A Blunder on the Beach Becomes a Barrier at the Border
It was dark but I could still make out a figure coming towards me. Gravity was playing tug of war with my eyelids. Its force was relentless. My lids surrendered and my conscious mind switched itself off. It was only 45 minutes later when I sprung awake and looked around me. Turning to see several groups of people lying on the beach, I realized we were one of them.
Here I was in the middle of the night on a random beach in Mexico with unfamiliar people and a blood alcohol content that my parents wouldn’t necessarily be proud of. Trying to gather myself and figure out why the hell I had let myself drift off to sleep, I found my feet.
I was expecting to feel the weight of my bag tug on my shoulders except I stood to find that it was no longer there. Tracing the strap of my bag, I discovered that it had been reduced into a small strand of faux leather.
I had been nannying in Cabo for the summer and one of the little boys had a birthday party at the house Saturday evening before I went out. Since the room I was staying in was going to be used to entertain guests, I had packed my small bag with all of my important belongings. After the party, we left the house in a rush to head to town so I hadn’t even thought about unloading it.
Passport, driver’s license, two debit cards, a credit card, 300 U.S. dollars, 600 pesos, and my cellphone. Gone. All gone.
Returning to my host family’s house, I decided to try and sleep away this nightmare of a situation. To my demise, I woke up and went to check my phone but only found my hand helplessly tossing the sheets every which direction until the frantic movements finally shook me back to reality. With shame slicing through my body, I worked up the courage to pull out my computer and deliver the news to my mom:
Hey girl! Hope you’re having a great morning so far! Just wanted to give you a quick five minute warning to enjoy your sanity while you can before I turn your hair fifty shades of grey. Love, your least favorite daughter and biggest nightmare.
For the sake of my mother’s health, I am going to refrain from taking us all back to that awful conversation but moral of the story, my mom and I didn’t have much productive dialogue until the next morning. But hey, at least I’m over 18 so my mom couldn’t technically disown me right?
Joking aside, that day was pretty shitty- not going to sugarcoat it. I knew that I was going to have to tell my host family what happened. As if to make matters worse, they were going to visit family in Austria the same day I was heading back to the states. In all attempts to seem composed to them and myself, I decided to make a game plan. I began researching the process of getting an emergency passport and saw that the consulate opened Monday morning. I would go first thing when I woke up. I still had two days until departure so it seemed like no big deal. The only things I needed were my birth certificate, which I thankfully had, a check, and two forms of photocopied identification.
Now would be a good time to mention that in the past four months I kind of also lost the spare set of car keys I’d been using since I lost the original set at a New Year’s party, had my computer wiped clean after spilling a glass of wine on it two weeks before finals, had my car broken into, fell while intoxicated and bruised my whole leg from the knee down (that’s no exaggeration I have pictures), and overworked myself to the point I got so sick I coughed a strain right on into the damn muscle between my ribs. So my parents had every right to tell me to piss off.
Mustering up the courage, I told my host family what had happened and, much to my greatest surprise, they were extremely understanding. Thinking I was going to get an emergency passport and be on my way back to the states Wednesday at 4:00 PM, I went to town with a friend I had met from Germany. And, if you know me, you may know that I was blessed and cursed with an overdose of curiosity and a love for adrenaline. My friend Paula and I decided to go try to track down my belongings.
Oh! Okay so important detail I failed to mention. My mom woke up in the middle of the night on Saturday and had a weird feeling so she tracked me on Find My Friends. She saw that I was on the beach in the middle of the night and was en route. Checking my location again a little later, she watched me walk through the streets until stopping at a building near a hospital. Since I wasn’t responding, my mom became worried and screenshotted the address so she would at least have my last known location. To bring it full circle, a mother’s intuition is absolutely a real thing and my mom literally watched the thief run off the beach with my stuff, capturing the exact address of where my things were located.
