O.X. – Outdoor Excursions or Outrageous eXcuses?

I freely classified the five month period between Grad School and the start of my career as my “Pre-Employment” phase.  There were many highlights throughout this period – including a month of traveling Europe, working a week at a Middle School Leadership Camp, camping and rafting for my brother’s bachelor party in Colorado, the Scorpion’s Tail, and watching all 6 seasons of Lost.  However, the highlight of this period had to have been the way in which I moved to Colorado.  I could have driven a car (or a moving van of my stuff) but instead chose a route with stops in Antigua, Guatemala  for my brother’s wedding and Las Vegas to watch the Badgers play UNLV.  To be honest, I was a bit skeptical when my brother and future sister in law chose to have a destination wedding in Antigua.  However, the experience proved to be one of the most relaxing and enjoyable weeks of my life and their wedding experience was by far the most beautiful that I have ever attended.  We met some remarkable people, including our guide David who took our group to Lake Atitlan, a wonderful guide in Tikal, and the wedding planners, Diana and Romie of weddingsinguatemala.com (their blog includes pics of the wedding), who did an absolutely impeccable job planning my brother’s wedding.  In fact, the only negative aspect of the Guatemala wedding was our experience with O.X. Outdoor Excursions in Antigua and its head guide, Victor.  I’m writing this post to assist future visitors to Antigua, Guatemala, who may be considering a tour with O.X.

O.X. Outdoor Excursions (which by the way is not at all a unique name and this post is solely describing the the O.X. Adventure Tours in Antigua, Guatemala at www.oxexpeditions.com) promised the following to us in an e-mail description of our hike-zip-bike tour:

Victor “LaBlanc” Ferrell - Head-Guide at O.X. Outdoor Excursions
Victor Ferrell, Head-Guide at O.X. Outdoor Excursions

“We exit the cobble stone streets of Antigua and head into the picturesque hills on a small foot-path above the Panchoy Valley through small village and coffee farms snaking our way up a ridge line until finally after about 2 hours we come face to face with the longest Zip-Line in all of Guatemala!!  The Zip-Line is designed for the adventure lover who enjoys the thrill of connecting up to the double line and cruising for almost 1700ft and over the canyon floor, 500ft below! Once across the canyon, you climb to another zip tower and do it again, back across the canyon.  After the Zip we hike 10 minutes to Earth Lodge, an eco-hostel located in the hills above Antigua and the Panchoy valley.  Enjoy lunch and the beverage of your choice taking in the excellent views of Volcanoes Agua, Acatenango and Fuego.  After lunch, we hop on the bikes and take in a leisurely ride down the road ending at The Cross monument that watches over Antigua.  A great way to take in the beauty with a little bit of exercise and a whole lot of fun!!”

It sounded great.  It wasn’t.  So what went wrong?  There are many US based standards organizations providing customer service guidelines, however, since our experience occured in Guatemala, I find it only fitting to adapt international guidelines (just in case our own customer service standards don’t translate well into other cultures).  ISO 9004-2: 1991 Introduction to quality service includes the following guidelines:

A quality service system is one that:

  • Ensures that customer needs are met.

We started the morning by telling O.X. that we had already eaten breakfast and therefore didn’t want to have to buy another one at Victor’s buddy’s restaurant – “The Earth Lodge.”  They told us that this was not an option.  As a wedding party member, I also needed to be back for pictures by 2:00 pm and O.X. seemed unconcerned.

  • Receives regular feedback from customers.

It would have been tough for our guide to receive feedback from us throughout the hike because she stayed in the back of our group, chatting with the other guide in Spanish.  As a result, we frequently had to stop and wait for her to catch up so that she could let us know which way to go.  This is less than ideal in a country with one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America.

  • Respects customer perceptions and opinions. 

My brother and I were told by Victor that many people in our group (“especially the women”) had bad attitudes.  He also called one of his employees a lesbian in front of us.

  • Pays attention to cultural values and perceptions.

We received absolutely no cultural information throughout our hike.  At our request, we visited Antigua’s famous Cerro de la Cruz, however, our guide didn’t know when the cross was constructed.  Also, thinking that we had become “bros” in the one day that we interacted, Victor shared with me how crazy Antigua was and how he couldn’t wait to get out of the country to their other business location in Colombia.  This instilled in me a great impression of the Antiguan tourism industry that I assume Victor relies heavily on.

  • Improves service performance and productivity.

The Zip Line company that was hired by Victor (because O.X. doesn’t provide that service), required all of us to wear helmets for the zip line.  Which is an interesting safety feature when you’re dangling a thousand feet above the canopy floor because a plastic helmet probably wouldn’t get you very far.  However, later in the trip, during the bike portion, although it was raining and we were descending thousands of feet down switch back roads through the mountains, O.X. did not provide helmets.  After the trip, a member of our party brought up to Victor that he felt very unsafe biking the mountain roads without a helmet and Victor later recounted this to my brother and I as an instance of our group “complaining” during the trip.

  • Encourages personnel to improve quality.

When we provided feedback to our guide that she trailed our group and we constantly had to wait for her to guide us on the trail, she claimed it was because we were already such a friendly and close knit group.  We also cited her complete lack of any knowledge of the surrounding area and its culture and in response, she told us that she was trained in preventing hypothermia (it was 85° and humid) and not as a tour guide.

  • Controls costs and improves efficiency.

