In case the title didn’t give it away, the end of my stay in Flores didn’t leave me with warm, fuzzy feelings.
I’ve been blessed to have met wonderful, kind, interesting, friendly people as I travel, and to have had few real mishaps. In the 11 years I’ve been wandering on my own I’ve broken 5 cameras, had one serious car accident, one real theft, one case of food poisoning, and learned never to use a credit card in an airport because it gets hacked. Other than that, the travel gods have been kind to me. The only times things have gone badly were when I didn’t listen to my instincts.
From the beginning I didn’t want to go to Guatemala. I’ve been homesick, and I really just wanted to get on a plane and go home for a week. But flights are expensive, and the only way I could have afforded it was to come back mid-week, after school had already started again. So I let my director talk me into Guatemala- a cheaper option that would put me back in Orizaba before school recommenced. I wasn’t happy, but I chalked that up to homesickness and made my plans.
The vast majority of the trip was good. I loved Palenque, the travel went smoothly, and the border crossing was easy. A few things along the way ended up being more expensive than I’d planned for, so I hung around in Flores instead of going off and doing interesting things with my new Argentinian friend, but I enjoyed it just the same. Still, the whole time I had a nagging feeling of not-rightness.
I realized why the night before I came home.
I went to the front desk at the hostel, where I had purchased my return ticket because their travel agency and offered a slight discount. I was feeling anxious and wanted to make sure I correctly remembered what time the collectivo arrived in the morning.
After I confirmed the time, I asked, “And all I need is my receipt showing I paid, right?” and held out the receipt I’d gotten the day I arrived.
“What is that?” the girl asked.
“It’s my receipt,” I replied, a little confused.
“That’s not our receipt,” she replied.
“Um…what do you mean?”
“It’s not our receipt, or from the tour agency,” she repeated, and held up two receipt books that did, indeed, look completely different from the one that I held in my hand.
“Well, I bought it from the ticket agent who was standing right next to this reception desk on Monday,” I told her.
She took it from me to look at it and shook her head. “That’s not our receipt, and I don’t know who this man is who put his name on it.”
At that point, I got the sinking feeling that I was screwed, and I started getting both nervous and a little upset.
“Miss,” I said as calmly and quietly as I could, “This man was in your lobby for at least 2 hours Monday, selling tour tickets. I saw him give you money and his receipt book before he left. You put the money in your shirt pocket like you do when you are too busy to unlock the cash box right away.” I genuinely wasn’t trying to accuse her of misconduct, but I definitely wanted her to know that I had been paying attention. I had heard that cons were crawling all over Flores, fleecing the tourists. I made sure to buy a ticket directly from the hostel- or so I thought.
She immediately went on the defensive, and I knew that I’d been had. “I said I do not know this man,” she repeated sharply, “And I don’t like you accusing me. You can ask anyone who works here. This man is not with the hostel. We don’t stop you from buying tickets from anyone you want, but we don’t guarantee them unless you buy from us.”
“But… He was RIGHT HERE, beside your reception desk. How could he stand here for two hours and sell tickets if he was not part of the hostel?”
“We cannot control who you buy your tickets from,” she repeated, and shrugged. “This is not a ticket to Palenque.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do?” I asked. “He was right here, next to your desk. How could I have possibly known he wasn’t with the hostel?” I had to have sounded panicked. I had 25 quetales left and the banks were closed- it was 7:45. The nearest ATM that was not locked inside a bank was a 45 minute walk away in Santa Elena and I wasn’t about to do it alone at night. Neither the hostel nor the tour agency accepted credit cards. The only bus I knew of going to Palenque was leaving at 5am, and this woman was telling me I had no ticket and no way to buy one. I was panicked.
“We cannot control who you buy your tickets from,” she said yet again. “There is nothing we can do.”
“I want to talk to your manager,” I said.
She rolled her eyes and glared at me, “I am the front manager. The owner is not here. Go ask in the restaurant if you want, they will tell you the same thing.”
I did. They did. And after burying my head under the pillow on my bed and screaming in frustration, I went back to the front desk. I needed a solution, and I didn’t have anyone else to ask.
As calmly as I could I asked her, “If this is not a ticket to Palenque, what can I do? I have to go home. How can I get there?”
