In the last week, over $10,000 has passed through my hands, in one way or another. And it has everything to do with my passport. You could say my new passport alone, is a $2,000 document. (Needless to say, I’ll be protecting it even more fiercely than I did the last one).
Thus the saga of the $10,000 Passport – a very tall tale indeed.
This post was originally published in 2013. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
It all Started with a House Guest
After years and years of accepting the generous hospitality of people around the world who have invited me to stay in their homes, I was only too pleased to offer up my place in Grenada to a friend of a friend who was visiting from Ireland with the intentions of buying a boat. It made perfect sense to have him house-sit while my partner met me in Europe.
When we returned to Grenada, Steve (our house guest – at least that’s what he said his name was) was still there, and we welcomed him to continue to stay with us. He had run into some difficulties in getting the funds for the boat over to Grenada, and was temporarily without money.
“No matter,” I said, still happy to karmically return the hospitality I’ve been given over the years. One extra mouth to feed won’t break the bank.
Steve was a lovely house-guest. Easy-going, helpful, and as charming as the day is long. He had a knack for endearing himself to everybody he met.
When he asked me to lend him money for airfare to get back to Europe to sort out his financial issues, I drew the line. I was happy to give him a place to stay, but the reality is I didn’t know this guy from a hole in the ground, and no promise could guarantee a return of the money I didn’t really have to give in the first place.
It’s still debatable if this was my fatal mistake, because I ended up paying for it either way.
A few weeks later, Steve had acquired just enough money for airfare from a friend who sent the funds to him. My partner and I bid him adieu, with hugs, smiles, and Steve’s promise of returning and treating us to some of his own hospitality as thanks.
Who knew that as we were driving him to the airport and handing him his bags, my passport and thousands of dollars in cash (the proceeds from selling our car – which was to fund our upcoming trip to Panama, and was stashed in a few hiding places) were with him.
Oh, the Violation
The loss was discovered mere hours after his plane took off – and four days before our scheduled flights to Panama for a two-month house-sitting gig. The loss of the money – although substantial – seemed unreal. The loss of the passport – very real.
In a state of bewilderment, we tried to figure out why on earth he would have taken my passport (which was hidden), and not my partner’s, which was in plain sight. Eventually, we arrived at two potential conclusions:
- Taking my passport was his way of saying “screw you for not giving me money for airfare in the first place”, or:
- Some of the money was stashed with the passport, and if Steve was acting in a moment of haste, he’d have grabbed the whole thing (for the money) and ditched the passport along the way.
I went with the second assumption and prayed that the passport got ditched along the way, and his intentions were not to mess with my identity.
What to do When Your Passport is Gone?
Hopefully you won’t be four days away from international travel, like I was.
I called the Canadian High Commission (the closest one to Grenada being in Barbados), who broke the bad news that I had no chance of making my flight to Panama. Then they outlined a lengthy process of mailing various documentation to Barbados in order to get a replacement passport (20 business days), and if I’m lucky, a temporary passport to get me to Panama (which would take at least a week). Somewhere in there I’d need to make a special trip to Barbados as well, and some other complications that made the whole process fraught with potential for additional delay.
The whole idea of being trapped in Grenada while awaiting a new passport – all the while letting down the homeowners in Panama who had their own travel plans to keep – was intolerable. I knew if I were in Canada, I could rush a new passport in 24 hours.
So, I hassled Grenada Immigration to issue an emergency travel document that would allow me to fly back to Canada at the last minute and get a new passport.
Chastised for Organization
“Why do you have a copy of your passport?” was the first question of the Grenada Immigration officer who was in charge of issuing the emergency travel document.
“In case something like this happens! Aren’t I glad?” was my genuine response.
He furrowed his brow. “This isn’t normal. People don’t travel with copies of their passports. You’re too organized.” The connotation being that I had somehow planned to bereft myself of my passport.
I was flabbergasted. If I didn’t have a copy of my passport handy, I probably wouldn’t have been able to acquire the emergency travel document. And yet, here I was, being chastised for my organization. (If only he knew how pedantically organized I really am).
The officer finally realized I couldn’t be lying when, in a state semi panic, I stood up, turned around, lifted my shirt and lowered my pants, and showed him my tattoo. Before I started traveling full-time in 2007, I got a tattoo of the Canadian maple leaf (with some artistic interpretive thingies) on my lower back. (Fun fact: I didn’t realize at the time that a tattoo with this particular style and placement is known as a “tramp stamp”.)
It was intended to be a tribute to my Canadian heritage on the eve of departing my homeland for an undetermined period of time, but I also joked that if something ever happened on the road and I was robbed of everything I had, I could stumble into the nearest Canadian consulate, show my tattoo, and be offered whatever assistance I needed.
This story was too much for him to stoically ignore, so he did his best to stifle a guffaw and gave me my travel document. Two days later, off to Canada I went – a 4,000 kilometre detour from my original destination of Panama.
How Does a Passport Cost $10,000?
Following are the various costs incurred as a result of this horrible theft:
- Acquisition of the emergency travel document in Grenada
- Cancelling my return flights (with two airlines) from Grenada to Panama
- Buying last-minute airfare from Grenada to Toronto
- Buying last-minute airfare from Toronto to Panama
- Reissuing my Panama to Grenada flights (since I wouldn’t be making the outward journey)
- New passport in Canada (plus a hefty fee for expediting it in 24 hours)
- Expenses in Canada
- Applications for new ID in Canada
….and of course, all the money that was stolen in Grenada.
All’s Well that Ends Well
“It’s only money” is a cavalier thing to say. Money makes the world go round, and this loss was substantial for me, especially given this year with so many degrees of adversity (including a near-fatal crash).
But the homeowner in Panama was (and is) a champion. She laughed (in supportive disbelief) when I described the loss of my passport and money, and took it in stride when I said I couldn’t be there when I said I would.
To put myself in the homeowner’s shoes – after bringing a relative stranger into my own home and being so badly violated – I must be thankful that she remained calm, collected, and incredibly easy going.
In fact, it is her support and ability to take all these bumps in the road in stride, that has helped me to re-affirm the belief that 99% of the people in this world are fundamentally good.
Steve was one of the 1%, and I suspect he got what was coming to him, even if I wasn’t the one to dole out his punishment.
Turns out this wasn’t Steve’s first rodeo; he was a con-man. This would explain his arresting charm and ability to morph into whatever the person in front of him wanted him to be. This would also explain how he sussed out all my clever(?) hiding spots for cash, and managed to sweep them all in whatever seconds he had alone before he departed.
He may or may not have been in Grenada to get a boat. A boat would have been a good thing for him to have, because as it turned out, he was wanted by Interpol. Nothing is a secret on a small island like Grenada, so it didn’t take long for word to reach us that he had been picked up on his way out of the country.
Too bad whoever picked him up didn’t think to give me back my passport. Ah well, at least it makes for a good story, and I got to put my tramp stamp to good use.
Have you ever been robbed or lost your passport on the road? What did you do?
If you enjoyed reading about this challenging experience, then you’ll LOVE this roundup of all the crappy stuff that has happened to me on the road in my 12+ year career of full-time travel!