We 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.
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.
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.
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!
By Anita and Richard