"Without Fear" - Now More Than Ever
I am standing on the side of the road, near a gas station in Rio Grande, holding up my "NORTE / Buenos Aires" sign, smiling at every Pickup and Truck I see. Since hitching a ride for the first 300km, leaving Ushuaia was so easy, I am optimistic, that I won't get stranded here. A few seconds later a truck driver signals me, to follow him. A few minutes later my bike and all my things are securely put away. When I ask Ernesto, how far he is driving, he says Buenos Aires. I cannot believe, how lucky I am. 30 minutes wait for a 3.000km lift.
Ernesto is a funny fella, makes a lot of jokes and we are having a nice conversation. Since Tierra del Fuego is part chilean, part argentinian, we have to cross several boarder control points. For the first time there is a good amount of Coronavirus-panic in the air. Questions about health, border guards with headbands covering their mouths, the sound of sanitizer dispensers, after every stamp-sound.
After the last checkpoint, we are off to the ferry and all of the sudden the conversations are changing in a way, that makes me feel uncomfortable. "When was your last relationship?" "When did you last have sex?". I try to change the topic, by asking about this weird blue hose, that is hanging from the ceiling. It's an air compressor. Ernesto jokes around and blows air in my face, which is funny at first, but then he keeps on blowing air in my face and also my body.
Late at night we pull over, in the middle of nowhere on the side of the neverending, straight road. Ernesto cooks vegan pasta and I forgive the weird talks. But then it is time to hit the sack. So I tell him I would like to get my tent from the locked up compartment under the truck. All of the sudden he is offended "Why? You can sleep here! Do you think I am a bad guy?" "No... but... ok, but I am going to sleep in the passenger seat!" Again he looks offended and disappointed. "Lisa do you think I am a bad person? A murderer or some weirdo?" "But you have to drive tomorrow, so it's okay, I can sleep on the seat." His looks are very direct. "Take the bed, you don't have to be scared!"
With a bad feeling I get into the narrow bed. All of the sudden Ernesto gets in as well. He lays down, really closely and puts his arm around me. I take his arm, put it back and tell him, that I don't want him to touch me. "But why?", he puts his arm around me again. "Because I don't want this!", again I put his arm back, but he instantly touches me again. "Why not?!"
I turn over, get as close to the wall, als I can. But Ernesto follows me every centimeter. I feel his body pressed against mine. Thousands of thoughts run through my mind. What am I supposed to do? Would he get aggressive, if I fight this or try to escape?
He keeps whispering in my ear, tells me he wants to come to Germany with me. I keep trying to get his arm off of me, but he always hugs me again. "Why not?", he asks, "Am I too fat? What's wrong about me?" I freeze, pretend to be asleep, keep hoping that the night will pass quickly and that it won't get any further than "just" hugging. But he starts moving his hand and rubbing himself against my tensed up body. At some point he gives up and gets back to driving for a few hours.
After a few hours I wake up. Ernesto is back and his hands aren't "just" on my stomach anymore. I jump up, take his hands off my pants and yell at him, that he has to stop, as loud as my body, which is still half asleep, lets me. He presses himself against me, his hand wandering all over my body. I stopp him, but he instantly goes back to touching me. "I don't want this", I yell at him, pushing myself agains the wall. But there is no way to get away. "I want to have Sex with you!", he whispers in my ear. "I don't want this!", tears are rolling down my cheeks. "But I picked you up and gave you a lift..." Suddenly he pulls me on my back, holds down my hands, sits on my legs and rubs himself against me, tries kissing me. I scream and try to get away from him. After what feels like an eternity, I free myself from his grip, press myself against the wall and start crying.
As if something hit a switch, he hugs me and says I shouldn't be sacred, he won't do anything to me. He lays down and puts his arm around me again. I freeze, try to block out, everything that is happening. He keeps on asking, if I am asleep. I am just laying there, like a rock, not making any noises. At some point he rolls over and starts masturbating. In my head I am trying to be miles away. It's like it's just my outer shell laying there. As if my brain had started a protection mechanism, to save my psyche. The next morning I can finally escape his hug.
"What are you doing?", "I have to go for a piss". I grab my shoes and jump off the truck. I look around and all I see is kilometers of empty landscapes. Painfully I realize, that I am dependent on him, at least til the next town, which is still houndreds of kilometers away.
Back in the truck Ernesto pretends as if nothing had happened. He is boiling water for tea and announced that we are heading off soon. What follows are 12 hours of hell. My eyes keep tearing up, I feel emotionally exhausted and the same time I feel emotionally empty. We are driving through endless roads, through the endless emptiness of the pampas. I am not talking, ignore his looks and jokes, I don't think my body is able to laugh anyways.
I keep breaking my mind. How should I have acted? Would it have made him aggressive, if I had punched him? How can I escape him now? I ask myself, how some men can be like this, why they can not accept a simple "No!", why they force you to explain, to ignore the reasons in the end anyways. How can he just sit there, after crossing so many lines? My eyes are burning from all the tears I keep suppressing.
