Beautiful things can sometimes cloud otherwise good judgment. You see a beautiful woman or man or some fancy car and you start to drip with want and drool with desire. Not even for a moment do you stop to consider that perhaps beneath that seductive beauty lurks the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
You would think I would have learned that lesson by now. I once dated a woman whose outward appearance was beautiful – acquaintances and friends were always keen to remind me of that – but what they did not see was her ugliness. She was not a very nice person, after all. I saw that and ended that relationship stat.
But we sometimes forget and again and again allow ourselves to be seduced by looks. That’s exactly what I did last weekend, and it was mighty foolish of me. I had failed to do my homework, look deeper. And I paid the price.
I was really looking forward to the weekend in Iquique. The Chilean town was supposedly the place on the northern coast to relax, have a good time. Friends from work had offered to give me a ride there and all I needed was to reserve a hotel. So I went online and started to search. And after passing on a few ugly ducklings, I found the hotel – a real beauty – the Spark Hotel right near the beach in Iquique. I was smitten: new, modern, super cool rooms with perfect ocean views and all the modern conveniences. The $118 cost per night included wireless Internet and breakfast. Instead of learning more about this vision of loveliness by the sea, I moved quickly to reserve my spot. Had I taken the time to do a simple Internet search, I would have learned that yes, she is a beauty, but one filled with behavior unbecoming.
The sushi bar and restaurant. Looks are deceiving.
A cautionary note left on Tripadvisor.es by a previous guest: “Reserving a hotel based on photos posted on the Internet is not always a good idea.” Ah, someone else had failed to heed the message. She goes on to blast the hotel for its lack of cleanliness and rude staff, which brings me to the nightmare I lived at the Spark – not to be confused with Sparks Hotels – which is spelled with an ‘s’ at the end.
I have stayed at all manner of lodging around the world – from five-star hotels to no star dumps – and I can’t ever recall being treated so rudely by a hotel staff. Even in a $7 a night hostel in Colombia I stayed in during this journey, the staff was extremely polite, helpful, attentive and moved quickly to fix problems. Not at Spark. No way. Their job apparently is to make their guests’ stay an utterly and thoroughly unpleasant experience. Think I’m exaggerating? Do a Google search of Spark Hotel in Iquique and read the reviews others have left. Had I taken the time to do that, I wouldn’t have suffered what I went through on my otherwise spectacular weekend in Iquique. As it turns out, my experience was the same as others who have stayed at Spark.
Here’s a typical review of Spark on TripAdvisor, which I wish I had seen before I took the plunge:
Headline: “looks like a 5 star, but service is a 1 star if that!”
what a total joke of a hotel! me and my boyfriend wanted to treat ourselves to a 5 star hotel for six nights while we were in Iquique, we totally picked the wrong place to rest and relax, the staff are quite honestly the rudest and unhelpful people i have ever come across in my life, the rooms looks amazing but that’s it! no room service menus (ok not the end of the world) but being woken up at 7am by banging and drilling noises as they are still building the hotel! (which is NOT mentioned on the website) we asked to move to a lower level in hope that we will not be subjected to the early wake up call, but the reception was so dam rude, she basically said ok you want to leave then! how are they are going to make money! we couldn’t get into another hotel so we just put it up with for the six nights, i also asked if the hotel had a local map of the area or some information about the area, the answer was a simple no! our breakfast never turned up in the mornings, and to top it all off the maid would knock at the door at 9 am to clean the room! what a joke and if you said no please can you come back later, she never showed up! There is a backpackers opposite this hotel and believe me you would be far better of staying there! — Submitted by a couple from England, May 23, 2010
By “she” I believe they are referring to Gemma, who must be related to the hotel owner, how else to explain how she gets to keep her job with so many references to her and the rest of the incompetent staff on hotel and travel Web sites.
