If there’s one thing you don’t want to misplace on your travels, it’s your passport. It’s the one thing you make sure you have on lock down when you’re on the road. At all costs, keep it safe and secure. Golden rule number 1. Got it? Good.
In a seemingly ulterior universe, one of my best friends decided to ignore this golden rule and break it in the most epic way possible. In Nepal, on the way to China, and you find yourself without your passport, but where could you possibly have put it?……
BACK IN KATHMANDU
I was back in gorgeous Kathmandu, Nepal with 2 friends, walking proudly through the backpacker district of Thamel after our epic 2 week trek in the Himalayas on the Mount Everest base camp trek. The trek had been tough, but absolutely breathtaking. Laying eyes on Mount Everest was truly something that’ll stay with me forever, and the views on the way up were worth every last ounce of effort. We got back to the bustling capital on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon, where I had my first shower for 12 days, to this day the most enjoyable shower of my life. Shaved, showered and ready to hit the town in celebration, we went straight to the iconic Kathmandu Steak House to eat some red meat after being stuck on nothing but lentils and rice for 2 weeks.
We were delighted that we all had mate it to base camp, altitude sickness hadn’t hit us too badly and the steak house was our reward. It had been a dream come true for all of us, and despite being broke, we all dig deep and found the money somewhere to finally do the trek. A few drinks and a steak dinner was the least we deserved, it’d be back to backpacking rations tomorrow, let’s make the most of it.
Our future plans were full of adventure, we were all due to be flying to China in 2 days time to attend the Beijing Olympics. Unfortunately, the Chinese government were limiting tourists visas but we had been very fortunate to obtain ours after weeks and weeks of trying across Asia. Furthermore, the Chinese were cracking down hard on any misdemeanours, or social unrest, in airports and at borders so we didn’t want to risk turning up to the airport feeling worse for wear after a night on the town! It had been such hard work to get our Chinese visas, we didn’t want to take any risk. We all had family flying from the UK and Ireland to China to meet for the first time in a year, so the whole Olympic event was one big happy reunion. On the way to a family reunion, off the back of the Base Camp Trek, this could be the best travel week of our lifetime. We couldn’t let anything go wrong, so we decided tonight was our night to celebrate, and tomorrow we’d take it easy in preparation for our trip.
THE REGGAE BAR
We left our grimy hostel, finished up our glorious celebratory steaks, and headed to the reggae bar in Kathmandu centre. It was one of those travelers bars where you find a spot on the floor and drink cheap drinks. We marched in, dodging backpackers sprawled across the floor, sporting hippy pants and dreadlocks, we went straight to the top floor, kicked off our flip-flops, ordered 3 beers and the celebrations began.
I walk up to bar, first round on me. What’s the beer called? “Everest Beer” Come on, this is fate! Double rounds. 6 bottles of beer for the 3 of us. Next round 6 more, next round 6more, next round 6 more. In retrospect it was perhaps a little excessive, but in our defence we’d just seen Everest with our own eyes, we were entitled to get a little loose.
The rounds kept coming, Bob Marley classics were ringing out, and as the beers flowed, the voices got louder, singing along to Bob with their made up lyrics. The place was smokey, people smoking shisha in every corner. Another round of beers came and went when suddenly we realized we were pretty drunk. I realised our group of 3 had become 2, so I stood up, swaying a little bit thanks to those damn delicious Everest beers, looking around for Billy* ( name changed). Thankfully, I soon see him, but he’s staggering out of the corridor, bouncing between the two walls, as drunk as I have ever seen him, his blonde hair spiked up in a random, non-calculated mess, brow sweating but still smiling. “ Are you alright mate?”, “Yeah I’m fine, shall we go to another bar?”. And so it continued.
Off we went, the three of us (incidentally some traveler had stolen my friend’s Havianaviana flip-flops at the reggae bar, so he is now stumbling across the road in a beautiful pink pair of someone else’s sandals, 2 sizes to small)to another bar, and another bar, and another bar. The night had swept by in a glorious round of beer after beer, cheersing to our accomplishments and slurring our words as we declared our mutual love for each other. That’s normally the sign it’s time for bed.
THE PASSPORT PAT
It was now about 2am, we began our slow march home, singing songs that didn’t even exist, making up lyrics about us climbing Mount Everest . Then I did that standard check that every traveller will know well, the passport pat. You know, when your heart sinks for that split second, when you think you may have misplaced your passport, only to pat the pocket you always keep it in and find it’s still there.
I patted my pockets and boasted “I might be a little worse for wear boys but I’ve still got my wallet and passport!”. My other friend said the same thing . High five, that we drunkenly miss, queue hysterics. It was all quite sloppy.
Back to our buddy Billy, far and away the drunkest of the 3 *… “sh*t, sh*t, sh*t – boys, I don’t have either”. Assuming he’s joking, we set up another high five, but that’s not happening. The sunken look on the poor guy’s face tells us this is no joke. Passport, and wallet, gone. Disaster.
