Jul 18, 2017
By Jen Ruiz
Surviving the Storm in Mexico
It was pouring, the kind of haphazard rain you only get in the middle of a tropical storm. My hair had taken on a life of its own, to the point where I looked like Brendan Fraser’s character in Encino Man. My palms were sweaty as I searched through my portable backpack for the third time. I bought it on Amazon for day hikes and was lured by its foldable features, completely oblivious to the catch that it fails to protect any of its contents.
I tossed my soaked brochures aside, going through the process yet again of emptying and re-filling my backpack, as if somehow my wallet would magically appear with one last wishful pull from the Barney Bag.
After about the fourth or fifth time of repeating this process while huddled in the corner of the Isla Mujeres ferry station, reality started to set in. I’d lost my wallet. In Mexico. I was stranded in a foreign country without identification, money or contacts.
The buzz from my margarita quickly turned into a throbbing headache as the realization hit. My fingers started to tingle with panic. This was bad. I fumbled through my phone and dialed every Mexican number on the recent call log, hoping to somehow track my wallet down. Some numbers picked up, others were invalid and a few led me to call Victor the cab driver repeatedly, much to his dismay. As I struggled to find a solution, a woman approached.
“Are you ok?” she asked with raised eyebrows while standing a few feet back, exercising caution. She looked to be in her late 30s and was traveling with a group of friends.
“Nooooo,” I replied in the low wail of desperation that precedes an ugly cry. “I lost my wallet. I have nothing. This is the worst trip ever!!”
It really was. The wallet was a low point but I’d been sinking long before then. I lost the rental car keys on the first day. The tropical storm I mentioned was present for the exact duration of my stay and cancelled all my plans, from swimming with whale sharks to seeing the pink rivers of the Yucatan (my only reason for renting a car in the first place). I was literally walking around with a cloud above my head and had finally reached a breaking point.
Slowly, the woman dug into her pocketbook and pulled out 50 pesos. “I’m sorry,” she said earnestly. “I hope this helps.”
I looked up at her, my eyes big with gratitude and lower lip quivering with emotion. “Thank you” was all I managed to say. She smiled kindly. “You shouldn’t be traveling alone,” she warned. “These things can happen.”
In that moment, all the fears and insecurities I’d fought to suppress came surging back. Maybe she was right. Maybe solo travel should be left to the men. After all, traveling would be easier if I had a husband or boyfriend to rely on in an emergency. Despite my best “girl power” attitude I’d found myself a damsel in distress, unwittingly fulfilling the stereotype.
The woman had good intentions so I smiled back and said, “I’ll be alright.” I didn’t know it then, but I would be.
Two other people donated to my ferry fund that evening, allowing me to get back to my AirBnB in downtown Cancun safely. In the morning, one of the random numbers I’d dialed called me back, letting me know they found my wallet and could bring it to Cancun for me. They even apologized for the wait since the morning’s first ferry was cancelled due to weather.
It would be easy to focus on everything that went wrong during my trip and ignore the people who did their best to make things right again. But in a low point in Mexico when I thought I had no one to turn to, I found myself ultimately ushered home by the kindness of strangers. Perhaps that’s all we can hope to learn from traveling–that as long as we’re on this shared planet we’re never truly alone and that there’s a rainbow at the end of every storm if you choose to see it.
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About the Author
Jen is a solo female traveler and writer taking 12 trip in 12 months while employed full-time as an attorney. She documents her journey on her blog, Jen on a Jet Plane, and focuses on budget and adventure travel.