Scandal at Lonely Planet – Colombia guide written in San Francisco!

Lonely Planet ColombiaScandal is engulfing Lonely Planet after the revelations by an employee, Thomas Kohnstamm, that slabs of the South America guidebooks contributed to were anything but well researched. In a new book entitled Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? Kohnstamm admits to having plagerised and invented information. He claims he didn’t even visit Colombia to write the LP guide ‘because they didn’t pay me enough’; instead, ‘I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating – an intern in the Colombian consulate’.

Khonstamm accepted free travel and his recommendations seem to have been anything but fearlessly independent. Here is one of Kohnstamm’s anecdotes from a restaurant in Brazil he recommended:

“The waitress suggests that I come back after she closes down the restaurant, around midnight,” he writes. “We end up having sex in a chair and then on one of the tables in the back corner.

” That performance earned a guidebook entry describing the restaurant as “a pleasant surprise” where “the table service is friendly”.

According to reports another LP author, Jeanne Oliver, wrote to management regarding this scandal ‘Why did you (management) not understand that when you hire a constant stream of new, unvetted people, pay them poorly and set them loose, that someone, somehow was going to screw you?’.

Apparently Mr Kohnstamm’s books are being ‘urgently reviewed’.

The Telegraph & News.com.au (The Sunday Telegraph)

UPDATE

KohnstammAn interesting article from the New Zealand Herald published a week ago with some more quotes from Kohnstamm:

“They [Lonely Planet] know the book is coming out,” he says. “I’ve been contacted by a number of other Lonely Planet writers and everyone who has bothered to be in contact said, ‘Good on you, it’s a story that needed to be told.’

“But the book is fundamentally about my personal experience and not intended as an expose on Lonely Planet. Nor do I attempt to shoot it down. Obviously, when the book was written, it was given a full legal review.”

Kohnstamm notes in the interview that ‘Lonely Planet pays on average less than the minimum hourly wage, often does not support its writers in the field and makes demands almost impossible to meet’.

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7 responses to “Scandal at Lonely Planet – Colombia guide written in San Francisco!

  1. Pingback: Pages tagged "colombia"

  2. Pingback: Guidebooks: neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so « Oz Traveller

  3. The Lonely Planet’s really gone down hill since they were bought by the BBC. This is the second big controversy to hit them in less than six months. The last one was their guide to Burma – where they were actually encouraging people to visit a terror state that uses slave labour to build tourist resorts.

    http://rjjago.wordpress.com/2008/02/21/lets-go-gulag-archipelago-bbc-wants-you-to-visit-burma/

    The fact that the Colombia guide was written in San Francisco – well, it sheds some light on why their advice is often so bad.

  4. Pingback: 9 Things I Learned as a Frugal Traveler

  5. UK Government should have never cut spending in BBC. It`s such a little money compared to the whole public budget and is so important worlwide; for its free press and the quality of its scope

