Voor onze blog lezers: dit is een speciale blog die dienst doet als klachtenbrief

April 2016

Quick Summary:

My wife and myself had a bad experience that I wish to share so other people can avoid this. So:

  • Avoid Marco Polo Tours (marcopolotour.com) in Lago Agrio with owner Ivan LLori
  • Avoid Murillo Quiroz Freddy Rogelio (Freddy) of Extremos San Limites Aventur / Rutas Doradas Expeditiones in Banos

Freddy will sell you what you want to hear, at a commision and then be unavailable for backing up what he sold.
Ivan is not true to his word, overcharged us, and is not a pleasant person to have with you on a trip.

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Wildlife along the river
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myself, Barry and Raoul. Ilse is taking the picture. We just finished dinner around the fire.
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Our camp, underneath the large plasic tarp are four tents for two persons.
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Our canou at the deserted hotel. Ivan is in the canou.

The long story:

My wife Ilse and myself, Stefan, wanted to see the Amazon and the indigenous people in a personal way, instead of being part of a
big group. While Ilse speaks relatively good spanish, I am an absolute beginner that has to use my French knowledge to try to understand the language.
So to us it was important to have an individual tour, and an english speaking guide. Further we wished to have a pleasant 4 day / 3 nights
travel experience in the amazon jungle, camping in tents along the way while visiting remote sites. We were willing to pay a correct premium price for this custom made trip.

We sat down with Freddy Rogelio of Extremos San Limites Aventur in Banos for a couple of hours, while he took us through the available options and confered with his organizer (Ivan LLori) in Lagro Agrio. Together, they proposed a 4 day tour that would take us to the Yasuni NP, where we would meet the indigenous people, at a cost of 1000 USD for the two of us.
Of this, we payed 300USD to Freddy up front.
This was to be an individual tour, with an english speaking licenced guide, and a crew of four other support people. The price was steep, but this was because of the expense involved in a private tour, where all the support material had to be carried along (tents, cooking material, food) in the boat.

