STRANDED IN SLOVENIA
That one time I lost my passport and got stranded in a foreign country. Don't tell my mum.
This was originally written on the 20th of October, 2015 in the hopes that I would publish it here then. But here we are, two years past that date.
The little cracks of my misadventure began to surface as I was leaving Italy. But it was only two countries later than it really began to settle. The course was set and unknown to me, life decided to hand me the adventure of my life. Clearly it thought I could handle it.
The Ljubljana airport wasn't big. You can't get lost in it. With an information desk at the exit, it was easy. With most of them speaking good English, perhaps it all seemed too easy. Of course, that was until I reached the buses. I seemingly chose my misfortune when I decided to board the bus of a very confident driver -a Cyrus Rose look alike and definitely not a hugger- who was adamant about the direction I was going in. Okay I thought. How bad could it be? If he leaves me a few kilometres off, it's not a big deal. I had already walked too much I'm Europe with my rucksack and backpack by then to complain about these trivial little matters. Shelter from the rain was all I wanted at that point and the warmth of the bus felt as good as cookies and milk on a cold winters day.
With my app called “Map" (now maps.me. I strongly suggest this map for your travels ANYWHERE. I know google maps is amazing but maps.me basically saved my life in Italy, France and Slovenia so I cannot recommend it enough)* that works without needing wifi or a data connection as long as you pre pin and save your locations, it looked like I was on the right track to my dropped pin destination. Nothing to worry. I smiled to myself and took a little nap. I woke up to a surprise. We were heading further north. That shouldn't be, I said to myself. I looked at the map and saw we passed "Kranje" a town that I would later familiarise myself with but for that moment, it was the marker for being completely off course from where Ljubljana should be. A whole 10 minutes passed as I was silently panicking inside the bus and after what seemed like eternity of staring at the map, Cyrus Rose shouted "Velesevo" looking directly at me and hinting that this was my stop. In a state that I still can't quite describe, I quickly scurried off the bus.
So there I was in Velesevo, a town not bigger than 300 meters in length and quite scarily close to the Austrian border. I just landed into one EU nation and I wasn't exactly interested in moving on to another one after just an hour. I could see where the town began and ended from where I stood. The worse part? I could not see a soul. With what I suspected was a bus time table printed in Slovenian in the bus stop I was dropped off at, I understood nothing. I began walking a muddy road that seemed to lead to the back roads of this town and on this walk, I met two locals who didn't speak the best English but from what I could piece together, the nearest bus stop for Ljubljana was 5KM away. I could deal with 5KM. What I couldn't deal with was 5KM of the wrong directions. Old lady pointed walking further north while farmer in a blue tractor pointed going towards the south.
All this while, my inner peace shone through (thanks to yoga perhaps?). I remained calm and composed without an inch of panic. I repeatedly told myself that I wanted an adventure and here it was being handed to me on a silver platter. So I decided with myself: I was going to hitchhike. I mean, what’s the worse that could happen to me between Velesevo and Ljubljana? Seriously. Also, it was still afternoon. Rainy and gloomy yes, but there was light.
The police officer was extremely kind. So much so that I burst into tears while telling him my story. He handled the tears quite well and handed me a police report within 10 minutes. "Do not worry. Your embassy will hand you an emergency exit visa and you will be home soon" he said kindly with a smile. I remember hoping with all hopes that he was right. It was already 5:30pm and while I knew that the Indian embassy would be shut, I still embarked on the 30 minute walk towards it. Maybe it was just to sooth my ailing heart. And sooth, it did. Outside the locked and empty embassy, there was the saffron, white and green with the blue chakra waving about in the light breeze. There was Ashoka's Lion embossed. There I stood and there I felt a slight wave of relief. This was a piece of my country in strange soil. That was the closest to home that I could get.
In the midst of this decision and mental pep talk, I saw the local postman doing his rounds and this sounded off my alarms. You are only a good postman if you stick to schedules and timings and I didn't doubt this old man to be a below average postman. So I chased after him and I was right. Within 5 minutes of talking with the postman, I was safely bound to Ljubljana (from the same stop if you are wondering). He waited till I got on, wished me a safe journey and with a final wave, I would never see (who I deem to be) the best postman in the world, or perhaps Slovenia again. So to you, dear man, I send you only good wishes and love.
I was dropped back to the airport from where I boarded the correct bus bound for Ljubljana. As the bus was pulling over, Cyrus Rose was smoking below and he saw me (I swear he stared right at me). My instant reaction? I hid. I still wonder why I hid but there I was, crouching in my chair with my scarf over my head. Maybe I was embarrassed at having gotten lost in some forsaken little town and I feared Cyrus Rose would be cracking a joke in Slovene about some crazy backpacker who wanted to go to Velesevo of all places.
