Four Important Life Lessons from a Lost Passport

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In the not so distant past, I found myself in Almería, Spain. 

Famous for providing the setting for countless Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s, Almería’s other claim to fame is its vast Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park and long stretches of stunning Mediterranean coastline.

Visitors are frequently drawn to Almería because of the inspiration mentioned above. 

I spent less than a day there…

…but not for any of these reasons.

downtown Olula del Río.

One of my best friends is a teacher there, so I wanted to pay him a visit. 

With little experience in this part of the country, I was excited to see what the hubbub was all about and to catch up my friend David. 

I also was really excited to get my passport back.

Three days prior, I committed the first of four blunders. 

What did I learn: Always be aware of the location of your personal items.

In a sleep deprived and jet-lagged stupor, I forgot my passport in my friend David’s car after he picked me up in Alicante then dropped me off in Murcia. It was a quick reunion as he continued to his home in Olula del Río, a small town in Almería. I had just arrived from Oakland so it was natural to be in a daze. A few days later I realized that my passport was 100 miles away. David wouldn’t be visiting Murcia anytime soon so I knew the solution to my dilemma:

Go to Almería, collect my passport.  

The sun was sizzling overhead and a few hours via bus later, I was greeted by David along the long marble promenade of Olula del Río. A native of Gijón, David teaches in Olula but also spends time in Murcia. We spent the day exploring his town and also neighboring Macael. These municipalities are famous in Spain for their massive quarries of marble that encompass the nearby landscape. Marble from Macael and Olula is mined and sold all over the world; also in Macael a replica of the Lion Fountain of the Alhambra in Granada is situated in one of its centralized plazas.

Since Macael is a village of about five thousand people, everyone we encountered knew David. Current and former students would come up and chat with us in the street and it was noticeable that David was a role model for the youths of this town. It was an inspiring sight. 

It had been almost a year since we’d last seen each other, so naturally the next step was to catch up over beers. 

Out and about in Macael.

As stated before, time was of the essence so my time in Almería lasted just a single night then I had to return to Murcia the next morning. 

David had to work so my best and only option would be to take the same bus that brought me to Olula. 

This is where my second mistake happened. 

What did I learn: Always make sure you phone is charged.

I thought that my phone was properly connected to one of David’s wall outlets during the night. 

It wasn’t. When I woke up at 5ish in the morning to catch the early bus to Murcia, I noticed that my phone had about 7% battery life. 

My third and final mistake followed me soberingly as I stumbled out of David’s apartment and staggered through Olula before daybreak. 

Later in the afternoon I had back-to-back reunions with friends planned so it was imperative to return to Murcia early. I was being overly ambitious and shouldn’t have made so many arrangements. From Olula, only two buses per day went to Murcia; one leaving at 6:15am and another at 1:15pm. In my mind it would have been too late to leave at 1:15pm so I hustled for the early-bird bus. 

What did I learn: Don’t overbook yourself and make promises you don’t know you can keep.

So there I was, sandwiched between my desire to do too many things and branchless palm trees, standing at a bus stop.  

My breathe was faintly visible as I pulled on the straps of my backpack, feeling it press against my upper back. Tucked away was my beloved passport.

The sky remained a tint of shadowy violet. My phone’s battery didn’t survive long but based on when I left David’s place, I knew that there were a few minutes to spare. 

Not a soul was on the street except myself and the crescent moon overhead. 

To the right of the bus stop was a wide roundabout and I knew that the bus would be approaching from that direction. At least that’s what I assumed. It would drop off whoever else was crazy enough to be awake at this hour across the street, drive up the downtown’s primary street, then loop back to where I was and pick me up. 

My eyes felt like stones as I narrowed on where I presumed the bus would be arriving from. 

The minutes felt like an eternity but luckily I knew I was in the correct position to catch a ride. 

Shortly afterwards two beams of light shone from a corner of the roundabout and blowing into my vision was a buzzing coach. 

This is it is what I convinced myself. 

Across the street, at the very edge of the roundabout, the brakes of the bus screeched to a halt. The doors flapped open and a trickle of passengers slowly scattering out onto Olula walkway opposite to me. 

I stayed on my side of the street, thinking that I was visible.

What did I learn: Don’t assume anything.

The doors closed and the driver shifted the vehicle into gear, veering sharply to the left. My mouth dropped as it looped along the roundabout and skipped over my stop all together. The rearview lights disappeared a few seconds later and yet again I was alone on a street corner.  

In my head I was waving, chasing, yelling, or doing anything to get the driver to notice me. In reality I was frozen like a statue.

Up the promenade a bodega employee started to pour soapy water onto the sidewalk. 

Without a charged phone and seven hours before the next bus arrived, I was a Thanksgiving turkey that had just become a victim of a merciless basting.

Only the stranger mopping the sidewalk and perhaps an overlooking rooster could smell the betrayal.

A wash of blue was encompassing the sky above as the stars started to dissolve into the morning. 

Without notice, exhaustion was creeping up beside me. It was trying to win the race against internal fury for being stranded. 

Despite my despair, I was impressed that the marble could still sparkle at this horrible hour as my vision lowered to ground. 

I wanted to blame the bus driver for pulling such an audacious maneuver. Those darn Spanish power outlets didn’t charge my phone. Who the heck installed the dim light posts on this street for crying out loud?

In the end, however, I knew that the blame could only be pointed in one direction: at myself.

I put myself here.

The planting of careless acts had now blossomed into a beautiful flower of repercussions. I accepted my errors and my fate. The sun would be shining soon and eventually I’d drink about three coffees in the bodega next door and life would be normal again. 

There was still another bus and it would be ok.

With my eyes closed I heard the motors of a couple passing cars. The third vehicle that came by didn’t leave my consciousness, it continued into vibrating in idleness.

I looked up and there was a confused bus driver staring at me with the door open. It the bus I was waiting for. He seemed surprised to find someone standing at this hour at a bus stop in Olula del Río. The subtle caution on his face meant that he probably guessed I was escaping the law, but once I flashed euros he didn’t stop me. 

I paid whatever the fair was and gloriously took a seat. 

The previous unknown bus driver had been proven innocent for the crime of screwing me over. A sigh of relief washed over me for not wishing this unknown person misfortune.

This was all maybe a miracle or just a coincidence, but I thanked Mother Earth and the travel Gods for having mercy on an me. Just to play it safe I also made plans to call my grandmother.  

I sank into my seat, bid a mental farewell to the charming little town of Olula, then became absorbed in the landscape. 

What wonderful marble… 

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