Saturday, September 7, 2013

Are you really safe with a tour guide?

The other day I posted a picture I took in the Galapagos Islands on Instagram and although it looked very calm and relaxing, which it thankfully was and definitely is, it hid what I went through that whole week in those incredible islands, which I highly recommend you visit one day.
Dolphin Beach, Isla Isabela
Tortuga Beach, Isla Santa Cruz
Isla Floreana
Now when you go to the Galapagos, you do not need a tour guide to visit the islands and stay in the main ports of each island. BUT you do need a tour guide if you plan on getting out of the main ports. You cannot go off exploring alone. This is their way of protecting the islands, keeping them clean, and for us humans not ruining the wonderful ecosystem. And I respect them for that. I was happy to oblige just to be able to explore this beautiful area of the world.
Now before I continue, I just want to be clear with tour guides, which was the first thing that popped up in my head when I posted that Instagram picture.
I prefer not to take tours. I think they take a lot of time out of your day, some are overly expensive, and are somewhat rushed. That and I like to be one with the locals, not part of a tour group.
But with this said, there are a few points that do make going on a tour worthwhile:
When it is cheaper to go somewhere with a group then to go on your own.
  • I paid US$10 to climb Chacaltaya and go to the Valley of the Moon in Bolivia. If I went on my own, it would have been double to triple the amount.
When you want to do something adventurous and/or dangerous.
  • You can't go zip-lining on your own in Costa Rica, Rappelling in the Andes mountains in Mendoza, Argentina, or Bike on the Worlds Most Dangerous Road in Bolivia. (Oh and you don't really need a tour guide in Machu Picchu. Unless you hike the trail, of course.)
Cooking classes
  • The best way to learn how to cook a certain cuisine is to learn from someone who is familiar with this art or make your way into a locals home or restaurant and just ask!
  • Some people travel to enjoy art, history, museums, and other historical landmarks. The best way to learn is visit the location or go with someone who can teach you something new. 
  • Maybe there is a place you'd like to go to but not safe to go alone? Or maybe you love to travel and don't mind taking a tour to make you feel safe? Everyone has their own way of travel.
*Are you always going to be safe just because you choose to go on a tour? Read on.
Anything you want to add to the list? Let me know!
Now where am I going with this? Mainly it's about the last point on the list above. How do you know you can trust your guide and feel safe? What if you are a solo female traveler and you are alone with a guide? Are you really safe?
It may be the best experience of your life. Or maybe it is the worst decision you've ever made?
I'm not trying to scare you. I'm just trying to make it aware that you still need to have your guard up whether you are on a tour or not, especially as a solo female traveler.

To be fair, I have had many taxi drivers offer to help me out, keep me safe, and drive me around for the same cost as taking a bus or any other transportation. And they were some of the nicest people I've ever met. So kind and helpful. The untrustworthy tour guide scenario is not always common but it can happen. Better to always just be prepared.
Nature is beautiful

Friends for life. :-)
So to continue with my story...
I found a great deal with a tour guide for my week adventure in the Galapagos Islands. I was there in July* of 2010. It was about $550 for a week! That's like 1/4 to 1/2 less than what you'd normally pay for a tour guide there. Amazing deal! It covered my guide, trips, places to stay, boat rides, and any tickets I needed. (I paid the round-trip flights and $100 entrance fee at the airport separate from the guide.)
*Water was very rough during this month and you will probably have the worst seasickness of your life. Many boats later after this trip and my body has yet to recover from the rides in the Galapagos!

I didn't know if others were going to be there with me or if I was going to be alone. Either way, I was just happy to be there.
After I arrived and everything was taken care of, I found my guide, and saw that I wasn't going to be alone. There was a German couple with me, who also booked the same days I did, though leaving a day after me.
Everything was great and well-planned. I ended up staying on both Santa Cruz and Isabela Island and spent time on Floreana Island, the oldest island in the Galapagos. Still many islands left to explore which means I need to go back!
We went to different restaurants and ate the amazing food, visited the Iguana man, and saw as much nature as we could. Nothing was out of the ordinary.
Concha Perla Bay

Playa del Amor
Night 1: He was trying to get us to go out and get 'wasted'. The German couple were tired* and went to bed. And I was not going alone with him. Didn't think too much into it.
*Time difference: They were tired at night and awake in the morning. I was wide awake at night and could not get up at 6 in the morning (4am Pacific/California time)*
Night 2: Guide: Let's go out and drink Coco Locos! The couple went to bed and I took in the beach/ocean on my own to relax.
Day 3: We spent time at Playa del Amor. He asked me how many kids I wanted and if I was single. He also said he wouldn't mind having a child with me because our kids would be 'beautiful'.
Night 3: Guide to me: Let's go out and have fun! Drink a lot! You are young! And very beautiful. I'll take care of you and make sure you make it to your bed. Can I kiss you? Me: No thank you!
- This whole time, I want to make clear the German couple were having fun and we were both doing our own things but they were also noticing what was going on and making sure I was okay. They were great and I still keep in touch with them. -
Day 4: At another beautiful beach, one of the island boys was being 'flirtatious' with me. The guide was obviously jealous. His actions showed pretty well. He also told me I didn't need a boy. I needed a man.
Night 4: (I was so embarrassed) We wanted to have a big dinner as a group and some others who we met that day at a nice island eatery. The guide had to announce to me loud enough so everyone could hear:
"I want to mix my genes with your genes!"
I was in complete shock. The German guy whispered in my ear: "I have had enough of this. We are not letting you out of our site and you need to be careful. We don't want anything bad to happen to you. His behavior is not okay and we are going to report* this if able to."
*You are allowed and are encouraged to complain about a guide not complying with the rules and/or has poor behavior while in the Galapagos.
Night 5: We all went out but the couple weren't feeling well so they left. I went to grab my things and the guide tried to stop me to dance with him. I politely and firmly said I was leaving and no thanks. I left and hurried back to catch up with the couple. The guide stayed out late and returned back to his hotel room in the wee hours of the morning. But before that he was knocking on my door loud to, I'm guessing, 'make sure I made it safely back to my room alone'. I didn't open the door.
Day 6 and 7: Because he didn't get what he wanted, he pretty much left us with someone else to fulfill his end of the bargain with our week deal and went back to Ecuador to take care of a tour he had in Banos, Ecuador. I was so relieved!
Isla Santa Cruz
This was my first solo adventure. Despite his advances towards me, I was still able to enjoy the trip and the magnificent offerings of the islands. He kept his comments mainly out of all the tours and activities. If I had been alone and the German couple were not around, I most likely would have ate the costs and ditched the guide. My safety, body, and mind are more important to me than money.
His name is:
Jhover Alvarez
Guia Naturalista 3
Parque Nacional Galapagos
Now you see, just because you are on a tour or with a tour guide, it does not mean you are safe. In some instances, you are better off alone.
Whether you are a guy or girl, you still need to be aware of your surroundings and put your safety first - tour or no tour.
Have you ever had an unpleasant experience with a tour guide?