Of course, the joy of reaching Ljubljana was short lived because I hadn't yet realised what had happened yet. I joyously walked the 15 minutes from the bus station to my hostel Vila Veselova at Veselova Ulica to check in and that's when I realised just how damaging this misadventure was to be.
So without sugar coating: I lost my passport.
The young girl (or maybe she was my age. You can never tell) at the reception desk assured me that it's probably stashed somewhere in my bag. "A lot of people panic but they always find it afterwards" she said and took me to my bunk. I unpacked both my rucksack and backpack refusing to believe that this was happening to me but half an hour into the search, I was ready to wave the flag of defeat.
Instincts kicked in again (much to my amazement might I add) and in order, I called the airport lost and found, the airport police, the bus company's (Alpetour) lost and found office and emailed Air France. As the finale move, I made my way to the Ljubljana City police station. I couldn't believe this was happening. Again. The last time I was at a police station, I was lodging an FIR for (would you believe it?) a lost passport. Luckily on that occasion, it had turned out to be mistake.
The next day, I was practically prepared for the worst. I had read numerous cases and incidents of Indians losing their passports abroad and for every good ending, there were five bad experiences to recount. Assessing my current run rate, I wasn't counting my chickens. I did, however, put everyone in the hostel on their toes with their passports. Nick and Fiona from England could not believe the string of bad luck I was having while the cycling backpacker Denis from Denmark recounted his story of having to cycle back almost 400km to fetch his. The Canadian cooking backpacker instilled a certain fear saying that this wasn't the best time to be losing a passport (European refugee situation). Great. Thanks, Canada.
I don't think I had much on my mind during the morning walk to the embassy. My emotions were underwhelming to say the least and I had very low expectations about a good outcome. Within 30 seconds into why I wanted to visit the Indian embassy with the building security, I burst into a bauble of tears and pulled out my passport copy, police report and my PAN card - my only piece of identity. My only piece of identity to prove I was Indian. I doubt building security wanted to handle a sobbing girl because he quickly called up a number and I spoke to a woman whose name I would later learn was Jana. I only remember asking Jana over and over again if there was an Indian official within the embassy that I could speak to. For some reason, I strongly believed that talking to someone who was Indian would have a better impact. Or maybe I just wanted a piece of home. She assured me over the phone and in the elevator but I was only convinced at the sight of Mr. N. Mr. N was the embassy official that I was taken to and I cannot put into words the relief I felt at having to speak Hindi. Full disclosure: my Hindi is below average but Mr. N insisted I speak to him in Hindi and I obliged.
I really must have done something right or done right by someone because Mr. N was simply the most helpful official I had ever met up to that point. His words were that of calm and relief and together with Jana, I was assured an emergency exit certificate within a day so now it was up to me: when do you want to leave? He asked me. Good question. When did I want to leave? It was a struggle between exploring this country that I initially intended to only stay 2 days in and reaching my home country as soon as possible. Mr. N however made the choice easier for me. "You know Slovenia is called the second Switzerland? It is a beautiful country! You can get your emergency visa in a day. Come back on Monday". So I said okay. Between then and Monday, I had 3 days so it was settled. I was going to experience a week in Slovenia and thus began my exploration and adventure in a country I would have otherwise overlooked.
Slovenia probably doesn’t feature in anyone’s list of their top 5 places to visit in Europe but I have to say that the country was exceptionally good to me. For one week, I either got myself a Börek or a falafel for about €2, endlessly walked those cobbled streets of Ljubljana, crossing the pink church or the canal in that wonderful autumn chill and life just seemed dandy.
* Recent addition.
"WE MADE MEMORIES"
This was originally written on the 15th of October. Reading it today, it seems apt that I dedicate this to all the travelers, some of who have become friends, I have met along the way. I guess you can say I took a leaf out of Cheryl Strayed in "Wild" but I have been leaving a quote in most of the hostels that I've stayed in. So this is from me to you, travelers and friends: "We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls" - Anaïs Nin
Slovenia has a good tag line for their tourism: I feel sLOVEenia. After the way this year had started, trust me to get stuck in a country that has "love" within it. Traveling alone was an eyeopener. It was different for Italy and France because I had company but my one week in Slovenia, that's the kind of travel I always longed for. I learned to just be and by the end of it, you forge new friendships that you didn’t think was possible. And you are left with the itch for more travel, more conversations and more adventures.