O.X. doesn’t take credit cards!  This would of course require O.X. to pay 1-3% merchant fees to credit card companies.  There are many benefits to merchants who accept credit cards and O.X. is evidently not interesting in them.  Instead, O.X. forced my brother to pay thousands of dollars to them via PayPal and personally incur PayPal’s transaction fees.  After our initial hike-zip-bike tour went so poorly, we decided to cancel our Volcan Acatenango trip for the subsequent day.  As a result, Victor was completely unwilling to work with us on a discount after our initial customer experience went so poorly.  At this point, my brother’s PayPal transaction for thousands of dollars had still not gone through and Victor was visibly (and audibly) concerned.  However, we requested that prior to O.X. pushing an incorrect transaction amount through PayPal that they first provide us with the details of the exact refund that they were willing to provide for our pre-paid Acatenango trip.  At that, Victor began threatening to instead escalate the transaction to small claims court or a collection agency.  We complied and as a result of not adjusting the incorrect balance prior to the transaction going through, once my brother actually did receive a refund, he was forced to again endure more PayPal transaction fees to withdraw the money.

Unanimously, everyone’s favorite part of the trip was the zip line that we did high over the canopy of the jungle.  However, this was the only part of the tour that O.X. had nothing to do with because they purchased our zip lining from another company.  Afterwards, a couple of us thought that perhaps our overwhelmingly negative experience with O.X. was an anomaly.  Perhaps their customer service actually is impeccable and Victor, the owner, is actually a sincere and caring person.  Then we found this review:

“The owner Victor, an American guy, is very pushy and money orientated.  Try not to deal with him – he is very in your face.  The website says they supply all your camping gear, but then when we asked Victor for things on the day he refused to supply us with a torch for no apparent reason.  He could have told us that at the time of booking and we could have got one for the trip.  Even local/ex-pat cafe owners we spoke to said the locals do not like him because he is obsessed with money!  Make sure whatever you do, he does not go on your trip as a guide as he will spoil it with his bad attitude…  If we didn’t have to deal with Victor it would have been the best experience but his aggressive and unfriendly attitude at the start was the only issue.”

My advice: book your zip line tour through the company that actually operates the zip line and avoid Victor like the streets of Guatemala City after dark.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Grant

    I was a trail guide for 4 summers up in the Boundary Waters and it was a basic expectation that our 90 trail staff knew a little bit about the flora and fauna that we were traveling in. I was surprised that I knew more about Antiguan wildlife from reading a brochure than the guides at O.X. Outdoor Excursions. I feel that the standards for customer service and safety at O.X. were set very low. It seemed they were more concerned about the money than the well being of their clientele. This place isn’t worth it. Move on…

  2. Bob

    Some friends and I took a trip with O.X. and had Victor as our tour guide. We first found out about O.X. through another person and decided to give it a shot since they were “the only ones with armed guards as security”. Our first impression of Victor was dead-on: arrogant, selfish and egotistical. Unfortunately we didn’t heed our intuition and continued on with the 2-day trip to Acatenango. Victor was hands down the worst tour guide that any of us in the group had ever encountered. He was always ahead of the group, never paid attention to whether or not anybody needed anything and when one of the girls said she couldn’t walk his response was “you must be out of shape”. Not, it’s probably altitude sickness, or, you’re probably dehydrated or any of the other number of reasons that the girl who hiked the entire day before (perfectly fine) could all of a sudden not feel her legs. Aside from that, he set up camp on the summit in the middle of a lightning and hail storm, not one of us slept one wink all night because we were so terrified for our lives. There was lightning surrounding us all night and it was so close we could all feel the electricity on our faces. We later came to find out that every other guide hikes back down the mountain to set up camp in a more sheltered area, but not O.X., because they have NO idea what they are doing!!!! After arriving back into Antigua we found out that Victor is known around the town as someone to keep away from as he is not a good person. I now feel compelled to write this so that any other person who is considering taking a trip with O.X. DOES NOT DO IT- ESPECIALLY if you are a female and you are traveling alone. Victor is not only the most self-centered person I have encountered, he is dangerous to be around and if you are a female traveling alone you should steer clear of him AT ALL COSTS.

  3. Robert Bitetto

    Went on this trip as well but unfortunatley sunrise was obscured by cloud cover . Sunrise on top of this volcano was pretty neat as we were well above the clouds. Was thankful for a guide as there were a great number of switchbacks and Victor knew the way for sure. Found Victor to be inspirational without holding your hand which is a good thing. On a scale of 1-10 on greatest experience I’d say a strong 6. On a scale of difficulty personally I would say about a 3. Just bring plenty of chocolate , desire and fitness and you’ll be all set.
    Met some fantastic people during our climb from Scotland , Canada and of course Gautemala. No security (armed ) provided and didn’t really feel if we needed one all though great hype was made about it to perhaps incur some cost? Who knows. All in all was a good experience for short money. I do enjoy a good physical challenge and as stated felt it to be of a moderate workout but the view on top …….PRICELESS.
    Victors alright Felt like he had our best interest at heart. Like I said I’m not looking for some one to hold my hand. And that’s not what you get with the “Vickster”. He was very informative on the climb abut the towns below, history of the Volcon as well it’s people ,Flora and Fauna. He encouraged all around us with positive feedback and inspiration. At the time Victor took charge when scheduled guide hit the wall on the way up . Victor stepped in and got the job done. I don’t want rose petals thrown at my feet on the way up to 13000 feet. Victor will lead you safely but not do it for you. He encourages and was quick to adjust to all the different needs of hikers. And also made a killer cup of joe the next morning in the midst of some pretty inclement weather on top of the rock.
    Thanks XO adventures. And thanks Victor

  4. Kevin Roozen

    Interesting to read these accounts of interactions with OX Expeditions in Guatemala.

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