“Greetings and Good Riddance” (We Arrive in Cartagena, Colombia)

 

historical centerWe should have known that we had potential communication problems with our prospective host when our last message from him was “Greetings and good riddance.”  We’d found the apartment through AirBnB, read the few references listed and sent out an inquiry to him about renting the apartment for 5 weeks beginning in December. The response:

10-8-14  Greetings and thank you for reaching out to me! Have you ever been to Cartagena before? My apartment–the entire place, not just a room–is available and I am pre-approving you already. The apartment has a patio with ocean views, strong wifi, and a pool in the complex. The beach is across the street and the historic center is a ten minute walk.

I am in Spain for the rest of the year, but my sister Liliana, who works in tourism, will be the one to let you in to the place. She speaks English fluently and will be able to answer any and all your questions about the city and/or the rest of the country whenever you want.

Let me know if you have any further questions.

Ah, we thought.  A personable young man and the apartment sounds like what we’re looking for.  We reserved the apartment (our 16th booking with AirBnB) and wrote again towards the end of November to confirm our arrival details receiving this reply:

11-25-14   if you please send me the details of the flight .. and I shall pass to Liliana. She is a person of great trust and works with tourism. anything were to need it We can help solve

We did and proceeded with wrapping up our time in Ecuador and reading about Cartagena, Colombia, envisioning the narrow streets and picturesque colonial architecture featured in the old movie, “Romancing the Stone” with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas.

Another note arrived a few days later:

12-1-14  Hi. Not long for the trip! I wanted to wish you a safe journey and incidentally tell an affair with reference to cushion your room. I wanted to change to a more comfortable, but to this day December 11 did not reach the new mattress. I apologize for the inconvenience that may be caused that day, but will be worth it for better comfort when sleeping! a greeting.

Hmm –  A problem??? December 11 must be a typo since it’s written the first… And so we kept packing…

12-2-14   Hello .. if everything is organized for your arrival day 3! the address of the apartment. It is avenidad sanrander building offshore goatherd. 1012 apartment !. liliana will be waiting at the airport! greetings and good riddance!

Ah!  A good laugh when we read the last line.  Everything was on track…

December 3rd we spent the day in the air and in transit through the Manta and Quito, Ecuador and Bogotá, Colombia airports out of touch with everyone as no Wi-Fi was available; relaxed and blissfully unaware that this message had arrived:

12-3  Hi Anita and Richard. what about the apartment? had told him that he would change the mattress for the day December 11th is not possible before by q reference q want is not in the store .. could talk tomorrow with mattress store to see if they can serve tomorrow another .. regards

The plane was an hour late and Lilianna, a pretty woman in her late twenties was awaiting as promised.  She was polite but far from the warm, welcoming person our host had written of who, because of her tourism experience, would be interested in making our visit pleasant as well as answer any questions we had.  Also, she was not the loving sister described but a friend and she spoke NOT ONE WORD OF ENGLISH. She dispatched us as quickly as possible to the apartment without being overtly rude and sped off into the night. The apartment manager, a plump and smiling woman named Dianna was waiting in the airy lobby which was decorated for the holidays and, although she didn’t speak English either, we were able to communicate with our limited Spanish.  She produced the keys and we followed her up the elevator.  We arrived at the door and she unlocked the flimsy locks, shaking her head in dismay because she had talked to the owner about replacing them and…

We walked in.  It looked okay at first, second and third glances as we looked around.  Certainly not as modern or as big as we’d thought but things looked fairly clean and the view of the Caribbean could be seen as promised from the balcony. The kitchen was basically outfitted, there was a nice television, table and couch in the living area and the bedroom … Wait, there was something wrong here… the bed was strangely low… and it finally occurred to us, there was no mattress!  Just clean sheets drawn over a box spring with pillows piled up invitingly. a bed with no mattress

Obviously, the new mattress that the host had spoken of in a previous email had not been delivered.  We decided to contact the host on the “strong Wi-Fi” connection and, of course, nothing, nada, zip.  We debated about this conundrum for a few minutes with Dianna assuring us that we could figure out the bed and Wi-Fi in the morning, and having been up since 4 am, decided to tough it out on the box springs for the night with a nest of pillows.  We turned on the AC (it worked!) in the bedroom and a fan in the living room since the apartment was stifling and proceeded to unpack just what we needed for the night.  Washing up, I looked down to see a pool of water spreading from the sink base and tiredly, laid a towel over the rapidly expanding puddle.  And then, upon closing the folding doors to our lovely cool bedroom (mattress or no) a small sound, R-r-r-r, as part of the door sagged drunkenly to its side held by one hinge and a screw pulling from the adjoining panel.

broken bedroom door

Things did not look any better in the morning.  Dianna arrived and, using her cell phone, we wrote the owner a note saying that the apartment was unacceptable, detailed the problems and advised him that we would be contacting AirBnB which we did next, sending photos of the problems.  We also Skyped with a helpful AirBnB rep named Miranda who assured us that she would follow the matter through.  And then, we left for a hotel that Dianna helped us find – with a mattress and reliable Wi-Fi, intact doors and dry floors.