She shrugged, “I do not know. This is not our problem,” and turned away.
I was a foot taller than her, 80 pounds heavier, and have karate training. For about 2 minutes, I seriously considered just breaking her in half and then going all cat-fight and tearing out her hair. Luckily, logical Evie pointed out to pissed off and panicking Evie that landing in a Guatemalan jail would not, in fact, get me home on time. Or at all.
So I took a deep breath, put my hands in my pockets and stepped back. My mind was whirling and I was kicking myself in the ass mentally. I hadn’t liked the guy when he asked if I needed help the day I’d arrived. He had felt creepy. He had leered. I had considered coming back later, but money was thin and I wanted to guarantee I had a return ticket. So, leering creeper or not, I went ahead and bought a ticket. He was in the hostel. He was wearing a polo shirt like the other staff was. He’d been there when I arrived 2 hours earlier. It had never once occurred to me that he might not be with the hostel.
I stood in the lobby 5 minutes, trying not to cry (which I do not do in public) and wondering what the hell I was supposed to do. Then, a quiet voice behind me said, “Is something wrong? Can we help?”
That’s when I met the couple who, as it happens, live 15 minutes away from me in Cordoba. I told them what was going on, and that I didn’t know how I was going to get home if I couldn’t get on the collectivo. They told me not to worry, that public buses left every hour or so from a stop in Santa Elena, and that I’d be able to catch one later in the morning if I needed to. Just that one tiny bit of information let all the tension out of me. If I couldn’t take the tour bus, at least there were other ways I could get back. Really, at that point, that’s all that mattered. I just needed to be able to be back in Palenque by 8pm to catch my bus for Orizaba. If I could do that, losing a little money wouldn’t be the end of the world.
We chatted about other things for about an hour, exchanged contact info, and went our separate ways. The bad feeling I’d had the entire trip was gone. I was still pissed off, but at least I knew I’d be okay. To double-check what I was fairly sure I’d figured out, I went and talked to a couple of the nearby travel agencies. They all said the same thing, “We know who this guy is. There are 2 or 3 like him. They wait at the bus stops and bring people to that hostel. The hostel staff lets them stand in the lobby and sell fake tickets, because they pay a commission.”
I try not to use foul language in this blog, so I can’t repeat some of the things I said in response. Let’s just say I was colorful.
At 5 in the morning, with but a sliver of hope, I was outside the hostel waiting for the collectivo. When it arrived, I showed the drivers my ‘receipt’ and their response was…colorful, in Spanish. They knew this guy, too, and they recognized me from the trip down.
I explained what had happened, what I had learned, and that I was out of cash. The tour agent looked at me a minute and sighed, “Give me your bag and get on the bus. We’ll stop by an ATM on our way.” I was going home.
At the border as we separated from the tour agent, I said to him, “If you see this guy, do me a favor.”
“What?” he asked.
“Punch him in the face, and tell him this American bruja will be sending much bad luck his way.”
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a man laugh quite that hard. “Señorita,” he finally said to me, “I will do both of those things if I see him. If you will let me have the receipt he wrote, I will also give it to the police and file a report.”
I expect nothing at all to come of that, but at least there’s hopefully a good face punching and bad juju threatening in store for the sleazeball.
It cost me an extra $50 bucks and a few hours of stress. A minor thing, in the grand scheme of it all, but the idea of taking from anyone who is trying to live life generously and with kindness makes me angry. That the hostel permits it makes me angry. That there was, quite literally, not one single thing I could do makes me angry.
I’ve written nasty reviews of the hostel on every forum I could think of. If you ever go to Flores, Guatemala, do NOT stay at Los Amigos Youth Hostel. They’re scum (and there are roaches in the bathroom).
Fortunately, the rest of my trip home was uneventful, and I felt far lighter than I had on the way down. Still, never have I been so happy to get off a bus in the freezing rain as I was 24 hours later when I landed back in Orizaba. :D
This tiny kitty popped it’s head out of this guy’s pocket and mewed. They completely enchanted me as I waited for my last bus home.
MEXICO!! I was super happy to step off the boat into what now feels like home turf
Women and children doing a little mid-morning washing in the river.
Feeding a sad, stray dog when we stopped for a break.
Mototaxis waiting for the day to really start.