Anyways, I decided to go use my Spanish and casually tell some federal officers that every important thing I had brought to Mexico was stolen and I knew exactly where they were. Yet, they all reacted very strange and I couldn’t tell if it was the situation or language barrier. They kept saying, “No podemos entrar,” which means that they can’t enter. Thankfully, a man was walking by who worked at one of the resorts and asked if everything was okay. The officers didn’t speak English and my Spanish isn’t incredible so I was able to communicate to our new friend Carlos much more efficiently what had happened. Looking at the screenshot of the location, he chuckled and said, “They know exactly where your stuff is. Everyone does. But DO. NOT. GO. THERE. ALONE.” Honestly, it was smart that he added that while making firm eye contact with me because I was low key considering trying to go buy my things back. He continued on to explain to us that since the cartels pay federal officers to “not see drug activity”, they can’t enter a known drug store. Drug store? Oh, that’s why I shouldn’t go there alone! Great point Carlos. Very legit.
Carlos took Paula and I to the Marina to show us where I needed to report what had happened. I planned to return in the morning after going to the consulate since they were already closed. As the day drew to an end and we realized we weren’t going to get my stuff back, Paula offered to spot me the money for my emergency passport and we went our separate ways.
The next morning, I called the consulate in Cabo to make an appointment and (get this) they told me (brace yourself) that they wouldn’t have someone who was cleared to issue emergency passports until August 20th… it was July 30th. They further advised me to go report the incident to the place Carlos had shown Paula and me. There, they would give me an official Mexican document, allowing me to travel domestically to Tijuana. Once I arrived there, I would then have to walk across the border.
By this point, my parents had decided to push aside their hate and disappointment. My mom was calling our congressman, customs, border control, Southwest, you name it she called them. Southwest was saying I had no chance of making my flight and that Tijuana was going to be my best bet, so we purchased my plane ticket for 1:00 PM on Wednesday, four hours before my original flight.
Then, as if this isn’t complicated enough, a lady from Southwest tells my mom they are going to do everything they can to get me on my original flight so I should cancel my Tijuana flight. I get on the phone with the Mexican airline, Volaris, and have ten minutes before I can no longer receive a refund on my flight. Just as they’re confirming the cancellation, my mom texts my computer telling me to not cancel it because the lady spoke with her supervisor and they no longer think I can make it on the flight. But I tried to reverse the cancellation and it was too late. So there I was with no more flight to Tijuana. I then had to buy another one which was more expensive than the original.
IMPORTANT INTERRUPTION: So apparently there used to be these travel letters that you get from the consulate and it would let you travel back into the U.S. much more efficiently but they’re no longer allowed to be issued since Trump took office (Trump, you the homie! U.S. citizens not even able to get back into their own country? Seems valid.)
At this point, it is Tuesday night and I’m in the Walmart parking lot with Paula after just getting a pay phone for the next day’s travels. My mom calls and starts to lose it. I sat there listening as she explained that she’d just received an email telling her I wouldn’t be able to use the border crossing in the Tijuana airport. Instead, it became clear that I was going to have to stay the night at a hotel in Tijuana and taxi across the border. After crossing the border, I would be driven to the train station in San Diego and catch a ride back to Orange.
I could hear my mom’s voice begin to break and soon sensed the tears rolling down her face. Sitting motionless, I waited for her to vomit it all out before taking a deep breath. She was scared for me, dreading the next day, and wishing I were just back in the states. I understood where she was coming from, but in that moment we both needed to stay composed. I hesitated for a second before telling her, “I know you’re scared mom but you’re not the one who has to go and do this tomorrow. I am fine. I will be okay. I have thought through the worst scenario and anything else will be a pleasant surprise. I love you, but I need you to hold it together.” She didn’t need to say anything. I felt her stiffen and wipe her tears. If anyone knows strength, it’s my mom.
Now don’t get me wrong, I felt violated, frustrated, annoyed, embarrassed, but mostly just extremely disappointed in myself. I wanted nothing more than to get home but I wouldn’t let myself think back to Saturday night. I wouldn’t let myself entertain everything I could’ve done different. I wouldn’t let myself cry because of the situation I ultimately put myself in. I was just going to have to put my big girl panties on and figure it out.
