Less than a week on the road, I woke up naked to the sound of rain pouring over the tent in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. My head pounding, I rolled over to my side to find the German guy I’d met the night before sleeping next to me, mouth gaping open, wrapped like a cocoon in his blanket.
I remember feeling that I had done something horribly wrong. With my guilty conscience kicking into high gear, I did the first thing I could think of doing: I got dressed as quietly and quickly as possible before sneaking out of the tent in the wee hours of the morning.
The first time always feels a bit wrong.
Growing up in a society where casual sex plus female was almost always synonymous with a slew of derogatory terms, it was hard not to feel guilt or shame. It’s the double standard. Casual sex for men is praiseworthy, another notch on the bedpost, but for women it’s a reason for behind-the-back name calling. I’d never realized it before, but I guess I had accepted it without question.
A few weeks later on a humid evening in Panama City, I found myself lying on rumpled sheets, my hair in knots and face dripping with sweat, next to a New Zealander I’d met a few nights prior. In that post-coital moment as we both lay unmoving, breathing heavily, I felt emboldened by liquid courage and broke the silence by saying almost too casually, “I won’t be here when you wake up.”
He lay quietly as thin streaks of moonlight seeped through cracks in the windowpanes, drawing lines over his face, obscuring my view of his reaction. I turned my head to catch his gaze, coaxing him to respond. He seemed at a loss for words, but after a few seconds of silence, he finally responded with, “I would really like it if you stayed.”
The way his voice softened when he uttered those words made me realize he was just as vulnerable as I was. We were in a situation where our societal norms didn’t exist; the media-glorified roles of the prowling-promiscuous-male and hesitant-attached-female didn’t belong here. Traveling life is a version of reality where everyone is a deviant and sexual desires run rampant. And, it’s okay. No one is there to judge.
It was liberating.
A few months later, on my last night in Mexico, I found myself sitting on my bed packing all my belongings into my dirty orange backpack.
I heard two knocks before my door creaked open. In stepped a French-Canadian guy from Quebec. He was a few years younger than me, usually a deal breaker at home. I’d spent a few nights with him in Playa del Carmen three weeks prior, and while I enjoyed his company, I found our chance meeting across the country in Puerto Escondido an inconvenience.
We exchanged a bit of small talk for formality’s sake, and without further insinuation, delved into the question of whether or not I’d be spending the night with him. I told him I’d rather be alone. I was stunned at how casually I responded to a topic I used to find so taboo that even a slight allusion sent blood rushing to my cheeks as if I were sitting in front of my parents having “the talk.”
With nothing to lose, inhibitions are often the first things left on the side of the road in the world of travel. There’s no such thing as beating around the bush, or waiting for the right moment. Every moment is always the right moment, and there is no such thing as shame.
The logic is always that if you ever feel so inclined, you’re free to leave as you please to be someone else, somewhere else.
I watched as he slowly got up, his eyes lingering on the ground, as if trying to find the right words to counter my rebuff. After a few moments of silence, defeated, he wished me a safe journey as he walked out the door. It at first creaked slowly behind him before slamming shut.
As I continued to pack, my eyes, every so often, gazed toward the entry. Waiting.
He was a law student in Uruguay, and I had taken a liking to him in the last week I spent in Puerto Escondido. He was tall, unshaven, with long, dark, curly hair and an accent that made my knees weak. He smiled as he walked into my room, locking the door behind him. Neither of us said a word. I got up to turn off the lights, as he pulled the curtains shut, making sure not a single speck of light would find its way into the room.
We would spend the night feeling our way around each other in the pitch darkness. We devoured each other, wildly.
It was a perfect last night. Even more so, because I knew I’d never have to see him again.