Headline: “Bad experience at this Hotel” Spent a holiday in this beautiful city with my mother, I wanted to find a hotel and this hotel was recommended. With the poor reception, little concern for guests, dirty, poor breakfast quality, the only thing that saved it for us is that the rooms are spacious and have good ocean view, if it is from the 5th floor up. Waiters of the restaurant seemed to view guests as a nuisance if one has an interest in dining there. I will never again stay at this hotel. – Submitted by Ceanpela of Santiago, Chile, May 31, 2011
And there are many more like it, even with negative reviews right under people’s noses, they still end up booking. Why? Because they are blinded by beautiful pictures that scream “come to me!” And people fall for that. For me, lesson learned, again. 🙂
The Presidential Suite at Spark Hotel - But don't be a sucker for this beauty
As I read the reviews I shook my head in agreement. I could have written them myself, given my similar experience with Spark. Here’s what happened:
I booked a room online after looking at the photographs. And indeed the hotel is nice. The problem is the hotel staff, from the reception desk to the restaurant to housekeeping. They all seem to hate their jobs and to not want to do it. Even routine requests or questions would spark – pun intended – roll of eyes or an outright rude reply. I don’t have a problem with people hating their jobs, but if your job involves dealing with the public, maybe you should be in another line of work.
When I made the hotel reservation, I noted that I would arrive by bus from Calama at 5 a.m. on Friday. But with the offer of a ride to Iquique I actually would get there at 11 p.m. on Thursday.
I explained that to my Chilean friends who were giving me a lift because they so happen to live in Iquique. They said if it turned out to be a problem, I could stay with them that night – I graciously turned them down and said I could just sit in the hotel lobby for an hour and wait for midnight. Soon as that clock struck 12, it would be Friday.
I actually arrived at the hotel around 11:30 p.m., and the front desk receptionist rightly pointed out that they weren’t expecting me until Friday. True, I said, but it’s only 30 minutes until it’s Friday – rather than pay for an extra day I can either return in 30 minutes or just go spend the night at my friends’. She said that should not be necessary, that she would call her manager to check if I could check in a half hour early and not be charged for four nights instead of the booked three. After she made calls, talked to her manager who said it was fine, and did the necessary check-in paperwork, it was almost midnight. Okay, I asked again, so this is for three nights? Yes, she asserted. No problem. Three nights at $118 a night. Cool. She asked if I would like the password for the hotel’s wireless Internet – how thoughtful to ask – and I said yes. Before I went to bed, I fired up my laptop to check my e-mail. But the Internet was not working. Oh, I’ll deal with it in the morning. I went to bed.
Your average room with a view
The next morning, I walked up to the front desk and encountered my first dose of rudeness from a woman named Gemma, who apparently has been at her job for quite sometime because many of the negative reviews going back more than a year reference her, though not by name. I told Gemma that Internet was not working and before I could finish speaking to ask when would it be up and running, she said: “What do you want me to do about it?!” With that, she stepped away to the other end of the reception desk, shuffling some papers. I started to follow her to the other end of the reception area when she walked back toward me with a face that seemed to say “Leave me alone”.
Okay, did I say something wrong? Did I offend her in some way? I had never met this woman before, so why was she being so nasty? I turned to the doorman and he said there had been many previous complaints about the Internet not working. So why did that silly girl so happily offer the password to a Wi-Fi that doesn’t work? So maybe they ought to remove that amenity from their advertisement, no? Doorman nodded yes. At that point another staff person appeared at the front desk. He was wearing a blue blazer like the others, but he looked like a manager. He at least offered a solution: We’ll give you a cable so you can connect that way. Cool. A problem solver. That’s more like it.
I went out for some sightseeing.
The next morning after I showered, I could not find the large bottle of Nivea skin lotion I had brought with me. I searched all over the room. Lotion gone. And the hotel does not provide lotion. I stopped at the front desk to report the lotion missing, and told the front desk manager that I wasn’t suggesting that the maid had stolen it, but that perhaps she simply tossed out by mistake. He called the person in charge of housekeeping and he repeated to me what she said: “We don’t take things from the rooms”. Okay fine, but I’m just…nevermind. Out to the beach I went.
That night I turned on the lights to the bathroom and it tripped something. The electricity went out and with no power, the heating system started to beep…beep…beep…beep…incessantly. Not wanting to deal with the rude front desk, I tried to resolve the matter myself by going to the circuit box in the room. But nothing I did resolved the problem. So I called. And what did I get? Sorry, it’s 2 a.m., nothing we can do about it. Seriously? So how am I supposed to sleep through that beeping noise? I’ll have to wait until the morning, I’m told. So I tried to use my iPod and then a pillow over my head to drown out the noise.
