Homestay – Runaway

 

RulesDuring my period of writer’s inertia, a procrastination method I employed to put off writing another day was an attempt to uncover the deep recesses of websites that were potential advertising options for the bed and breakfast as well as the apartment in Cuenca, Ecuador. Like an explorer of the new world, I set sail to follow the waves of the Internet trying to uncover little known territories that may produce limitless wealth. One such place was Homestay.com.

Like all websites of this type, the photos only show happy people, host and guest, presumably getting along sharing the best of each person’s world. I mean come on, if they had pictures like some of my home stays with my own flesh and blood, people would mark the site as spam and block it forever. Admittedly, some photos on the site it is difficult to distinguish if the people are laughing being tortured. It is dubious that is the intent, but it is just an impression.

Believing Helen Keller when she said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all”, I submitted the application for BudaBaB to offer hosting on Homestay.com. Our Cuenca place does not qualify; only places where the host actually lives can be signed up. The idea is to create dialogue. Interestingly, every few days we get an e-mail stating someone is looking for accommodations in our area. This offers the option to reach out to the potential homeless traveler coming to a strange city with a proposition.

Thus far, people provide such an incredibly low-budget, they would be lucky to get a hostel dorm room set up in an old army barracks on the outskirts of the city. Even the homeless in the metro stations pay better to get the prime locations or concrete. Generally, we are already welcoming more reasonably affluent guests when these others arrive in the mail, so it has been a moot issue.

When starting to look for our own accommodation in Nice, I did a wide search, but honestly, trying Homestay.com was top on the list. Meant to be a test run, I wanted to see if it was all that they and we hope it to be.

We booked with France L. Yes, France is her first name, no‘s’ at the end. It is coincidental that she is French and living in France. I thought the fee was over the top at €50 a night for the two of us, but her reviews were mostly positive. There were many other choices on other sites, but again this was an attempt to traverse the usual and try new things. She accepted our booking.

In the profiles on Homestay.com, there is nothing to identify the host’s language

This is the bedroom we stayed in, but it did not look at all like this.

This is the bedroom we stayed in, but it did not look at all like this.

skills, which in hindsight is a downfall of the system. It is not unexpected that France speaks French, but it was a surprise that she did not speak more than 10 words of English. Reading her profile and the descriptions of the rooms, there were grammar errors and minor things that could be misinterpreted, but lack of fluency is to what I attributed this.

When she wrote directions after the booking, they were in French. This struck me as odd when I told her we did not speak French and her other communiques were in English. Knowing how much we appreciate knowing guest’s arrival times, I dutifully informed her our flight landed at 9:30 pm. She suggested bus 99 to the end of the line, which is the train station; she is a seven-minute walk from there.

After landing, we found that bus 99 stops at 9:00 pm. The driver of bus 98 suggested we take his bus, but it does not go to the train station. After questioning others, we learned where to get off the bus, but finding our way from there was tricky. Eventually, we made it and met France.

France is an older robust woman. It only took seconds to have that “YIKES!” feeling figuring out there was going to be a language barrier. This is when we found France’s language skills were Google translator dependent. Calling us into the ‘salon’ or living room as we, Yanks like to say, we made our way through a labyrinth of furniture to reach one of her two desks. With the television blaring a few feet away and music floating out from what I spied as the kitchen, I huddled over her shoulder while she typed. First order of business: “Show me the money and give me your passports.”

Her follow-up was unusual. She pointed to the screen where in French it states there is a €10 cleaning fee for the stay, but of course she has to do a copy and paste into Google. What the hell? Who charges a cleaning fee for a few nights stay when you are already squeezing €50 a night from them? I could understand if we were there for a couple of weeks and wanted cleaning services once or twice during our stay, but not this. It would be beyond my scope of reason to suggest our clients pay a cleaning fee. Believe me, some of them should have.

When it was my turn, it took me longer to type my responses on her French keyboard than it would have to take a French class. It did not take a genius or much thought to realize this home stay was not going to be as advertised.

The Homestay.com website has “Hosted Stays – Every home has a host present and they do more than just hand over keys. They’re real people bringing real home stay experiences to life.”

I would like to know where she got the photo, This is not her 'salon'.

I would like to know where she got the photo, This is not her ‘salon’.

France did nothing more than hand over the keys, because she started typing her concerns about a 78-year-old woman who was due to check in and never arrived. This woman supposedly sent a text claiming she was at the train station, minutes away, but that had been over an hour prior to our arrival. She continued typing that she called the police and checked the hospitals, but the woman as MIA. I was not sure if we were supposed to volunteer to be the search and rescue or if she was just venting. Either way, it was not the warm welcome I had hoped to receive.

