Posts Tagged With: Isabela Island (Galápagos)

Attitude Checkout In The Galapagos

The Caleta Iguana Hotel on Isabela Island

I can’t recall a time I ever allowed the attitude or incompetence of others to get under my skin during travel. I smile, even laugh for much of it. To lose my mind over nonsense only hurts me. On a daily basis I let a lot, and I mean a lot, slide. But some things I simply do not tolerate. Somebody trying to take advantage is one of them. Being a complete ass**** is another.

Some people exist simply to make other people miserable. They’re not happy with their own miserable lives if they’re not bringing somebody down. It’s who they are. That’s the energy they emit. Unfortunately, some of those people are in the hospitality industry and you have to wonder why. Doesn’t hospitality mean to be hospitable? To be kind? Helpful? Friendly? Accommodating?

I arrived on the island of Isabela, the largest island in the Galapagos archipelago, without a hotel reservation. That’s okay because many places such as in the Galapagos you aren’t necessarily expected to have one. They gladly, happily accept walk ups. And sometimes you can get good deals this way as hotels compete for your business. They have people with business cards and hotel brochures in hand waiting for arriving visitors at the boat dock, to make a pitch for their respective hotels.

On the ramp, I was approached by three people who tried to convince me to go with them to their hotel. But my hosts on Santa Cruz island, from where I had traveled, had recommended another place and I was headed there to check it out.

One hotel owner who was incredibly persistent ran after me while I was on the way and suggested that I at least look at her hotel, check out the room, and decide. She said I had to walk past her hotel anyway, so why not have a look. I agreed. I took a look. Not bad for $15 bucks a night: large room, private bath, Wi-Fi and a computer in the room I could also use, large bed, clean, quiet. The downside was it was a bit outside of town and away from the beach. I decided to go find the recommended Hotel Beto.

The Beto Hotel. Check(out) that attitude!

In the sweltering afternoon sun I walked to town, overtaken by dust clouds kicked up by vehicles on the dirt road. All of the roads in town are pretty much a mixture of dirt and sand. Trying to cast off my discomfort and saying “no, gracias” to more offers of a “good hotel” along the way, I continued on the road to Beto.

When I arrived I met the owner and operator. I asked if he had any rooms. He said the main hotel on the beach was full, but he could offer me a room across the street. He said it was basic accommodation, as he pointed toward the property. I looked across the road and saw a building that didn’t look to be in good shape. I asked Mr. Beto if I could see the room. He flat out refused.

“I’m not a prostitute,” he said, a bit angrily. “This is not a prostitution business. You either take it without seeing it or you don’t take it at all!”

Ummm…say what?

He then stormed away behind the bar, muttering some other unintelligible things.

Okay, my first impression of Mr. Beto: total ass! My lasting impression of Mr. Beto: total ass! My opinion of him as a businessman in the Internet age: complete idiot.

People, listen up!  If you plan to be in business, especially if it’s a hotel business, offhand rudeness doesn’t score you points. And in a matter of minutes, millions of people can know your hotel is probably not the place they want to risk their hard-earned vacation. If you are in the hospitality industry, be nice!

Nice piece of work

Of course no way was I about to give Mr. Beto any of my money after that little dramatic outburst. I simply went to the hotel next door, the Caleta Iguana Hotel, to see if they had a room available.

Painted in hot pink with a large black aquatic iguana on the side of the building, the Caleta Iguana was once known as La Casa Rosada – The Pink House. It’s managed by 20-something Felipe Teran, an affable surfer dude. He’s assisted by his 20-something Argentine girlfriend, a skinny blond named Natalia. Under their care, Caleta Iguana is surf camp party central. Happy hour every day from 5 to 7 pm. Caleta Iguana is notorious in the town for its party atmosphere. One hotel operator told me if you want to party all night, go to Caleta. Her hotel was more about relaxation.

Caleta Iguana is right on the beach, nicely decorated with fantastic murals. Hundreds of aquatic iguanas sun themselves on the hotel decks and surrounding area. They scurry as hotel guests walk by.

The hotel has Wi-Fi, one of the few places in town that do, a well-stocked bar, beach volleyball and lots of activities for guests, such as surfing lessons, snorkeling, bicycle rentals, laundry services.

