Depending on how you want to look at it, I’ve been traveling for over 3.5 years now.
In that time, I’ve traveled through Asia, North American, South America — and did several trips across Europe before that.
Travel gives me a rush and perspective that nothing else does. It’s a way of life as much as a passion, interest or hobby. I’m lucky enough to have a job that lets me travel the world — much like this guy.
In all of those years, my travel has mostly been seamless. Sure there’s been canceled trains, nights spend in dingy hotels, and dark roads I wished I had decided not to walk down.
Yet, I’ve never been mugged. Never been stuck in a place without a bed, or without money. Never been sick abroad (well once in Rome — but I recovered with some over the counter meds).
(There’s no wood around me in this Colombian hotel, but I’ll knock on the wicker chair I’m sitting in.)
One of the biggest things too — I’d never lost my passport before.
Until this week. Let me go into my Wednesday a bit.
I woke in the morning in the beautiful Tayrona Park. I had slept in a hammock there since that’s one of your few options. To get back to Santa Marta in time for my flight, I had to leave at 6:30am (and drag my fellow travelers with me, thankfully they were willing…).
We trekked for 2 hours. We were supposed to find a bus there but didn’t. We trekked for 45 more minutes until we flagged down a pick-up that drove us 10 minutes to the park exit.
Wolfed down some breakfast. Caught a bus. It’s 95 degres in humidity in Santa Marta.
Get back to Taganga (after taking a cab) where my friend lived and go to pick up the laundry I dropped off before I left. The guy is hanging it up outside to dry. He just finished the wash.
SO, wet laundry. I have no other clothes except the rotten and sweaty ones on my back. (The back mind you that’s aching from two straight nights sleeping in a hammock). Ass-kicking #1.
Oh, and I have 132 unread work messages to catch up on.
Take that same cab to the airport in Santa Marta. Airport is beautiful. It’s ON the beach. I try to read my emails on the cab ride there but get carsick from that.
Go to check in. Passport isn’t in usual spot. Hmm.
Go through computer bag. No passport here. Rip out everything. Coins from nine countries. Cell phone from Costa Rica. Kindle. Plugs. Tickets from Pearl Jam show in Oakland in November. Crap. Papers. Pens. Lots of Pens. No passport still.
My big bag. Rife through it. Take out everything. Wet laundry. Smells horrible. I have a corner of the airport to myself and my disorganization. No passport.
Did I mention it’s 95 degrees with humidity. Sweating already. Sweating more now.
Go through stuff again.
Where is it?
What to do? Is there anything worse than Airport Panic?
Go to the airport’s information stand. Guy pays no attention. No tengo mi passaporte, I say. Perdido!
He doesn’t move. He starts speaking. Not just quick Spanish but under his heavy breath. All I hear is Policia Nacional and he points to the end of the wall.
I go there.
Open the door. Four Colombia policemen sitting in an office watching the Disney Channel.
I repeat my Spanish sentences. Perdí mi documento, I say again.
They start going off in Spanish. I give them my driver’s license. I give them my passport #.
This goes on for an hour. They ask my questions and I don’t understand. They draw pictures on their police notepads. Finally, they print out a document with my name and some info on it.
I ask, “puedo viajar con esto?”
Yes, they say.
I email my mom with the cafeteria wi-fi. My flight boards in 8 minutes. I buy a muffin.
They let me on the plane.
But, my passport is gone. No idea where it could be. I have my IL drivers license which Colombians can make much sense of and a printou from the police that I can’t read. Ass-kicking #2.
Make it to Medellin on the flight. Grab my bag. Grab a cab. Supposed to meet a friend at 4:15pm. Cab driver tries to rip me off. Does actually but for not as much as he asked for. We wait in 30 minutes of dead-stop traffic because of road construction. I;m late to meet my friend. I start to panic on what to do. I’ve already had a day of it. I hope this doesn’t make things worse.
Do meet my friend, thank god. Hotel has wi-fi but doesn’t work in my room. I stay up working in the lobby of a Colombia love motel until 2am.
Wednesday is over and it kicked my ass.
On Thursday, the full effect of a lost passport took place.
Find an assistant at Zirtual that speaks fluent Spanish to call a bunch of places that my passport might be. Have to find flight numbers, have to remember cab companies that I took but can’t. Have her call the hostel I got dropped off at but didn’t stay at to see if somehow they have it.
No one does. Find out that US passports can go for $10k on the black market. Find out I 100% need a passport to fly to the US.
The only US embassy in Colombia is in Bogota. Have to go there. Have to hope they’ll give me a temp. passport or else I’m staying in Colombia past my flight back to the US. Have to get my documents in order.
Have to fill out the forms. Get pictures. Prove my identity with 2 forms of identification. Stay in Bogota for the day. Not that big of a deal but these are never easy things when traveling and living out of a bag.
What’s more. The AirBnB that my travelers and I (who already in Medellin) had booked cancelled on us. Just like that. We have nowhere to stay.
We try to find different places in Medellin for 3 people wiht good internet. Easier said than done. Every AirBnb listing is really just lead generation for apartment renters who have other sites and other emails and want to work something else on the side. Nothing seems to be working out.
Among all of this, the housing situation in Medellin cancelled. It’s not easy to find accommodations for our group on short notice. Ass-kicking #3.
I’m not even sure I’m going to be in Medellin that long. So that adds confusion to our booking. If I can’t get the temp passport I’ll be in Bogota for the 10 business days it takes to get new passport. I’ll miss my planned weekend in NYC and most of the conference I’m attending in Boston.
That, all of that, is how traveling can absolutely just kick your ass sometimes.
And that brings me to now. Sitting in that Colombian hotel.
We found housing in Medellin. I’m going tomorrow morning.
The hotel saw all my wet clothes on the floor and offered to dry them for free. They smell great and the hotel folded them all so nicely.
I have a flight to Bogota on Tuesday and the embassy says as long as I have all the right documentation I can get that temp. passport. My awesome ZA Jillian is on top of the documentation I need so I should be good. Have to find a place in Medellin to take my picture and print some documents, but that’s easy.
The lost passport will probably end up costing me about $400-500 but that’s okay. It’s just money. I’m safe. I get to see Bogota. I should get home on time.
I got to see friends in Colombia. Got to see Tayrona. The beautiful little hillside town of El Carmen de Viboral. I’ll see Medellin tomorrow and meet my friends again there.
While walking around the beautiful junglebeach mix of Tayrona, I had a conversation with two fellow travelers about what traveling does for you.
It’s a favorite conversation among jetsetters and backpackers alike. We do this because it brings something beyond so much — words, currency, pictures. It brings the wonder of experience.
This all, too, is an experience. And one that challenged me. At home, the days when I feel dejected and beat down are days with traffic jams or broken phones or arguments. These are small things.
My story isn’t huge. Again I wasn’t mugged or beaten. I didn’t get sick. All will be good. But it just shows that with traveling the stakes are higher. The highs are high, the lows can be really low. But we thrive on that; the adrenaline runs through our bodies as they ache for a shower or a good bed or warm laundry.
And even on the low days, the rewards are so grand. So wondrous. So available only to the brave that wander with their legs and minds. The world isn’t open for anyone, and sometimes to see it all you gotta get your ass kicked from time to time. It’s what keeps out anyone without the courage to take the ass-kicking.