AirBnB came through for us with flying colors and we received a full refund within a couple of days as well as a $100 credit towards our next reservation.  In the future, we may not be quite as credulous when corresponding with prospective hosts and we’ll look for more reviews as well a slightly higher price range.  It’s always a gamble when booking through any online accommodation agency (be it VRBO, FlipKey, Wimdu, Homeaway, etc.) and this time we lost.beach across from our apt

But not quite.  Four days later, again with Dianna’s help, we returned to the same apartment building but a different and vastly improved apartment.  And for only twice as much… plus the hotel fees… Ah, well, it’s the h-o-l-i-d-a-y-s and we’re right in the middle of the Christmas high season with celebrants and vacationers visiting Cartagena in huge numbers.  Lights and decorations, fiestas and festivities abound.  Feliz Navidad!

Cartagena in the Christmas Season

By Anita and Richard

37 comments

  • Thanks Anita and Richard for stopping by my blog and reading two more of my posts. As for this post of yours…You are two brave souls to travel to so many places, so different from what I would be use to!!! I have done lots of traveling in the past, but not to most of the kind of places you travel to 🙂 I do enjoy reading about your adventures though 🙂

    By the way, have you ever taken the Orient Express? That is one trip I would still like to take.

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  • What a frustrating experience, Anita and Richard. We always rent apartments too, and generally our experiences are good. But every once in a while we get a stinker – and it leaves us a little “snake-bit.” So glad to hear that airbnb handled it so well. Wishing you a very Happy New Year and looking forward to your posts in 2015. 🙂 ~Terri

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    • Sorry that you’ve had a few similar experiences – we figured at some point we would have a less than pleasant experience and this one happened to be funny (AFTER). It’s a rotten way to start a visit, especially when you’re travel weary. We’re definitely feeling more cautious about our online rentals, trying to “divine” between the lines and stick with rentals that have more references rather than taking chances on relative unknowns. Apartments are such a great way to travel long term that we’ll continue to cross our fingers and hope… Happy 2015 to you and James! Anita

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  • I laughed out loud with this story. {and am still smiling} Glad it had a somewhat happy ending. I haven’t tried AirBNB yet and am glad to hear they are on top of problems.

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    • It makes a funny story AFTERWARDS but it was a rocky introduction to Cartagena. However, we were so glad AirBnB proved that their fees were well worth the service and we were lucky to have so much help from the apartment manager, Diana. We’ve really enjoyed the location of the apartment as it’s within walking distance to grocery stores, the old town and right across the road from local beaches. Everything we need!

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  • What an eye-opener of an article! We have never tried airbnb because of fear of things like these. Thanks for an informative and amusing post!

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    • Booking a room or apartment online always involves as element of hope and a crossing of the fingers as well as a reliance on reviews and prior guests feedback. We’ve had good look with online bookings for the majority of our travels in the past 2 plus years and plan on continuing to use several companies including AirBnB in the future. However, we’ll be verifying a lot more of the info!

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  • It’s good to know you got your money back from AirBnB! We’ve heard really good reports from friends and others who’ve found great apartments and cottages through AirBnB and VRBO. But every now and then it sounds like a place doesn’t turn out, despite all checks. That can happen too with hotels. One hotel we booked into in Bodrum, Turkey was supposed to be a charming Relais & Chateaux (the photos and reviews all looked great) – but upon arriving, we discovered, it was no longer part of Relais & Chateaux and had basically deteriorated over the past year. We had to do some pretty quick scrambling to check out and find someplace else more to our liking.