When I walked in and asked about rooms, Felipe was courteous, and told me he had two rooms immediately available. He then, without me even having to ask, showed me the rooms. The first room was small and so steamy hot that I questioned how any human could last in there for more than five minutes. He said he could place two fans in that room to help cool it. The room also had no private bath. There were two shared baths I could use, he said. One upstairs and one downstairs. He said the room would be $10 a night. The other room upstairs was slightly larger, also shared bath, for $20. I took the $20 room because it had more windows and better ventilation. It also didn’t feel like a closet.

Reptiles on deck

I told Felipe I would stay a night, for sure, but very likely two nights. No problem, he said. Still showing himself friendly, he asked where was I from, and after more small talk, I asked about the laundry service. My clothes needed a wash. He said they did have laundry service and it would take two to three hours to get it back to me. The service cost $5. Cool. I brought my laundry down that night and placed it in front of the laundry room. Felipe said the woman who does the laundry would get to it first thing in the morning.

In the meantime, Natalia mentioned they were making dinner at a cost of $7.50, and that that price included dessert. But later Felipe said it was actually $10 for those who had dessert, a not-so-bad banana bread. I’ve made banana bread myself and mine is better J.

I ate with some fellow travelers, a couple from France, two Americans, and a mother and her two adult children from Belgium. We shared travel stories, went dancing next door, a Hotel Beto. But I had already decided I would not spend a dime there. Mr. Beto was playing the music and based on reactions, he was really sucking at it. I’m not sure he remembered me from earlier that day, but as I left he thanked me for coming. Now, Mr. Beto, that’s more like it! Didn’t hurt to be nice, did it?

The next morning I woke up and had to wear the same jeans and t-shirt from the previous night because I did not have my clothes. They were still in the hands of the laundry lady. Or so I thought. I went downstairs, peeked into the room and saw that my clothes were still sitting on the floor where I had left them – untouched. I saw the cleaning/laundry lady and asked about the clothes. She said she was the one who would do the laundry and I’d have every piece back in an hour. Cool. I can live in these jeans in the heat for an hour.

All the clothes I had with me, except the jeans I was wearing, were in the laundry pile. I waited an hour. Two hours. Three hours. No clothes. I asked Felipe and then Natalia about my clothes, and Felipe seemed to be handling some other crisis. Natalia said the laundry lady had already washed the clothes and hung them out in the sun to dry, but they were still wet. I asked if they didn’t have a dryer. She said yes, but she had no idea why Laundry Lady had chosen the sun over the dryer. Okay, but my board shorts are in that pile, they are 100% fast-drying polyester, no need to dry those in a dryer or the sun because they dry quickly just wearing them. And besides, I was planning to jump in the ocean in them anyway. Natalia shrugged, puzzled.

If anyone should have an attitude on this island, it's me! 🙂

So the hours passed as I sat in the common area of the hotel, waiting. The laundry lady had simply vanished with my clothes. More than three hours later, pretty much all the hotel guests and Felipe and Natalia, had gone off to do fun stuff: snorkeling, surfing, or just swimming in the ocean. I spent four hours looking for Laundry Lady. No one knew where she was. I began to grow frustrated as my whole day was wasted sitting in the hotel . Then, after more than five hours, just when I had given up getting my clothes returned for the day, I looked across the road and spotted Laundry Lady sitting and casually chatting with another woman, as if nothing. When she saw me come outside she displayed that look that said “oops, I forgot to do something!” Before I got any words out she said “I’ll go get it now.”

She returned with a bigger pile of laundry than I had given her. My clothes were mixed with some other guy’s clothes, underwear and all.

“Sorry, is this yours?” she said, as she held up a pair of men’s underwear, asking me to identify them. Laundry Lady held up more underwear asking the same question: “How about this one? Is it yours?

Are you kidding me?! Oh, the indignity!

So needless to say I was not happy about having spent my entire day in the hotel instead of sightseeing or doing something more worthwhile. I hadn’t come this far to sit in a hotel then play a game of Whose Underwear Is It Anyway?”

I tried to salvage some of the day by walking around town and the beach, taking pictures. That’s when Natalia emerged from the ocean waving at me. She approached and asked about my clothes. I told her I had just gotten them. She apologized and said she would handle the laundry next time. Meanwhile, Felipe also emerged from the ocean, his surfboard under his arm. “Well, back to the hotel to work,” Natalia said, and they took off. I stayed on the beach.

