I was thinking about this yesterday -- well, not "paranoia" exactly, but where exactly the line is drawn between good sense in trusting your instincts, and being overly cautious, seeing potential danger where none might exist. I pretty much go with my gut; if something feels "off" or makes me uncomfortable, I don't do it or I get the hell out of wherever it is. I like to think that, after 20 years of looking after myself and navigating big-city life, that my instincts are pretty reliable.
I'm fine with things that make other women I know nervous -- walking around downtown Toronto late at night, for example -- because I have enough experience to tell me that it'll be fine. Hey, I used to live at the corner of Jarvis and Gerrard, right near the "hooker Harvey's", when I first moved to Toronto, and walked home many a night by myself with no incidents. (Except for one night I was mistaken for a hooker myself and almost arrested, but it was the fault of my Hallowe'en costume and some unfortunate coincidences. But that's another story.) I can travel other strange cities with ease and without worrying; I remember going to Washington with my Jeansmarines women for the marathon and realizing just how much more seasoned a traveller I was than many of them. Some of them were overwhelmed just by the task of getting on the Metro and I had to shepherd them through it.
I`m conscious when I'm travelling that a women alone is more vulnerable -- I hate it, but it's a reality any female backpacker has to live with -- so there are things I choose not to do by myself. Sometimes this means passing up things that I want to do, and I wonder if I play it too safe sometimes -- am I missing out on experiences that could have been rewarding, am I worrying for no reason? I was thinking about this yesterday, after I came back from my hike.
I went southwest of Cafayate heading for the Rio Colorado, and from there I was going to carry on up the river to a waterfall about an hour and half upstream. While I was still about two kilometres from the river, though, a man appeared out of a side trail and started walking along with me, on the other side of the road. At first, it was fine -- he seemed nice enough, we chatted amiably and I enjoyed the chance to practice my Spanish. I held up my end of the conversation pretty well, although once in a while what I had to say was dictated more by what words I know than what I actually wanted to say!
By the time we got to the river, though, it started to feel ... off. I don't mean threatening, exactly, just that something didn't quite feel right. His questions were getting much more personal -- how many boyfriends did I have in Canada? Did I have any boyfriends in Argentina? Where was I staying? Was I staying alone? Did I know anybody here? Why didn`t my friends come hiking with me?
He urged me to carry on with him on the path to the waterfall. "It's a short walk, just up ahead -- it will only take 10 minutes -- and it's very beautiful, you will love it," he insisted.
I took a look at the narrow, overgrown path leading off into the woods. I looked around and realized there was no one else for miles around. I remembered that my guidebook had said it was at least an hour and a half to walk to the waterfall ... not ten minutes.
So I "suddenly" noticed how late it was getting and exclaimed that I had to get back to town to meet my husband. (Fake husbands or boyfriends are very useful things to bring travelling.) I was already going to be late and he would be worried if I was any later. With a hasty good-bye, I started back down the road towards Cafayate, and I never did get to see the waterfall.
He didn't follow me. So if he was really just a nice guy who only wanted to help out a tourist or who was only looking for conversation with an interesting foreigner, then I'm sorry for thinking ill of him. (But, really, I couldn't stand up my imaginary husband, could I?) However, if he wasn't actually a nice guy ... then it could've gone very, very wrong had I not turned around and walked away.
But that's the thing about trusting your instincts. You won't ever know what would have happened if you hadn't listened to them, if you'd made a different choice. You can't tell whether anything bad would've happened, or not, so you can't judge whether you're being sensible or overly paranoid. But I figure that, if I do something contrary to what my instincts tell me, then I'm going to be uncomfortable and worried the whole time anyway -- so even if it turns out to have been perfectly safe, I won't really have enjoyed it.
I have a pretty good idea, now, of what's a good idea for me and what isn't, but I'm sure everyone's comfort level or sense of security is different. Where do you draw that line?