Don´t Lose Your Head If You Lose Your Passport. Here´s My Story & Advice
Traveling is a lot of fun with endless surprises and adventures. You hear and share stories of travels, different cultures and experiences! You hear stories of both good deeds and bad. Often times you hear stories of robbery and bad luck and when you hear one of these, you think to yourself, “Oh, that would never happen to me, I take great care of all my belongings!” That’s what I used to think too until I got robbed one day.
I was sitting on the beach at Playa del Carmen one evening with two of my friends. After dinner, we were chatting, sharing stories, laughing, and overall having a good time at the beach as we gazed at the beautiful stars of the night. It was pretty quiet around the beach at that time. Only a few beach bars were open and a couple of night security guards keeping watch. I remember sitting down with my purse right by my side. As we were hanging out, we might have moved a little and even at that point my purse at most about 2 feet behind me. After a while when we were getting ready to leave, I got up and realized that my purse was gone!! It was right behind me last I checked. So where could it have gone??!! I started panicking! My friends were helping me look around and we walked along the beach searching for it. I could not and did not want to believe that this was actually happening. That purse had everything I needed in there! All my cash, my cards, and most importantly, my passport with my green card.
After having no luck finding the purse, I went to the security guy and with my broken Spanish asked him if he had seen my purse. His response, literally blew my mind. He said yes, he had seen my purse and that I had been robbed. He told me that he saw a guy crawl up to us slowly, grab my purse from a distance, crawl back, and then just sprint away! I was outraged!! Not at the fact that this had happened, but more at the fact that the security guy did not say a word about it as we sat right there almost right in front of him! He told me it was a guy that lurks around every night and steals from people and it wasn’t anything uncommon. When I asked him why he didn’t say anything, he told me that it wasn’t his job to look out for what happens at the beach, but only at the private property he was security for. I told him I understood that but as one human being to another, I told him he owed me a word or two about my purse being stolen as he just watched and stood by. At that, he nodded his head and said no more. I was frustrated, frightened, disappointed, confused and lost all at the same time.
I was upset and mad at myself. I should not have been walking around with all my important stuff. I should have spread out my cash. I should have taken better care. I should have been holding my purse. I should have done this… and I should have done that… I could not stop. The next day, all I did was think about what I should have done. It did not help a bit and only made me depressed. So many little steps I could have taken to avoid this, but I didn’t. That night, I went back to the beach again with a friend, hoping to catch or rather just confront the guy who had stolen my purse. I wanted to talk to him and tell him that he could have all my money in the purse, but if he could just do me a favor of returning my passport and green card; that’s all I wanted at that point! If it were a passport from the U.S. or any other European country, it may have been an easier process to make a new one. But mine was from Nepal, pretty much one of the hardest places to get one from and the slowest too. Unfortunately, the guy did not show up that night and after talking to the security guy I realized, it might not have been the safest thing to do either.
After blaming myself more for the next few days, I knew it was time to step up to the plate and be strong and move forward. I realized Playa del Carmen wasn’t the worst place to be stuck at for a bit after all. I realized that I had to be more positive and look at the fact that I wasn’t hurt or nothing too bad happened, I was safe and that’s what mattered the most. A lot worse could have happened….
Steps I Took Next
1. Telling your Family and Friends
It actually took me a while to tell my parents what had happened. I was nervous that they would be upset and even more worried for me so I did not want to tell them right away. I told them that I had lost my cards so they cancelled them right away but it took me a couple days to tell them what had actually happened. When I finally told them, they were relieved that nothing had happened to me and that I was safe. It helped a lot when I told them because they made me realize that these things happen all the time and is really not the worst that could have happened. Telling your friends and family right away is the best idea because you gain a great support system that will help you move forward with a lot of encouragement and strength! Right away, my family started the paper work to get a new passport and I started my work around Playa to research what more I needed to do.
2. Going to the Embassy or the nearest Consulate
The nearest U.S. or Nepal Embassy was in Mexico City which, isn’t the safest place to travel to solo. There was a U.S. Consulate in Playa del Carmen within walking distance, so I decided to stop by there. Since I was only a green card holder, they weren’t of much help to me but still advised me and gave me the steps I needed to proceed forward. If you are a U.S. citizen you should be able to get a lot done there. They did advise me to file a police report and obtain copies of as many identity documents as I could. Luckily, I had my copies of my passport and green card with me in my email but to get the police report written was a hassle of its own.