That evening I returned to the hotel after an hour or so shooting pictures. And that’s when the crap hit the fan.

Felipe informed me that my room was now $25 instead of $20. He said that’s what the room was actually worth. He said while I was away from the hotel there were several inquiries for a room and that’s the rate he offered the people seeking a room. He said he had offered my room to others operating under the notion I would be checking out that day. But I said one, likely two nights, and since I had no clothes the decision was made for me to stay two nights, I told him. He insisted on $25. Then he said he had no idea Laundry Lady had disappeared with my clothes and that because of her actions – the actions of a hotel staffer – I had been forced to spend the day in the hotel. He then eased up and said okay, he’d take the $20. Then, instead of offering so much as a discount for my laundry troubles, he said I owed him $5 for the laundry. Talk about lack of business sense or maybe he was just showing how he could care less about his guests. I handed him the $5 and went up to the room. Then the more I thought about what had just occurred the more angry I got. As I mentioned before, I let a lot of things slide. One thing I had let slide was the fact the bed had ants and I spent the night swatting them and trying to sleep through them crawling on me. I hadn’t even bothered to mention it to him. It was then I said, okay, enough, I’m out of here.

Went downstairs, handed Felipe the key and left that night. Strike two in the hotel department.  I walked across the street to the Hotel Volcan and checked in there.

That night I handed Felipe the key to the room, shared my thoughts about his hotel, and walked across the street to the Volcano Hotel, where I met Pablo Gordillo and his wife, owners and operators.

She showed me the room without hesitation, and he offered ideas for tours. He said no pressure, just something to think about. They provided service with a smile, were very attentive and made me feel welcome. They addressed all hotel guests by name and were extremely helpful. They would ask if all’s well with the room and if there was anything they could do to make my stay more enjoyable to not hesitate to ask. If you ever come to Isabela in the Galapagos, this is the hotel you want. The third try turned out to be the charm. The Gordillos know a thing or two about hospitality and treating their guests with respect. And whatever price they quoted that’s what they stuck to. The bottom line, it’s your money.  Don’t just throw it away. You should expect good treatment for it and good service for it.

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NEW ARRIVALS: But this is not the end of the road, just part of a longer journey

1 – YOU REALLY HAVE TO WANT TO GET HERE TO GET HERE – It’s not just the matter of your flight from your home country. Once you get to Quito or Guayaquil, you still have a two-hour flight to Baltra island, where the airport is located. From Baltra you must now  take a bus to a ferry which will then take you on a 5-minute ride across a canal to the island of Santa Cruz where you will then have to take another bus for a 45-minute to 1-hour ride across the mountain, through three different ecosystems, into town. And you may still have to take a taxi to your hotel, depending on its location. And by the way, this is not the end of the road. Santa Cruz is just a stop – a transfer port, if you will – to Cristobal, Isabel and other isalnds in the archipelago.

2 – CHARGE ME ANOTHER FEE, WON’T YOU? – Even before you leave the airport in Quito or Guayaquil, the fees to visit Galapagos start coming. The immigration office asks basic questions –  what is the nature of your visit, how many days you plan to stay, and if you are bringing in any plants or organic materials – then the officer says that’ll be $10. The questions are essentially the same questions asked by the customs officer once you arrive on the island. Then you slide over to another officer, this one said to be from the national parks department, and without even looking up, he barks $100. One hundred and ten dollars and you haven’t yet seen so much as a turtle. And so what was that $10 for again?

Then if you intend to visit other island, and you do, there are “exit” fees, such as the $5 you pay to leave the island of Isabela. There’s a guy at the dock just standing there, who surprises you with the command $5 please, as you make your way to the boat ramp. So now the fee count is up to $115, with just two islands visited.  And I haven’t included transportation costs, such as the minimum $25 to go from one island to another, $50 round trip, and a bunch of other expensive excursions you “must” take to see points of interests on the islands, such as $60 per person to snorkel the famed tunnels;  $30 to rent a horse for a couple of hours; $15 daily for a bicycle. It all adds up!

3 – BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE, THUMP! – Santa Cruz is just one of several islands. To get the full Galapagos experience, you must visit other islands. But that requires a ride on a lancha, a small speed boat that ferries passengers between islands. The only trouble with these boats is they provide an incredibly bumpy ride across the ocean. You don’t glide across the ocean in these boats. You bounce across.

