Bad Sam No Biscuit
So I shot off a quick email 4 days in advance to my boss saying something to the effect of: “hey I can take the rest of the week off too, right? You’ll cover me and take the discovery/sales calls – no big deal, yeah?” No response. 1 day later again, with no response. Another 1 day later, with now only 2 days left until the festival, and about to go into the nowhere with no internet connection.
The third time I did hear back from him, and it wasn’t pretty. Nick (boss-man) responded in the most respectful and ego-shredding way possible. He said that he was disappointed that I had asked, and especially with the flippant and presumptuous manner in which I had asked. He said that he had hired me to do the calls, and he was upset that I wasn’t taking them more seriously. He said: “I suppose I could take the calls, but that’s what I hired you to do, and I have a full plate of my own work to do.”
I have been working for Nick less than 6 months, but I realized in reading his response how much already he trusts, respects and honors me, my work and my work ethic. When he hired me, he basically handed over to me a major piece of his baby, and I violated that trust and respect by casually saying: “I’m going to run off. That’s cool, right?”
I felt a hot flush of shame when I read his response, and immediately gritted my teeth and said: “I’m sorry. I made a stupid. I WILL find a way to do the calls.” And I did. But it wasn’t pretty.
I spent the following 3 hours in a frenzy, trying to find a room to rent near the festival grounds that wasn’t already booked, and that had a place where I could work. I inquired about the last room available through the Envision festival’s travel agency. They said I could have it, but would have to pay for all 4 nights of the festival, not just one, even though I only needed to work one night. I had no choice though, because it was either that or miss the festival entirely and go back to San Jose or somewhere else I could work. So I rented the room and congratulated myself on a crisis avoided, and a job well done.
No Tent for You, Bub
I worked for a bit and we all prepared, then piled into the shuttle bus for the two-hour journey to Envision festival. Now remember, I have everything I own with me, including a weighty backpack, a bulging purse and a rolling carryon-sized luggage. Which I now had to lug with me into the jungle. I got hot, irritable and snarky dragging all of my stuff the half-mile (a little over 1km) into the camp. I know it doesn’t sound like very far, but it wasn’t exactly paved, with the grass and jutting tree-roots and obstacles everywhere. Not an auspicious beginning to my festival experience.
We arrived to the campsite, and I found out I had no tent. Friend who said she was bringing a tent for me thought I no longer needed it, since I had rented a hotel room… but my 4 hotel room nights didn’t start until the following day, when the festival started. Today was the “pre-festival” day.
I started to get upset about it, hot, sweaty and irritated as I was, but then I realized it wasn’t worth caring about, and I dropped it. I had no interest in sleeping under the stars in the middle of the insect-infested jungle. However, life happens, and maybe a miracle would happen.
“Toss Another Tootsie Roll Wrapper In The ‘F**k It Bucket’” – David Sedaris
As I gazed at the purple, orange and red soon-to-be-sunset and jumped and splashed around in the waves, I turned to one friend and mentioned: “you could take a picture of ‘this’ and put it under ‘idyllic’ in the dictionary.”
After playing in the water, we came back onto the beach to watch the sun finish setting with several hundred of our closest friends, including numerous drums, several fire dancers and a ribbon-twirler sporting gorgeous orange and red and yellow ribbons that she whipped around in the wind as the sun set.
Despite being surrounded by lots of psychedelic talk, I continued to have no interest in taking any. I mean, I already failed to get high off “the mother of all psychedelics” in the mother of all contexts. What did I have to look forward to? But at least now I had ratcheted my judgment of drugs/psychedelics and of myself down a couple of notches, so it didn’t bother me at all.
The second-strongest memory from the first day at Envision festival was this: THE FALAFEL WAS AMAZING. One of the most divine-tasting things I have ever gotten my hands on.
At the end of the night, I found out that they had showers set up, and were not yet charging for them as previously advertised, so I got to clean off the salt water and grit, which was heavenly. I went to sleep grumbling to myself about the crowding (and this was the pre-festival day…) and the sand, but actually it wasn’t too bad.
The Morning After From Hell
I proceeded to pester five or six taxi drivers until I found one who said he knew where my hotel was. However, it turned out he was lying (let’s call it “overly optimistic”), and we got thoroughly lost, as I frustratedly watched each second tick away and add to my bill on the taximeter. Finally, I asked him to turn off the taximeter until we found the place, as he had promised that even if he got lost: “it won’t cost too much.” He agreed, we stopped for directions, and within 5 minutes after stopping pulled into my hotel.
When I arrived at the Hotel Luz de Luna, I felt like I was in paradise. The owner Felipe was super nice, and we had an immediate heart-to-heart connection. The room was fantastical, and I laid out my stuff, pulled out my laptop and dreamily went to check the internet connection well in advance of my calls.
In my room – nothing.
In the courtyard – nothing.
Next to the office – nothing.
In the restaurant – nothing.
