Friday, January 27, 2017

An Ode to Stolen Stamps

Just the realization that I was on a plane carrying me away from my Cuban airport prison back to the US made me giddy. The Argentinian was right: the nightmare was over. For now. It was a short flight to Miami, and then a relatively brief layover before I my next flight to Cancun booked for me by my amazing friend back home. I was not ready to throw in the towel on this trip. I would not be defeated by a "simple hiccup" in Cuba. 

I figured returning to Cancun was logical. I knew someone there, and wouldn't be isolated and penniless while planning for the next leg of my trip. There was still Guatemala to look forward to, and who knows where else?

One of the most beautiful landings I've ever seen. 

My flight arrived in Cancun in the evening, and since Joel was staying in Tulum, which is about two hours away by bus, he and I decided it would be best for me to stay in Cancun overnight and leave the next day to meet him. I found a nice hotel at a low price. It was relaxing, close to the bus station and had free breakfast and a gym (both essential hotel perks). I spent the evening on the treadmill and then watching The Simpsons in Spanish in my room. Unfortunately, the air conditioning in the gym didn't work so I was sweating bullets like a wrestler trying to go down a weight class. I couldn't last long in there. 

Upon waking the next morning and scarfing down a scrumptious breakfast, I was anxious to get moving to Tulum. The hotel was nice, but I was ready to see the beach again and try and even out my splotchy lobster looking skin that was already beginning to peel. I went down to the bus station to see what my options were as far as venturing from Cancun to Tulum. There was one direct bus, but it wasn’t scheduled to leave until a little after one, and it was only about 10:30. My other option was to go to Playa del Carmen first, and then transfer buses to head to Tulum. I decided to go with option two. Looking back, if I hadn’t… oh right, I decided earlier to stop it with the “ifs”. There really is no point. 

So, I boarded the bus to Playa del Carmen. A random Mexican woman sat beside me. Writing about this now makes me want to go back there, furiously shake myself, and beg myself to get off that bus and wait for the direct one to Tulum. At the very least, I would give my past self a cup of coffee to keep me from falling asleep, or do something to convince myself to sit anywhere else possible on the bus. Yet alas, as they say, hindsight is 20/20. I’m sure you can all see where this is going. Or, at least can tell from my ominous foreshadowing that it’s not going in a good direction for me. 

I put my little security purse containing all of my money, my passport, my driver’s license and my credit and debit cards in the top part of my backpack, zipped it up, and had it in my lap. I held it there with a bit more of a death grip than was necessary until I couldn’t stay awake anymore. The gentle rocking back and forth of the bus put me right to sleep. Upon waking, my seat neighbor was gone. We had made a stop on the way to Playa del Carmen and I am sure she got off there; I didn't see her anywhere on the bus. The top of my backpack was open. My purse containing my money, diver's license, passport, credit cards and my full punch card to get a free lunch buffet at my favorite Indian restaurant was gone. I searched my backpack in vain. I tore it apart. Then the panic set in. My robber had left. As we pulled into the bus terminal in Playa del Carmen, I told the bus driver.  But what were we to do? Ask the passengers which one of them stole my belongings? Because, naturally they would fess up right away. Plus, I was 99.999% sure that it was me seat neighbor and she had long since departed the bus. 

The bus emptied out, and I continued to search madly through my backpack, between the seats, under the seats, in the overhead storage bins, and gave up. The bus employees gave a half-assed attempt at a search but basically just glanced around, and one even had the gall to tell me that I probably just lost it somewhere before getting on the bus. No. I. Did. Not!

I departed the bus in a panic. I told the lady in charge of security for the busses. She was of little help; all she did was take down my name and told me to go talk to the tourist police. I told them what happened, and all the officer did was write down an address in the least caring manner, passed it to me, and told me to go file a police report. I asked him how I was supposed to get there by cab if I had zero money, and he just shrugged and gave me that damned "look." 

I asked a nearby cab driver if he would accept my pathetic ten peso coin and he simply laughed at me. I asked another if the address the cop had handed me was within walking distance. He simply laughed at me. So there I stood. Hopeless, helpless, penniless, passport-less. 

Let me say that losing a passport is something over which I grieve intensely. I lost one in Los Angeles once and am STILL trying to get over the loss of all of those glorious stamps and my visa from studying in Spain. Now, I had lost another, containing stamps from over 20 countries as well as my visas from Ghana, India and Japan. I am not sure if I will ever truly get over the loss. 

I didn't know what to do. All I knew was I had to get to Tulum. I put on my best sad puppy-dog face and walked up to the lady at the bus ticket counter. I started to cry, and she gave me a gentle look and a free bus ticket to Tulum. With my head hung low and tears welling up behind my eyes, I boarded the bus, wondering what kind of trouble was still ahead of me....

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