Next morning, called again they sent someone up and from outside the room he fixed the problem. Well only partially. While some lights came on, others such as the ones in the bathroom still were not working. I called him back.
King size bed, king size lack of sleep
Second time around, problem solved.
Checkout time and none too soon. Suddenly, my $118 rate is $143. Wait a minute. After a lot of back and forth, they agree that I am right. I pay the bill, check my bag with the concierge and go for a walk. When I return, front desk guy, who at this point has removed his name tag, tells me I stayed four nights instead of three and I still owe for a night. I explain. He obviously doesn’t believe me and he continues to demand that I pay him another $118 before he releases my bag to me. So now my bag is a hostage. And I can’t believe this is happening. In a few short moments, my friends are coming to pick me up to return to Calama and we have a long drive ahead, so I need to be done with this, I tell him. He picks up the phone and starts explaining the situation to someone on the phone. He Hangs up and insists that I pay up. I tell him he needs to call the receptionist from the night I arrived or the person she spoke to who approved my three-night stay. He finally does that after trying to prove that I owe for the extra night. I tell him that I had options to stay with my friends that night but because the hotel receptionist said it’s not a problem after consulting her boss I decided to stay. Besides, it was only a half hour, less after she got off the phone.
He puts me on the phone with her and what does she do? Outright lies! She says she doesn’t remember telling me that it was okay. She then says she doesn’t recall what she told me that night. At that point, I blew a gasket. I demanded my bag. He refused and picked up the phone to call someone else.
After he got on the phone again and he was distracted, the doorman/concierge emerged from who knows where and I handed him my ticket for my bag. Clueless as to what was happening, he went to the storage room and brought it to me. I had freed my bag! So now I could just walk out the door, call American Express and dispute the charges. I was so done dealing with these idiots. But I waited for him to get off the phone. I overheard him telling the person on the phone that I am American. He also gave the person my name. He hung up the phone, walked over to me and said “We won’t charge you for an extra night.” Really, and what was all this?
So dear reader, the moral of this story is this: If you ever find yourself in need of a hotel, don’t be blinded by beauty. Play detective and do a little investigating. There are too many Sparks out there with outward beauty and ugly inside.
Ever wonder if God is trying to tell you something? If not God, maybe some spiritual or mystical force. How else to make sense of those neatly packaged series of random “coincidences” in your life?
I had arrived shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday in Iquique on the northern coast of Chile to enjoy a bit of its famed vibrant nightlife and to relax on its popular beaches. I got the expected fun-filled nightlife, spent with new Chilean friends who graciously picked me up at my hotel. We spent the evening sipping a variety of cocktails first at restaurant and bar called Runa and then dancing until the early morning hours to Latin music at the beachfront Mango’s Club. Between the food, the drinks and the dances, we laughed. Sometime during the evening I was struck with the thought that I had to be the luckiest man on Earth, living a life others only dream about. Here I was, after all, on a trip around the world, meeting some of the coolest people in city after city, town after town, village after village, who wanted nothing more but to make sure I had a good time in their country. So many have gone out of their way to see to that, and I am to them forever grateful.
On Friday morning, thinking it would be a good day to hit the beach, I pulled back the curtains of my hotel room only to witness some pretty big waves. Woah! That looks more suited for surfing than for swimming, was my thought. Then the news confirmed that the Pacific Ocean along the Chilean coastline was being anything but peaceful. The strong currents had swallowed a fishing boat anchored just off the beach early Friday morning and caused flooding on streets near the beach.
GRIEVING: This lifeguard's friend drowns two days after asserting there hasn't been a drowning on the beach in Iquique, Chile, in 12 years.
Still, I headed out for a walk on the beach. There, I stopped to talk to a lifeguard. I asked him a few questions about ocean conditions. He said the seas were pretty rough and that swimming was not an option. Surfers were the only ones being allowed in, but only if they used a Jet Ski to go out. The currents were too strong for them to paddle out.
