prey, fixed on my every move. I had never felt so much like a wild animal in all of my life.
Just as if a jaguar was hunting me, I chose not to run. I figured the kid was probably pretty skilled with a lasso, and if he successfully got that rope around my arms I was going to be raped. I felt like running could amp up the chase and I couldn’t outrun a horse anyway. I kept my eyes fixed on his hand and the lasso, knowing that whatever happened I needed to stay out of that rope. I began flailing my arms, screaming wildly and as loud as I possibly could, “No!” over and over again. With my shaking hand, I fumbled to get my phone out of the zip lock bag and call my friends at the marina.
I am not sure if it was my screaming and crazed-lady approach or if he saw me get the phone to my ear that scared him off, but either way, he chose to turn his horse away and give up the chase.
Fortunately, my friend Annie answered, and being a runner, took off at a sprint and was at the opposite end of the beach in no time, along with her husband and a man who worked at the marina. The young men on horseback were nowhere in sight and did not come back.
When we all met on the beach, I explained what had happened in English, with breaks to translate what I could into Spanish for the marina worker. My friends hugged me as I thanked them for coming so quickly, and the two men turned to walk back. Annie helped me gather my things and walked slowly back down the beach with me.
Once we approached the marina, we went to the manager to let him know what had happened. I know my Spanish wasn’t perfect, but with gestures I certainly got the story across to him and the 2 other male workers present. Their response was lacking in any emotion or action. It was if I had just told them the sky was blue. I was glad to have Annie along side of me to witness this strange response. We discussed it later in the day and decided that we should tell the woman who ran the restaurant on the beach; people who worked at the marina should be aware of this.
In the afternoon when we ran into her, I described the incident and to our surprise, she too acted very nonchalant about the whole thing. She seems a bit surprised by the fact that he tried to use a lasso to catch me, and even snickered at the thought of it. Again, Annie and I found ourselves surprised by the response of this woman and the other café employees. It truly gave us insight into the normalization of this type of behavior in this culture and beyond.
I saw clearly that there was an element to the responses I got in sharing this story, that possibly I brought it upon myself because I chose to say yes to the offer of a horseback ride with two men I didn’t know. I don’t have any idea, nor will I ever know, if this was a preplanned rape attempt or an idea that developed after I had gotten on the horse. It doesn’t matter.
Even out of the small group of friends I shared this story with, I sometimes got a little bit of joking or laughing, when really I just needed love, compassion, and to feel safe again. The best responses I got were after returning home: big, compassionate hugs and comments like “I’m so sorry that happened to you” and asking if I was doing alright.
This kind of shit shouldn’t happen – but it does, sadly, quite often. And even more disturbingly, it is sometimes seen as a normalized behavior and one that women should be defending themselves from.
I was fortunate to have brushed up against an attempted rape and to have gotten away unharmed. I learned so many things and have gained a deep level of empathy for those have been raped. I have been given a glance through the window of what it’s like to be a rape victim and have the people around you treat you as if it’s your fault it happened. I am planning on teaching a young women’s empowerment course series in the future, and I am grateful for this experience and the lessons it has given me to learn and teach from.
On the morning before I left the marina, I went to the beach and made a final offering of the seeds and shells I had collected throughout my weeks there. As I created my art piece that would later be washed into the sea, I spoke my gratitudes and prayers for all the ways the beach had held my body, mind, and spirit. I added gratitude for not being raped and for the valuable lessons the horrifying experience gave me.
I am not going to let this experience stop me from saying “yes” to opportunities that present themselves, yet I will be a bit more discerning about considering my safety when I do chose to say yes. I will continue to trust my gut instincts and my intuitive compass to guide me and will not allow this to shake my confidence. I am brave and strong. I am love and light and neither the dark side of human behavior nor my own fear will stop me from living my best life.
Thank you for opening up about this. It must be hard. Especially after having so many discount its gravity. I hope that by sharing your experience others may be able to avoid situations like this.
Thank you, Kelly, for this powerful post. I pray that someday, women and girls (and boys and trans, too) will be safe to live completely freely. Until then, your story is valuable for all of us to be aware and listen intently to our intuition, to help each other and keep each other safe.