Seated in the kiosko, deafened by the endless battle of two speakers blasting two different and equally grating strains of Vallenato music, I could see my manager Carmen gesticulating in exasperation to two recently arrived mochileras.
From my vantage point some 60m from the front door of the Casa Amarilla I could see but remained unseen. A car partly obscured the line of sight and I saw Carmen remain stout before the door. It was clear to me five years into running a guesthouse that these mochileras were taking advantage of a situation where there was no common language and were trying to place the blame for something on Carmen.
This is a frequently used ploy, that of declaring your host or the person who meets and greets you as a technologically inept: i.e. cannot answer emails; that they are being ruthlessly overcharged: in this case the cost for a bed in a dorm is a measly 16,000 pesos or US$9; and that it was so expensive to get to Mompós that we should in part subsidize their daily travel budget by reducing further our prices. You cannot fault the pricing for a dorm bed in this place, it’s cheap, it’s far from luxury, but it’s clean, ordered, includes Wi-Fi (which means that these technologically superior travellers can remain stuck on social media sites updating their whereabouts to show people back home how little they are interacting with the local culture) and the use of a fantastically restored – modesty aside – colonial house in front of the river in Mompós.
But I guess what I am writing about affects guesthouse owners all over the world. To further and better explain the situation I should mention that these mochileras of an unnamed nationality, so as not to pin a traveller stereotype, had written an email on a whim late the previous evening that they were thinking of coming to Mompós. I replied the following morning as the email had arrived after 10pm when I have made a rule to be less efficient of office duties. I replied in the morning.
They demanded to be given beds, we had but one. They demanded to be given a discount, we don’t do this. If you want to pay the price of a mala muerte residence and share once previously bloodstained sheets with an army of cockroaches, bedbugs and caked bodily fluids…then to a mala muerte you shall go. We have them in Mompós and they cost 8000 pesos per night, I was not stipulated if this was for one person or two.
Finally our lovely mochileras calmed down and took the bed.
Glumly slinking around in the kitchen they remained apart from the rest of the guests over breakfasts, serving themselves coffee and occupying the rocking chairs and hammock nearby all the while speaking in almost the sulky tones of adolescents.
Understanding and speaking their mother tongue I chirped in when I saw their guidebooks. They had the most recent Lonely Planet and the Michelin Green Guide to Colombia. I saw and seized my chance:
“You’ve got the Michelin Guide, how do you like it.”
The blonde spoke first:
“I like it very much; I have learnt from the book, it is very good on history and culture.”
Then the brunette chimed in:
“For me it’s not great, it’s lacking and I don’t like the style.”
“It’s good to get feedback,” I said. “I am the author of the book.”
Blushing to the roots the brunette’s look of shame turned to flashes of anger and then acceptance.
“Me hiciste una maldad,” (you played a mean trick on me) said the brunette.
“Eres bien malvado.” (You are evil).
But can I say, their behavior towards my staff and towards me changed significantly. My “maldad” had produced an action that while somewhat mean and possibly aggressive, had created a tranquil state free of animosity and of burgeoning friendship – inasmuch as you can have between guesthouse owner and guest.
Would these mochileros have behaved the same way and would they have demanded that the price of the night included breakfast (“You are the only hostel in the world which does not include breakfast”), and would they have been typically rude and brusque towards me as they were with Carmen?
I think not.
Had I greeted them at the door, a familiar European face would have meant they couldn’t try any of the age old scams on me. Remember, we have been open five years, we have seen it all. Carmen has seen it all. But, upon arriving and not receiving what they wanted they tried to place the element of blame on the “hapless” local.
So I played a mean trick.
And it worked.
Added on January 17
I am adding an apology to the girls in question for this blog, but I feel it is my right to continue to publish this piece, just as it is their right to reply.
In order to show that despite the poor behaviour to my staff, we were still on hand to help, ensure that there was somewhere for them to stay, we were able to accommodate them. And, despite my manager not even wishing to speak to the girls, I helped them with their transport and onwards travel. And here’s a copy of the email transcripts.