Being an Oyster hotel investigator is eventful, to say the least. The globetrotting gig is filled with memorable once-in-a-lifetime moments like spotting wildlife in the Galapagos Islands, exploring tranquil destinations like Fiji and bustling cities like Cartagena, and capturing every inch of a hotel's grounds, so that fellow travelers know exactly what they're in for before they arrive. But, just like any other professional position, this job is not without its stressful, head-scratching situations. Previous mishaps have included common travel dilemmas like getting lost while driving and missing connecting flights as well as double take-worthy instances like getting stuck near a river full of crocodiles and being rejected from the Maldives...twice. They all, however, make for good tales to tell long after returning home. So, as we bid adieu to 2016 -- and because we all like a good story -- we tapped the heroes behind the honest reviews and photos you see on Oyster.com to share some of their craziest anecdotes while on the clock this year.
Hotels in this story
Rejected From the Maldives…Twice
“My trips for Oyster have generally gone smoothly and lacked anything jaw-dropping aside from breathtaking views. The only exception was my trip to the Maldives, which still sends a pang to my chest whenever I think about it. In a nutshell, my lack of visa knowledge and the country’s laws around foreign photographers resulted in me being rejected by Maldives customs officers…twice. Being treated like a criminal because I’m a photographer was hands-down the craziest thing that has ever happened to me — on and off the job.” — Lara Grant
Stumbled Upon a Room Full of Shirtless Guys
“You know those times when you look around and ask yourself, ‘what is my life?’ As an Oyster investigator, I find myself in these scenarios often — for both good and bad reasons. But the craziest hotel incident of 2016 has to be the time I spent at Caleta Iguana, a beachfront hostel on the island of Isabela in the Galapagos. I arrived at Caleta Iguana to find a room full of shirtless twenty-somethings laying around on bean bags. When I told them who I was, they didn’t seem to know anything about the photo shoot that was supposed to take place in the next few hours. Nevertheless, a tan curly-haired member of the bunch swung my suitcase over his shoulder, showed me to my room, and gave me a tour of the property. I later learned that he was neither a hotel employee nor an Isabela resident, but a frequent and beloved visitor, locally known as Wiz Khalifa.
That night, Wiz Khalifa encouraged me to swing by the beachfront bar to ‘celebrate Fabo’s birthday.’ Though I didn’t know who Fabo was, I made my way down to the beach when the music started shortly after sunset. Fabo, I learned, is the hostel’s resident body painter. He too likes to spend his days shirtless — though he more closely resembles Santa Claus than the surfer dudes I encountered in the lobby earlier. To celebrate his birthday, Fabo did what he does best, and painted the bodies of willing partygoers. As I sat there drinking a $12 gin and Perrier, I couldn’t help but wonder if all of this was actually happening. It’s a few hours of my life that I’ll never forget.” — Alex Creange
Attacked While Undercover
“It was the last hotel that was scheduled on my trip and it happened to be an undercover shoot. I usually have my camera around my neck when I check in at the undercover shoots, so I can grab shots when no one is watching. During check-in, the front desk person had to get something from her office and I started snapping away. I noticed a person in the business center, but didn’t pay that much attention to him.
After I checked in, I left the lobby to get my luggage from the car. As I walked out, the guy from the business center jumped me from behind and started pummeling the back of my head and back. I thought he wanted to steal my camera and I was overcome by a resolute sense that there is no way he’s going to steal my gear. So I hunched over, stormed backwards, and pinned him to the wall while letting out the most cold-blooded scream I could muster. Some of the hotel staff came running to my aid as my attacker ran away, screaming something about how he’ll come for me. He turned out to be someone living on the streets and clearly mentally ill. Me taking photos must have triggered something for him.
The front desk person dressed my wounds, which were rather minor, but I felt pretty shaken. I found it so ironic that this had to happen to an undercover photographer. If the hotel people only knew…” – Hannes van der Merwe
Got Stuck in a Crocodile-Infested River
“The highways of the Northern Territory are intimidating with open speed limits, potholes, and the humongous road trains that weigh over 100 tons and barrel down the highways. Add in mad kangaroos and low-flying birds that frequently fly out in front of your vehicle and it starts to get a bit nerve-racking. But the pristine nature and abundant wildlife in the area make the hairy driving worth it.
During an Oyster investigation of the Mary River Wilderness Retreat & Caravan Park, I got a little too close to the wildlife. I was checking out the spacious grounds with one of the hotel’s golf buggies when I accidentally got myself stuck in the mud, along the banks of the most crocodile-infested river in the world. After the initial realization and shock of where I was, I quickly got the cart out and made sure to get a map of the extensive grounds before I did any more exploring.”