I guess here is where maybe I can impart some wisdom. This life lesson is a pretty simple one but hard as hell to execute. Life happens. Shit happens. You can’t change it. Ever. Once an event occurs, it joins the beautiful realm of the past and can’t be changed or undone. Move on. Pick yourself up, learn the lesson, make a plan, and conquer.
I went home that night, well aware of the fact that the next day was going to be a taxing one. As soon as my head hit the pillow I was out, as I once more tried to sleep away this mess.
My efforts were unsuccessful. The next morning, my host family was finishing up getting ready for Austria as I said my goodbyes and took off for the airport.
My flight to Tijuana left from terminal one at 1:00 PM and my original flight to the states departed from terminal two at 4:00 PM. The Volaris check in opened a little after 11:00 AM and I brought the document I’d received from the place in the Marina.
Shoot! I forgot to tell you that I went to the Marina to file the report for this whole situation, and they literally just gave me a government stamped document that somehow was to prove I was who I claimed to be and they didn’t even ask me for any form of identification! So I guess the lax Mexican government had some perks.
Anyways, I went to check my bags and they informed me that it would be 1000 pesos. But here’s the funny thing, I only had U.S. dollars. Because who wouldn’t get U.S. money to travel through Mexico on a Mexican airline? Yeah, good one Kailee. They told me I could walk to terminal two (a 5-10 minute walk in 95 degree weather mind you) to go get change. And I did.
Yet, I came to the currency exchange booth and I was asked my favorite question, “Can I please see your passport?”
I won’t paint myself in an inaccurate picture here. I turned to him and said, “I don’t fucking have one.” Then I stared at him as if it were his fault.
The poor guy looked at me awkwardly for a little bit, probably startled by my harsh attitude that just bolstered the stereotype of snobby Americans that I’d worked so hard to disprove all summer. “I’m sorry ma’am, but we need a passport to activate our system to give you pesos…”
I think I may have spit out another swear word before making the trek back to terminal one. On the way, I had the brilliant idea to go to a gas station and try to get change. I walked in and grabbed the largest drip coffee I could find and jumped into line behind a swarm of federal officers, their daunting guns jumping out from behind them to almost kiss my forehead. Finally approaching the front, I asked the lady for change and told her I needed 1000 pesos, but she informed me that they can only give me 600 pesos worth of change. I took what I could, tried to show some gratitude, and hauled myself the rest of the way up to terminal one.
Okay, you might be getting bored here but I promise it’s almost over! You won’t want to miss the ending.
I’m sweaty, can’t check my bags, my mom just called to tell me there’s not really any chance I can get on my Southwest flight, I’m tired, don’t have a real phone, am chugging a scorching hot coffee in Cabo in the middle of the summer, and am high key preparing to start pawning off the few valuable items I actually have left in the middle of the airport to finesse 400 more pesos.
I walk up to the counter and explain my situation, half in Spanish and half in English, and the Volaris workers tell me that I can try to make my Southwest flight but have to be back in 30 minutes to terminal one or else I’ll miss my flight to Tijuana. I took a deep breath and in that moment all I wanted to do was call my parents and have them or literally anyone just tell me what to do. I wanted some certainty and help making my decision. In this moment I also truly realized how alone I was. This sounds a tad depressing but I let it become invigorating. I snapped to and decided I was going to try and get on my Southwest flight.
Grabbing my two huge suitcases, I took off for terminal two. In fact, for some odd reason, I think in that moment I was the proudest I’ve ever been of myself. I had remained composed throughout the situation, hadn’t cried once, and finally showed myself that I could be self sufficient. Since high school, I’ve always cared so much about what other people think. I’ve always needed validation and I never want to upset people. I always put the feelings of others before my own and do what other people want before entertaining my own interests. If work needed me, I was there. If my friends needed me, I was there. If anyone needed me, I was there. No questions asked. But who was there for me when I was on the other side of the border with no certainty of anything? Nobody. I had to be there for myself, use my own best judgment, and get myself through that situation. What good does it do to please others and have their validation if, when you’re alone, you don’t like your own company?
