Inside to­day

Josh Martin

Sunday Star-Times - - Escape Check In - Josh Martin [email protected]

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?

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