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Traveling as a lesbian couple through Latin America
There is one major difference between straight and gay long-term traveling couples, and it all comes down to the bed situation. Sure, I know what you’re thinking (dirty minds!) but it is a difference that begins even before we even check-in. I would imagine that for straight couples the scenario is as follows: You arrive at hotel/hostel and the owner or receptionist shows you first to a room with a double bed if they have one, or apologizes that there are only rooms with two single beds. End of scenario. For LGBT couples traveling on a budget, the arrival at the hotel is a bit more awkward.
Let’s break down a few scenarios of what happens when we arrive at a hostel, assuming we like it enough to stay there. Scenario 1: We arrive, and immediately shown a twin room. We share a silent glance and weigh various factors (how long have we been walking with our packs, is the hostel really nice, is it cheap, maybe just for tonight?). Then we decide whether or not we’ll be pushing the two beds together. Scenario number 2: Owner/receptionist apologizes for only having a double bed. We breathe a sigh of relief. Should owner offer to switch us to a room with twin beds the next day, we simply reply that the room is great and we are used to sharing beds. Scenario 3: Having already weighed up all factors, we arrive and inquire directly about a room with a double bed. Receive quizzical looks. Stew uncomfortably in awkward moment, but get the room.
Sometimes we wish that staff would ask, with casual discretion, as if offering some sugar – “and will that be one bed or two, ladies?”
For the most part, the average LGBT traveler is no different to our straight counterparts; we see the same sights, drink in the same bars and stay at the same hotels. In fact, traveling as a lesbian couple has not been a major issue for us at all, though this is most likely due to our toned down public displays of affection. Stolen kisses and knowing winks are easy enough to get used to, but when one of us gets hurt or upset, it is hard not to console each other like a couple.
Not that we are back in the proverbial closet. In Europe we are very open with our sexuality. In Central America, however, homosexuality has a diminished media presence, and, with very few exceptions, the closet is still seen as a perfectly valid place for the LGBT community. This lack of awareness is slowly changing, of course, and in Mexico we were pleasantly surprised at the liberal social and political attitude to gays and lesbians. Aware of the strongly Catholic and socially conservative influence here, we actively choose not to provoke or test the boundaries, acting as friends mostly because it is easier. We have experienced a constant level of ignorance to the possibility that we might be a couple, despite several clues that might be obvious to people from the U.S. or Europe (same shoes, similar dress, and the way we talk to each other that so obviously makes us more than friends).
Only one hotel (El Amanecer Sak’Cari in San Pedro, Guatemala) understood that we are a couple, unflinchingly apologizing to us for having only twin rooms and promising a double bed the next day, which they followed up on.
Our ‘bad’ experiences have been equally limited, with the only vocal opposition to us taking place on Caye Caulker in Belize. Dani and I had been having a dream of a time in Belize, and, feeling romantic, we walked home one night holding hands. As we passed a group of rastas, one of them yelled out “why dose girls is holding hands, what’s wrong with dem?” A friend of his who we had hung out with explained – ‘dos two girls is husband and wife, dey don’t need no man’. Aw, that was sweet. At least he kind of gets it. We were about 100ft past them when the first guy yelled after us ‘God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”
In contrast to Belize, we expect Costa Rica to be the most gay friendly in Central America. Unlike Mexico, Costa Rica still does not condone same-sex marriage or civil unions, but political policy tends toward respect and tolerance. The travel industry has followed suit with LGBT marketing campaigns, though this might simply be due to a more highly developed tourism industry. It seems that a higher level of tolerance toward gay travelers correlates less to political or social policy and more to the number of stars on the outside of the hotel.
International hotel chains with a budget to undertake research understand the economic value of attracting LGBT travellers, or the so-called pink dollar, in particular, and staff is properly trained in customer service and discretion in general, for all visitors whether gay or straight. Down here in the bowels of budget travel, budget hotels and hostels far away from five-star chains show no awareness of the value of the pink dollar, just of the nice crisp green ones that keep the business afloat.
This has been our experience, thus far, and in no way can be considered an expert opinion. We also know that our experience as two women is most likely very different from gay male travelers. That is why we would like to open the discussion here rather than close it, and hear about your experiences and thoughts, whether gay or straight. Additionally, tips on LGBT-friendly budget hotels and hostels in Latin America or worldwide would be greatly appreciated both for us and our readers.