Pre-volcano ramblings

I arrived into Legaspi around 6am. By this stage, I’ve been travelling for almost 4 months. Naturally, that means I’ve become an exceptionally lazy, laissez-faire traveller. I hadn’t booked anywhere to stay nor completed any basic level of research on Hostelworld/Hostelbookers/Hotels.com/Agoda to look for accommodation.

Guide book saves a lazy backpacker

So about 20 minutes before arriving, I fished out the lonely planet book and identified a cheap place to stay. Generally, the websites mentioned are better because they’re more current and reflect the accommodation that’s trending. However, the books are worth their weight in gold when you’re lazy, haven’t researched or pre-booked, can’t be bothered to ask the taxi driver or speak to any of the locals find cheap accommodation.

On the lonelyplanet’s recommendation, I asked the tricycle driver to take me to Mayon Backpackers. I needed somewhere to stay for the night…probably. More than somewhere to stay though, I desperately needed a shower. In Manila, I had to take the train and walked around with my backpack in the scorching polluted temperatures through the city to get to the bus station. Then being cramped next to my rooster aficionado for the best part of 10 hours left me feeling sub-human with a grotesque layer of grease on my skin.

Reflections on negotiations

The tricycle driver said it was 150 pesos to Mayon Backpackers. I’ve long since given up getting angry at taxi/tuk tuk/tricycle drivers that try to rip you off.

When you get angry you don’t leave too many places for the conversation to go. Once you’re angry you escalate the situation. If the taxi driver gets aggressive too, neither parties are willing to back down. You’ve left nowhere for either party to go. Particularly in places like Thailand and Cambodia where it is customary to try and ensure neither party loses face, locking yourself into a principal based argument doesn’t leave much opportunity to save face.

Instead (as I did in that situation), I simply say, “Oh, that’s too expensive. I can’t afford that. How far is it to walk or is there a jeepne (public bus)?”. With that you achieve a few things: firstly, you’ve expressed interest in doing business; secondly, you’ve given them an opportunity to save face and come down in price; thirdly, depending on how soft the driver is, you’ve made them feel sorry for you because you’re willing to walk in the scorching heat because you can’t afford the fair.

Your negotiation then generally goes one of three ways. One, they just say no and let you walk – this is improbable but not impossible. Two, they come back with a new price – this happens often but is still the less likely outcome. Three, the most likely, they’ll ask you how much you’re willing to pay.

With option one, they’re flat out turning away business. It’s the same outcome as getting angry. They’ve left nowhere for either party to go. They’ve locked you both into a corner where one of you has to lose face for the transaction to happen. So you go to somebody who is looking to make some money.

With option 2, it then becomes a guessing game where they’ve lost negotiating power. By offering a counter price, they’ve not gained any information about your willingness to pay (which is important because they’re aiming for first price discrimination). Also, they’ve handed over bargaining power, you can simply say “No too expensive” again forcing them to counter offer again. There’s no bottom floor for the negotiation anymore. You can keep saying no to their price until you erode them down to their lowest acceptable price (presumably a little over cost price).

In option 3, they want to avoid negotiations spiralling down towards cost price with such minimal effort from the customer. When you’re forced to name a price, they have information on your willingness to pay. This is advantageous to them because you don’t know the market rate. So in a true sense of first price discrimination, they understand your willingness to pay that’s uninfluenced by what the average market price is. For those who haven’t studied economics, I could more than easily put in a few charts here to explain first price discrimination, but, let’s remember the third sentence of this post vis a viz my approach to travelling. So at this stage, your interlocutor has the advantage, they’ve quoted a ridiculous price already, which typically is so far removed from the market price it’d be impossible to guess what the price should be – most backpackers will assume the price is somewhere between 2-4 times higher than what it should be. You’ve revealed your lowest willingness to pay. They now assume the negotiation will play out with you guys attempting to meet in the middle somewhere. So tactically your best option is to continuously repeat your number and not engage in any ‘meet in the middle’ type strategy.

My negotiation took the form of the third option – he asked how much I’m willing to pay. I said 50 peso (like I said, I assumed it was inflated between 2-4 times). He said “Oh [looking sad], okay.” Damn. He shouted to one of the other drivers, holding out 5 fingers on his hand. The driver said no. It had started to rain. I’m glad we had agreed the price because my negotiating position just took a hit. He shouted to another driver holding out all of his fingers and thumb on his right hand, the driver nodded. He said okay, this driver will take you.

