Thursday, June 01, 2006


Trip dist: 116 kms. Trip time: 6 hrs, 47 min. Tot dist: 2139 kms.


Blech. Lost my wallet today. Yeah, it sucks. Don't know exactly how it happened, I just remember that about 35 kms before arriving to Tarragona I stopped at a small beach town for some ice-cream (and delicious ice-cream it was! Pineapple and coconut, among the best I've ever had, go figure), and when I reached for my backpack to get the Let's Go in Tarragona's city center, I noticed my front bag zipper was open, and the wallet not there. It seems I forgot to properly close it upon exiting the ice-cream shop, and it must've fallen out with all the bumps in the road, for it was the topmost object there, and nothing else was missing. Now what? A quick check on the clock showed it was quarter to six.

O.K., first things first: find a hotel. If you're lucky, it will be quality enough that they will not require advance payment: a very careful inspection of my short pockets reveal the marvelous spare change quantity of exactly 3 Euros and 26 cents. Once there, you can look for the wallet again, perhaps it was simply misplaced, and if not, then you worry. Right now, focus: find a hotel.

Hotel done and found (no advance payment required, whew!), careful revision of all pockets and bags reveals the inevitable: wallet still missing. Now, really, what?

The smart traveller always keeps some emergency money stashed away separate from everything else, just in case. The rule of thumb is, this money should be at least enough to cover the expense of a plane ticket home (I tend to add 20 to 50% extra, for you never know). Luckily, emergency money was where it should be. Can breathe a little easier, this may not be the meaning of a premature trip end.

The problem, though, was that the emergency money is in US dollars. It is 6:30 p.m. by now. All banks are closed, and Tarragona, though a city, is too small to have exchange houses near the city center. Lucky, again, that hotel does not require advance payment. Lucky too, that I had a big sandwich at midday. Prior revision of all luggage and pockets also revealed a half-empty bag of potato chips and 5 or 6 chocolate-covered cookies. Will do for dinner. With 3 Euros, not much you can buy otherwise, and you never know, you might need them later.

Now. First things first: cancel credit card. That's where you can get hit the hardest the fastest. So always do this first. Problem: I don't have the customer service number for my credit card bank (it is printed, of course, on the back of the credit card itself. Clever of them, huh?). Can find on internet. Spend 1 hour finding internet cafe. Internet costs 1.50 Euro a pop, 1 Euro minimum. Yikes. Not good. Not good at all....

It is 7:30 p.m. Good time to call Mexico. Brother has internet access. Can try to call collect or....internet locutorio advertises 18 cents a minute for calls to Mexico! Perfect. Call brother and as he doesn't answer, leave a message on his machine to call me on my mobile (I can receive calls but no longer have credit to make calls). Now the only thing left to do is wait.

Half an hour later my brother calls. Lifesaver! Get from him the phone numbers of credit card company as well as bank. 1-800 numbers are not free if called from abroad, but it turns out they have some local numbers that you can call collect if you are travelling. Great! Now how do I call collect from Spain?

Took me another hour to figure out that one. Local people didn't know! Phone book didn't say! Eventually figured it out from hints written in the public phones. What a detective story, so far. Called my bank first to try to order a replacement bank card.

Good lord. What a nightmare. Spent 45 minutes with a dude who couldn't help with the most basic things: when I asked him to send the replacement card to one of their branches in Barcelona he kept trying to send it to California. When he finally got it that I was abroad and a new card in California would do me no good, he actually had to get an interpreter to read the Barcelona Citibank's street addresses. Unbelievable. Could he please call the Barcelona people tomorrow and let them know to expect my card? Sorry, I need a translator (again?!?). O.K. Could I please speak to someone who can help me (someone with a brain, preferrably, but I did not say this), because for 45 minutes you have not really been listening to me or helped me in any way? Got a super, finally. He was more efficient, but uncaring. He would not call the Barcelona branch because "our phones do not dial internationally". Puleeeze! What is this, the stone age? I had to turn on the sob story, tell him I was in very big trouble, I had to actually ask him, voicing the words, begging him: "Please, please help me!!".

That turned the switch on. Yes, it will get done, and he would see to it personally. Incredible, that one has to stumble on this "please care about me" switch (and incredible, that it has to involve emotional theatrics conveying the situation to be helpless otherwise). I wonder if patients in the US also have to beg their doctors to care for them. Scary thought.

Anyway, after calling brother and bank and credit card company a new count reveals a total of 2 Euros and 3 cents (18 cents spent in message to brother, 1.05 Euros spent navigating at 15 cents a minute through the automated menus of the credit card company before spoke to live person--who took care of my issue in 30 seconds!--what a difference from bank--because turns out number we had did not take collect calls, but oh well). I am incredibly lucky: today is Thursday, so I can exchange money (I hope) tomorrow. Can you imagine if this had happened to me on a Friday? Can you imagine surviving 3 days on 2 euros and 3 cents?

When you don't have a sou, you are a stranger, an outsider looking in. The bars and cafes you pass by as you stroll through the city in the evening are now forbidden, and you dare not go in, both out of embarassment and to avoid the automatic desire to purchase something that you're now obbligated to resist, and the gymnastics your brain goes through at every price listing and shop is something to behold: this pair of shoes costs 20 Euros: that's 10 times more than I posess. Or look: 500 grams of pasta for sale at only 67 cents at this supermarket! Great, but how do I cook it now? And wow, did you know, you can buy 3 200mL cartons of vanilla milkshake for 50 cents (supermarket brand) here! And here's a language school: I wonder if I could teach here....or here's a bank, can I open an account with 2 Euros so that I can wire myself some money from my bank's web access? Oh, and to think, that just two days ago I had a 20 Euro Paella in Valencia's city center! I just ate a pair of tennis shoes...And so on and so forth. You're disconnected from the world, and nothing else matters, the whole concern is how to squeeze a droplet more, just a cent or two, and budget optimally in order to eat the next meal.

I....only had to live like this for a few hours.

1 comment:

d said...

unfortunate for you, for sure. but you are just too funny... take it slow - remember to breathe..