We left the next evening on a night bus Banos-Lago Agrio, included in the trip. When we got to Lago Agrio at 5:30, we waited in the
bus station to be picked up, which happened after half an hour, since the bus was a bit early. We were taken by a woman,
(who turned out to be Ivan’s wife) and a cab driver to the office of Marco Polo Tours where we had to wait till 7:00 to get breakfast in a nearby hotel.
Strangely enough, the breakfast price was not included in the tour package. We found this odd, given the price we payed, and told the woman so. She said that was the way it was.
We stated very clearly to her (in spanish) that we were paying for a personal tour, with a licenced english speaking guide, and the woman confirmed this explitly (Si, no problemo). This turned out to be a complete and deliberate lie. Feeling a bit at unease by the initial experience, we asked if we could pay 500USD of the remaining sum of 700 USD before the start of the trip, and 200 USD at the end, but after calling back and forth between Ivan and his wife, this was not possible, since he had bought all the supplies already. Reluctantly, we payed the whole sum.
We had trouble with getting money from the ATM, but they were very helpful to let us call our US bank credit card helpline, and drove us to several ATMs in the city. In the end we were able to retrieve money from the ATM, and payed.
We squeezed in the back of the taxi truck with our backpacks, and two other persons, for what we thought was a short ride. In the front was the cab driver and Ivan’s daughter with a 20 week old baby (She turned out to be just hitching a ride, since we never saw her on the rest of the trip).  In the back were Ilse, myself, our daypacks, Ivan’s wife and another person (!) Needless to say it was very cramped. The ride lasted an hour, with a stop at a gas station to fill two large diesel containers, and two short stops in town for something. It was sweltering hot in the truck, and we were very happy to get there, since we were cramped with our backpack on our knees.
When we arrived at the departure point we met our team. Well this is to say we saw a long canoe, with two persons on board. Everybody ignored us, which we found rude. A person in the canou was shouting orders to the other helpers as they were loading the canou with the stuff from the taxi truck.
Finally, as everything was loaded, the person in the canou said in Spanish: I am here to make sure that the others do everything correct, I cannot walk because of my leg injuries, but you will have no trouble from me. Since they failed to introduce themselves, we did so, and asked for everybody’s name. There was the handicapped man, Ivan, the canou driver Martin, the cook Maria, some silent person and the spanish speaking guide Javier, who assured us that his english speaking friend would come on board soon.
We left around 1 pm and left for a lodge where we would have lunch. Along the way, we enjoyed the beautiful nature and made frequent stops to identify and point out the wildlife. Just before our stop, the silent guy left the boat: it turned out we were giving him a ride to a lodge.
When we informed about what would happen that day, Ivan explained that it was impossible to go to the Yasuni NP with just 4 days, and that we would visit the Cuyabeno NP instead. When we explained that Freddy in Banos had promised us a circle tour, (I.e. not going out on a river and coming back the same way) Ivan did not agree and explained that the return leg would then be on the ‘petrol exploration’ river, where there was no wildlife to be seen. He proposed instead a special tour to Cuyabeno indiginous people with a visit to a shaman (village chief) and a drink of the indigenous special brew. He said that he would of course take us to wherever we wanted to go, since we were the paying guests (as if we had knowledge of where to go).
The lunch was simple but good, and after an hour we got back into the boat. Suddenly two more men with backpacks climbed in the canou, and I politedly inquired who they might be. They turned out to be two extra tourists, going along for the ride. After assuring the two men that this was not personal, I objected to Ivan, who said that it is impossible to do this tour with only two guests. I asked the new guys, Barry (from Australia) and Raoul (a biologist from Hunduras) how much they payed, and it was about half of the price we payed (But admittedly they did not have to pay an intermediate sales person). So here we were, in the middle of the jungle, the trip payed up, and an organiser who said (in spanish) “it is what it is”. Ilse and I decided to go along, and complain afterwards asking for a partial refund.
Luckily, Barry and Raoul turned out to be two friendly and interesting guys, who added to our enjoyement of the tour.
That evening, about an hour before nightfall, Ivan started looking for a place to camp. We found one, but after Javier had cleared the area with a machette, Ivan found it too small. So we searched for another site, and by the time they were ready to put up the tents, it was getting dark. The tents turned out to be a mix a four relatively new (10 years?) 2-person tents, and an old 4 person tent. None of the tents had a outside rainshield cover, one had a torn mosquito net, there were no pickets, and the fiberglass rods for the small tents had seen better days, as some were split from too much tension. To their credit, Martin and Javier did a good job of setting up the tents (it seemed to be their first time too), and put all the tents underneath a giant plastic sheet that they supported by sticks cut in the jungle. All of this happened under the ‘guidance’ from Ivan, who stayed in the canou while he helped Maria, the cook. I might add they finished in the pitch black.
We built a fire, and ate our dinner while sitting around the fire on the boat benches.
We slept ok, and the next morning awakened to sound of waterdrops on the plastic sheet. It turned out to be the remainder of rain and the dew that was dripping from the trees, making it sound worse that it actually was. This is the rain forest, after all.
The next morning, I saw that our guide took a dip in the murky brown river, and was in and out very quickly. I was just about to do the same when he stopped me. He showed me two bleeding skin patches on his torso, caused by hungry piranhia’s. I wisely took a cooking pot and got some water from the river to wash me instead…
That second day, we enjoyed the amazon jungle, and made frequent stops along the way to look at the wildlife (Birds, turtles, monkeys, dolphins. In the late afternoon, we visited a large indigenous community, and found that they had a covered raised platform, which would be ideal for the night. We asked Ivan if we could sleep there, and he made the necessary arrangements with the village chief.
Dinner was served on a nearby river sandbank, where we had the opportunity to swim, relax and learn how to fish like the locals. While Ivan, Maria, Martin stayed to sleep on the river island, we went to the village where Javier had pitched our tents on the platform. It was the end of a nice day.
The following morning, we waited till around 9am before Martin came with the canou to fetch us and the tents. Then it was back to the sandbank, where Maria still had to start the breakfast. There was no schedule to the days of Ivan, so it was always a wait and see thing.
After cleanup of the kitchen, we left for another nice day. The son of the village chief went with us, to guide us on a walk through the jungle. The canou dropped us off at the start of a path, and then went to the endpoint of the walk to pick us back up. The two hour walk was very nice, and showed us another side of the rainforest, from the ground instead of from a waterbound canou. Unfortunatly we did not see any wildlife, only heard the sounds of birds and monkeys.
The walk ended at a lake, where we took the canou to visit a nice but empty jungle hotel, that was all locked up. Sadly, this splendid accomodation, owned by the indigenous people, was too far of the beaten path to attract tourists, and so it was boarded up. After a while, we took the canou and left the lake through an overflow channel, which took us on a beautiful trip through dense vegetation. A tough job for Martin the driver (lifting the motor over many submerged branches) and Javier, guiding the long boat from the front, often by paddling the bow in the right direction. A highlight of the day!
We made one stop in another village, where we enjoyed a visit to the house of the village elder, who had a Capybari couple with a young in captivity, a parrot and a monkey. We bought some souvenirs and returned to Ivan, who as always remained in the canou (Because of his handicap which made it very difficult for him to walk)
The last night we spent on a wet sandbank, where we arrived a half hour before dark. You would think Ivan knows that he needed at least 1,5 hour to set up camp, but alas. It started raining, so Maria had to cook in the rain… Luckily it stopped soon after, and we were able to eat in the open, and not underneath the low ceiling of the plastic sheet. Ivan did not show himself that evening, and maybe that was good, because our patience with him was wearing thin. Lots and lots of promises, but little actual delivery. The visit to the shaman did not materialize, nor the indigenous drink. For example, we had lunch in a wooden house of an indigenous family along the water, but they were off to the jungle. We almost landed twice at a village, but turned away just before mooring because Ivan did not like it.
Ivan had suddenly revealed just before the last camp that there was a way to avoid the 8 hour return trip by canou along the same way, by taking a two hour bus ride (Ivan would still have to make the 8 hour canou ride). We said that was a good idea (why bring it up so late?) and would take that opportunity. The next morning, Ivan said we would have to take the long 8 hour ride anyway, since he was low on gas, and would not have enough to take us to the bus and then make the return trip himself. We rebeled, and told Ivan not to be such a cheap shot and buy some gas along the way, since every house has gas available.
Ivan did also not want to eat with an indigenous family, since they would expect him to share the food with them (and he wanted to avoid the expense of that)
All of this is a bit hard to stomach if you have payed a lot of money for the trip…
So on the last day, after our bus ride we arrived back around noon at the office in Lagro Agrio, where we picked up our luggage. Unfortunately for Barry, his backpack which was laying in the unprotected office had dissappeared. Probably because of a mixup with another group that had their luggage collected by a third person, but it goes to show that there was no adequate control in the office. I hope he got it back, since there we a lot of valuables in it. [Update: he emailed us that some other group had taken his backpack by mistake and was able to chase them down and recover his pack ]