3. Going to the Police
As I was advised, I went to the tourist police (Policía Turística) right around the corner on Avenida 20. After waiting for about 20 minutes at an open office with no one there to attend, an officer finally walked in. I told her what had happened and asked her what I needed to do next. Since she didn’t speak English at all, once again I had to use my broken Spanish to give her a gist of what was going on. She told me that to file a report, I had to go to the Public Police that is about a 15 minute drive away from town. What use is it to have tourist police scattered around all corners of Playa if 1) they don’t speak English, and 2) they can’t do anything to help you? Go figure how they spend their time and why the money is being wasted by the government on them. The next day I made my way to the police station and waited in line just to be told that to file reports for a lost or stolen passport or other important documents, the office hours were only from 9-3. It was past 3 when I got there so needless to say, I had to come back again.
The next day I went back in again and finally had my report written but then another obstacle presented itself. To get a copy of the report, which I needed to provide to the embassy or for travel in general, you had to pay. Not having money was a problem but I had 10 dollars to spare for the report, which was what I needed. The problem was that I had to go online, print an invoice/ receipt, go to the bank, pay there, get another receipt and then bring that back to the station to get a copy of the report. Oh dear lord! I realized I could not get that all done the same day given that there were no banks or printing places around the station. Just to make sure I was understanding everything that I had to do, I asked a guy standing in line if what I had understood was right (since once again, the person writing the report and giving me directions, did not speak any English). Luckily, this guy was going through something similar and had to follow the same process, so he offered me a ride to the bank and back. Judging by his situation and his child that he had brought with him, I decided to take him up on the offer and went along. After running around that day, I finally got a hard copy of my police report! Phewwww. Also, the report is only written for our own purposes. The police are never going to go after this guy who goes around stealing every night, so once again, go figure!
4. Getting new documents made
It is very important to start the process of making new documents immediately. The earlier you start the process, the faster you will be able to travel onward. Since my passport is being made in Nepal, it is going to take slightly longer to get it here in Mexico, but I can wait as I am not restricted with my travel time. Although it is a hassle, I am thankful that I was able to start this process and will hopefully be able to get my documents soon.
5. Western Union
All my money was stolen, so I had no way of getting around. Since my passport and ID were in the same purse as well, I didn’t have access to an original identity document without which, I couldn’t use Western Union. Having a copy of all my documents, and a report from the police also wasn’t sufficient. What I had to do was find a trustable friend and have some money sent to their name. I was lucky enough to have met someone who I could rely on, so it wasn’t too difficult for me. However, if you are new to a place and don’t know many people, take time to know them before you have money sent in their name because in a foreign country, you never know.
The entire experience has been quite an adventure! I learned my lesson the hard way and in a way that I will never forget. I was lucky that my trip was based on a Workaway placement so I did not have to worry too much about housing and accommodation. I was lucky to be surrounded by amazing new friends who spoke wise encouraging words and were willing to help with their advises. Despite the fact that there are people in this world that commit acts of robbery and maybe even violence (who knows what they have been through themselves to come to this situation), always remember that there are also good people in this world. When I share my story of what happened, I get a lot of sympathy and offers of help from all kinds of people. Like the guy at the police station who offered me a ride, my friend who helped me with Western Union, my Workaway hosts, and many locals I made friends with, there are always people willing to help and offer their best sides of humanity.
Some General Tips and Advice
- Be careful of your surroundings no matter where you are or who you are with and always keep your eyes open.
- Never travel around with all your important documents in the same place. Spread them out. Maybe place your ID in one bag and passport in another. Use lockers in hostels whenever possible. Similarly, spread your cash out in different pockets as well, just in case some gets stolen, so you still have some cash left in another pocket to get around with.
- Learn some basic words or phrases in the language that is spoken in the country. It would be nice and a lot easier to make friends with someone who can speak both languages and act as a translator. It would have been almost impossible to get anything done here without my basic knowledge of Spanish and even that was pretty difficult.
- Have a copy of your travel documents saved in your email – just in case, and take photos of them with your phone. It’s always nice to have that bit of security,
- This is not your homeland so things are not going to go as smoothly as you might be used to. Have patience, take one step at a time and you will get through this!!