Getting the best from bad situations
Last week I shared some ideas on how to get the most from tours, a typical tourist experience. Whether day trips or monthlong bus journeys, group tours are a huge money-spinner for the industry, so it’s important to get value from your pennies.
But that’s very hard to do when it comes to the worst kind of tour on the market: the one that leaves without you.
‘‘We left earlier than before because of the weather. I will return fully the money you deposits [sic]. Im [sic] sorry. Don.’’
This frustrating and slightly confusing message was all I got for my troubles when our tour guide for a three-night island-hopping excursion in the Philippines bailed. I recall the deposit finally showed up three weeks later, once I had returned home.
We were abandoned (in paradise), ironically by a local tour company called Abandon Paradise. We somehow missed that rather obvious hint. Sadly, it wasn’t some sort of niche performance art or survivalist test where an actor constructed the whole situation so we would have to learn to fend for ourselves in the tropics. It was just a giant pain in the butt.
I went through the usual stages of grief as the locals of El Nido told us our guide and the rest of the group had left just as our flight from Manila was touching down at the nearby airport (a rather expensive and now pointless flight we had booked solely so we could join his tour).
There was denial (‘‘No, surely not, he’ll come back and get us. Let me ring him again’’); anger (‘‘This is outrageous, you took my money! I am going to write the worst review and put you out of business’’); bargaining (‘‘But not if you just come back and pick us up’’); depression (‘‘This is hopeless: holiday ruined’’); and acceptance (‘‘Hey, there are plenty of nice beaches around here we could continue this breakdown on’’).
Tours can be insightful, social, entertaining, and easy. You make friends. You collect recommendations and photographs. But at the very least, they get you from A to B. Or A to A via B. So, as I lay stranded on a beach near El Nido, the biggest complaint wasn’t that we had missed a couple of great swim spots, a crowded boat deck or cramped cabins. Nope, we had mainly needed boat transport for the 300km sea journey to get from one airport to the next, via some lovely lush islands.
But our old mate Don had sailed away early, along with our deposit, beds, transport and itinerary for the next three days. Back to square one while the chance to unplug our brains for the next 72 hours floated away on the sea breeze.
And sometimes there’s no amount of planning to save yourself, or forewarning, bad omen tour name notwithstanding. I read online reviews and scoured websites, and there was no mark against this company. I had what I deemed good enough travel insurance. It had all counted for nought.
Still, with a golden beach to ourselves and the next few days open to an array of options, this was still an envious place to be.
Tours are great but spontaneity and genuine adventure are always rare commodities onboard and, after one tantrum and a little adjustment, we were thankful to get an unexpected serving of it.
I was stranded on a beautiful beach in El Nido, Palawan – was it really that bad?