I was not the kind of person who would read reviews on hostels/hotels/hospidajes before booking them. “Its only for a nightttt, who cares” I say to my husband while he carefully reads through hundreds of reviews on Expedia and Hostelworld.com. But sometimes, you learn things the hard way. And this is what happened to me.
Solo traveling in Peru: After 2 lovely days in Lima, I was ready for the journey through the rest of Peru. Next stop: Ica. I tapped on the Hostelworld.com app on my Samsung tablet and hit search! Ica is a small town south of Lima and a total of 4-5 hostels showed up on my search. I booked the first one on the search results, Ica Wasi located at 194, Fermin Tangui in Ica.
Let me tell you about the hostel first: I reached Ica at 9 p.m., took a cab to the Ica Wasi – it was literally 2 minutes away from the bus stop, and checked in. The hostel ticked most criteria that you would want in a hostel – it was clean, close to the main square, there were extra security lockers, wi-fi and 24 hour reception. It is run by two brothers and only one of them was home, and he checked me in. Perfect, everything was perfect.
I was already tired from the surfing lesson I took in Lima earlier that day. So, I hopped out for grab some dinner to go – took a nice hot shower in the spic and span washroom and retired in the cozy dorm bed to continue reading the last few pages of Angels and Demons. The hostel had a small dormitory with 4×2 beds on the main floor (right across the space from the reception). There were no doors or partition between the reception and the dorms, so the hostel owners could walk freely in the dorm area anytime they wanted. The private rooms were upstairs.
I was so tired, I didn’t realize when I fell asleep. At around 2 am, I heard some screaming – did not bother waking up coz I thought it was two of my dorm-mates teasing each other. In 10 minutes, the screaming got louder.“Just leave me alone, ok… get out of here…. help me… helppp” the girl on the next bed yelled.….”Are you ok?” I asked, waking up, still rubbing my eyes.
It was then that I saw someone running away. I switched on the night bulb and asked her what the matter was. She told me, that the hotel owner was trying to assault her. I was SHOCKED to say the very least. Never heard of such a thing. Never EVER.
Early that evening, she had asked (the other) hostel owner to accompany her to a restaurant. Ica is a pretty shady town and after 10 pm, its better not to loiter around alone, especially if you are a blonde. They had dinner and returned around 11 and she slept off.
The hostel owner got drunk and came back to our dorm at night. He started pulling her hand, trying to kiss her and talking absolute rubbish. He did not know that there was another person sleeping in the same dorm (that is, me), because he wasn’t at the hostel when I had checked in. Only when I woke up, did he realize that and ran away! The girl was terrified, obviously. I talked to her for some time, to make sure she was comfortable, before putting her off to sleep. I did not want to stay here another day, so I booked another hostel at Huacachina, Carola del Sur at Av. Angela de Perotti, Huacachina. Banana’s adventure is another popular hostel close to this one.
The next morning, needless to say, we were both pretty furious. We checked out early at 8 am. I walked her to the bus terminal (she was off to Lima), and I took a cab to Corola del Sur.
If you are coming to Ica, I would suggest that you book a hostel in Huacachina (take a cab for 5 soles to Huacachina and the cab driver will drop you right at the oasis) rather in Ica: 1, It is a more popular town and much safer. 2, cheaper than Ica. 3, you can book your sand dune buggy tour + sandboarding right at the hostel and 4, Look, how pretty!
1. To make sure to read hostel reviews before booking one AND to add reviews on important observations for future travelers.
2. Never book a hostel without seeing the pictures: Dorms should be separate rooms and not a lobby turned into a dormitory. Safety for solo female travelers is one of the biggest concerns. If you find yourself in a shady hostel and really do not have an option, go for a private room. You may be spending a couple of dollars extra, but atleast you will be sure about your safety.
3. I don’t want to ask you not to be friendly with the hostel staff, as they are mostly helpful. They are the best people to take advice from as they know the region inside out. But try not to be over-friendly, especially if it is a smaller hostel. Again, I am not saying that you should not be polite or jovial, but try to maintain a safe distance.
I have, since, added a couple of additional criteria to my list while booking a hostel: Privacy of dormitory and social interaction with other hostelers. Hostels that encourage social interaction are much safer not only because there is someone to look out for you, just in case, but also because their staff keeps changing with shifts.