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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Isla Gorgona prices

It's been difficult to sit down and write this because our stay at Gorgona ended badly due to a dispute over the bill. I'll try to keep this short but at the same time I hope others can learn from our experience which could happen anywhere.

From information given to us by Diesel Duck, who visited in July, we knew that the quoted buoy price was USD$25 per person per night (which is in addition to the USD$12.50 per person park entry fee). We also knew that Ben and Marlene had negotiated a buoy price of USD$5 for their one night stay. Before leaving Tumaco Eric sent an email to Aviatur in Bogota asking several questions about Gorgona including the cost of the buoys. When the response was USD$25 per person per night Eric replied that that was too expensive and we would give it a pass. But we decided to stop anyway in case we could negotiate a better price with the staff on the island.

At the end of our initial meeting with William, the resort manager, we asked about the buoy price, and told him we wanted to pay the same fee as our friends on Diesel Duck. Without quoting us a price directly William said we would have to speak to Carlos at the adjacent desk in the office (first red flag). Eric asked how much the bouys were, Carlos consulted his computer, frowned and told us $5. We hadn't brought any cash with us so we couldn't pay up front that first day.

After our hike the next day Eric and John met with Carlos to pay our bill to date. They were able to pay the park entry fee, the hiking fee, and the boot rental fee, for all of which they received a receipt. But Carlos said he wasn't sure how to enter the negotiated buoy fee into the computer and we should come back later for that (second red flag). Again Eric made sure Carlos repeated the price of USD$5 back to him.

Two days later Eric and John went by the office again to try to pay our bill. We were now more certain that we would depart the following night and we wanted to get this wrapped up. But once again Carlos put them off with his inability to put the non-standard price in the computer (third red flag).

On 11/25 we went ashore for some final Wifi and to see the prison ruins, after which we again paid a visit to Carlos. Eric explained to him that we were leaving that night, that we still owed for the buoys and a lunch, and we needed to settle the bill. William was present in the office, along with Marie, another resort staff member. Carlos said he needed to go talk to someone about the cost of our lunch and exited the office.

Eric and I waited in the office while John and Sherrell went to fill water jugs. When they returned from that errand we were still waiting for Carlos to return. Eric went looking for Carlos and couldn't find him anywhere. Marie offered to help us with our bill but when she mentioned the official buoy price we told her we needed to speak with Carlos. She couldn't locate him for us (fourth red flag).

After at least an hour of waiting in the office wondering aloud where Carlos could be William finally got involved. We explained our deal with Carlos, and William insisted there must have been a misunderstanding and that we would have to pay the full price. Thinking that she was producing "proof" that we were fully aware of the actual price all along, Marie then printed out Eric's email to Aviatur and waved it at us and William. We argued that we would never have stayed even one night at that price, which Eric's email to Aviatur clearly showed.

Sadly the argument went nowhere despite our assertions that no one ever told us to our faces that we would be charged the full price, and that Carlos confirmed the USD$5 deal every time Eric met with him. Carlos had obviously ditched us or was told to disappear, so we weren't able to confront him face to face. To make matters worse we didn't have the pesos to pay the full price since we never expected to need it. Eric and John finally gave William what they could and we left.

In hindsight we should have insisted on paying up front, and left immediately when they kept putting us off. But everyone seemed friendly and we were enjoying our stay there. Actually now that we're at Utria we wonder why we stayed so long at Gorgona in the first place since Utria is a far superior anchorage.

Linda and John