For those of you that enjoy reading about unfortunate events, this one’s for you.
The holidays as we know it are a time of giving, gratitude, and spending time with family. I was hoping to achieve all of these as I anxiously waited for my family to come visit me. Ever since three months prior, my mom and I had been constantly chittering about the incredible time we would have when we would all reunite and vacation to the Galapagos together.
When my mom’s long awaited text finally arrived, saying “we just boarded, see you soon,” I frantically started packing, knowing that I would be on a seven hour journey from my hometown of Sigsig to Guayaquil was just under a day away. Thinking of all of the things we would be doing on this vacation, I started to gather my clothes, shoes, toiletries, everything I thought I needed for a week of refreshment on the beach. Happily all packed, I set my alarm and went to bed, ready to see my family for the first time in over four months.
After a surprisingly tearful “hasta luego” to my host family the next morning, I boarded my bus, suitcase in hand, ecstatic for my first independent travel journey. After a grueling seven hours I finally arrived in Guayaquil with my next task being checking in at our hotel, since my family’s flight was not due to land for another several hours. Satisfied with my ability to cross the country and maneuver around a city that I didn’t recognize, I confidently waltzed into the hotel and began the check in process. I was honestly so surprised that everything had been running so smoothly until the hotel front desk attendant asked for my passport number. A flurry of curse words tore through my mind as I realized I had forgotten the absolute most important thing needed for travel: my passport. At this point it was already 5pm and I didn’t have time to take a 14 hour trip all the way back to Sigsig and back. Feeling clueless, I began to frantically research whether a passport was imperative for travel, and as much as I would like to consider myself a responsible adult, I still find that I exude many characteristics of a helpless child in need of her mother’s help. When my family arrived, we asked the hotel concierge to call the airport to see if a photocopy of my passport and my driver’s license would be enough to travel. Surprisingly, they said yes! With a sigh of relief, all of my problems were magically fixed, or so I thought.
Fast forward to the next day. I had peace of mind believing that I would be able to travel alongside my family and maintain the wonderful vacation that we had planned so long ago. Getting to the airport, we made our way to the Galapagos immigration office. No surprise, they asked for my passport. Attempting to explain my situation, they couldn’t seem to understand how I, an American citizen, traveled to Ecuador without my passport. After telling them that I lived here, they then asked me to provide an Ecuadorian ID, which I didn’t have. They were beginning to get suspicious, thinking that I somehow smuggled my way into the country. Time was ticking by and our flight was departing in just under 90 minutes. I hurriedly showed them the picture of my visa that I kept on my phone and continued to explain that I was taking a gap year and simply trying to go on vacation with my family. Honestly, I don’t think I have ever sweat so much from doing absolutely zero physical exercise. After they said “no” about five times we rushed to the airline office to see if we could book me another flight the following day. Surprise, there were no available flights until December 31st. Running back to the immigration office, I begged them to make an exception for me, for I was desperate to finally spend some time with my family after being apart for so long. They referred me to another office on a different floor of the airport, so I ran. Yes, for those remaining 90 minutes until the flight was supposed to leave, I ran through the airport from office to office, up and down stairs, while still carrying my suitcase and backpack. As the gate closed for the flight, I had to hug my family goodbye and give up. Teary eyed, my next step was to find a bus to take me back to Cuenca in order to retrieve my passport.
After all of these setbacks, I finally received some good news. My mom was able to find me a flight from Guayaquil to the Galapagos on Christmas morning. While it’s not the best timing, I was grateful to have another chance to see my family. But of course, that meant another four hour bus from Cuenca to Guayaquil. I was starting to get incredibly sick of these bus rides, as anyone would.
So here I am, on Christmas Eve, sitting in my hotel room in Guayaquil having accumulated roughly 16 hours on various buses over the past three days, trying not give into peoples’ sad looks as they saw me eating dinner alone. Who knew that forgetting such a small booklet could cause such an enormous inconvenience. I clearly didn’t.
When I agreed to take on this gap year, I expected to grow in many ways through culture shock, language barriers, etc, which I have. However, this gap year has also taught me a lot about myself and how I handle myself in various situations as a young adult. These mistakes that I made, no matter how traumatic they seem in the moment, are helping to carve me into the humble, resourceful, and strong woman I aspire to be. Attempting to travel alone has truly made me grow up inside and if I take away anything from this experience, it’s that I can forget anything else, just not my passport.