Top 5 of the Worst Tours Ever

Cartagena Chiva TourHaving traveled to 68 countries, we have taken many tours. As I mentioned previously, Juan Garcia Aguilar, a professional tourism guide according to the business card he handed us, drew us in to agreeing to take the tour he was promoting. (juangarciaaguliar@hotmail.com)

Chiva is the name of the vehicle, which later, I remembered, because we did a Chiva tour in Baños, Ecuador last year, which was quite fun. This was a Chiva of a different color.

Arriving early, Juan pointed out where we could get a good coffee while we waited for the tour to start at 1:15 pm. He said the tour was to begin at 1:30 pm with a return time around 5:30 pm. After getting our coffee, Juan directed us to the Chiva for our tour; there were multiple vehicles all ready to haul tourist butts out and about. Juan then put us in the hands of a young man who did not speak English. The first red flag appeared.

Being the first passengers on the Chiva, we had our pick of seats. Another fifteen people arrived shortly after us; they found seats behind us. Directly behind us sat a group of six young Germans.  With the Chiva less than an eighth full, we took off from the Clock Tower area where we boarded. Neither the driver nor the young man accompanying him spoke English; nevertheless, off we went. Red flag 2 sprang up.

Could not get the shot without people in the shoes

Could not get the shot without people in the shoes

Drive, drive, and a stop at some hostel, others joined the tour. Drive, drive some more and another stop at a hotel for more to join the tour. This went on for the first hour and a half. We boarded the Chiva at 1:15 and we were still driving around picking up additional passengers until 2:45 pm. It was not until then that another man came to replace the driver’s sidekick.

Grabbing the microphone hidden in the glove compartment, he started the tour in Spanish. When he said “Good afternoon” in Spanish and only received a lukewarm response, he did not get any clues about why, so he asked again prompting a healthier Colombia - Cartagena January 2016 095response. Again, with a tepid greeting in return, he was still confused. Then he must have noticed my mouth hanging open, because he turned to us and said, “Do you speak Spanish?” I said no and neither do the people sitting behind me. Then he proceeded with a truncated English version of the Spanish tour monologue. Our Spanish may not be up to par, but we can recognize omissions from the English version. He rushed through the English to continue the monologue in Spanish, because there are things that need to be said while the bus is rolling by a particular site.

If the sites were interesting, it would have been another story. That said, they may have interested us, but we will never know due to the translation. One stop was a church on a hill. As Great tattooswe sat in the chapel, listening to Spanish explanations what I found most interesting was watching the woman in front of me braid her hair while listening to the guide. She was a Spanish speaker, but looked as bored as I was. Then I noticed one of the men had interesting tattoos; this caught my attention too, so I photographed them.

Another place for us to get off the Chiva was at the fort; it is the highest point in the city. It looked formidable, but not worthy of climbing to the top in 85 degree heat. We have a better view from our condominium, so we sat it out. The statue was interesting. The hero fought from this fort and won, though he only had one arm and one leg. We are still not sure who he fought or what side he was on.

Finally, we decided to skip out and we took a taxi back to the center. We looked for Juan to tell him how much we liked the tour, but he was gone for the day. Probably, he goes into hiding once Cartagena Assthe tour has left the area.

We went to a restaurant called Lunatico. At first, I thought this was going to be a mistake when looking at the menu. Almost all the offerings contained seafood of sorts, but the few non-fish dishes did not look appealing. Knowing Ron wanted to eat here, I decided on two starters. No main dishes looked appealing. One starter was a grilled vegetable salad and the second was chicken wings. I was not holding out much hope for either dish, but without eating all day, almost any food would do.

CartagenaRon ordered fish of course. When my salad came, it was grilled tomatoes, eggplant and other vegetables mixed with different lettuces. It was exceptionally delicious to the point that I had wished I ordered two of these. Then the wings came. They appeared as little drumsticks, the wingtips cut off. The sauce was incredible. By the end of the meal, I was stuffed and thrilled with both of my selections. Ron was just as excited by his fish, expertly filleted and prepared.

Our last full day in Cartagena, we tried getting in some museums. This was a sad tale as they rarely have any translations. When we entered one, three ‘official guides’ offered their services. The museum was only a few rooms, but the irony was that there was a welcome message in English stating how they were so proud to share this history of the city. Beyond this, there was not a word of English: nada, nothing, null, nincs. We found this at multiple cultural places, so we looked at the photos, pictures or art, read what Spanish we could and moved on. I have to say that Google Translator is failing us miserably. It might have something to do with the dialect, but the translations are totally bizarre.

We passed by this place after dinner, but we were too full to go in. Funny, though, huh?Colombia - Cartagena January 2016 100
Tomorrow is Medellin for the next 17 nights.

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.