For almost 2 hours yesterday I thought I lost my passport. I didn’t, it just fell out of my bag while staying with friends the past few days. I already booked an appointment at the city hall to request a replacement, because I need the passport to pick up my drivers license. *Sigh*. All the fuss made me remember the following story in 2010:
LOSING A PASSPORT IN MENDOZA
My friend Ilona and I had been travelling through Argentina for almost 2 months now. We were in Mendoza where we had done some ‘parapenting’ with two cool dudes who happily drove up the mountain in a crappy jeep while we were holding tight in an open-roofed back being scared to death – falling out of the car was a realistic foresight, and at this point the drive up the mountain seemed ten times as scary as the idea of running off a 1500 meter high mountain.
We had booked the tickets in a small office and somewhere in Mendoza, and in that same week we had also booked tickets from Mendoza to the region of Salta and Jujuy, from there to Las Cataratas (the amazing waterfalls close to the border with Brazil), and then off to Buenos Aires – our return flight to The Netherlands already booked.
After parapenting for the first time in our lives and eating lots of hotdogs (perritos) we packed our suitcases – we would check out of the hotel and go to some sort of spa for a day, before taking a 20+ hours bus ride to another region in the country.
Somewhere during the packing I realized I was missing something – what was the last time I had actually seen my passport?
After 10 weeks of packing and unpacking the same suitcase and shoulder bag I had built up an ‘intuition’ for all the things I needed to check in my head. I unpacked the suitcase in full, repacked it, emptied my shoulder bag, but no: no passport to find!
I told Ilona: “Do you think I can start panicking already?“, because honestly, I wanted to cry – I felt very very naked in a foreign country without my passport, it was my first ‘big travel adventure’ ever and what did it mean to lose a passport in another country? (No internet loaded smartphones in our pockets back then!)
Ilona simply said “No”, and stormed towards the hotel reception to check if they found something. When they didn’t, we ordered a taxi to drive us around town.
First we checked on the little office we booked our bus tickets. In Argentina we needed to share our passport number every time we booked a ticket, so that was the last time I saw it. The little office recognized our faces, which was fun, but no, they didn’t find a passport!
We asked the taxi driver to bring us to a police station. In our mediocre Spanish we might not have been able to explain exactly why, or what, or the driver simply didn’t know better, but: he brought us to a station where the agents were wearing weapons like sticks and even guns, because it was a center ‘disruptive youth’ was brought after their nights out drinking and misbehaving and such.
A stern looking woman with weapons on her hips picked up the phone and called something I had never heard of before, but have only ever seen in Mendoza: Policia Turistica, or, a specialized tourist police force.
ONE PASSPORT, TWO POLICE
A man and a woman in uniform came to the Police Office to chat with us. They spoke English (which is probably what the ‘Turística‘ part was about) and asked us about what happened to the passport. They took us to their Policía Turística bus, and the man started to take notes:
“When did you realize you lost the passport?”
> Just this morning
“How did you lose it?”
> I don’t know, sir
He stopped scribbling notes and shook his head. “You can’t say you don’t know!”, he told me. “If you don’t know that it was stolen or lost it will be hard to get out of the country”
He then told me the following: “You have to tell had a blue bag (bolso azul) that was stolen at Mr. Dog (a hotdog place) yesterday at 10 PM because it was hanging on your chair, easy to grab.”
I didn’t know what I heard. The police told me… to lie?! I didn’t have a blue bag, and it didn’t get stolen! I didn’t even… or wait, I actually *did* eat at a Mr. Dog that night before! How did he know?! Did he know?! Or was it a crazy coincidence?
It was all very confusing and overwhelming and in that moment I just went with it. He handed me his notebook where I had to write down the ‘facts’, namely the blue bag, the Mr. Dog, the fact it was stolen at 10 PM because I had been so stupid to not keep it closer.
I handed bag his notebook with his lie in my hand writing.
*What now?!*, I thought.
The man and woman drove us in their bus through Mendoza, to another, more friendly looking, police station. The woman spoke to another police officer very briefly: “Their passport got… stolen” – she said.
Did I imagine this, or did she pauze her sentence and did they exchange a very meaningful eye contact?
ONE PASSPORT, FOUR OFFICES
I will never know, but the woman took the notebook of her colleague, scribbled the notes in her own notebook, and went with my ‘lie’ in it in an office, where it was copied, by hand!, on another form.
Why she first copied the notes in yet another notebook only for it to be copied on a form I will never understand.
In hindsight the most confusing thing of it all was the inefficiency with which a ‘stolen’ passport was processed and how many man hours were put into driving ‘dos chicas’ around the city and help them get through it. I’m not complaining, because it would have been daunting to have to go through it all by yourself, but still – why?!
The handwritten ‘copied’ form then was put in my hands and the man and woman gestured to follow them. Again we were sitting in the bus, again driving to another part of town. I had to hand over the form to a woman, who was going to type over the form on a typing machine (!), then asking me to sign it.
After I signed it I thought I was done with it. I had seen 3 police stations and at least 5 people had had to deal with my one lost passport. At this point the same lie was already copied in some way or another 4 times. But no, the police people asked me to come with them again. What else would they want from me?
They brought me to a shopping mall or something similar, my memory is a bit blurry at this detail, but I was brought into a tiny office with 1 desk and 1 person sitting behind the desk. Another police person of some sorts. They pointed to the telephone (you know, with a cable and all), handed me a phone book, and told me I could now call my bank (my creditcard was in the back of my passport :’)) and the Dutch Embassy in Buenos Aires so I could arrange everything needed – like blocking my card and requesting an emergency passport so I could get out of the country in two weeks.
It was a crazy experience, but all the separate offices all seemed to have their own purpose. The fact they even let us call to The Netherlands and Buenos Aires (to be clear: I had to pay for two small sheets of toilet paper in most of the toilets I visited in Argentina) to arrange our affairs actually blew my mind.
Honestly, the Policía Turística in Mendoza: I hope you will read my post someday, because I might never have said: Muchas gracias por todo!