After four perfect days on Easter Island melted into three perfect days in Santiago, Chile, the only reason we willingly boarded a flight bound for destinations closer to home was that we still had one more new place to explore. When booking our flights to Easter Island, we discovered that we could save some significant money by accepting a 24-hour layover in Bogota, Colombia. For most travelers that might sound like a terrible deal—after all, spending an extra day in transit isn’t ideal when you consider the effort of lugging suitcases through airports or checking into a hotel room for a short stay. For us, though, there was a sense of adventure in a quick bonus trip: we had never been to Bogota before, and 24 hours was plenty of time for a city tour and a chance to cross a destination off our list. And to experience it all by adding in a layover and saving some money on airfare? You couldn’t get an argument out of us!
Our flight landed early enough in the day that we had time for a lengthy tour around Bogota, and we booked a tour a few weeks before our arrival to be sure we wouldn’t be scrambling to make plans as we got to the city. The tour we found was exactly what we needed: we would have a tour guide and a private car with a driver. Although we love group tours, we knew a private tour would provide all the flexibility we needed. We arranged for an airport pickup with a hotel drop-off at the end of the day, compared all the sights on the itinerary with the places we hoped to visit, and relaxed knowing our last day of vacation would be stress-free.
Stress started to creep into our experience after we landed, cleared customs, and collected our luggage. Our tour guide was nowhere to be found. We wandered around arrivals looking for our name on a sign, but when the area emptied, we started to wonder if our guide would show up at all. Finally, an hour after our scheduled pickup time, we got a call: the tour company car had broken down, and the guide had called for another car and driver. Unfortunate but understandable, we walked out toward the curb to wait for our ride; they were just 20 minutes away. 20 minutes stretched to 30, 30 minutes stretched to 45, and after another hour had passed the car finally turned into the airport. We had lost two hours of our day, but at least we weren’t stranded.Hoping to make up some time, we rushed along to the most important stop on our itinerary: Monserrate, a mountain that stretches more than 10,000 feet into the air. Visiting Bogota without visiting Monserrate would be like not visiting Bogota at all, and we both felt some of the building stress evaporate when it came into view. Our guide escorted us through the gate to begin our tour while our driver stayed behind with the car to watch our luggage. Storm clouds rolled in and out as we walked through the 17th century church, marveling at the architecture and quietly wishing we hadn’t been delayed by our tardy guide; two hours earlier the sun had been out, and the panoramic views would have been much clearer.
Any complaints silently lodged in our minds were forgotten entirely as the clouds disappeared for good. In their place, a stunning rainbow stretched across the sky. We were awed by its perfect placement above the church and a sculpture of Jesus on the cross. Any anger or frustration lingering in our minds dissipated completely. If we had been any earlier, we would have missed that specific moment.
The images of the rainbow and Monserrate comforted me as we made our way through a few additional frustrating hours on our tour. Our guide offered to take us for a quick local meal since we hadn’t eaten anything substantial since breakfast almost 10 hours before. The places he recommended didn’t accept credit cards, and I was reserving the only local currency we had to give to him and our driver as a tip at the end of the tour. When I said we didn’t have cash, our guide shrugged and never mentioned dinner again. Our driver took us to the next stop on our itinerary, the Botero Museum, which closed just five minutes before we arrived. Our guide shrugged, hinting that our unsuccessful dinner stop was to blame. I bit my tongue, stopping myself from suggesting it was the two hours we spent waiting for him at the airport that delayed us so much. He instead showed us around downtown Bogota, and any insights or information he had to share was lost in the sounds of a small group of locals who yelled to us first for food and money, and then about things beyond my Spanish comprehension. As night fell and it became clear we shouldn’t bother attempting to visit the rest of the places on our itinerary, we were glad our driver was waiting with the car and our luggage to take us directly to our hotel.We would have been glad if our day ended there—a mostly failed attempt to see Bogota saved by some gorgeous pictures from Monserrat—but as we opened our luggage it became obvious our driver had done a little more than watch our belongings. Someone had rummaged through our suitcases—they weren’t packed the way they had been when we left Santiago—and both of our wireless headphones cases were empty.
“Is it remotely possible that we both left them on the plane?” I asked Adam, already knowing the answer.
“I repacked mine into their case while we were waiting for the tour,” Adam reminded me. “There’s no way I left them anywhere but in the case before the tour picked us up.”
I laid on the hotel bed, deflated. Ordinarily, we would have locked our bags before leaving them, but we never once thought someone we were paying—someone whose name we knew and hand we shook—would blatantly steal from us. I consoled myself with the fact we were both planning to replace our headphones after the trip—Adam’s cord wouldn’t stay connected anymore, and the sound was crackly in mine. At least they wouldn’t earn much on the Bogota black market.
A week later, home and well past the terrible 24-hours we spent in Bogota, a new email appeared in my inbox. It was from the tour company, asking me to share a 5-star review on Trip Advisor. My fingers quivered above the keyboard; there was no way they were getting a stellar review, but I could feel the anger pulsing in me as it pushed me to write a scathing one. Before writing the first sentence, I dropped my hands to my lap and drew in a deep breath. As I released it, I wondered what good would come from pushing anger out into the world. Would it bring my headphones back? Would it teach someone a lesson?
Instead of the review, I clicked on the reply button and shared my experience with the gentleman who sent the review request my way. I shared my disappointment and frustration, acknowledging that the day had been well below our expectations and that I couldn’t in good conscience offer a positive review of the company. Within an hour, I received a response: the company provided a full refund of our tour, offered a free tour when our travels took us through Bogota again, and a sincere apology for their role in our experience. The tour company owner thanked us for our honesty and for sharing our feedback with the company directly instead of sharing it with the world through an anonymous online review.Our experience in Bogota was all but forgettable, but in a way it offered us one of the greatest travel lessons we have had to date: take compassion with you on every trip. We’ll never know for sure when or how our headphones went missing—perhaps it was our driver, or perhaps he left the car unattended and someone made quick work of an opportunity. We might have felt good about ourselves for writing a review and warning others about a company that didn’t do their job. Then again, tearing someone down on social media doesn’t usually feel very good for long. We were happy with the resolution that came through direct feedback offered only to the person that needed to hear it.
Travel is rarely seamless; how we navigate the bumps in the road can make a huge difference in the energy we bring to our vacations and the energy we share with those we meet along the way.
We haven’t been back to Colombia since that trip, and (perhaps not surprisingly) the tour company is no longer in business, so there will be no free city tour in our future. Still, when people ask us about our experience in Bogota, the first thing we share is the perfect rainbow over beautiful Monserrat.
The next thing we share, though, is a story about why you should always lock your luggage.
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