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    • Arriving in a new city, in a foreign country with an unfamiliar language is enough to adjust to without having to scramble for new lodgings on top of the travel weariness. I imagine that, in addition to you, this has happened to several of the people in our blogging group who travel frequently and that there are some pretty good stories out there! Now if only there were a way to figure out how to prevent it from happening again…

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  • Ay, Dios mio. Our son rented out his South Beach condo in Miami on AirBnB over vacation weeks. We once rented an AirBnB apartment here in Philadelphia for my sister, her husband and daughter. It was fine except for: 1) there was a TV as advertised, but no TV reception and 2) there was a pissed off cat. When they arrived, the owner said something like, “You don’t mind if I leave my cat, do you? I can’t take him to where I’m staying while you’re here.” Actually, despite these issues, it worked out for them. My only visit to Cartagena was on a cruise stop back when Cartagena was just starting to be visited again by foreign tourists. I studied in Colombia (Bogota) for a semester when I was in college (i.e. a looong time ago). I’d love to go back for a visit.

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    • Renting online is always a gamble and relies on both the host’s honesty and good feedback from past guests. We’d thought CLEAN was our bottom line but… no mattress? Ridiculous and a new low. Love the story about your sister’s experience -guess it didn’t occur to the host how many people have allergies to cats… Since you spent time in Bogata you’ll know how important both Christmas (the whole month of December) and Easter are so finding other accomodations can be difficult. Luckily it all worked out and it’s a funny story. We love Cartagena – the old walled city is gorgeous and beaches are beautiful. You’ll have to visit again.

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  • We enjoyed our first Airbnb experience in Fiji. It’s nice to know their customer service provided you with a speedy resolution and extra financial consideration for your stay. I can imagine how punch drunk I’d be to arrive in the middle of the night and have one thing after another malfunction. Good on you for maintaining a sense of humor and not letting it spoil your willingness to use the service again. 🙂

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  • Wow, I’ve never stayed with Air BnB and am not sure I want to after reading this post. But they did pull through with the refund and you did find a home for the holidays, so I guess it all worked out in the end. Maybe I will give them a tentative try. Feliz Navidad in your new and improved accommodations! I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay – Cartagena looks beautiful.

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    • We didn’t feel that AirBnB was responsible for the host’s dishonesty and they were quick to respond to our complaint as well as refund our money. After this experience I would still recommend using them but we’ll be reading the referrals much more closely and will be more hesitant about going with newer rentals who don’t have many references. However, without our lovely apartment manager, Dianna, finding accommodations for the month of December in Cartagena could have proved far more difficult and much more expensive!

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  • Wow, the place looked beautiful minus that experience. I’ve never had a bad experience with Air Bnb before

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    • After traveling for two plus years and booking at least 30 times with various online agencies for rentals and hotels AirBnB has been our favorite and this experience only makes us like the company more. Their support and quick refund allowed us to get on with our visit and start to enjoy Cartagena which is a beautiful city and a photographer’s dream. You’d love it Noel!

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  • Your photos say it all with this room. Chock one up to experience and glad to hear that Air B&B gave through for you.

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  • What a disappointing nightmare to be so misled and disappointed. Glad you were able to re-settle more comfortably.

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  • I’m glad it all worked out in the end. Enjoy the rest of your stay.

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  • So… you’ve already now left Ecuador and… didn’t make it here to Cuenca? Possibly you’ll swing back this way? In any case, have a most lovely Navidad!

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  • I envy your stay there, even the box springs! Have wonderful holidays and a Merry Christmas.

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  • Well, you guys pulled it off one more time. Hope this apartment is comfortable and meets your needs. Looking forward to future posts us of your adventures in Colombia. Merry Christmas!

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  • Such a beautiful city! Apt debacle not so lovely. Feliz Navidad and look for the painted bus!!!!

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  • Once again your courage and perseverance are outstanding! Every source is tricky but now you have learned how to respond to the system with class. Happy New Year!

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    • Well, I’m not sure how classy we were (disgruntled and grumpy is probably a lot closer to the truth!) but what really impressed us is how AirBnB backed us up and made sure we got our money back. “The kindness of strangers” was another point that hit home as the apartment manager, Dianna, really went out of her way to help us and make us feel very welcome in this city.

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  • It’s always an adventure with AirBnB! We’ve been pretty lucky, especially in Cuenca where we found a jewel of an apartment with “strong” wi-fi, a beautiful view of the cathedrals in the center of the old town. Juan, the owner was so gracious. He even sent us a Christmas greeting. Our AirBnB in Quito was …let’s say an adventure. The room was nothing to brag about, very noisy, and we had to share a bathroom with the owner’s mother in her apartment. But, the rooftop view was worth it. It’s encouraging to know that if you have problems with a rental, that AirBnB comes through with excellent service. Goodbye and good riddance! Oh that’s priceless. I can’t wait to hear about your new place and all your new adventures in Colombia. Happy holidays.

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