This is a genuine disaster No wallet means $250 in USD and local currency gone, ID gone, bankcards gone. At a time when we were budgeting $15 a day, that was a bitter pill to swallow. Worse still, no passport means no Chinese visa, and no flight to see his family in Beijing. We need to fix this, and quick.
The adrenaline sobers us up a little, so we decide to retrace our steps, it has to be in one of the 4, 5 or 6 bars we had been in. So, step by step, we went to every bar we had been to and pleaded with the staff. “Do you remember us 3? We were the idiots making up sonds in the corner? Ah ok, great, well have you seen our friends passport (with Chinese visa) or wallet (with all his cash)? No? No.
Ok next bar, same thing. And again, and again. We scoured the streets of Kathmandu, ticking off every bar but found nothing, finally we were back to the reggae bar. Upstairs we went, (stolen) pink flip-flops off flung off at the entrance, and we proceeded to ask everyone in the place, staff and tourists alike, had they seen anything. No, no, and no. After a couple of hours of
TIME FOR THE BRITISH EMBASSY
After a couple of hours of this we had to cut our losses and head to bed, depressed and drunk. It was 4.30am and the seriousness of the situation was hitting home. No wallet, no money, no visas, no passport. His brother’s one holiday to China ruined before it began. Anyway, Billy* set his alarm for 8am when he and I would head down to the British embassy and Chinese embassy to see where we stood. How do we take our flight out of Nepal the following day? Can we get a temporary visa for China?
8am, alarm rings. We groggily clambered out of our beds, awake for a moment assuming everything is ok, then a quick memory of the lost passport. Eurrgh, up we get and head to the British embassy .“Of course we can help, we can issue you with an emergency passport, valid for one entry to get home, do you have some ID”. 1) I am traveling, I don’t want to go home, I want to go to China tomorrow and 2) No, I don’t have any bloody ID because my wallet was stolen along with my
1) “I am flying to China tomorrow, in the middle of a 1 year trip, I don’t want to go home, what can we do?”
2) “No, I don’t have any ID because my wallet was stolen along with my passport!“
“Well then sir, I’m afraid we can’t help you very much, you can either go home or stay in Nepal. You can’t go to China, and you can’t continue your trip without going home.”. Right, great, thanks British embassy, it’s been a blast. We calmed ourselves down, made an appointment to speak to the boss later on that day and headed over to the Chinese embassy.
THE CHINESE EMBASSY?
We jump on the back of 2 motorbike taxis and head over to the Chinese embassy. Hangover from hell, everyone in Nepal honking their horns at 10000 decibels, and us weaving out of traffic like we’re vying for the Formula 1 Championship. We’re clinging onto the back of the bikes half focused on not throwing up, half focused on not falling off. One staff member in a little booth outside the embassy says “Give passport and you go in”, “lost my passport, that’s why I want to go in”, “no passport, no enter”. Wow, these embassies are great! After 20 minutes of pleading, explaining and groveling we got in and went straight to the consular section. Lost a passport, here’s a scan of the Chinese visa that was in it (very smart to do that), can you re-issue it please, I’m going to the Olympics tomorrow. “no, you have to go to home country and get a new visa” WTF?!? So here we were with a copy of the visa and they were refusing to give a new one without flying from Kathmandu -> London -> Beijing. Not helpful, we stormed out.
We arrive, and one tiny Chinese staff member peeks out of the tiny hole in the wall outside the embassy says “Give passport and you go in”, “Sorry! I’fe lost my passport, that’s why I want to go in”, “No passport, no enter”. Wow, these embassies aren’t great when you’re in a pickle!
After 20 minutes of pleading, explaining and groveling we managed to convince the lady to let us in. We headed straight to the consular section. Thankfully, Billy* had scanned a copy of his CHinese visa, so we were quietly confident we could have it re-issued. “I’ve lost a passport, here’s a scan of the Chinese visa that was in it (very smart to do that), can you re-issue it please, I’m going to the Olympics tomorrow. “ No, you have to go to home country and get a new visa” Whaaat? Huh? So here we were with a copy of the visa, and they were declining any chance to give a new one without flying from Kathmandu -> London and then back to Beijing. Not an option on our budget, it spelled the end of the 1 year trip, just 4 months in.
Mad panic had set in. This is it, end of the rod for Billy, and us as a traveling trio. We head back to the hostel to break the news to our buddy, still comatose after last night’s drinking. We drag him out of bed, and give one last check of the bars, literally our last hope.
Billy* was distraught, his brother was flying to meet him in China tomorrow, he had tickets to Olympic events, hotels booked and it now he wouldn’t be going. A dream year backpacking had ended already. We were a sorry sight. We summoned some energy and reracked the bars one last time, in the cold light of day.
One bar checked… nothing. Another bar checked… nothing. Another and another. Hopes fading, almost gone. We finally get back to the reggae bar “Sorry guys, I know we asked last night but did you find a wallet and passport last night, it’s really important”? It’s still morning, the bar isn’t open, but the cleaning staff are there. Rather than shut us down, they tell us to wait. We assume they’re getting management, or someone to translate.
