BOCAS DEL TORO, THE WORST AIRBNB EVER AND A MORAL DILEMMA

A couple weeks ago, I had the good fortune to visit the island region off the coast of Panama known as Bocas Del Toro. The province consists of the mainland and 9 main islands. Ole’ Chris Columbus and his crew first came to the area in 1502. Fascinating stuff. 

It’s a beautiful part of the world, and what you would expect of any Caribbean destination. Hot, humid with excellent snorkeling and diving. Passing the time with fruity drinks full of sugar cane alcohol and watching the fishing boats putter past fills the days. Que bueno! I’ll have a full Bocas review to follow in the coming week, please subscribe via email! You’ll be notified of new posts, and will be entered in a drawing to win a free, full-frontal hug, and a high five…

Thinking about a Bocas trip yourself? Check out this great post on the top ten things to do in Bocas Del Toro

 

LET THE GAMES BEGIN

I’m a travel nut. And half of the fun, for me at least, is planning the trip. It’s like being a kid again. All of the possibilities are in front of you. Where to go? Where to stay? What to do? Its a blank canvas!

Wanting a quiet getaway for the week, I of course first turned to Airbnb for my search. I am a SuperHost in Charlotte and manage several properties near Center City. I trust the platform implicitly. We have used Airbnb for our accommodations all over the world. Usually, it’s a great experience. And based on the pictures and description of the house we found, this trip was looking to be no different. Here are the actual photos, and some of the actual text from the listing:

“Ginger’s Beach House is a self-contained two-bedroom oceanfront house perched high above the waves on the breezy ocean side of Isla Bastimentos. It’s fully equipped with a kitchen with all the essentials, plenty of quality linens, and a washing machine. Fall asleep to the sound of the waves just below, entertain on your huge private deck with 180-degree ocean views, or relax in any of the comfortably furnished and artfully decorated indoor spaces.”

CAN’T GO WRONG, RIGHT?

After a plane flight from Costa Rica to Panama, a day of site seeing around the Panama Canal, and a second flight from the lesser known Albrook airport on a puddle jumper that was 2.5 hours delayed, I was ready to relax.

We landed in Bocas and retrieved our bags, only to be angrily met by one of two available taxi drivers. The water taxi dock… the only way to the smaller island of Bastimentos is by water taxi…. is only .5 miles away. They wanted a “tourist ransom” of $10 per person for the trip, so, on principal, we decided to walk. Dusk setting in and two heavy bags in hand, we arrived dripping wet with sweat to the water taxi station.

After a 20 minute wait with what seemed like 11 million school children also trying to get to Bastimentos, the taxi arrived. The much nimbler adolescents pushed through and literally jumped onto the small skiff. Had I not thrown our bags in the boat… a surefire seat-saver… we certainly would have been waiting for the next available boat.

THIS WAS ONLY A TASTE OF WHAT WAS TO COME

20 minutes of wave spray and bugs in the face…it was now dark… and we arrived at the main dock of Bastimentos. We were greeted by Ian, the apparent caretaker of the property.

Ian was a heavy set, reggae loving fella from Atlanta. He had only been on the island 4 months, yet managed this property and also two restaurants on the island. He was busy on his phone trying to track down lettuce for the restaurant, and smoking a cigarette, but waived for us to follow him. Soaking wet and bags in hand, we were finally going to arrive at our island paradise.

There are no cars on Bastimentos… so you walk… everywhere. We followed Ian for about a mile and along the way learned a lot of…err…unique…facts about the property and the island. Here were the highlights:

  • If we needed weed, Ian was our guy.
  • There is no bottled water on the island, you bring your own bottle to “Uncle Tom” and he fills it for $0.50… he catches rain water and “cleans” it… or you boil your own.
  • It’s “mostly safe” and “most of the doors and windows lock on the house”.
  • If we didn’t want the locals to come party with us in our room, we had to make sure to keep the outside door locked, because Ian stayed there when we weren’t there.

PARADISE FOUND

Upon arriving at the grounds to the house, we walked through approximately 25’ of trash…imagine someone just threw their stuff out of their window for a week into the yard… to the first of 3 doors. This was the one we wanted to keep closed if we didn’t want to party with the neighbors.

Up a flight of stairs to another locked door, behind which was a final flight of stairs up to the rear entrance of the house… the picture with the nice deck overlooking the ocean.

Ian showed us around the house and pointed out a few key things we should know:

  • There was two coffee makers, we could use either one we wanted.
  • The cat from next door may jump through the rafters and land on the bed, just shoo him away.
  • He had left (his?) our towels in his dryer, but would bring them back later.
  • There was no soap but he would find some.
  • He showed us where we could boil our own water for drinking.
  • He pointed out the windows that didn’t lock.
  • And finally he mentioned that anything left in the fridge we could eat.

At this point, I had already decided that we would crash here tonight, and jet in the morning. This was a disappointment, and nothing like the pictures or the description.

BUT THAT WAS ONLY THE BEGINNING

While waiting for towels and soap, I decided to put some water to boil, so we would have drinking water. This is where the real problems began. First, I found a dead lizard being eaten by an army of ants, just above the sink. The silverware hadn’t been cleaned… imagine eating breakfast and then just putting the fork back in the tray. The coffee maker had a good 3 weeks of moldy science project sitting in it. And that was just the kitchen….

Further investigation revealed sheets that hadn’t been changed… there were a few stains and some long hairs in the master bedroom bed. A medium sized alpaca worth of cat fur under the bed on the bed rails and frame. Bugs in the crevices of the sofa. The list goes on. Disgusting.

 

OPERATION: GET THE EFF OUT OF HERE

With no hope of even having a comfortable nights sleep, we decided to bolt. Packed up our things, left the key outside, and started the walk back to the water taxi… praying the whole time it was still running. I didn’t care where we stayed, but it wasn’t going to be here.

After a short 5 minute wait, at which time we booked a nice resort back on the main island via phone, a nice fella with a private water taxi arrived. For an extra $3 he took us right to the dock of the resort, so we wouldn’t have to walk any further.

After check in, we contacted the owners and let them know we would not be staying at their property, and gave a brief explanation of what had happened. I told them all I wanted was my money back. It was not my intention to smear them in a review etc…and they quickly obliged.

SO HERE IS THE QUESTION FOR YOU FAIR OBSERVER

I agree, it would have helped our fellow travelers if I had left a review . People should know about these types of things. I myself wonder if others had the same experience, and simply followed the same course I did. I could contact Airbnb, send them the photos and videos above, and they would refund my money AND likely pay for the new place. The only other bad experience I had previously, in Miami, this is exactly what they did. But was it worth my time? Several days of correspondence, the owner getting a negative mark on their profile and losing potential future business, to what end? Either way the money would be returned. The quickest route to that solution is what I was aiming for. The owners are aware, and said they “would speak with their cleaning crew”, who I can only assume is overworked Ian. So hopefully the situation improves for future guests anyway. 

So that is the question, the moral dilemma as it were…

Would you have left a bad review?

Comment below and let me know your opinion, I am sincerely curious in your feedback!!

Until next time…..

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4 thoughts on “BOCAS DEL TORO, THE WORST AIRBNB EVER AND A MORAL DILEMMA

    1. Big difference. When I booked the room, or any room, I didn’t scour google or Facebook for an obscure blog post that mentioned the title of the listing. I doubt anyone would. Given my readership of slightly under 20 million, I think Ginger is safe.

  1. As a person that has used Airbnb, both in the US and abroad, I would want someone to write an accurate review, if the accommodations were not as described. It will save someone else the hassle that you had to endure.

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