If you’re anything like me, just reading the title of this post probably gave you a mini heart attack. As the title suggests, earlier this week I went through some of the roughest 24 hours I’ve had in a while, so I wanted to write a blog post about it. Honestly, part of me felt like writing this post mainly for myself to get all the crazy thoughts and emotions out of my head.
Spoiler alert: I did find my passport, so this story has a happy ending!
The story started Tuesday morning when I was leaving for work. I walked ~10 minutes from where I was staying to the train station that I take to work only to realize that I forgot my wallet, which contained both my metro card as well as all my money. Realizing I was now bordering on being late to work, I ran back to my hostel and picked up my wallet. My wallet was hidden in my backpack alongside my passport, and I decided to take my passport with me to work because administration needed a copy of it.
I then made a very poor decision: because I didn’t want to get my passport bent from running with it in my pocket, I decided to stash it in the binder that I was holding in my hands. I then ran back to the train station, got all way to the correct platform, and noticed my binder felt a bit too thin. I looked down and a slow wave of terror began to creep over me. My passport wasn’t in the front where I left it, but I slowly flipped through the pages hoping I subconsciously put it somewhere else. (First stage of grief: Denial?)
Nope. It was completely gone.
Anyone who knows me well knows I consider my passport arguably my most valuable physical possession. For one, it’s super expensive, hard to obtain, and even harder to replace. And that doesn’t count the value of the active Spanish visa in it and the flashy-but-useless stamps and Austrian visa. Also, being an American, I own one of the most sought-after and powerful passports in the world (slightly behind many EU passports). But outside of that, my passport is this physical representation of my freedom. That I can leave at a moment’s notice and go to hundreds of countries. I can flip open its’ pages at any moment and go into a virtual time machine with memories of past travels or day-dream about future travels.
And losing that very possession is one of my worst nightmares.
So after I realized what I did I quickly began retracing my steps. Deep down, I knew this was a fruitless endeavor because my commute was between La Latina and Sol, two very busy (and very touristy) districts that were already swarming with people at 8 a.m. Anyone could have picked it up; a curious tourist, a not-so-friendly person that could sell my passport on the black market for a lot of money, a stupid teenager, you name it. After retracing my steps without a sight of the passport, I made my way back to the station (for a third time) and reluctantly boarded the train towards work. At this point I was furious that I even brought it to work with me, or at the very least, that I didn’t keep it in my pocket. (Stage 2: Anger, anyone?).
Throughout the day I began researching next steps on getting a new passport while in a foreign country. The problem was magnified because I needed a passport immediately; not only am I still in the middle of a mountain of paperwork relating to my move to Madrid, but I have a trip planned this upcoming weekend to London, which, at the time, was only 4 days away. At first I considered directly visiting the American Embassy in Madrid after work, but it appeared that it’s quite hard (even as an American) to get into the embassy without an appointment. So after spending all afternoon reading the embassy’s website, various online blogs, and material from the Department of State, it appeared I would have to get something called an “emergency passport”. Thankfully, I don’t have much info on what this is because I never had to go through with it. If you came here looking for information on the emergency passport, sorry! However, I did gather that it is a temporary passport that has to be returned, but it can be issued same-day on walk-in visits in cases of immediate travel or need.
It seemed to me that the entire passport application process varies immensely depending on each embassy and what country you are in; David, another BEDA friend of mine here in Madrid, told me he lost his passport while teaching in South Korea, but his experience there seemed a lot different than the information I was getting from the Madrid US Embassy. From what I understood, the US Embassy in South Korea is able to issue a full, permanent passport as the “emergency” passport, but it has less pages than a normal one and costs a lot more. Moral of the story, check your individual embassy’s website for their specific info and procedures if you’re in a similar situation.
However, I digress to my original story! I obviously was in need of this emergency passport so I could still go to London, so I spent the remainder of Tuesday gathering paperwork/photos/documents and filled out a lengthy online application for not only my new passport, but a statement regarding how I lost the old one. Later that night a group of my friends had plans to get together and stream the first Presidential debate from the previous night, seeing as it aired live at in the middle of the night our time, and I decided last minute to join them just to get out of the house and try to cheer up.
While there I was talking with David, who I previously mentioned, and another friend, AC, that both have had experience themselves or friends with losing passports. They both recommended I go to the police station here in Madrid and get a ‘denuncia’, which is the Spanish version of a police report. The Embassy’s online website said it was optional to have, so I wasn’t planning on getting it initially as I’m still dreading any lengthy conversations and appointments in Spanish, but my friends told me that it’s easier to get a new passport with the police report, so I decided to get this apparently-magical form early next morning before work.
I woke up the next morning and made my way to the nearest ‘comisaría’, or police station, and arrived around 8. I explained to the two security guards that my passport was lost/stolen the previous day and that I wanted the denuncia, so one officer pulled a numbered ticket and told me to wait inside until my number was called. However, less than a minute later he came back and told me that I actually couldn’t get the form until 9, so I had an hour to kill.
After grabbing a coffee and sitting outside enjoying the morning, I returned to the station. The two guards out front were different than before, so I again explained my issue and showed them my ticket I still had from earlier. One guard then gave me a funny look, and asked me my name and nationality. After I responded, he began speaking to his partner, but they spoke quite rapidly and I only caught a few words. I was able to understand they were talking about a passport, but I assumed the guards from earlier had mentioned that “an American lost his passport and needs a denuncia and will be back at 9.” Eventually I was told to get sit inside again and wait.
After waiting a few minutes, the same guard came into the room holding a passport. He asked if it was mine, and sure enough, it was! I tried to say thank you but I was completely shocked; I did not expect this guard to walk around the corner with my passport. I had already reached the acceptance where I knew my passport was gone for good and I would need to face the consequences and get a new one. The guard then told me he actually loves America, that he was recently in New York City, and that he wants to go back soon. I spent the next couple minutes chatting with him before telling him goodbye, and, “en serio, hoy eres mi héroe” (today, you are seriously my hero!).
The rest of the day I was on cloud 9, not only because I had my passport back, but because I had such a pleasant experience with the Spanish police officers. Spain is a country known for it’s red-tape and bureaucracy, especially when dealing with foreigners. After having a few semi-unpleasant experiences so far, it was extremely refreshing when all four police officers I interacted with were extremely friendly and helpful.
I still have no clue how my passport got there, although I’m assuming someone saw it, picked it up, and turned it in. I definitely learned a few lessons that day: that there’s still hope for humanity, good people still exist, that you should never give up hope, and that you should always check the police station when you lose something!