Travel often looks glamorous behind computer screens. The highlight reel – happy photos before beautiful landscapes, hair flowing through the wind. Rarely do you get a glimpse of the day to day, mundane and ever-so stressful.
We’ve been doing our best on our blog and Instagram to portray a healthy mix of both – although it isn’t always easy. It’s hard to talk about tough times without sounding ungrateful for the incredible position we’re in as travelers. And when shit hits the fan, the last thing we want to do is take a photo or write about it. Panic stations while rushing to bus terminals or airports leave no space or a steady hand recording from a cell phone camera.
To be fair, we’ve had a pretty good run thus far *touch wood*, but back in January we had a series of events that changed us. They seemed like a nightmare at the time but on the other side of it, we have been grateful for the experience and took the lessons to heart. Sometimes you need a little slap in the face to truly understand a lesson.
In the span of 4 days, we were robbed on a night bus, got an extreme case of food poisoning, had no running water at the hostel for 30 hours (while we were expelling from both ends), and had to catch another 14 hour night bus through Mexico.
I thought it was time to share the story. It’s a gentle warning to take certain precautions while traveling, a glimpse of the not-so-glamorous moments and a reminder to take each moment as a learning experience to grow from and be proud of. Not to mention it’s pretty funny. Buckle in, it’s about to get bumpy.
We checked out of our hotel in Merida and headed out to explore the town. You can read more about our exciting day here. We had a night bus booked to San Cristobal de las Casas. It didn’t leave until 20:40 and we had time to kill. There’s no nice way to put it, transit days are shit. You can never relax. There’s this stressful little voice inside your head, blabbering away as you stare at the clock. “Don’t look away or you might miss your departure time in 8 hours.”
We decided that this day would be different. We would find the positives and challenge ourselves to change our perspectives. I even made a bloody post on Instagram, which now just screams out the cosmic joke. Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.
For real though. I wanted to preach about being strong, because I was able to be happy during a day spent in a beautiful Mexican city? Enter Universe.
After we boarded our night bus, I said to John, “I have a bad feeling.” I never say this, rarely feel it. But I got the vibes, and this time, I didn’t know how to trust my instincts.
Do we get off the bus because I had a “feeling?” Or could my serotonin and dopamine receptors have been overloaded from my “perfect transit day” and now I was just on the come down? I rationalized that the feeling was about the ride being dangerous, through the Mexican mountains at night, so I focused on trying to relax and fall asleep. I put my backpack on the rack above my seat and after about thirty minutes of breathing techniques, I fell asleep for about twenty-five minutes.
I have been super lucky, with my 10 + years of travel to wild places. My only theft experiences have been a cell phone stolen from my hands after I fell asleep in my hostel room in Hungary by another traveler who left before me in the morning, and an iPad case, which I left on the foot of my bed as a decoy on a night train in India. So needless to say, I’ve gotten a bit comfortable. I always take precautions with the important things (passport, money, phone), but I have trusted my instincts and it has worked. Other than on an airplane, I have literally NEVER, in over a decade, possibly ever, put a bag on the upper rack. They have always, 100% of the time, been at my feet. Except for this night. Of course.
Previous to this night, every night bus we had ever ridden, has been a Point A to Point B bus, so everyone boarded together and disembarked together in the same place. I unfortunately made the assumption that this was the same.
I was asleep for 25 minutes when I felt the bus roll to a halt. Some of the lights came on and I opened my eyes. My phone and money was in my bra and our passports down my pants. They were all still there. We were in the terminal for about 5 minutes, and the bus began to roll away. I decided to get my eye covers from my bag so I reached up above and felt the zipper was undone.
My heart fell to the floor. My mouth went dry as I tried to whisper to John I had been robbed. I didn’t need to check inside the bag, I knew someone had rummaged through it. I put my hand in to feel for the computer, but of course it wasn’t there. I didn’t want to make a scene but the adrenaline was flooding through my veins. My body began shaking. I said to John about ten times, as quietly as I could, “I was robbed.” Hoping that if I said it enough times it would become a practical joke that just went a bit too far.
I brought the bag down, John held my hand and tried to help me breathe. “The money, passports and phone?” he asked me.
“All on me, all here,” I tried to push out from chattering teeth.
We began inventory of the bag. No MacBook, no iPad, no DSLR camera, no zoom lens, no glasses (2 pairs), no NZ drivers license and no debit visa cards with my maiden name. My Alberta drivers license has my married name on it and there were no bank cards with my new name, so they left it behind. Now the inside contained only my favourite sweater given to me by my late grandmother, my favorite scarf bought in India 8 years ago, my meaningful jewelry I travel with for good luck, our marriage certificate and my wallet with some cards and photographs.
If ever there was such a thing as an ethical thief, it seemed as though it was he who we crossed paths with that night. But as I sat there on the bus, shivering cold, I was nothing but disappointed in the entire human race, myself included.
Everyone was a suspect. I looked at the family of 4 all cuddled up across the aisle and one row back. I was furious at them. Either they stole my stuff or they knew the guy who did it and didn’t stop him. I told the driver, and he simply laughed. He must’ve been in on it. After about an hour of high alert, I felt my body slowly shutting down. “I want to go home,” I whimpered.