To break away from the computer, the living room was making me claustrophobic; I started using Google translator on my phone once I connected to her WiFi.  I could speak, she changed the setting and then she spoke. Other than a cup of tea, we were not getting any productive tips or suggestions, let alone a welcome biscuit.

To get to the room, we had to slide by a huge file cart in the hallway opposite our door. Once we in our room, I realized that another statement on Homestay.com is not applicable here. “True Value – Offering quality and affordability, home stays are a great value accommodation option for people of all ages to experience travel.” There was not a single sheet of tourism information or map around in any language.

Now I know it is impossible to check quality worldwide, but do not allow others to rip people off when your business is at risk. The kitchen, living room and our bedroom looked nothing like the photos on France’s profile. The pictures posted are below. I did not take photos while we were there. France was around most of the time. We wanted to keep some modicum of order until we left. Then all hell could break loose.

Our room did have two twin beds and I have to admit the beds were comfortable. However, the closet had unattached doors leaning against the wall taking up some floor space for getting to the second bed or window. The top half of the closet was so crammed full with comforters and pillows, it looked like an Ikea storage center. One window, the only one, opened to an outer courtyard shared by several other apartment buildings. The temperature at night combined with this limited space required making a choice: air and noise or suffocation. All the neighbors had the same idea. It was loud until after 1am. Mosquitoes loved the open window. We were the buffet. A fan would have sufficed, but none was evident in the apartment.

Madame has a habit of keeping the television turned on the entire day. Even when she was nowhere visible, the television was flooding the room with words and sounds. Likewise, in the kitchen, the radio played classical music for no audience.

The kitchen looks nothing like the photo. Sure, there is the table and chairs, but what is not visible are the dozens upon dozens of appliances that compete for real estate

The kitchen is similar to this, but with 20-25 more things cluttering up counters and the floor space.

The kitchen is similar to this, but with 20-25 more things cluttering up counters and the floor space.

on the floor and the counters. There are so many things there; it is difficult finding room to pull the chair out to sit at the table. Budget airlines have more leg room. Later, we learned Madame does not like people in her kitchen. Without realizing it was against the rules, Ron put some food we brought back from a restaurant to put in the fridge. She never said anything; she was probably too busy to type on Google.

Before we went to bed, she informed us she had to go to Paris for work at 5 am, the next morning. She set up the coffee machine ahead of time.  All well and good, but Homestay.com states, “We ask that all our hosts offer a light breakfast to guests such as cereals, pastries, tea/coffee, juice etc. You don’t need to serve it if it’s not possible, just let your guests know where everything is!”

Neither the water closet nor the full bathroom have soap for washing ones’ hands. Both rooms have a long list of rules, but only in French, so it was easy for us to ignore them. We were curious whether the soon to be finished toilet paper roll would be replaced or if we were expected to buy our own. A partially used rolled appeared to replace the last, but no soap ever made a showing.

The next morning, Madame was on the phone in the living room, television on and radio serenading no one in the kitchen. As I turned the coffee machine on, she typed on my phone that she had to skip her Paris trip because the 78-year-old woman still had not materialized. She shared how upset her boss was with her over this failure. We waited for the cereal or pastries, or even juice, but they were a no-show just like Madame in Paris. The coffee was so weak, we could read the imprint on the bottom of the cups. Strangely, she has a bright red Circolo™ Automatic coffee machine and bowls and bowls of cartridges just waiting to drip deep, dark, rich, caffeine into the thin porcelain cups. This certainly was not offered to us. I could swear I could hear the Circolo machine chuckle with a devilish tone. I am here to beautify this counter, not to provide you Americans with my magnificence. We went out to eat breakfast elsewhere.

Things in her description that stretch the truth like a giant rubber band include the photos, but also ‘5 minutes from the sea’. Sure, by helicopter, but if you walk, plan on 20-25.  Here is another “if you want I can prepare excursions with great places to visit, according to the period.” She does not preface this with ‘only if you speak French.’ It all sounds so homey.

France dogThe bright spot of the stay was Oops! No, this is not a mistake; it is the dog’s name. For a Yorkie, he was solid. Generally, I am uncomfortable with small dogs fearing I will unintentionally break a rib petting them. Oops, made of sturdy stuff could handle my hands.

If my stay at home was like this, I would run away, but we will give Homestay another shot at winning us over. Those who eventually get to book us have no idea how good they have got it.

After completing my Ed.D., the frustration of finding a teaching position where I was willing to live, led to Ron and I leaving the country. We intended to travel for a year before settling somewhere in MA or RI.

We left the US without any credit card debt, no car payments and our house mortgage paid by renters. We had $10,000 in the bank to make our way through a year.