It was at that point he shared with me that it had been 12 years since the last drowning in Iquique and that he wasn’t about to lose anyone on his watch. It was for that reason he had been on the radio dispatching other lifeguards to warn surfers and others about the dangerous ocean conditions. He then spent about a half hour giving me information about Iquique, such as things to do and places to see. With the antenna of his two-way radio, he drew directions in the wet sand. But then pointed out the nearby tourist information booth and accompanied me there to grab a map of the city. We walked back to the beach as he showed me points of interests on the map. Very nice of him. Back at the lifeguard stand, we shook hands and parted ways.
On Sunday, two days later, I drew back the hotel room curtains to see how the ocean was behaving. Still looked rough. In the distance, I could see a boat salvage crew raising the sunken fishing boat. A Chilean navy helicopter hovered above, then swooped down. Lots of activity on the water, but still no swimmers, just a few surfers. Okay, time for another walk on the beach, at least. Off I went.
A Chilean naval helicopter participates in the search for a missing man
On the beach, I snapped pictures of the boat being raised, and of ocean rescuers on boats and Jet Skis apparently in some sort of training exercise. The helicopter swept back and forth along the beach. Then I saw my friend the lifeguard and other lifeguards emerging from the ocean in their orange and black wet suits. I had snapped his picture out on the water on a Jet Ski earlier, but I had no idea it was him. He approached, shook my hand and asked how was my visit in Iquique so far and had I gone to the places he told me about. I said yes, and that I had a great time sightseeing that day and going out with local friends the previous night.
Searching the waters off the beach for a friend
When I stopped talking I noticed he seemed grim-faced. He then told me he and others were just wrapping up a long day searching for the body of a friend. He said his friend had swam out and went down in the strong currents. He was presumed drowned. He said rescuers – himself included – had been ought since 8 a.m., for at least 10 hours, looking for his friend’s body. The naval helicopter was also part of the search, he said. He added that in about seven days the body would probably float to surface or wash ashore. He was obviously very sad. This was the same lifeguard, after all, who two days earlier had told me there hadn’t been a drowning on the beach in Iquique for 12 years and he was hoping to keep it that way. That 12-year record was wiped out in a weekend and the victim someone close to him, no less. I couldn’t believe it. He climbed in the back of the white rescue pickup truck, waved goodbye to me, then looked solemnly in the direction of the ocean, maintaining his arm up in a wave. What was I to make of this irony? A lifeguard…says no deaths in 12 years on the beach…aims to preserve the record of safety during unusual currents…then two days later, someone he knows well drowns…on the stretch of beach he serves as lifeguard.
Calling it a day
He grieves. And I’m left to wonder. Is God trying to tell me something? Or maybe I’m just reading way too much into this and it’s simply just how life works sometimes – like God – in mysterious ways.
Divers and salvage crews work to raise a fishing boat sunk by rough seas
The waves proved too much for this fishing boat anchored just offshore in Iquique.
After more than a month in the desert in Calama, I was really looking forward to some beach time in the more hopping seaside town of Iquique. Mother Nature, however, wasn’t having it. Nope.
I woke up and pulled back the curtains of my hotel window and saw massive waves rolling in and pounding the beach. It was an impressive sight. They were waves that reminded me of the ones I had seen on my visits to Hawaii. I tried to open the windows but they are sealed shut. I jumped in the shower, got dressed and headed to the beach, a block away.
Swimming was banned. Boating activity curtailed. A surfing competition postponed.
Iquique is home to extreme water sports, but the extreme weather kept aficionados on land. Many of them, young and tanned men and women, just sat on the shore and gazed at the ocean, looking bored.
Surfers who jumped at the chance to “hang ten” were under strict orders to use jet skies to get out to the waves. Paddling out was an exercise in futility and dangerous, one lifeguard told me. Lifeguards were on duty to warn surfers – the only ones daring enough to venture in – to be cautious. Flooding was reported in several cities along the coast, including minor street flooding in Iquique. Residents flocked to the beach with cameras to record the huge waves. And for most of the day, the sky remained gray, though there wasn’t a drop of rain.
I spent the day walking on the beach, then headed inland to the center of town. Walked the length of Baquedano Boulevard, a pedestrian-only street lined with colorful colonial houses now occupied by businesses that include restaurants, gift shops, language schools, museums and tour agencies. Then I headed to the port, where fishing boats were firmly anchored. The rough seas were expected to last through Sunday, although the lifeguards said they had noticed a gradual calming. Good. I just might get my beach time in after all.