When she rides alone around the streets of Caracas astride a Suzuki GS500, Ana Julia Mosquera tucks her long hair inside her helmet and wears baggy clothes.
“Sometimes I prefer to ride looking like a man, for safety,” she said.
Not just for safety, but also to avoid comments she and her fellow members of the Venezuelan all-female Ratgirls biker group suffer on a regular basis.
Mosquera has become immune to sexist quips like: “That’s a lot of bike for you.”
The 23 members of the Ratgirls are not looking to start a fight between the sexes, but they want respect from a biker world dominated by men.
“Crazy things always happen to us in the street,” said Mosquera, a 32-year-old audiovisual producer and Ratgirls president.
The Ratgirls, who were formed in 2014 after the mixed Rats biker club banned women, are identified by a black leather jacket with orange stripes, embroidered with the words: “Long life.”
Safety in numbers is crucial in a city such as Caracas, one of the most violent in the world.
Three times someone has tried to steal Mosquera’s bike. She even keeps its battery locked inside a cage.
Venezuela’s murder rate last year was 21 per 100,000 inhabitants, government data showed, but the Venezuelan Observatory non-governmental organization said the figure was actually 60: 10 times the global average.
The Ratgirls ride in groups to reduce the chance of being the victims of crime.
Several times they have been mistaken for notorious colectivos — civilians armed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime who also ride bikes.
Oil-rich, but cash-strapped Venezuela is in the grip of five years of recession, and a chronic economic crisis that has left millions in poverty and shortfalls in basic necessities, such as food and medicine.
However, Maduro’s regime has maintained price controls on fuel — a great advantage for the Ratgirls, Mosquera said.
The Ratgirls are not just trying to show off, though, theirs is the kind of passion that leaves hands dirty.
Some, like Jennifer Rodriguez, are learning to fix their bikes themselves. She thinks nothing of tackling her Keeway Superlight 200 to mend a problem.
Half Spanish and half Venezuelan, Rodriguez joined the club just over a year ago.
“I started riding around with them and I stayed, now they’re my family,” said the single mother with a 10-year-old daughter.
Although the Rats biker club barred women from its club, the two groups still take part in events together, said Jose Gonzalez, vice president of the men’s club.
The 47-year-old, a professional photographer, acknowledges there is a “macho culture” in Venezuela that opposes women bikers.
“The Ratgirls have done better than other [male clubs], they ride more and have more activities than many [male] clubs,” Gonzalez said.
The Ratgirls “have a motto: no one is more than anyone if they don’t work harder than the other,” Mosquera said.
Maryelitza Sanchez, a 48-year-old mother of two, learned to ride a motorcycle out of necessity to get around town.
“The only thing I’d ridden before in my life was a bicycle,” the personal trainer said.
She had always been attracted to motorbikes, but her parents prevented her from riding one out of fear.
After Sanchez got married, her husband was also against the idea.
“We went around in a car,” she said.
Everything changed two years ago when she got divorced and needed to use the collapsed metro system in Caracas.
“Every day I went through a different issue in the metro. There was always a problem, I arrived late or not at all,” she said.
After falling twice from her Bera 150, she overcame her initial fears.
“It’s a unique feeling of freedom, of dominion, of control, of power. I feel powerful when I’m on the motorbike,” she said.
On a beach in the Chinese coastal city of Xiamen, just a few kilometers from Taiwan’s Kinmen, life is carefree, despite some of the worst cross-strait tensions in decades. Ignoring warnings from Beijing, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday — the highest-ranking elected US official to visit the nation in 25 years — sparking a diplomatic firestorm. China yesterday launched some of its largest-ever military drills — exercises set to disrupt one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. However, on Xiamen’s palm-fringed beach, there was little concern. “A war? No, I don’t care,” a young IT worker surnamed
According to Forrest Gump, life is like a box of chocolates because “you never know what you’re going to get.” Now, an Indian remake of the movie has been hit by boycott calls over years-old comments by its Muslim star, Aamir Khan. It is the latest example of how Bollywood actors, particularly minority Muslims such as Khan, are feeling increased pressure under Hindu nationalist Indian Prime Minister Modi. Laal Singh Chaddha, an Indian spin on the 1994 Hollywood hit with Tom Hanks, is expected to be one of India’s biggest films of the year. This is due in large part to its
ACROPORA REVIVAL: A marine science official said that the results of recent studies showed that the reef can still recover in periods that are free of intense disturbances Parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef now have the highest levels of coral cover in decades, an Australian government report said yesterday. Portions of the UNESCO heritage site showed a marked increase in coral cover in the past year, reaching levels not seen in 36 years of monitoring, the Australian Institute of Marine Science said. Scientists surveying 87 sites said that northern and central parts of the reef had bounced back from damage more quickly than some had expected, thanks mainly to fast-growing Acropora — a branching coral that supports thousands of marine species. “These latest results demonstrate the reef can still recover
Screams from soldiers being tortured, overflowing cells, inhuman conditions, a regime of intimidation and murder. Inedible gruel, no communication with the outside world and days marked off with a home-made calendar written on a box of tea. This is what conditions are like inside Olenivka, a notorious detention center where dozens of Ukrainian soldiers burned to death late last month, said a former prisoner of the camp outside Donetsk in the Russian-occupied east of Ukraine. Anna Vorosheva — a 45-year-old Ukrainian entrepreneur — gave a harrowing account to the Observer of her time inside the jail. She spent 100 days in Olenivka