At some point he tells me, that there have been some change of plans, that he cannot take me to Buenos Aires, that he will let me out 1.200km south of Buenos Aires, in Sierra Grande. That I can wildcamp at a gas station. I don't ask why, I am just relieved that there will be an end to this. 'Only 400 more kilometers, you've got this, Lisa!'
He hugs my goodbye, my whole body turns into stone. I run to the gas station, ask about camping. It's past midnight and I am as exhausted as if I had just ridden my bike for 180km. Two black and white dogs are sleeping in front of the door of the gas station, they keep following me behind the bushes, where I can camp. Since there is so much garbage around, I decide to check the gas station across the street, the dogs follow me.
Behind the gas station is a small park with some tables and BBQs. Even though five dogs behind a fence are barking agressively at my new friends, they never leave my side, while I pitch my tent.
I close the zipper of my tent and instantly start crying. At some point I cry myself to sleep. The next morning I know, that I won't hitch another ride, I want to take the bus instead. I crawl out of my tent and see the two dogs, who have slept next to my tent all night. They also follow me across the street to take a shower at the other gas station. When I get out of the shower a truck driver asks me, where I am from. When I tell him, that I am from germany, he asks me about my opinion on the Coronavirus and how long I have been in the country for. He follows me outside, my body tenses and my heart beats faster. I wont to get away, but also don't want to be impolite.
I take my bike, tell him I have to go and cycle to the other gas station, to use the free WiFi. The dogs are still by my side.
I call my best friend, whom I had told, that the truck driver is a bit weird. I hadn't told her what happened though, to not worry her.
"So how was it?", she asks. I instantly burst into tears and tell her everything. It feels good to finally get this pressure of my chest, at the same time my whole body starts hurting. Once you actually say it out loud, it suddenly becomes real.
The dogs and I leave towards the bus company. When I turn around the corner, my body freezes. Ernesto's truck is parked just outside the bus company's office. the curtains are closed, I tun into the office and ask about the bus to Buenos Aires. "There is one at 3p.m., but you cannot take your bike with you and since you don't have a box for it, we cannot ship it with the next truck either. I am sorry!", a fire is burning up in my throat and I cannot fight the tears any longer. With a few words I explain what had happened and that the truck is parked right outside and that I really need to get on a bus. The young man named Lucas looks at me surprised, gets up, closes the door, puts his hand on my shoulder, tells me that I am safe and hands me a glass of water. "I will go have a look for a box!"
Luckily he finds a box that is just big enough to fit a bike. I start taking off the handlebars, saddle and front wheel. Lucas asks me about my trip. My spanisch normally isn't too bad, but it is as if my brain is still frozen and I cannot speak. Neither I, nor Lucas can get the pedals off, and since I don't have any more energy, I just put the bike into the box, that isn't in a good shape either. While I keep sobbing, Lucas puts some tape around the box.
"But he didn't rape you. He didn't undress you, right?!", I shake my head. "Well than nothing happened, it's fine. Calm down!", I am too tired, to freak out and explain to this man, what it feels like, to be exposed to a man, what it feels like, to wake up to hands, touching you in places, what it feels like to now know, what to do, when a clear NO is being ignored and that, even though in the end Ernesto didn't get, what he wanted, the situation is traumatizing and simply horrible.
Like an emotional zombie I walk towards the supermarket, still followed by my dogs. I keep on bursting into tears. "Calm down, nothing happened", I cry more. It takes me ages to pick the few things I need for the 18 hour bus ride. Not long enough for my dogs, who kept waiting in front of the supermarket. We walk to the gas station, to hide away from Ernesto and wait for the bus office to open up again.
From the bus I thank Lucas via WhatsApp. He tells me, that he will make sure, that my bike will get to Buenos Aires asap. In the meantime the Whatsapp groupchat of cyclist in South America, is blowing up with messages about closed down borders and people who are fleeing the continent. It's too much for me. I just want to pause this planet for a while, so I can finally breathe.
One thing is cristal clear: Neither a horny truck driver, nor a fucking virus can stop me! I have to try to grow stronger from this shit. I think about all the positive things that have happened to me the past seven months. Like at the first day, when I was standing by the side of the road, with a broken bike and this nice columbian cycled with me, through the dark, all the way to Guatapé. Or William, who picked me up in the dark and brought me to his ranch. Or the nice truck driver who picked me up during a sand storm on the peruvian coast, and took me all the way to Lima. I keep playing those moments in my mind, try sucking every positivity out of those moments, even thought it is really hard.
It was bad luck! Wrong place, wrong time! Just like when I was cycling down the chilean highway and I cycled over that tiny milimeter of a 1,5 meter wide shoulder and picked up this tiny piece of wire that gave me a flat tyre. I wont let this asshole bring me down! I won't give him the power, to kill my positive mindset, to kill my belief, that there is something good in every single person. And most of all I won't loose my conviction, that women can travel, just like men, just because of that one guy. And I won't give the right to any man, to play down incidents as "nothing happened".