We explained to Ivans wife that we wanted a refund of 200 USD pp, which would bring us in line with the price Barry and Raoul had payed, and she was sympathetic and confered by GSM with Ivan, on his way with the canou. We had to wait till Ivan showed up. Once he did, Ivan’s wife changed character and flatly denied that at the start of the trip she had confirmed that we were going on a private tour with an english speaking guide.
To make a long story short, Ivan blamed Freddy (the Banos seller), and Freddy blamed Ivan. Both said we had to resolve our issue with the other one.
I told Ivan and Freddy that my only recourse was to publish this on the internet, but that elicited no reaction. So that is exactly what I have done here.

Looking back on this adventure, don’t think that we did not have a good time. After all, the nature is splendid, the 3 support people made the best of the given situation and were very friendly, and Barry and Raoul turned out to be very nice people.
Our only quarrel was with Ivan as a person and an organiser, and the price of the trip.

In conclusion,
– Do not trust the sales guy Freddy in Banos, he is totally untrustworthy about knowing and delivering what he sells. Maybe he is ok with air rides, canyoning or waterfall visits, but clearly not multi day trips for which he uses Marco Polo Tours. When we got back to Banos, he was conveniently on a trip, and in order to talk with him, we had to buy the boys in the ‘office’ 2 USD cell minutes…
– Do not use the marco polo tours travel agency in Lago Agrio because Ivan is not a nice person to be around, is not a good organizer and overpromises and under delivers.

You can reach me on stefan@decuypere.org if you want more information. Please be advised that I am traveling and may not be able to answer right away.