“Passports for check-in, please.” These were the words, spoken in perfect English with just a hint of Spanish accent that made me question the very heart of who I am as a traveler. As my fellow travelers slapped theirs onto the counter, still sipping their brightly colored, fruit-on-a-toothpick laden welcome drinks, my heart stopped. In that instant, I knew my no longer shiny, a bit ragged on the corners passport was missing. At nine years old, it had visas and stamps from all over the world (okay, mostly, but not entirely the Asian part of the world), it had a photo of me ten pounds lighter and no gray hair peeking through the strategically placed blonde highlights, but in that moment, most importantly, it had my Mexican immigration stamp- the one that allowed me to be in the country and the one that would, theoretically, let me out of the country a week later.
But you see, I am an organized traveler. I pride myself on my plastic folder of pre-arrival airline ticket check-ins, hotel reservation printouts, pre-booked shuttle vouchers, and a highlighted schedule of when and where we need to be for various activities. I’ve got this! My Peace Corps era backpack is never without the travel essentials (pen for filling out immigration forms, aspirin for those long-distance flight headaches, Twizzlers for after the less-than-filling mid-flight meals, various hygiene products including but not limited to disposable wipes, toothbrush/paste, and all things from the feminine aisle.) And yet, here I was, attempting to check in to a lovely resort in Playa del Carmen, sans passport.
That does seem to be the question of the day. I would like to blame it on a pickpocket at the airport, a story which I believed to be true for some time (more on that later), and one that would ease my bruised organizational pride, but in the end, I do believe the fault lies solely and painfully in my court
Here’s how it happened (along with my excuses for each step in the road to the missing passport):
- Too happy to be on the road again: We’ve been pretty landlocked in D.C. since arriving in August. Between starting new jobs, finding a place to live, organizing the belongings of a 2000++ square foot house in Idaho into a 700-square foot apartment in the city, and resettling Stateside for a two-year stint, we’ve not wandered far beyond the suburbs of Virginia, and that was only for a few dinners with friends and a trip or two to the mall. (The mall has Taco Bell. That is how I get Thad to join me.) For the last handful of years, we’ve never gone four or five months in the same country, let alone the same city. I was itching like crazy to go somewhere new, so when my best friend planned a trip to the beach in Mexico and invited us, we couldn’t say yes fast enough!
- Too excited to see my best friend after 14 months: For the first six years of our middle school teaching careers, we were joined at the hip. We carpooled together, we planned cross-circular lessons together (science and literature overlap in awesome ways, just try to convince 8th graders of it!), we spent a lot of time at Idaho Education Association activities together, we got together for hat-night poker parties on the weekend, and we talked- constantly. But, as life does, it moved us both in directions we never would have anticipated that first day of our teaching careers, sitting across from each other on the hard benches of the district cafeteria, definitely feeling like the new kids on the block (first year teaching does feel a bit like you are “Hangin’ Tough”). I joined Peace Corps and moved to China for two years. While I was gone, she moved school districts. I came back to our original district; she got engaged and then married. Thad joined the Foreign Service and we moved as the needs of the service dictated; she went to nursing school, became an amazing trauma nurse and joined the ranks of traveling nurses, crisscrossing the US to work in understaffed ERs around the country. Now, we don’t see each other nearly as much as we used to. All of that to say, I was beyond thrilled at the chance to spend a week together, gabbing and gossiping, quietly judging our fellow resort-goers in a way that our husbands just don’t do. This excitement may have led to a lessening of my normal organization and travel awareness.
- Too fast of form filling out: In the end, I do believe this was my ultimate downfall. I made it through immigration fine- forms fine, passport fine, smile and be nice to the border guard. All fine. Next up was the line for customs. On the plane, I filled out this one-per-family form, stuck it with my passport and didn’t think about it again, going right back to my audiobook. (I was listening to The Lost City of the Monkey God, which is a fantastic non-fiction story about the uncovering of archeological ruins in Honduras. It is topping my list of favorite books for 2017 right now. I highly recommend it!) Somehow, in my form filling, I didn’t read the directions clearly and all of the boxes that I should have checked “no” on, I checked “yes.” Needless to say, when we got through the massive line at customs, the official was not impressed that I declared that yes, we did have fresh produce and vegetable matter with us, that yes, we had been in close proximity to livestock recently, that yes, we did have large amounts of prescription medication on us and yes, we were carrying more than $10,000 in cash. With absolutely no humor in his voice, he sent us across the room to a table with blank cards and made me redo our form. The table. That is where my troubles began. I am 99% certain this is where I lost my passport. I think I must have set it down on the counter to fill out the new form attesting that no, I did not bring diseased food products with me, I did not have sheep and goats in my apartment, I did not plan to sell RX narcotics, and I did not have bricks of cash in my carryon. Frustrated and annoyed at myself about the original form, I was off my game. I hurriedly redid the from and skittered back into line, probably (highly likely) leaving my passport in its adorable cartoon owl cover with its nearly decade of rainbow of visas and stamps sitting on the counter.
The next two hours flew by as we tried to meet up with our friends, who it turns out had landed at a different international terminal at the Cancun airport. After a relay of calls back and forth, descriptions of outfits (“Me? Pink hoodie and blue jeans. You?”), surroundings (“I’m at AirMargaritaville, where are you?”), and the shuttle (“Look for a white van.”- this one being ridiculous as every shuttle between Cancun and Playa del Carmen is a white van), we finally found each other, hopped in and spent an hour car ride catching up on the last fourteen months since we had seen each other.
The next thing I knew, it was, “Passports for check-in, please” and a realization that in that frazzled moment at the Cancun airport, I betrayed years of international travel organization. I was an undocumented traveler in Mexico.
(Stay tuned for part II of the saga of the missing passport and our Mexican adventures.)