…a purse theft!
Of course, this wasn’t exactly what Sara was thinking when she realized it was no longer in the bag on her lap where it was supposed to be, nor was it what I was thinking as I waited impatiently with our bags in the bus depot while Sara ran back to see if there was any possibility it had been left in the hostel. It wasn’t, in fact, until we had two armed officers solemnly stuff our backpacks into their armoured van and cart us off to the police station to give a report, looking to all the curious spectators like we were about to be deported, that we realized we were having an essential foreign travel experience.
Our plans underwent a few changes at this point. Practically speaking, this happened at a time of epic inconvenience: we had been literally on our way to the bus depot to leave Chile when all of a sudden Sara was passportless and unable to cross any borders, and it happened to be a Saturday night, and the office that would give her a duplicate of her Chilean visa would not be open until Monday morning. BUT this just meant that we had another couple days to enjoy in beautiful Valparaiso, and that is what we did. We got a midnight ride in the armoured car, driven by a couple of 18-year-old junior officers who definitely thought this was all a big fun adventure, back to our beloved Doña Elena, who greeted us in her usual warm-but-stern manner.
Now, we knew the most pressing matter in such cases is to cancel one’s credit cards as soon as possible, but Chile is a strange country in that literally NONE of their phones can make international calls. Not landlines, not cellphones, not even the police chief’s office phone (apparently international crime hasn’t yet made it to Valparaiso). The only option was to use a telecabina, a sort of privately owned payphone, but these are only open during business hours. So, at the crack of dawn we got up and found one that happened to be open and, very fortunately, were able to cancel all cards without a hassle.
The rest of the day was spent wandering the vibrant streets of Valpo once more, buying churros from little old men and watching still more sunsets over the Pacific ocean. All in all, not a bad way to be stranded in a foreign country.
(Note from Sara: Melnyk clan, you are going to love this – we found an ENTIRE STREET lined with nothing but secondhand shops. I had to keep reminding myself that I would have to carry whatever I bought in my backpack!)
The next day, however, we got down to business (it was Monday, after all). We got Sara’s duplicate Chilean visa without a hitch and caught a bus to Santiago, the capital, where we were to apply for a new passport from the Canadian embassy. The embassy was exciting, with all the marble floors and high-tech security you’d expect, but not as exciting as the mad marathon we then had to run to get Sara to the photographer six blocks away so she could have her new photos taken and be back to the embassy before it closed at 5:30 (Needless to say, of all the haggard passport photos in the world, hers may have the most legit excuse).
(Another note from Sara: While my white hoodie is getting so wretched it won’t make it back to Canada, how lovely that it is now immortalized in my passport picture!! :P)
That evening, however, was the reason why this crazy travel mishap will forever hold a dear place in our hearts. After leaving the embassy and eating a much-needed dinner in Santiago’s business district, we set off to find somewhere to stay for the night. We had an address of a hostel, which was supposedly surrounded by a dozen other hostels in case there wasn’t room. When we got off the last metro of the night and emerged into what seemed to be not the best area of town, however, no one we spoke to had ever heard of it. All we found was a sign that said ‘hostel’ on a building that, we were told, had been condemned after an earthquake a few years ago. We wandered, following terrible instructions after terrible instructions, until we literally collapsed under the weight of our backpacks. We sat despondently on the side of the road, both of us at our wit’s end.
And that’s when the friendliest couple in the world appeared. “We know this is strange, and if you’re not comfortable with it we understand, but if you need a place to stay we have an extra room in our apartment,” said the respectable man in his early 30s, his cheerful-looking compañera smiling welcomingly at us. Now, we know that accepting invitations from total strangers in a foreign city is a pretty major traveling faux-pas, especially after having your purse stolen three days before, but after 2.5 hours of taking sketchy directions from even sketchier people, these guys were hard to resist. We followed them home and were eagerly welcomed into a shockingly normal little apartment, and told to relax on an already-made bed in the spare room.
Turns out our amazing new hosts were on their first day of summer holidays and were heading out on vacation the next day, and yet still somehow found time to offer ridiculously generous help to a couple of total strangers. They told us they had seen us sitting for awhile, and were worried about us because the area was dangerous after midnight (which it now was). They then invited us to join them for tea, which turned into a sampling of Chileno wines, lessons in local slang, and just an all around fun evening (read: night. We didn’t get to bed until almost 4am) with what seemed to be friends we had known for years. And as if that wasn’t enough, the next morning we had a breakfast of scrambled eggs (absolutely unheard-of in South America!) while our new friends found hostels for us and escorted us there themselves, giving us their cell phone number in case we had any other troubles. Needless to say, we were incredibly moved by this huge, absolutely random act of kindness. Muchisimas gracias, Claudio y Pepa!
Alas, the tale is almost told. The only hitch left was for our friendly embassy lady to contact four references to confirm Sara’s existence/lack of criminal activity. These could NOT include relatives, and we had to know their work and home phone numbers, as well as their home address off-hand there in the embassy. We managed to scrounge up four friends for whom we knew this information, but unfortunately they were all students and therefore not home during embassy hours. The next day was therefore spent frantically searching Canada411, Facebook, and old emails for ANYONE who might be accessible during the daytime. (We kicked ourselves for getting married at this point, since even ‘grandma-in-law’ is apparently too close a relative to use. Sigh…)
And so, after many hours of searching (and two hours of staying late at the office for our heroic embassy lady), we managed to snag a friend from camp (although the embassy lady at first could only get ahold of her mom, who apparently talked so glowingly of their friendship that our embassy contact was ready to just use the mom as a reference), an old coworker, and Pastor Matt, whom we said, for lack of more accurate information, lived in the church. The fourth, however, is still a mystery to us, so wherever you are, if you received a phone call from the Canadian embassy in Santiago, we thank you dearly!
Yet more notes from Sara: Seriously, THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH. Once we’re home, I will spoil you with dulce de leche!! 🙂