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Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Worst Trip Ever

Of all the trips that I have taken in the past 40 years, there was only one which was terrible.  It was a student trip to Mexico which I organized in 1987.  This was the third time that I took students south of the border.  The previous two trips had gone flawlessly (other than the one incident at Sanborns that I wrote about a few day ago.My big mistake was to switch tour companies, but I had found a different company that offered an itinerary that included some places not usually included on student tours.

I had a group of around ten students.  In addition, two of my teaching colleagues, Jane, who taught Spanish with me, and my buddy Gary, who taught industrial arts, went along as chaperones.  The mother of one of the students, and the grandmother of another, as well as another female adult signed up for the trip as well.

Our trip started in Mexico City.  I knew the city well enough that I told our company tour guide, Carlos, that we wouldn't need him for the first couple days.  I felt that I could better gauge the attention span of my students, and not be too long-winded and boring.  Those were probably the best days of the trip.  I took the kids on a tour of the highlights of the Anthropology Museum.  I guess I was doing a good job since we soon had several other people following along with us!

On the first day, however, I already had an inkling as to the character of Carlos.  A suitcase of one of the students had not arrived with us on the flight to Mexico City.  Carlos wanted me to pay him to go back to the airport to pick it up.  I told him no; that was a part of his job.

After a couple days in the capital, we were to travel to the nearby pyramids of Teotihuacán, and then continue on to Guanajuato... about five hours away.  What should arrive in front of the hotel to transport us, but a dinky school bus.  I was used to nice motor coaches on the previous trips.  I said that the bus was unacceptable.  Yes, we would fit in it, but it would be uncomfortable for our long trip. Besides, there was no luggage compartment, and our suitcases would have to be stacked in the aisle.  A representative of the company was called, and we had a "discussion" in Spanish on the sidewalk in front of the hotel.  I lost my cool, and uncharacteristically started yelling at the representative.  My students were watching with mouths agape wondering if I were cussing him out in Spanish.  We finally came to an agreement.  We would take the school bus to the pyramids, and a motor coach would be sent with our luggage to meet us for the journey to Guanajuato.

On the way to the pyramids, Carlos (whom the students started calling "Carlos the Creep") sat next to the female adult that was with us, and was hitting on her.  Later, at Teotihuacán, he was telling "off-color" jokes in front of the students.  

After visiting the pyramids, a coach was there for us.  We had traveled some distance when we were stopped by the police.  The license tags on the bus had expired.  The bus driver got off the bus, locking us inside, and he gave the police everything he had in his wallet as a "mordida" (bribe).   After that incident, we continued on our way... but the bus was traveling so slowly.  Gary could tell from the way that the driver was driving that something was wrong with the steering.  

We arrived in Guanajuato late at night at a nice hotel on the outskirts of the city.  The next day we set off in the bus for a tour of colonial Guanajuato.  We stopped at a monument atop a hillside for a panoramic view of the city.  When we continued down the hill, the steering mechanism gave out completely.  If it had not been for the concrete abutment at the edge of the road, we would have gone over the edge.  We had to get off the bus, walk down the hill, and continue our tour on foot.

At this point, if it were not for my friends Jane and Gary, I would have probably had a nervous breakdown.  And the students would come up to me and say, "It's all right, señor, we're having a good time."

We were supposed to leave that afternoon for Guadalajara.  But, of course, we had to wait for another bus to be sent from Mexico City.  Night fell, and we were still waiting in the hotel lobby.  We had already missed one supper the previous night because of our late arrival in Guanajuato, and now we were going to miss another meal.  After wrangling with Carlos the Creep, I finally convinced him to have the hotel provide us with some food.

At last the bus arrived.  The driver drove like a crazy man along the twisting mountain roads.  When we approached a curve, the driver would turn off the headlights so that he could see if anyone was coming around the bend in the opposite direction.  I was sitting next to Jane.  We had both traveled extensively in Mexico, and were used to Mexican drivers.  But I looked at Jane and asked her, "Are you scared?"  She nodded.

At long last we arrived in Guadalajara in one piece, and settled into our hotel.  The next morning when we were set to do our day of sightseeing in the city, the bus wouldn't start!  We all got out and push-started the coach.

After our stay in Guadalajara, we flew to our final destination, Ixtapa, for a couple days of relaxation on the beach.  I hoped that we would be leaving Carlos the Creep in Guadalajara, but no such luck.  He continued with us on to Ixtapa.

Our hotel was a beautiful... a luxurious high rise on the beach.  The one good thing that I can say about the tour is that all of the hotels were very nice.

I think it was our second day in Ixtapa that Carlos and I were called into the office of the hotel manager.  I seems that Carlos had been ordering meals at the hotel and charging them to our group's account.  "Who is going to pay?" the manager asked.  I looked the Creep in the eyes and said, "Not I."

Carlos had a ground floor room with an outdoor terrace.  He had washed out his underpants and hung them on the railing around the terrace to dry.  A couple of the boys in our group, went to his terrace and filled the Creep's underpants with shaving cream.  Normally, I would have been angry about such shenanigans, but instead I applauded their prank.

When we arrived at the airport for our journey home, I suppose that Carlos was expecting the customary tip.  But he received not a "centavo" from any of us.  

After returning home, I wrote an angry letter to the tour company, detailing everything that had happened. I demanded that we be given a refund for the cost of the ground transportation and tour guide.  I never received a reply from the company.

That was the last time I ever organized a student trip to Mexico!!     

5 comments:

  1. All it takes is one person to ruin a trip. That's the tyranny of travel, and why I'm always so grateful when vacations go well. (Knocking wood)

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    1. Fortunately, it wasn't one of my students that ruined the trip! And that's why for my own personal travel I avoid group tours like the plague.

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  2. Reminds me of the Maria Cristina Hotel in DF. For several years, I would stay there a good 25-35 nights a year. One trip there was no hot water. I complained every day, but they didn't do anything. Finally, on my exit, I demanded a discount. The hotel desk clerk said he wasn't authorized to give a discount. I left my email and said that the manager needed to give me a discount or I'd never come back.

    What happened? They never contacted me, never gave me a discount, and I never went back. Actually, I ended up finding much better accommodations for much less money. And since the Maria Cristina was only full once when I was there, they lost all that I spent on subsequent trips.

    I don't think a lot of Mexican companies look at the lifetime value of the customer, and instead focus only on saving a few pennies today. Their loss as there's plenty of competition that *can* do a competent job.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we'd highly recommend the Hotel Sevilla Palace on Reforma, a few blocks beyond Insurgentes toward Lagunilla.

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    1. The next time you go to D.F. you should look into renting an apartment. You can find an entire apartment that costs less than most decent hotels. I have stayed in 6 different apartments in D.F. and another in Oaxaca. Some are better than others, but the experience has been generally good, and you feel like a resident rather than a tourist.

      I haven't been staying at the same apartment that you saw for the last several trips. The owner is now more interested in renting it out for long-term guests. I've been staying at a place I found on Avenida Amsterdam in Condesa. The location is great. It's not as swanky as the other place, but it's cheaper, and it's very home-like. I feel very comfortable there.

      Saludos,
      Bill

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    2. Part of my problem is that my trips tend to be lightly planned. (And that's putting it nicely.) But I agree. I should try to find an apartment or something similar. Hotels are so soulless.

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