  6. I have traveled over the last 20 years to 105 countries. I have always used the Lonely Planet books so I bought the Lonely Planet book for Colombia. I found out too late that they had not even gone to the places in Colombia to check them out. This cost me dearly. Enrique (aka Kike) of Omshanty Jungle Lodge is recommended in the current Lonely Planet book for Colombia in the Section on the city of Leticia so I decided to use him. He promised to show me the jaguar in the wild for $1,600.00 USD. Not only is he incompetent but he is really dangerous and is going to get someone killed one day. I made it to Leticia, Brazil to where Enrique has his jungle lodge called Omshanty. First thing he did was send me across the street to his friend’s restaurant. I ate some really bad food there that gave me food poisoning. But not until we were a days hike out in the jungle did I suffer the symptoms from the uncooked eggs in the dish. I was up all night vomiting. I became completely dehydrated and needed purified water badly. I went to wake him up but couldn’t. At first I thought he must be ignoring me. But later I found out he is one of those guys that you literally need to kick in order to wake up. He is very depressed and smokes a ton of marijuana which is why I think he goes unconscious like this. I didn’t want to puke and crap all over my bedding so I climbed out of my hammock and mosquito netting and laid in the mud as I vomited and crapped my insides out. That night it rained so hard that trees were falling over. I lay crawling in the mud all night long being sick. I opened my mouth to catch the rain in order to quench my thirst.
    My guide Enrique decided that it was better if we slipped over the border into Brazil. He also advised me to leave my passport behind so it would not get wet. This was a really bad idea since I did not have a visa for Brazil and Enrique was carrying a lot of marijuana to support his habit. He needed to smoke 8-12 joints a day. After day one the entire trip was in the country of Brazil and not Colombia as we had planned. I don’t smoke cigarettes or pot so it would have been really bad had we gotten arrested.
    I learned from previous trips that everyone has to get up early in the morning to get going on the hike in the Amazon. But Enrique could never get his butt in gear until after 10 or 11 am. When he got up from bed he would smoke two joints then fall back asleep. Then he would smoke two joints in order to poo (go to the toilet). Then he would smoke another 2 joints to get going. He hired a local native guide named Sergio to help out. Enrique treated Sergio very badly. He wanted the native guy to wait on us hand and foot. He expected him to do everything including washing the dishes, cooking our food and carrying most of the weight. At one point Enrique said that some other native men had taken a poison jungle root from a tree and put it in all the streams to kill the fish. This way they could easily harvest tons of fish. I was told this poison root removes the oxygen from the water and the fish suffocate. He claimed that a group of native hunters had done this. He was really mad at them and was going to burn an encampment that they lived in and all their stuff for revenge. In the group he was speaking of there were around 10 hunters all with guns and they would kill us for setting fire to their possessions and huts. I asked him how he could be certain that these were the ones who poisoned the streams. This may have been an excuse of Enrique’s as to why we were seeing no animals and why we would never see the jaguar that we were supposed to be tracking. The reason why I hired Enrique in the first place was that he said he could show me the jaguar in the wild so that I could photograph it.
    Enrique didn’t tell me until we were way out into the jungle but he can’t hike all day with a pack. A few years ago he had broken his neck and could not walk. Any one that goes out into the wild with him should be told in advance that he can only hike for a few hours.
    Enrique is also a chain smoker. He smokes constantly. He had to bring several cartons of cigarettes to get him through the trip. When he is not smoking a cigarette or marijuana he is chewing mambo (coca leaf powder) or chewing tobacco. Sometimes he does more than one at a time. It was aggravating because he told me to stop using mosquito repellent because the jaguar would smell it. I followed his instructions but not only was he still using mosquito repellent but he was chain smoking. We weren’t supposed to be making camp fires either, because I was told that would scare the jaguar as well.
    His plan for me to see the jaguar was to kill a small animal as bait for the jaguar. I would wait out all night in a hammock tied only 5 feet off the ground waiting for it to come for the meat. The native guide Sergio was to stay with me. (Not Enrique, he would stay sleeping as usual) They claimed that the Jaguar would never look upwards to see me hiding in the hammock over the fresh meat. I was thinking that it could easily get me only 5 feet off of the ground. Sergio had the gun, but I had already figured out that it was broken (It only rarely fired correctly). Every time Sergio tried to use the gun he would have to take out the bad round (bullet) from the rifle with a stick and then try another one, and another. At this point if the jaguar was attacking me I would certainly be mauled by its claws and teeth.
    I had brought some extra food, power bars just in case. At the lodge Enrique told me to split it in three and we would each carry a third. I didn’t realize until the trek was over that Enrique did not want to carry his third. (Although he was willing to carry many cartons of cigarettes, a half kilo of marijuana, coca, and) We were out in the jungle starving and I asked for a power bar. Enrique said that Sergio ate them all. (This turned out not to be true. He was trying to turn me against Sergio) I said to Enrique that I told Sergio that he could help himself to the candy any time he wanted so it was alright. We weren’t able to catch any food for many days as we had planned because the gun did not work. Enrique told me before the trip that we purposely weren’t bringing much food because we were going to hunt for all of it in the jungle. I now see that he was trying to turn me against Sergio and that Sergio was trying to turn me against Enrique. Sergio even wanted us to run away and leave Enrique in the jungle by himself but I told him that Enrique would not be able to find his way back and would probably get really hurt or die.

    There are so many more bad things to tell you about Omshanty Jungle Lodge and Enrique. Please, please remove him from the next version of your Colombia travel book!
    Dr. Adam Norten

  7. Pingback: 10 reasons not to buy a travel books « A cooking Frog

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