As someone who has traveled around the world and back a few times I cannot count how many times I have said this phrase in my life!
I live by the philosophy that time isn’t money, money is time. If I save $10 today, that is an extra one-third of a day I get to spend “on the road” seeing another city, or even another country!
Many times in my travels I have been extremely frugal with my spending. I have stolen bread roll sandwiches from included breakfasts to eat for my lunch later. I have eaten Laughing Cow cheese and crackers for three meals in a row to save from having to eat out in restaurants. I have even slept in some nasty places to save a buck!
So, when looking at organized tours of certain attractions it would be an easy guess that a budget conscious traveler would forgo the expensive organized tour and try it the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) way. That may be true for some sights, but here and now I will tell you that sometimes it’s worth it to just “pay for the tour!”
Here is an example of when I wished I would have just paid the extra five bucks for the tour.
I was traveling with an American friend Christa and the two crazy Brits we met in Panama, Emily and Stewart. We were in Cartagena, Colombia and had heard from another traveler about the legend of Volcán del Totumo, a mud volcano. Somewhere about 16 kilometers outside the city is a volcano that is said to have breathed the fire of the devil. A priest in the early times would make pilgrimages there and sprinkle the volcano with holy water and pray, so often that over time the volcano stopped spitting out flames and turned to the mud it is today. It is said that the Priest had drowned the Devil and drowned the flames.
We heard that we could climb the volcano and get inside and bathe in the mud. Sign us up! The tour was $10 each, round trip from town, including entrance into the volcano. I was ready to go! But, since I was with three other travelers, we now had to “vote.” One of the downsides of group travel: it is always a democracy! We had decided that since Stewart and Emily were fluent in Spanish and the local buses cost 50 cents to ride, we would make an adventure out of it and head out on our own.
I can’t begin to tell you how many wrong buses we got on, buses going in the opposite direction, or buses that just left us standing on the side of the road. But, we all kept smiling because soon we would be swimming in a mud volcano. We found out from our last bus driver that it was still a two kilometer walk to the volcano. No worries, Stewart gets good directions and down the hot road we go. We are literally walking down the side of a highway. This was the moment when I started saying to myself, “Just pay for the tour!”
We walked down a path that opened to the volcano. No AHHH AH AH moment here! It looked like a man-made mud hole on top of a giant anthill. There was makeshift scaffolding all around it to hold up the sides, and wooden stairs that were built with hand rails so tourists could climb easier. We were disappointed to say the least. Stewart, so much so, that he refused to pay the $2 they wanted for an entrance fee. Well, I have come too far to NOT go in, so we decide to pretend it was another girls’ spa day. The mud was amazing, you sink in a bit but then realize there is no bottom and you are floating. Little air bubbles would pop up while you were swimming around.
Part of the experience after you have been covered in the thick mud was to head down to the nearby river and wash off. We should have guessed that since this was such a tourist trap there would be more locals in on the action. Three ladies waited in the water with buckets to wash the mud off of us. We have been around enough to know that this is going to cost us something, so I decided “Budget Mindi” can wash herself off. I say “No, Gracias!” My lady would not take no for an answer, before I knew it she had the bottom half of my swimsuit off of me and was scrubbing the mud out if it. I started having flash backs of my Turkish bath in Istanbul.
Meanwhile, back in the water, I was sitting with no pants on so I couldn’t get up and get my bottoms back. I finally threw such a stink that she gave me my suit, and let me wash myself off. The priceless part of this experience was listening to Emily tell off my woman in Spanish after she tried to collect a tip from me for the services rendered. HA! Thanks, Em!