I found myself spending the night in a private room, on the top floor of a lakefront hotel, overlooking the highest lake in the world. All for $6 a night. I had heard that Copacabana on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca is much nicer than Puno on the Peruvian side, so that’s where I decided to spend a few days.
Since leaving Buenos Aires, I had been staying in hostels and therefore, had not been speaking much Spanish. I decide to spend my first morning in Copacabana walking up and down the streets, practicing my Spanish with local shop owners.
Overall, there was not a whole lot to do in the town, but it was a nice place to relax beside Lake Titicaca.
As I was eating lunch and enjoying the view at a lake front restaurant, I looked up and saw some familiar faces walking down the street. It was my Austrian friends who I had met back in Northern Argentina. I ended up joining them for a hike up to a viewpoint overlooking the city at sunset. The trade off for watching the sunset over the lake was that we then had to hike back down in complete darkness, but we made it.
We ended our night with Pisco Sours at a local restaurant. I remember this because I haven’t had an alcoholic drink since. Now, two months later, I have been alcohol free, since that night.
I took a ferry the next morning to Isla Del Sol, with Mel and Carol. Isla Del Sol (Island of the Sun) is a quiet island on Lake Titicaca that has a beautiful hike on it. We were dropped off on the north side of the island and made our way all the way to the far south, walking along the coast most of the way.
Mel struggled a bit, but she was a trooper and pushed through to the end. When we finally arrived to the southernmost town of the island, we didn’t have to waste any time looking for a place to stay. We were met by a group of young local boys. The leader of the group was a great salesman and I was thoroughly impressed by him. Before we knew it we were handing over our money and being handed the keys to our new room.
The boys left and then returned 10 minutes later with my Austrian friends, who they also found along the path. They ended up being our neighbours for the night.
I had heard that the best restaurant on the island is called Las Velas. The restaurant is famous for it’s trout and it’s vegetarian pizza. I sold the rest of our group on it and we all made our way there for dinner. It was in a great location, situated up on a cliff, overlooking the lake. It was also unique in the fact that it had no electrical lighting. The only light in the restaurant was from candles.
When I sat down and read through the menu I noticed that there was a note asking for customers to be patient and saying that there are board games to play while waiting for food to be served. When we saw this, we knew that we would be waiting a while for our food, but I don’t think anyone expected to be waiting for 3.5 hours.
After a while, we realized that there was only one person working in the entire restaurant. The one man was seating customers, serving tables, taking orders, cooking the food and collecting payment. He had to do absolutely everything, with the pressure of a restaurant full of waiting customers and I could tell he was stressed out. Many of the people I was with were getting quite frustrated by the wait, which was fair enough. I just felt bad for the guy.
When the meal finally arrived I was thoroughly impressed. The food was delicious and professionally prepared. This was not what I expected from a chef in Bolivia. I don’t know if everyone would agree with me, but in my opinion it was worth the wait. Especially since I learned a lot from this experience.
The chef did not let the quality suffer even though he was feeling the pressure of a restaurant full of frustrated customers, who had been waiting for hours. Many people, in the same situation, would have rushed the food and provided an inferior product in order to avoid the unpleasantness of dealing with unhappy customers.
Instead, the chef was unwilling to let his integrity waver. He made sure that no matter what, he provided the highest quality product possible and was willing to deal with the consequences of making us wait.
As soon as the food was served he came out and apologized to everyone for the long wait. This impressed us all. I don’t think any of us had ever experienced a Bolivian apologizing for poor service. I was so used to people in Bolivia over promising, under delivering and then making excuses.
Just the fact that the man was humble enough to give a sincere apology was enough for most of the people in the restaurant to forgive the 3.5-hour wait. The man then came out again after dinner and gave us all a gift, before sitting with us and explaining the situation.
He explained that usually there are 2 of them working, but his partner was out of town for the weekend. Isla Del Sol is a very quiet island and he never knows how many guests he will have each night. Therefore, he doesn’t start preparing the food until he takes the order. The previous night had been fine because they only had three guests, but this night, with a full restaurant, it was too much for him to handle by himself.
By the time we left the restaurant, the man had completely turned the customer service experience around for me and I think he had done the same for most of the other guests. My friends were recommending the restaurant to other backpackers the next day. In my opinion that is really saying something. We waited 3.5 hours for our food and we are still recommending the restaurant to everyone we meet.
I was inspired by this experience. This man taught me that we have the ability to turn absolutely any experience into a positive one. Less than ideal situations are going to come up in business and in life. We are going to make mistakes. Other people are going to make mistakes. We are only human. That’s just life.
There were issues that came up all the time in my business. I was able to turn countless customer service experiences into positive ones, when these issues came up. However, there were a few that I never did, which I am not proud of. But we live and we learn. Now I see that it was completely in my control to turn around each and every negative customer experience in my business. What made the difference was the way I reacted to the situations.
It’s not what happens, but how we react to what happens that matters. It’s not possible for every interaction we have, to go the way we want it to go. However, if we just hold on to our integrity, deliver on our promises no matter what, and have the courage to deal with the consequence the best we can, I believe we have the power to turn any negative experience into a positive one.