From Isabela to Santa Cruz, that’s two hours of your head being snapped in every direction and you trying to hold on to your hat and lunch. If you get sea sick, don’t even think about getting on any of these boats. And if you think you might get sea sick, pop a pill. If you fear these rough ocean crossings, you might as well forget about coming to Galapagos. You’ll just be wasting time and money. In Galapagos, much of the fun is being in and out on the water.

4 – YOU TALK FUNNY – People in Galapagos have a funny way of referring to other people. If they say your name to another person, they add the equivalent of THE before the person’s name.

Example: “I saw the Michael yesterday and he was walking with the James. They were going to the home of the Brenda. She was planning a party for the Julio.”

So in Spanish, with the male and feminine, it’s EL for male and LA for female. So el Michael; la Michelle; el Daniel. La Maria. La Angela. El Pete. El Jose. La Jane.  In English, it would be the Michael; the Michelle; the Daniel; the Maria, etc.  Get it? Strange, huh?

5 – YOUR CREDIT IS NO GOOD – Most places in Galapagos, including hotels and restaurants – do not accept credit cards, so bring stacks of cash. And it would be a mistake to try to wait until you get to the islands to try to extract cash from the few ATMs around. They often don’t work. And if you think walking into the very few banks – there are no banks or ATMs on some of the islands – to get a cash advance on your credit card is wise, think again. The lines are long and slow and you will spend a good part of your day there probably only to learn that the teller can’t help you for one reason or another. Bring plenty of cash from the mainland and save yourself some huge headaches.

6 – POWER FAILURE – This is Ecuador and just as in other parts of the country, power outages are common. It happens in developing countries. So if you need to shave or charge your phone or do anything that requires electricity, do it while the power is on. Don’t put it off. In Galapagos, the power outages seem to happen mostly in the mornings for at least a couple of hours. So no coffee for you, either!

7 – SHARK MEAT – These islands are right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and there are very strong currents. You get to a beach and it looks beautiful and inviting but pay attention to posted signs and heed the warnings not to swim, no matter how good a swimmer you think you are. You will be dragged out to sea, plain and simple. If you are a strong swimmer, you may be able to fight your way back to shore, but why take that risk? There are no lifeguards on duty anywhere. You swim at your own risk. There are beautiful spots where there are no undercurrents and where the ocean is heavenly crystal blue and you don’ unnecessarily risk your life.

Locals have tales of how many people have been swept out and drowned. It’s amazing how many people ignore the posted warnings or the warnings from locals. You see people swimming where they are not supposed to, don’t be a fool and follow suit.

8- DO SCIENTIST EVEN DANCE? – There’s very little nightlife, but you didn’t come here to party, did you? You came to do marine research J. On Santa Cruz there are a couple of dance clubs and several bars and restaurants with bars, but they pale in comparison to big city clubs. They also close earlier than most big city spots. If you want to party you will have to round up a few friends and make your own good time. Consequently, nightlife means going home early, wandering the streets, or sitting some place quietly having a beer.

9 – CAN WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE? – Everybody talks about the same thing! Sit in any bar or restaurant and at every table the discussion is about scuba diving, snorkeling, tours, and how the day was spent. But there are also a lot of marine scientists and researchers here and their discussions are at once interesting and boring. So overhearing a discussion from a bunch of researchers about turtle population can be interesting to a point then suddenly lose appeal. Does anybody on these islands talk about sex?

10 – I’LL GIVE YOU A GUIDED TOUR!– The whole system in place is set up to take your money! You can’t go here, you can’t do this, you can’t do that alone – you need a guide. Hogwash! If you get connected with the right people you can see a good amount of nature and the wildlife without paying insane amounts of money for a guided tour. For $15, I rented a mountain bike and saw an incredible amount of stuff on Isabela island. Did the same on horseback.  Be resourceful. Try hitching a ride on a boat and offer to pay them something – perhaps in exchange cook a meal.

Of course, there are some spots that require local knowledge, but even then you can ask around an strike a deal with a local person. I saw a man walking on the beach and we chatted for a bit and he said he was going diving for octopus. I asked where and he said just up the beach. I asked if I could tag along. We ended up in this incredible spot full of all sorts of marine life, in the water and on land. Cost? $0. And I made a friend.

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