Well, I could connect to the wifi, and had the right password, but it wouldn’t pass any data, giving me an error that said “no connectivity,” and was completely useless to do my work. Additionally, there were 3 different wireless networks with the same name to choose from… not a good sign.
At this point I was starting feeling a little upset, but not quite panicking. I had paid five hundred dollars to make two phone calls in the next couple hours. And now it looked like I wouldn’t be able to make them.
I went and found Felipe, and agitatedly asked him what was going on. He mentioned that the wifi was strongest in the restaurant, since that’s where the router is, and pointed it out to me. I explained to him that it wasn’t working at all even from the restaurant, and he kind of puttered around the router forlornly for a while. He then tried to convince me that it was actually working, and that it was my computer with the problem. However, when pressured he admitted that the wifi hadn’t been working for over a week, and he just hadn’t gotten around to asking someone to fix it.
He offered to call his friend-of-a-friend to come look at the router, but admitted that he had already tried to fix it several times, with no success, and he didn’t have much hope that it would be fixed any time soon.
That’s when I started panicking for real.
I advised him immediately that I would be leaving to find another hotel, as I had mentioned numerous times during my booking with the travel agency, and my check-in here at the hotel that the only reason I had booked this hotel room for four nights at such a high cost was so that I could work tonight and make these two calls to Australia.
But Felipe helped me out, and drove me in his employee’s car to another hotel, where my friend had rented a room “just in case,” but which was mostly empty since they were camping at the festival.
I got to the hotel, and my friend was there, along with several other people I didn’t realize would be in the hotel.
But I didn’t care about anything but the internet connection by that point, and I tested the connection in the restaurant where they were having breakfast. It was agonizingly slow, but at least it existed. My friend informed me that this was by far the fastest internet connection available in this area of Costa Rica. The staff informed me that the wifi was available only in the restaurant, as the signal wasn’t strong enough to reach the rooms.
I shuddered, and bravely tried not to lose it.
“There’s Lies, Damned Lies and then there’s Statistics” – Samuel Clemens
So I did what I could, and was preparing for my first call, when I remembered that I needed to call the travel agency and let them know that I was not staying at the hotel I paid for with them, so they could give me a refund. I checked my clock, and realized I still had 10 minutes until the call, and called them up on my cell phone.
To my shock, the travel agent replied with: “you will never get your money back. You paid for the four nights. Just because it doesn’t have wireless doesn’t mean we will give your money back. That’s your problem. Besides, no one is looking for hotel rooms now that the festival has started, so we wouldn’t be able to rent your room out even if we did agree to it.”
Thus began 2 days straight of courteous but savage fighting between me and the travel agent and, to a lesser extent, the first hotel owner, as well later as the owner of the travel agency.
I fought viciously, tooth and nail, no-holds-barred but with a polite smile on my face, and dogged persistence. I steadfastly refused to take “no” for an answer, hunting down every one of the people I had to talk to in the 100-degree (37C) heat and 95% humidity-rainforest to wear them down with how unjust this situation was, and how could they treat me this way and expect to get away with it?!?
I was able to make one of the calls for work in the restaurant, with salsa blaring in the background, and shell-shocked from the phone call I had just had with the travel agent. It was not exactly one of my shining moments. The outcome was good, though, and he wanted to move forward with us. During the second call, though, unfortunately the internet connection was so deathly slow and the bachata music so noisy that we couldn’t even hold a conversation, and ended up rescheduling for next week.
Meanwhile I was staying in my friend’s hotel, and not enjoying the festival because I had so much work to do, but it was taking 5 times as long due to the internet sucking, and I was spending the rest of my time hunting down and harassing nefarious unscrupulous travel agents into submission.
The travel agent himself even hung up on me at one point, which was when I lost my cool and started screaming and stomping in the middle of the hotel restaurant. I was livid. Most people have never even seen me seriously upset, let alone screaming and stomping. But this situation was truly unjust, and I had picked it as my “hill to die on,” and I was going to win no matter what.
By this point I also knew that I had the ammunition of threatening to call up Paypal and flag the charge as fraudulent. Having discussed it with several friends in similar situations, I knew that with Paypal’s buyer-friendly fraud policies, the email/written documentation I had, that I would win the case. But I didn’t want to go there unless I had to. Additionally, even if the business owner wins the fraud case, it still looks bad on their records with Paypal to be accused.
So I eventually found the owner of the travel agency, about whom 5 different people had told me: “you will never get a cent out of him. He doesn’t care about anything but money.” Including one person who professed to be good friends with him. That makes no sense to me, but WhatEVER.
I argued fairly amicably with the travel agency’s owner (Richard) for a couple hours, and he finally got rid of me, saying that I could have my money back for 3 of the 4 nights as long as they were able to rent my room out. We shook hands on it, and I went back to enjoying my (friend’s) hotel room and the festival. I hoped against hope that this saga was over, but knew my heart that it was not. It just didn’t feel right. Something felt fishy, so I didn’t get my hopes up too high.