After Mary River Wilderness Retreat, I visited the Wildman Wilderness Lodge, which is situated along the edge of Kakadu National Park. The best experience here was watching the magical desert sunset, during which kangaroos and hundreds of cockatoos come out in full force right in front of the hotel and put on a spectacular show for the guests.” — Thor Hemmerle
Experienced a Gender-Segregated Hotel for the First Time
“A puzzled look and an ‘are you sure this is the hotel you’re looking for?’ was not exactly what I was expecting to hear as I pulled up to the valet booth at the Adenya Hotel. I had done a lot of research and knew I was in for a somewhat bizarre experience. I was aware of the fact that, as an Islamic hotel, all of the common areas except for the restaurants were segregated by gender — including the indoor and outdoor pools, spa, and even the beach. [I also knew that] the vast majority of its guests are conservative Muslim families, which I am not. What I didn’t know was what to expect in terms of dress code and general atmosphere. I showed up wearing black slacks, a white long-sleeve shirt, and a thin scarf hung loose around my neck in case I felt I was expected to cover my hair (I was not). ‘We’re just like any other hotel,’ I was told during my meeting with the marketing department, but to be honest I felt like a fish out of water. Everywhere I went, I felt several pairs of eyes following me around and probably wondering what exactly I was doing there. Needless to say, my conversation with the valet was just the first of several such awkward encounters. During lunch on the first day, a man pulled up a chair and grilled my husband and me (with genuine interest, not in an accusatory manner) about the purpose of our visit. I travel quite a lot every year and consider myself to be an open-minded person, but I guess this was just a little too much outside of my comfort zone.” — Carolina Pirola
Had Photo Equipment Attacked by a Parrot
“I was at a hotel recently that has lots of animals. They rescue and foster island wildlife until a home is found. It seems that many of the animals get adopted by the hotel’s owners though, and it has become a mini zoo. My room wasn’t ready when I arrived, so I left [my things] outside of the lobby, as directed. When I came back, my suitcase was getting attacked by Batman. Not the man in black, but a green parrot with a fetish for destruction. A bit later in the day, I took a break for lunch and left my tripod behind me. I ate, relaxed, and when it was time to continue shooting, one of the rings on tripod legs was torn up. Batman had struck again and took an expensive piece of my carbon-fiber tripod with him.” — Micah Rubin
Got Stuck in a Ditch Near the Pitons
“I was driving to Jade Mountain near the Pitons — on a lengthy dirt road without signage. Two locals flagged me down, asked for a ride, said I was going the wrong way, and needed to get back to town and take a different road (turns out, they just wanted a ride into town). After they jumped out, I figured out I was on the right road to begin with and arrived at the remote luxury hotel an hour late (no cell service), only to have them tell me they didn’t have any rooms available to shoot and wanted me to come back the next day. I was so upset that they eventually let me shoot a honeymoon suite right before the couple was arriving via helicopter. After the photo shoot, my car got stuck in a ditch near the Pitons and three locals had to literally lift me up and out.” — Lilly LeClair
Heard About That Time Ivanka Trump Nearly Fell Into a Hole
“I was touring the new Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., and was trying to make small talk with my guide. The upcoming presidential election was the elephant in the room that neither of us wanted to bring up. So instead, I asked whether she had met Ivanka Trump yet. She then told me a story about saving Ivanka from a nasty fall when the hotel was still under construction. Ivanka was pregnant and about to step into a gaping hole, when my guide shouted, ‘Watch yourself!’ in the nick of time. My guide said she was still embarrassed to have shouted at Ivanka Trump like that.” — Lacey Johnson
Drove on Dangerous Roads in the Dominican Republic
“It was my first trip with Oyster and my most memorable. But, for all the wrong reasons. I always like renting a car when I travel and I’ve driven in plenty of dangerous, far-flung places. But, nothing prepared me for driving in the Dominican Republic. They have many of the same laws that we have in the U.S., but they’re rarely enforced by police or followed by locals. Many cars don’t have headlights, so even the locals will warn you that you should never drive at night. Name anything you can think of and I saw someone riding on a motorcycle with it — animals, propane tanks, pallets of food, entire families — often while steering with a beer in one hand. Tanker trucks drive into oncoming traffic to pass long lines of cars on blind curves. And whole families with small children run across the middle of the highway at night like a real-life game of Frogger. It felt lawless!” — Mike Richard
Editor’s note: Some stories have been edited for length and clarity.