When it comes to travel nightmares – aside from injury, illness, assault or robbery – one of the major calamities to strike the most robust of travellers is the loss of a passport. Once, it happened to me…
Well, I didn’t technically ‘lose’ my passport. I knew where it was.
It was in a hotel’s safety deposit box on the Greek Island of Naxos.
The trouble was, I was on a boat to Athens and Naxos was now a mere speck in the distance.
Due to catch an international flight from the Greek capital in less than 24 hours, I was certain I wasn’t going to retrieve my passport in time to leave the country the next morning!
Greek Islands, Naxos: The Day of The Passport Retrieval Operation
I arose a little hazy.
The night before, my travelling companion and I had met some ‘sympathique’ guys from Geneva, Switzerland.
My friend and I were finishing our travels after five months backpacking Western Europe. I was relocating to live in Geneva and she was going to London.
For me, it felt fortuitous, an omen to meet people from the city I was just about to move to.
Through the excitement of this auspicious encounter, we got a little carried away with celebrating new international friendships with several rounds of drinks.
Waking up the next morning, my travelling companion and I were a little tired and hungover but being younger then we bounced back fairly quickly, especially with the adrenaline of needing to pack and catch the boat back to Athens.
My travelling companion told me she was going to get “THE stuff” out of the safety deposit box.
I assumed “THE stuff” meant “OUR stuff” – not just hers.
After gathering our belongings from our room we went to reception, bought some fruit, paid our bill and the hotel manager drove us to the port.
Once there, I rung our accommodation in Athens to secure our reservation before the ferry departed.
Settled on the top deck in a sunny position, with the wind in our hair, we looked back at Naxos, our last island of our Greece escapade. I changed into shorts and a bikini top, trying to soak up the warm rays.
After about half an hour, my travelling companion said to me, “You do have your passport, don’t you?”
In a millisecond, my mind was tortured.
Didn’t she have it?
Hadn’t she said that she was going to our safety deposit box at reception for the belongings?
The realism set in. By her question, I knew the answer.
My passport was back in the hotel safe in Naxos.
I had to take a couple of deep breaths as I looked at the island disappearing into the distance.
Obviously I wasn’t going to make my international flight to Geneva the next morning.
How could I, without a passport!?
Things got really interesting when neither one of us could actually remember the name of the hotel.
No receipts, no business cards, no memory, nada! This was a serious problem.
We workshopped all matter of names, all typical of Greek accommodation but we couldn’t nail it.
I have never felt so silly, to not even remember the name of where I had been staying.
It had not really been of any real consequence, until now.
Needless to say, it wasn’t looking good.
Being a time before mobile phones and wifi access, my options were limited.
I had no idea where to start.
Never one to give up, desperate for a solution to my quandary, I went to look for one of the ship’s crew who might be able to help me.
“Information” directed me to the ship’s radio transmission room.
A senior crewman listened patiently to my predicament, about what I knew of my passport’s whereabouts, the look of the hotel and the manager, where the hotel might be, and who I was.
Through best intended kindness in broken English on his side and some agitated nervous diatribe on my behalf, we seemed to have enough information to go by to contact the tourist office at the port.
However, contacting the mainland was not as simple as picking up a phone.
To my bewilderment, he started sending morse code.
I felt I was in a navy battle movie, with him tapping and beeping away.
We spent the next hour and a half in the office, him contacting the Naxos mainland tourist bureau via a lot of pressing of tones, whilst I stared into space listlessly.
Confidence to think that I could retrieve my passport before my flight seemed ultimately impossible.
I resigned myself to the fact that once we reached Athens I would need to cancel or change the booking.
It was shaping up to be a monumental way to end five months of backpacking around Europe.
He stopped coding and turned to me to say “Irene from Century Tours, she is going to find this man and put your passport on the night ferry.”
I was dubious. Even if they did locate the right hotel and the passport, could it possibly make the ferry in time in a few hours?
Despite my doubts, there was now the faintest glimmer of hope.
The ship’s radio controller had given me the phone number for Century Tours so once we reached Piraeus port I called the office.
As a result of my nerves, I had somehow forgotten to write down the lady’s name (Irene) who was looking for the passport. Now, I had forgotten what her name was!