CLEANER TO THE RESCUE
Out comes a cleaning lady wearing two long plastic gloves (like the kind you see a farmer putting on before he has his way with a cow), she doesn’t speak any English but the barman appears from behind the counter and translates for us. “Last night, no wallet. This morning, we have big problem here” Pointing to the corridor Billy has bouncing between when I found him last night.
They talk a little more, this time slightly more animated. Slowly then, the cleaner pulls a passport and a wallet out of her pocket, still wearing the blue gloves, and making sure to only hold the corners of both the wallet and passport.
Instantaneous joy. Billy* is literally jumping up and down with delight, tears in his eyes. He hugs the cleaner like a long lost family member, kisses me on the cheek, another hug for the cleaner. He grabs his passport and flicks through it, it’s soaking wet and there are brown lumps and stains over most of the pages, it’s giving off a pretty pungent smell.
He grabs his wallet, same smell, opens it up and all the cash has gone (all $250) but, although he’s not happy about the cash being gone, he’s still delighted with having his stuff back. ID, bank cards AND the passport! So as the hysteria dies down, we ask him why on God’s green earth is his passport and wallet soaking wet and looking like it’s been dragged through a sewer?!
The cleaner, through the barman’s translation, said she doesn’t know why it was there but she came to work this morning and you could smell the toilet from outside the building. When she entered it she was nearly sick, the entire toilet bowl in the bar was filled with crap. So she put on her gloves, grabbed the plunger and the poor lady went to work. As she bailed out the poo, which had overflowed the entire toilet, she could eventually reach her arm into the toilet, to the U-Bend to examine the blockage. She fought with it until she got her hands around it, yoinked it out and you’d never guess what the blockage was – a British passport and a wallet.
FLASH BACK from Billy*. During our Mount Everest Base Camp trek we had a lot of time to chat, and we had been joking about losing our passports before we got to China. Chatting about the disaster it would be to not be able to go to the Olympics, to have to ruin our families holidays as they come from Europe to Asia. Wow, worst thing ever.When we were in the reggae bar last night, we had been joking about how bad it would be to lose our passports, what with China clamping down on visas, and us missing the Olympics. So as we got more and more drunk, the thought had stuck with Billy*. Thanks to the steak dinner, and the excessive beers, Billy had a calling to the bathroom, and he would be there a while.
As he sat on the revolting toilet he thought of an ingenious plan in order to guarantee he would not lose his passport or wallet that night. He had seen movies where people hide stuff in the cistern, but he was drunk he got a little confused. He stood up, took his passport and wallet in one hand, kneeled on the bathroom floor and shoved his hand down the toilet, up to the U-Bend and stashed his passport and wallet there! “No-one will find it now”, he thought and he was sort of right. But he was drunk, he sat back down for a rest, and quickly forgot his genius plan. Rumblings of the steak dinner and beers took over, and Billy boy proceeded to take a steaming, messy poo on the very same toilet. Finished, he then flushed, stood up and left. 10 seconds later, I would see Billy stumbling out of the toilet corridor, both of us unaware about his not-so-cunning plan.
As we continued to party the night away little did we know that Billy’s* passport and wallet had blocked the only toilet in the reggae bar, so drunk backpackers being drunk backpackers, if they needed to go then they went regardless of the blockage! So as the night wore on, more and more (progressively drunk) proceeded to sh*t in the toilet, on top of Billy’s* sh*t, wich was on top of his passport and wallet. Now, the bowl was almost overflowing.
As we hear Billys flashback, my friend and I are doubled over in laughter, literally crying, and can barely stand up when Billy* asks the cleanning lady what happened to all the money in the wallet. “I dont mean to be funny, and Im sorry about the pooing on the passport, but that doesn’t explain where all my money from the wallet went?!” Another quick translation between the cleaner and bartender ensued, and he soon gets told that the cleaner isn’t sure what happened to the money exactly, but the money must have “evaporated in the blockage“!!! Brilliant! ‘Evaporated!’
Frankly, we all considered the situation, how awful the job was to find the blockage, and that Billy had both his things returned, and decided if the cleaner had pocketed the money, then perhaps she had earned the money so we left it at that and went home, with poo-stained passport and Billy’s* empty wallet. A great result.
Incidentally, we had entered Nepal a couple of weeks previously through a rural Western border crossing that nobody uses because the Maoists were in control of that region then. So our visa was literally written in pen by the border guard, it was so unofficial looking.
As Billy’s* passport had sat in a well of pee and poo all night, the ink had run and was almost invisible now. Billy*, still in a panic about getting to China, thinks “F*ck it, I’ll just rewrite the visa myself, it’ll look the same” pulls out a biro and redraws the visa! To the airport we go, Billy* approaches immigration, admittedly a little nervous. He tries to get stamped out of the country, ut it’s a no go…
He gets summoned to a private interrogation room and questioned why his passport is in such terrible condition and why he has forged his Nepalese visa. After much explaining, and truth sharing, he gets escorted by the police to the passport counter, gets his exit stamp, and is escorted through the airport. In no uncertain terms, he is finally told to go to China, and never come back to Nepal And you know what? He never did, but i’m sure he’ll never forget that one night in Kathmandu!