I hauled my ass to terminal two through the heat, with two insanely heavy suitcases, up a hill, and all by myself. Glancing to the Southwest line, I knew there was no way I’d make it to the front in time. I walked over to the information desk and explained my situation. The guy sat there and just kind of stared at me and said, “Oh… yeah… wow….” Then we both sat there and absorbed the chaos momentarily before he hopped up and took me to the front of the line.
After several phone calls and a 15 minute phone interview with customs, I was being escorted through the airport and onto my Southwest flight. I was going straight to the states.
A week after returning to the U.S., a friend I had met in Mexico through a mutual family friend went to the address where my stuff was last seen. His friend was a federal officer and assisted him in the investigation. He ended up discovering that it was indeed a drug store. Whoever stole my stuff had sold it all for drugs. What a shame that that is what the lives of some people come to. They are so stuck that theft and drugs are all they have to turn to. This brings me to my final words.
What was my main takeaway from this whole action-thriller-like situation? Well, I could go on for days explaining everything I learned and how this experience changed me but it all boils down to this: life is all about how you interact, act, and react.
How are you treating yourself? What kind of conversations are you having in your head? Are you staying true to who you are amidst a society where we are ushered to conform?
How do you act to other people? How do you leave them feeling? How do you treat the closest people to you?
How do you respond to events and people in your life whom you can’t control? Are you standing up for yourself and what you think is right?
If you efficiently interact with yourself, you can act with a clear mind and an empathetic heart, allowing you to react to events, both positive and negative, in your life with grace and dignity. No matter how hard you try, you can’t escape your company.
This was one of the most trivial things I’ve been through. For the past month I’ve been piecing my life back together whether it be getting new cards, reporting my identity as stolen, having to get a new passport, flying back home to Washington to get a new ID while being frisked in front of everyone at the airport with all of my luggage tossed from my bag and searched, and having to pay $1000 for a brand new phone I had ripped from my possession. Though the most difficult thing this past month has been swallowing down the disappointment and joking away the embarrassment. Not only that, but it’s been difficult to work up the courage to post this story. It’s bad enough that I’ve had to tell it whenever I ran into problems like needing my credit card expedited to buy a new phone or explaining why employers couldn’t call me to schedule an interview.
With this all in mind, I use my blog as a way to shatter the facade that we all live splendid lives enveloped with flawless candids, lavish vacations, and friends and family who we shower with only love and praise. Social media has given us such an inaccurate perception of the true show behind the curtains but I am here to admit that I am extremely imperfect.
It was the most bizarre feeling having to prove who I was over and over again. This process truly prompted me to think about who I am and, to be completely honest, I haven’t been overly proud of my actions for the past couple years. I thank the universe for this culminating experience that granted me a true clean slate. I have reassembled myself this past month and am striving to start a teen mentoring business and stay up to date with my blog. I have found balance and am finally letting go of the things and people which aren’t bringing out the best in me. Instead, I will deeply cherish facets of my life that make me feel alive, loved, and value. You are a free agent in your own life. You determine who you are and where you fit into the world. Nobody gets to write your story. Take the pen and stay accountable for your narrative. Labels can be strong and overpowering but nothing is as powerful as the labels you place on yourself.
Yes, I should have photocopied my passport.
Yes, I took all of my important belongings out with me.
Yes, I got drunk and fell asleep on a public beach in Cabo in the middle of the night with a random guy.
But dammit, I am NOT labeled by these actions. I will instead label myself by how I moved forward and how I am actively turning my tribulations into triumphs.
Yes, I am proud of myself for even my stupid decisions.
Yes, I am a strong woman with dignity, confidence, compassion, imperfections, and crazy ambitions.
Yes, I’m done letting myself get in the way of my own success because if I can find my way out of another country with no ID and my head held high, I can stand confidently in front of my own reflection.
Start talking positively to yourself because nobody means it more than you.
The hard evidence:
Screenshot of where my stuff was taken
Document that allowed me to travel
Email my mom received when she called me the night before I left
Conversation with friend from Cabo about where my stuff ended up