Yesterday was International Women’s Day and here in Kazakhstan the 8th of March is also a national holiday. What else to do with a day off but to take the 20 minute bus out of Almaty and up to the mountains for a day of hiking in the snow. It was glorious:
But excuses to go hiking aside, Women’s Day provided a chance to think about how it is to travel as a man vs. as a woman. I’m always inspired by woman travellers I meet, especially solo ones, eschewing the predictable warnings that it’s too dangerous and setting off regardless. A short conversation with them quickly reveals the differences between cycling solo as a man and as a woman: I’ve never had to kick a drunk guy out my tent or had someone attempt to grope me whilst cycling. My male privilege means I can be much less discrete about my camping spots, wear what I want without fear of reprisal and can happily accept invitations to get drunk with a group of men with little to worry about apart from the hangover the next day.
Chatting to female travellers, the above just doesn’t hold true if you’re a woman – but they’re out there anyway, hiking, cycling, hitchhking etc. across the planet. So in light of International Women’s Day, here are 7 inspiring female travellers I’ve met on my journey:
1. Jean Rumball
A Kiwi, Cycling solo from Chengdu to the UK
I met Jean way back in Sofia in Bulgaria, where I was feeling slightly big headed for having crossed nearly the whole of Europe. Jean rolled into town, to the bike shop I was staying at, having crossed all of China, the Pamirs, Central Asia, the Caucasus and was in the process of storming through Europe (the mountainous route, not my flat Danube route). Suitably humbled, I spent the next couple of hours, over a beer and a kebab, trying to learn as much as I could and wondering if I’d ever be as experienced and knowledgable about bike touring as her.
2. Alice Bentley
British solo cyclist, in her own words “cycling somewhere…”
Alice has been on the road for about 2 and a half years now. I finally met her in Bishkek, where she’s a minor Central Asian celebrity – I was told by at least 5 different people as I travelled through Kyrgyzstan “Oh, you must meet this Alice Bentley when you get to Bishkek!”. Going through Europe (the very wiggly route), then Turkey, the Caucasus, Russia, Kazakhstan and the Pamirs, she has now settled in Bishkek for winter before pressing on to China later in the year (sound familiar?).
3. Yan Ki Chan
Hong-Kongese Graphic Designer, cycling from HK to Norway on a handbuilt Bamboo Bike
I met Yan Ki in Dushanbe, Tajikistan after she’d just finished cycling the Pamirs, just as I was starting. Pretty much the coolest person I’ve ever met on or off the bike, she hand built her bike made of bamboo (Yes. Bamboo.) and it has taken her from HK, across all of China, over the Pamirs, through Central Asia, through Iran, UAE, Oman and now into the Caucasus.
4 & 5. Bronagh Flanagan & Jessica Fast
Travelling overland from Europe to Kazakhstan (and beyond…)
A Swede and an Irishwoman walk into a bar, then decide to hitchike, bus, train and boat their way across Eurasia… Ok so I’m not sure if this is how the trip actually started, but having met Bronagh and Jessica, it could have been. I first met them when they arrived at Baku port for the same ferry as me to Kazakhstan (they were allowed on, I wasn’t), then we met again in Dushanbe. Excellent conversationalists, we had a good time in the Tajik capital, including going to the world’s largest Chaikhana (tea-house) for a night of Iranian pop music. They’re both staunchly feminist and the two have hiked all over Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, taking no heed of the locals’ advice that they couldn’t because they were ‘just two girls’. Bronagh is back in Europe now, but Jessica continues her travels, currently in China.
6. Jessie Fröde
Walking from Hamburg to Kathmandu, blogger, nomad
A chance meeting at the side of the road in Azerbaijan was how we met. Jessie had walked all the way from Germany, through Europe, Turkey and into the Caucasus by the time I met her. Quirky, friendly and chatty, we shared just a ten minute chat. I gave her some grapes and we went our separate ways, with me feeling suitably outdone in the adventurousness stakes.
Website: www.bunterwegs.com (in German)
7. Madle Timm
Estonian solo traveller, journalist and hiker extraordinaire
If it wasn’t for Madle, I probably wouldn’t be hiking in Almaty at all. Whilst I’m looking for excuses not to hike on the snowy peaks (I’ve not the right gear, haven’t done it before etc.) she is the opposite and persuaded me to get up and out the door, even when the weather was in the -20s here. We met in Karakol in Kyrgyzstan for New Years and again here in Almaty, where she was volunteering in a hostel. Possessing the driest sense of humour I’ve ever heard (maybe that’s Estonians for you), she won’t take no for an answer and, in short, just gets things done (riding a horse to a frozen lake in Kyrgyzstan in December springs to mind.). She’s currently travelling across Uzbekistan, having come from Turkey, through Kyrgyzstan & Kazakhstan, writing about it for various Estonian newspapers.