Lost Passport-La Paz, Bolivia

Awoke rather late and after a quick shower grabbed my travel neck pouch to put on under my shirt and noticed it seemed lighter. I pulled open the outer flap and the first thing I noticed was that my passport was not where it should be. I stood there starring at the empty spot and in a daze slowly realized that I may be in for a difficult time. I began a methodical search through all my belongings and furnishings in the hotel room. Then on to the front desk and restaurant where we had dinner the night before. I could swear that it was in my travel pouch before heading to bed. After exhausting the search my traveling companion and I headed to the American Consulate but as it was a Sunday the consulate was closed and the Bolivian security personnel would not allow me entrance. My only hope was to attempt to make a phone call from the government phone center. After spending a number of boliviano on dead end phone numbers I thought it prudent that I change my evening flight home to next week since it did not look like I was going to be able to leave the country. I was able to get myself rebooked on a flight the following week and headed back to the phone center to attempt additional calls to the embassy. Luckily I met an American couple who provided me a different phone number and this time it rang through and a US Marine answered my call. After explaining my situation he told me to head back to the consulate building and he would inform the local security guards to let me in. I was more than a little relieved to be at least this far in my process of getting out of Bolivia. Once inside the main entrance the Marine lead us into the building to an office area where we would wait for some time before he could find an official who could get the process moving on getting me a temporary passport. ¬†Eventually I was able to talk on the phone to the vice consulate who after making sure I was the gringo who I said I was agreed to come to the consulate and issue me a temporary passport . I would have to pay an additional fee for a clerical person to complete the paperwork. She informed me that if I could get a passport photo she would come to the consulate and finalize my passport. After completing my call the Marine radioed to the Bolivian security staff to take me in their jeep and locate a photographer. The two uniformed individuals were given a mission and off we flew at a fast speed through the streets of La Paz. It took three stops before down a narrow alleyway we located a photographer with a 35mm film camera sitting on a tripod. His small business (a camera, tripod and a darkroom) was cramped amongst a number of individual entrepreneurs. He took my photo and while he hand developed the film we were sent on another mission to locate some print paper, which we did after some effort. Bringing the print paper back to the photographer he disappeared into the darkroom and reappeared with a small black and white print which would serve as my passport photo. A mad dash through traffic had us back at the consulate office where the vice consulate and her clerk were waiting. My passport was finalized and I paid my fees but now the problem was that I had a passport without an entry stamp from Bolivian immigration. The vice consulate dictated and signed a letter which the clerk typed up explaining in Spanish what was up with this strange looking passport. I thanked everyone involved and my friend and I headed to the airport for the flight back to the States but then the next roadblock home occurred. Once at the ticket booth the airline employed went to the computer reservation system and could not find my flight info (I had forgotten that I had rescheduled my flight to next week since I didn’t think I would be standing at the airport that same day with a passport). A couple of days prior I had gone to the airline office and had my ticket reconfirmed which you had to do in the days of paper tickets. The airline personal would write in pen a confirmation code on the paper ticket. There I stood with a paper ticket which had a reconfirmation code written on it. I have to admit that I didn’t quite tell the truth. I pointed to the paper ticket and said there must be a mistake. I had the ticket and it was reconfirmed. The attendant looked at the computer screen, then back at my ticket. The airlines office was closed so my fortune was that the attendant believed the paper ticket he held in his hand and not the computer screen. He processed me on through to immigration. I handed my passport, ticket and the letter explaining why there was no entry stamp to the first of three immigration officials who sat in a line of tiny glass booths. The first read through my documents then passed it the next official who did the same and then to the third. I thought I would never get out of Bolivia as I stood there sweating. A minute later the last official stamped my passport and I was allowed to enter the boarding area. I was going home. I was exhausted and with a heavy thump fell onto the first chair I could find. What a day….one filled with pure luck and persistence.