In January, I went to Mexico City with the express purpose of meeting other women. I was joining a tour by Wild Terrains, a new company with, according to their promotional copy, a “mission to partner with women-owned businesses wherever we go.”
Wild Terrains’ specific mandate ties into the rise of feminist travel. This trend does not simply include women-only trips and women-owned tour companies, but travel that highlights women’s experiences in a given destination. It’s the next level of the now-ubiquitous female travel empowerment narrative, which portrays travel as a rite of passage for every female and broadly supports the idea that just about the only place a woman can’t “find herself” is at home.
Wild Terrains is small, but several larger tour operators have jumped on board the trend. Intrepid recently launched a line of Women’s Expeditions, offering female travellers the chance to hike through Nepal with female sherpas or visit a women-only hair salon in Iran. Natural Habitat Adventures recently announced women-exclusive departures to Churchill, Man., where guests can expect to build igloos and make moccasins with female Métis leaders. And Wild Women Expeditions offers a number of itineraries that fit this concept, including an Egyptian river cruise that highlights visiting nomadic women in Morocco.
“It’s ultimately about making connections between women and creating spaces for women,” said Lauren Bates, the founder of Wild Terrains, at a welcome dinner on the first night.
The trip was, how to say this … super crazy bourgeois. This is not a complaint. The hotel we stayed at – Ignacia Guest House – is a cozy, contemporary five-bedroom wonder, with a glass catwalk, beautifully landscaped courtyard, daily happy hour and a chef who leaves chocolatines on the kitchen counter in case anyone is feeling peckish.
We attended a jewellery-making workshop with one of Mexico City’s top designers, cutting and filing silver pendants while talking about life – including the jeweller’s training in New York City and Paris, and her anxiety over her four-year-old son being admitted to an elite private school.
We had a cooking class with Mercedes Bernal, a hot young chef, who made us terrific vegetarian dishes – including superb roasted cauliflower tacos and a bean salad with avocado cream – while chatting about her years working at a beloved bakery in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
And we visited the showroom for textile distributors Colorindio, a beautiful sprawling apartment with hardwood floors and massive windows rimmed with deep green panes. Founders Libia Moreno and Paulina Parlange commission work from the traditional weavers of Chiapas and Oaxaca, allowing them to set their own prices and earn a wage off the crafts so deeply intertwined with local culture.
Many of the other trips that offer women-on-women itineraries try to cultivate a sense of universality among women despite key differences that typically touch on class and identity. But instead of crouching under a tent with a female goat herder and then discovering that she, too, is sometimes annoyed with her mother-in-law and feels different in her body after giving birth, the Wild Terrains trip mostly facilitated introductions with women who have familiarities: comparatively affluent, educated, well traveled and fashion forward.
There was one exception to that rule: On our last full day in Mexico City, we went on a street food tour with Rocio Vazquez Landeta, the founder of Eat Like a Local. We met Rocio in a hip coffee shop in the heart of the lovely, leafy Condesa neighbourhood, and she quickly launched into her very unlovely story about how she came to found her business.
Three years ago, Rocio left a relationship after her partner tried to kill her. She stayed too long, she told us, because she didn’t have the money to get out. Afterward, she decided that she would never be dependent on anyone again. “Women have to create better situations for themselves because men are not going to do it,” she said. So she created her company to be independent and exclusively hire other women at living wages.
As we navigated the sidewalks and dense markets, Rocio had us sample fluffy sweet vanilla conchas, soft tacos filled with lard-heavy beans or chorizo, tripe soup and fresh coconut milk or fermented pineapple tepache. She also introduced us to some of the teenage girls she works with – one the mother of a toddler with a voracious appetite – who are learning English from Rocio and hope to become either chefs or guides.
At the end of the tour, we sat and ate fancy gelato back in Condesa’s world of valet parking and brunch mimosas. One woman on the trip asked – somewhat hopefully – if Rocio thought that it was being in a bad situation and getting out that enabled her to become the person she is meant to be. Rocio quickly nodded her head in affirmation. “I hate to say that being abused helped me, but getting out put me on this path,” she said. “People always tell you that you’re powerless, but it’s not true.”
That seemingly opened the gates to a moment of connection that flourished that evening, as the group sat in Mercedes Bernal’s elegant and jam-packed restaurant, Meroma, in chic Roma Norte. Passing sharing plates of roasted carrot salad and mushroom agnolotti while drinking perfectly mixed margaritas, the women around the table started to fill in details of their own narratives of hurt and confusion while trying to make a life with someone – details that felt like the one truly universal element of the weekend.
One woman in her late 30s was grappling with her now ex-husband’s betrayal – all laid out in abundant, undeniable detail when his mistress posted intimate pictures (and tagged him) on Instagram. Another was also figuring out how to make a life post-divorce. And yet another, struggling in an increasingly disappointing and sexless marriage, noted that she appreciated the freedom to speak her mind around women who weren’t already deeply invested in her life.
I realized then that the point wasn’t just to see other women but to be seen, to have our experiences navigating an often confusing world echoed back in a way that feels familiar and validating. I suspect this is true of other tours that bring together previously unacquainted women.
Does this count as a true cultural exchange? Perhaps not. But it’s definitely a feminist one.
Sarah Treleaven was a guest of Wild Terrains.
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