Nick and Will, India, Nadaine, Karolina, Tung, Logan, Nick and Fiona, Katherine and Linda, Michel, Audrey, Ankit, Marko and a very cool biker/writer called Dennis from Denmark. These are some of the people that I met and got along with in the hostel. Normally, it only takes a 10 minute conversation or a cup of wine or a shot of vodka for people to get along.
But on those rare, you find a connection. A gift from time i like to think. This was the case with Audrey. Audrey was from Iowa but working in Macedonia. She was warm, bubbly, intelligent and extremely likable. A teacher, a forced-upon yoga teacher and a enthusiastic hiker, Audrey and I got on like a house of fire within that short hour. Unfortunately, she left the next day and without exchanging any contact details, i don't think I will ever meet Audrey again. I wish her luck and hope that coincidence will bring us together someday, somewhere.
Tung, a Vietnamese boy who just got his work permit for Berlin, reminded me very much of a friend in Sydney. As it is with Asians, we got on just well. Maybe it was the whole "Asian factor" but he was easy going and nice and I instantly felt that he could get along with the friends I already have. Tung's parents forced him out of Vietnam for a better life. And in his words, he couldn't have gotten a job I'm Vietnam even if he wanted to stay. There's too much corruption, he says. Politicians always take the money, never do anything for the people and only put their kids through to jobs. "I'll probably be married with two kids if I were back in Vietnam" he says.
I noticed that it was the same with the Americans. It could be the comfort factor but I realised that with them, it's more than that. They instantly create their little coven and without realising it, they form their own little America shunning everyone out. It's akin to a boarding school mentality. Sure we can say "oh they're American" in our snarky voices but if I found a group of Indians I would probably do that too. In fact, it's something that people from my boarding school do in any case.
The thing with the Americans, however, is that while they do have the superior first world chip on their shoulder, they are also quite insecure and very wary of offending other cultures. What I think most Americans are unaware of, however, is just how much the rest of the world knows about them. I guess you could blame the media on that and I'm not saying that other nations know better but we're all equally keyed into what going on in America, especially foreign affairs and politics.
But they're not bad people at all. In fact, Americans are the easiest people to get along with (at least the backpacking Americans). I was actually envious of how politically aware they were. At that point, I wished I knew about my own political system in detail. I feel that I know more about the American and Australian political system than the Indian one.
Then there were the Australians. I felt just at home with the three Australians I met. It's only occurred to methen that two years is a long time to spend in a foreign country and I've adopted Australia to my life in many ways. It goes beyond love on this one. It's about feeling at home.
Nick and Will were high school graduates from Sydney taking a gap year. They were your typical Aussie boys who's expressive "far out" transported me right into the heart of Sidney. At the mention of Cronulla, Surry Hills, Bondi Beach, I found myself back into the little room I shared with a friend back in 2014. Maybe I miss Sydney the most from all places because life was good for me. I was independent most parts but Sydney gave me a taste of the good life. The life I could have.
Then there was India who lived in the Gold Coast but lived 10 years of her life in Byron Bay. Now that brought back waves and waves of memories. Someone from India who lived in Australia met someone called India from Australia. I mean, what are the odds??
To the korean boy who left before we could get to know each other, thanks for showing me your copy of The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. It was a Korean copy but I was beyond ecstatic to see it half way round the world and in a different language at that (that book had a major impact on me, stylistically speaking).
Nadaine was an English girl with Jamaican roots and another traveller that I had gotten along sso well with. As we parted, she said we should keep in touch and I must make a point of visiting Jamaica. "You have good vibrations" she said. I took that as a complement.
Most parts of a journey is made memorable because of the people we meet. I remember a quote which I will misquote: he who returns from a journey is never the same as he who left. It's apt and it's true. Which is why this will not be complete without mentioning the couple who were getting it on at 3 in the morning in the dorms. Sorry guys, but a couple of us were still awake and we heard your business. Also: how did you not know that you bumped off someone from their bunk? And how drunk were you to get bumped off and have a bleeding nose and not realise it until the next day?
It's a beautiful life!
The last night in Slovenia was an uncharacteristic jaunt for me: after 5 bottles of wine and a bottle of very tasty Slovenian vodka, visitors from another hostel, we decided to go to dancing. In a crowd-filled club in Ljubljana playing the best of the 90s, there we were just dancing the night away for in a few hours while some will lay resting, some of us were to embark for our next journeys and adventures. We sang, we drank, we toasted, we danced and we laughed. We hugged and we exchanged emails.
"Meet you in Koh Tao"
"Meet you in Vienna"
"Meet you in Kraków"
Who's to say whether we will cross paths again? But for that moment, in that small part of the world, we did. For that short time, we all became friends. For that short time, we were in good company and we made memories.