I had to pee, which made no sense: I hadn’t had a thing to drink in 5 hours and had relieved myself before we hit the road. No matter how fancy the bus looks, the toilets will always have a sticky film of urine on the floor and smell exactly as you’re imaging right now. You really don’t want to use them unless absolutely necessary. We’ve trained our bladders quite well for travel, so this was out of the ordinary.
I walked to the bathroom, 2 rows behind us, and noticed that the 2 men that had been sitting in the final row when we boarded, were no longer there. It made sense, they hopped on at stop 1, robbed idiots like me that fall asleep with their electronics above their heads, got off at stop 2 and would never be seen again.
I sat on the toilet. Even though I felt like I had cracked the case, I was still angry, sad, confused, nervous and nauseous when I thought about every single person on the bus. All I could think was, they knew about it and let it happen. I stopped thinking for a second. I literally peed like a racehorse. The power almost lifted me off the seat. I had no idea what was going on.
I slunk back in my seat. Tried to relax, but it felt like I had just drank 3 Red Bull’s. 10 minutes went by, it happened again. I ran to the toilet and barely made it, barely able to stay sitting on the seat. Another 15 minutes, the third and final time. What the hell was happening? I sat back down, concerned, and John mentioned I was in shock, that my bladder was clearing out the adrenaline that had been surging through me. Relieved (both mentally and physically at this point), I closed my eyes and woke up nearly 9 hours later.
We were at another stop and were urged off the bus. I grabbed my virtually empty bag and held on tight. We were groggy and confused, but appreciated the chance to log on to some WiFi. Then the bus drove away.
I didn’t know what to worry about more, our luggage underneath the bus that had just disappeared, or all of the items that were absolutely, never ever coming back. I chose the latter and started making calls.
I don’t need to explain my frustrations with the call centers, you all know how they go. But seriously, wanting to cancel a card because it was stolen is not rocket science and is not the right time to try and upsell my bank accounts. I had lost all hope for humanity, and even the voice on the other line reciting “so your card was lost,” had me yelling back, “STOLEN.”
While I was in a panic, my lovely husband tried to figure out where our bus was. A gentleman from the bus approached me. I was uneasy as he came closer, thinking he was a part of the national mission to separate me from everything I owned.
He had his arm extended, his phone in hand. He opened to a Spanish-English translator reading, “The Bus is getting gas and will pick us up there.” He motioned to the other side of the terminal.
“Muchas gracias,” I replied, secretly thinking he was trying to distract me so I would miss the bus and he could take my big bag on the other side. Seriously, I was in full Negative Nelly, Debbie Downer mood and even the niceties of this stranger had me spiraling into despair. It was a huge turning point, I just didn’t know it in the moment.
John returned from the bathroom, with no information of the bus’ whereabouts, so I filled him in and shared my call center adventures and interaction with the Mexican Bus Robbers Mafia. As it was coming out of my mouth I realized how insane I was being. The bus pulled into where the man had showed me at the same time I was explaining this, and he caught my eye and waved us toward it.
I had been robbed, most likely by 2 men that left us 11 hours prior, and the gentleman with the phone was a wonderful person who truly wanted to help. After one bad interaction I had painted every person I saw as evil and almost missed the display of kindness right under my nose.
I snapped back into reality, and altered my entire perception. Yes, I had been robbed. Someone invaded my privacy and took things that I was unhealthily emotionally attached to. That same someone left the things that were truly meaningful to me behind and unscathed.
The things that were taken were replaceable. The things they left behind were not so easily, if at all. Our lives had never been in danger. Our physical strengths were never challenged. Life was going to go on, the world was not out to get us.
5 hours later we pulled into the terminal in San Cristobal de las Casas. Still a bit fragile, but feeling on the upward, we collected our bags, hopped in a taxi and found our hostel. Finally taking a moment to breathe, we sent birthday wishes to my Dad, and let our parents and a couple close friends know that we had made it safely but some of the electronic team weren’t on our travels anymore.
By the time I had finished notifying the bus company, changing passwords, and putting iCloud blocks on, it was just after 3pm, so we decided to grab a quick bite to eat, have a nap and the go some place nice for dinner. We’d earned it. Our lunch was at a restaurant around the corner. Informal, tasty and cheap. We thought we’d found ourselves a good local spot to frequent over the next 3 days.
We did our best to laugh about the night before. My shock symptoms, our stupidity for putting the bag up their in the first place (seriously, the first time ever), the Instagram post almost begging for a real problem to come our way. It wasn’t easy, but we forced ourselves to be grateful for what was left untouched and the lessons we learned. We were proud of who we were before we boarded the bus, but we were even more proud of who we were now.
We set in for our power nap around 4:30 that afternoon. Our minds may have been sound, but our bodies were exhausted. We woke up the next day at 9am, having had completely uninterrupted sleeps. We were fully recharged and rejuvenated, we turned lemons into lemonade. The world and San Cristobal were our oysters, and there was nothing that could stop us now. Enter Universe.
Stay tuned for When It Rains It Pours: Part 2, coming this Sunday, to read what happened next.