Mayon vs. Mayon

At the hostel I had laid my raincoat out to dry and had got in a room when another guest, Jona, a young Israeli man, arrived on one of the aircon buses from Manila. I said I was thinking of hiking Mount Mayon if he’s interested in joining. He said he’d already messaged and called somebody that was recommended on trip advisor, and that they’d be here to talk prices for hikes shortly.

I put my electronics on charge and went for a shower. Feeling human again, I got dressed and found Jona talking to a Philippo man, the guide.

The guide seemed really friendly. He talked us through the various options. The prices he quoted were fair. Also, he just seemed really nice about the whole thing, he offered to pick us up, leave our bags at his house etc. Alarm bells started ringing in my head, if something is too good to be true, then it usually is. But that’s an adage that works in London. My experience in the Philippines suggested that he was being genuine. And of course, he was.

Having met 15 minutes before, Jona and I would be hiking up Mount Mayon together for the next 36 hours. After we had come to the conclusion that we wanted to start the trek straight away to save time, both of our brains settled on an immediate problem.

I said to him, we’re going to need to tell the hostel that we had just checked into, that we won’t be staying the night. We had to choose Mt Mayon over Mayon Backpackers. I hadn’t paid yet and neither had he. We hadn’t used the beds or anything. We had just borrowed a towel and made use of their bathroom facilities. I told him we should offer to compensate them a part of the amount for the night because we used their towels, showers, electricity, consumed their coffee and banana. Jona agreed.

We spoke to them and they were terribly nice about it. We explained the situation and said we’d like to offer some amount to show our appreciation for using the facilities and to apologise for not staying the night like we said we would. They were more than kind about it. They simply wouldn’t accept any money and said not to worry about the fact that we had used the facilities. They checked the bed and said everything is fine. If you go to Legaspi, I highly recommend Mayon Backpackers as a fine place to stay.

_“…and it has tuna”

Jona and I packed our bags and moved them to the side. We went out to get food. Marco, our tour guide had arranged for a tricycle to pick us up and take us to a place to eat for a very small fee (30-40 pesos between us). Most the restaurants didn’t open until 11 so we had to wait before we could feast. Both of us were extraordinarily hungry having been on the bus and not having had a proper dinner the night before, or a breakfast that morning.

Eventually, 11 o’clock was upon us and we want to the Small Talk restaurant which was recommended on Trip Advisor, the Lonely Planet and recommended by the hostel or Marco. I flicked through the menu and they had some tasty looking vegetarian options. I asked almost painfully what was in the pasta that I ordered, tediously making them list every ingredient. It sounded good. Right at the end of my order, I asked if they can make it spicy and she said sure.

We were the first two people in the restaurant. An hour later the restaurant had become busy and our food still hadn’t arrived. Jon had ordered a pizza that is cooked in an extremely hot oven for 90 seconds. So we were naturally confused one hour later.

When it arrived a little over an hour later, Jona’s pizza left much to be desired. My pasta smelt slightly fishy. I asked Jona to taste it. He confirmed my reservations.

It took a while to get the attention of the waiter. When I did I asked them if there’s fish or shrimp in it.

She said “Yes, shrimp”, following up nonchalantly “You asked for it spicy”.

After a small disagreement on what spicy means, we discussed the other options. I looked at a seemingly vegetarian pasta. The menu said it was pasta, tomato sauce, garlic, vegetables and parmesan. I asked her what was in it.

She said “It has pasta, tomatoes, vegetables, cheese. It’s good sir”.

“So it doesn’t have any pork, chicken, beef, fish or shrimp in it?”

“Yeah, it has pork in it”, staring at me blankly.

“So why doesn’t it say that on the menu?” I asked slightly frustrated to yet more blank expressions.

“Okay let’s try this again” I said finding another dish that based on the description looked vegetarian.

“This one, the description says it has pasta, taro leaves, garlic and ginger. Does it have anything else thats meat or fish?”

“No, it’s okay. You can eat this one.”

“So, no fish?”

“Oh yeah, and it has tuna.”

The look on my face and Jona’s chuckles in the background helped her to finally understand what I was after. She pointed to another pasta dish on the menu, and said “You can have this one, it has only what’s written down.”

By the time we finished our meals, we had to rush back to the hostel to get our day bags ready. 5 minutes later Marco arrived. With everything packed and ready to go, it was time to mount Mount Mayon.

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