Tag Archives: Tipping

Field of Lights

It was time for the Field of Lights tour.  We boarded a bus, got off 10 minutes later, walked around, and were back at the bunkhouse 40 minutes later.

“We could have almost walked to it, with flashlights!” Heidi said.

“I know.  It’s one of those things you don’t know until you’re there, and then it’s too late.”

But it was really cool, and beautiful.  There was no “tour,” unless you counted the 30-second orientation to the night sky given by a young guy with an extremely heavy Chinese accent who stood on a milk crate and pointed out the Southern Cross.  What this had to do with the lights wasn’t entirely clear.

The lights were a work by British artist Bruce Munro—50,000 of them glowing organically in the desert.

Heidi and I wandered in separate directions, lured by whatever instinct called.  I wandered a bit too far and started walking back briskly when I realized our 20 minutes of off leash time was almost up.  It was so dark that I headed in the wrong direction.  I imagined being stranded out here all night.  Would they turn the lights out?  Would I, as a Minnesotan, be able to survive the desert cold dressed only in light clothing and flip flops?  Would I have to stay awake all night to fend off the dingos? What if I stepped on a scorpion in the dark?  Could I collect enough dew from the spinifex grass to wash it out?

My daydreaming was interrupted by the sight of someone kneeling on the ground and vomiting violently.  I could make out that it was a man and his friend was standing over him patting his back at arm’s length.  “Must ‘ave been something ‘e ate, I reckon,” said the friend.

At the bus I let the Chinese star guide know there was a man down, and he hurried off.  He’d probably be in trouble if they got off schedule and the next batch of $42 tourists was delayed.

“Did you see that guy throwing up?” I asked Heidi as I sank into my seat.

“Yeah, how awful.  I wonder if it was from the $210 Sparkling Wine Sunset Dinner?” she asked, deadpan.

I woke up early and walked up to the lookout to see Ularu at dawn.  On my way back the quiet was broken by raucous cries coming from the branches above my head and I looked up to see a dozen large rose- and grey-colored birds squawking.

“Heidi, Heidi!” I whispered loudly back in the bunkhouse.  “Look at these birds I saw—they’re amazing!”

She looked blearily at my cell phone as I shoved it in her face and laughed, “Aw, Annie, those are Galahs.  They’re like your squirrels.”  Galahs, also known as the rose-breasted cockatoos.

“Well, we don’t have them in Minnesota,” I pouted.  “How d’ja sleep?”

“Not so well, thanks to this heat pipe two inches from my face,” Heidi said as she whacked it with her fist.

We knew today would be another long day, so we had paid $25 apiece for the breakfast buffet.  There was a $5 discount if you paid the night before.  I thought maybe this was so they would have a head count, but when we rocked up to the buffet I began to suspect that they didn’t want people to know how it was until it was too late.

Everything was cold.  Not cold as in refrigerated; as in “formerly hot but now not.” Cold, limp bacon.  Cold spaghetti (spaghetti is a real fav in Australia). Cold baked beans.  The scrambled eggs were sitting in a half inch of pale yellow water.  We stuffed ourselves with things that weren’t supposed to be hot, like yogurt and fruit and rolls.  The hostess, a middle-aged white woman, was friendly and attentive as she poured the lukewarm coffee.

“What’s the deal with tipping here?” I had asked the first day.  Heidi was adamant that no one tipped unless you were at a fancy restaurant with a large party and the service was exceptional.  Then you might round up the bill.

“We just pay people decent wages,” she explained, “so there’s no need to tip.”

A Tip Says a Thousand Words

This is a series of posts about Belize and Guatemala that starts here.

José Luis went with us to a roadside supper club where we feasted post-Tikal.  We were the only customers in the cavernous dining room.  There were party rooms and even a pool with a playground outside where people must have held birthday parties and other events.

I read the history of the place on the menu and learned that it was a chain. Like a lot of chains, they had gimmicks, like neon-colored drinks with lots of sugar and not much alcohol, and something like fondue pots that came out flaming and none of us knew what to do with.

Just my luck, their specialty was pork sausage, so I ordered the one chicken item.  It was way too salty, as was all the food.  But José Luis had chosen the place, the atmosphere and the staff were nice, and there were flush toilets.

The service was super slow, so we sat for three or four hours waiting to order, waiting for our food, and waiting to settle up.  Then we waited some more, because this meal was part of our tour package and Mark hadn’t known he needed to inform his credit card company that he would be in Guatemala. After many phone calls it was resolved, but it took an hour and a half.

As the sun was setting, we drove back toward Lake Itza and Don David’s.  We were exhausted, having been up since before dawn, walking all day soaked with rain, then ingesting a giant meal composed of fat, salt, and sugar and sitting around for hours.

But José Luis had one more sight he wanted to show us, the island city of Flores in Lake Itza.  None of us really wanted to go, but we respected José Luis and didn’t want to be rude.  Maybe it would be amazing. Too bad it would take an hour to get there.

Viewed from the mainland, Flores looked magical, with colored lights reflecting in the darkened water. We crossed a causeway and were there.  From the back of the van I couldn’t hear everything, but I think we were there because it was a tourist town, mostly for Guatemalans.  It had more restaurants like the one we had just left—we could see people drinking their syrupy neon-colored drinks on patios.  We could hear music thumping from hotel discos and see couples strolling around holding hands.  It probably was a nice romantic getaway, though a bit crowded for my taste.

We drove on to drop José Luis off.  He lived in a sizeable city which took another hour to get to, and he wanted Mark to drive around so he could show us that they had amenities like a stadium and a Walmart-like store.  I had money out to tip José Luis but he slipped out of the van unceremoniously and was gone into the night.  I asked Mark if he had tipped José Luis and he said yes, he had tipped for all of us.  It had been the same in the restaurant.  He wouldn’t say how much he had tipped in either case.

I knew it wasn’t Mark’s decision.  There were certain things he had obviously been instructed not to share with his travelers.  If I re-read the trip materials I probably would see that tips were included.  But I really didn’t like it, because tipping varies so much from one person to another.  Some people are unnecessarily generous and some are cheapskates.  Did Wilderness Inquiry have a set percent and if so, what was it?  And what were the norms in Guatemala, and what were the expectations of Guatemalans?

No one else seemed remotely concerned, and I didn’t care so much about the restaurant, but José Luis had spent a whole evening with us, then a full day and another evening. Was he saying to his wife right now, “Those cheap bastard Americans!  Eighteen hours of work for a $50 tip!” or “Honey, pack your bags and get the kids in the car!  We’re having that holiday in Flores I’ve been promising you, thanks to those wonderful, generous Americans!”