I was now really feeling like the dumbest traveller on earth!
When a woman answered the phone, she knew nothing of my missing passport.
I spiralled into a real fluster.
Yet after some explanation from me, she reassured me that she knew whom I had been speaking with. She would see her at her shop soon and convey the message. It wasn’t sounding that positive, however I had some reassurance she would follow up on it.
We arranged for me to ring back in an hour.
It was probably about 7 or 8pm at this time and I was becoming more and more distressed that I would have to postpone my flight.
I was returning to Geneva to reunite with a boyfriend who lived there. However he was due to depart for New York in a few days. As I had not seen him for 3 months, this weighed heavily on me as a delay meant missing one another after all this time.
Since the night before had been fun-filled and consequently I hadn’t had much sleep, the added stress made me feel overwhelming lousy.
Sick with worry, I cried in my hands all the way on the train from Piraeus port to Plaka in Athens.
When we arrived at the station, we were having trouble hailing a cab but we found a taxi driver having something to eat who agreed to take us to our hotel, when he’d finished.
Michael ended up being a really nice man, so when he dropped us at Plaka I asked him if he would come back at 3.15am to the hotel and take us to the port to meet the ferry and hopefully my passport. A bit of a crazy thing to be asking!?
At this stage, I didn’t even know if it had had been found but I had to have a plan in place, just in case it miraculously made it onto the next ship.
Michael and I were having communication issues but fortunately with the help of some passers by, they translated English and Greek until he understood and agreed to come and pick us up later and take us to the port.
On arriving at the Athens hotel, I called Century Tours again to see if there was any news with locating my passport.
The lady who answered this time, was my woman, Irene, and she was on the case!
She was concerned saying she was glad that I called again, as the hostel man didn’t know exactly which passport was mine. “What was my name exactly?”
OH MY GOD!
I felt ill but relieved at the same time that some progress was being made.
She ensured it would be on the next boat, in an hour.
My travelling companion and I dropped our stuff off in the hotel room.
Yet there was no time for any relaxation or respite from traveller duties.
We now had to go to the Vyronas area of the city to pick up our other bags which we had left at a friend Antonio’s house before leaving for the islands.
It was only 20 minutes away by bus but just added an extra layer of pressure.
When we arrived, Antonio and his girlfriend Athena greeted us with a glass of wine which was well needed and they were curious about our time on the islands.
It was hard to convey fully my genuine good times spent, when the passport was overshadowing my thoughts.
Afterwards at the bus stop with our luggage, I left mine with my companion to run down to the kiosk to call the tour office again.
It was now half an hour until the boat left.
Shaking and anxious to determine the situation, I dialled their number on the public phone, fully aware my bus was due to leave any minute.
The man who answered told me that Irene had taken it to the boat.
Screaming “Irene is an angel” and thanking him, I hung up and ran to the bus that my friend was now holding for me.
We returned to the hotel, dropped off our bags and finally ate dinner – a lovely meal of fish and salad at a restaurant in Plaka.
Afterwards I rung my boyfriend in Geneva but he wasn’t home. Being tired and stressed out, I left a pretty demonic message but expressed that I hoped I would be back the next day.
By the time we returned to the hotel it was 12.30am and by 1am we eventually slept.
The alarm went off at 2.45am and we met Michael, the driver outside at 3am.
I was so relieved he was reliable enough to turn up!
We drove to the port and got there around 3.30am, as at that time of night there was little traffic on the roads.
The boat hadn’t arrived and wasn’t due until 4am.
Michael looked a little concerned when he discovered the estimated arrival time. Perhaps we had been over cautious in allowing too much time but I couldn’t run the risk of not meeting the boat.
I suggested we have a coffee and we sat around and talked until the ship came in.
He escorted me onto the boat when it arrived and translated. Despite some communication issues, he had by now come to understand the importance of why we were there.
We met a crew member who handed me back my passport.
The relief was monumental.
The moment, incredulous.
Michael drove us home, I paid him 5000 DM, approximately $25 in those days.
At 4.45am I returned to sleep for another few hours before getting up at 9.15am to go to the airport for my flight to Geneva – passport in hand and a huge smile on my face!