Let Me Do You a "Favor"
You see, they rented the room out at a much lower rate ($85/night) than what I had paid ($125/night). When he told me previously he would refund me for “three nights,” I rashly assumed that he meant he would refund the amount I ALREADY PAID ($375 for three nights). His plan was to pocket the $125 difference between what I paid and the additional amount the hotel charged the new guest as profit, while looking like the good guy and “doing me a favor.”
I was again in shock, and again felt cheated, lied to and manipulated, and let him know how livid I felt at length and in no uncertain terms. He evaded, and swerved, and kept making claim after claim that he was only doing this much as a favor, and he didn’t actually owe me anything, but I absolutely refused to give in. I had been cheated, and I intended on seeking recompense.
Eventually we agreed on $350. Specifically, he said he would pay me back $350, and I agreed to not call Paypal to inform them that the $500 charge had been fraudulent, since the hotel had not had internet connectivity as advertised, after I had repeatedly stated that that was the entirety of the reason for my visit. Had I not had to work, I could happily have camped and saved myself the $500, or at least all the misery and hassle this caused.
He agreed, and said he would pay me back the money.
I was able to enjoy the festival after that. Sort of.
Unfortunately I was so preoccupied with the hotel fiasco and trying to catch up on my work that I never connected more than superficially with the festival itself. I did get to spend time with my new friends and spent a couple hours every night at the festival, which was cool, and which I loved.
But with all the fiasco and internet problems, I knew I needed to get somewhere with lightning fast internet and 99.999% uptime, and immediately, so I booked my tickets up to San Jose the following day to work my patootie off and figure out what my next step was.
A Rushing-Water Anodyne to Soothe the Savage Beast
I found the little waterfall and pool area by accident while wandering around getting lost on purpose on my first or second day. I went back several times after that and met some United Statesian girls on the hike up the road and played and splashed with them and many others, and generally disported myself joyfully.
Back to Life, Back to Reality - Soul II Soul
I could have stayed at the hotel for free on points, but instead I paid for the booking to take advantage of a promotion. I received 30,000 Club Carlson points for my paid 3-night stay at the Radisson, enough to stay 3 nights free at another Club Carlson hotel another time. Score!
Plus, they upgraded me to a King suite when I arrived, brought treats the moment I got into the room, and made sure I had a wired connection to plug into for my time there.
I worked 14-16 hours per day for three days straight, barely slowing down to eat, exercise, shower or sleep. And you know what? It felt good. Damned good, to get back into the swing of things.
After that I flew from San Jose to Los Angeles and put my nose to the grindstone for 2 more days in my swankalicious room at the Hilton Doubletree (free, booked on points), where they also upgraded me to a suite, this time a corner room with a helluva view. I purposefully scheduled myself an 8-hour layover in Dallas so I could try out the DFW United Club lounge and get a ton of work done, including several more business calls.
I didn’t work as hard in LA as I did in San Jose, partly because I didn’t need to, but also because I got to hang out with my brother and his girlfriend while I was there. They dropped in and stayed in the same hotel as me for my second night so we could cause trouble together and have fun.
Back to Asia – A “Travel Hacking-alogue”
( Warning: Geek Out/Brag Ahead! )
1) Radisson Park Inn San Jose Costa Rica 3 nights – retail $550, my cost $350 (discount plus
upgrade for being a Club Carlson member)
2) Last-Minute Economy Seat San Jose Costa Rica to Los Angeles via Dallas 7 hours – retail $790, my cost $44 (plus 15,000 Alaska Air Miles)
3) DFW United Club Lounge Access – retail $50, my cost $0 (free pass for holding the United Mileageplus credit card, one of my favorites)
4) Hilton Doubletree LAX El Segundo 2 nights – retail $610, my cost $69 (plus 50,000 Hilton HHonors points)
5) Business Seat Los Angeles to Hong Kong 15 hours – retail $8,000, my cost $77 (plus 52,500 British Airways Avios)
6) Economy Seat Hong Kong to Taipei, Taiwan 2 hours – retail $172, my cost $172
Final Breakdown San Jose to Taipei for Five Nights and 24 Hours Flight Time
My Cost: $712 and 15 hours of research and booking time
Net Savings: $9,460 and my peace of mind
I did experience some sweat-inducing moments when I waited too long and thought I’d lost out on a couple opportunities and wasn’t going to make it to Asia like I wanted, and when both hotels said on my arrival that they didn't have wired internet connection as advertised, but overall I’m pleased as punch with myself.
Additionally, the synchronicity in hotel prices was not lost on me: my paid San Jose hotel cost the same amount almost to the penny as I was (eventually) reimbursed for my hotel fiasco in the jungle, and netted me enough points for another 3 free nights elsewhere.
Somebody up there is looking out for me, and I am grateful.
Thank you Great Spirit (and everyone else) for carrying me through the rough times and soaring with me through the good times.