Travelling to / out of Myanmar is a tough thing.
Some of you know perfectly that there’s no network coverage for foreign mobile providers and the internet connection is really weak and evanescent throughout the entire day. Therefore communicating with friends, relatives and people all over the world can be hard. Furthermore credit cards are virtually unknown, so basically everything goes on with hard cash (preferably USD) and not all the notes are good, ‘cause Myanmar people want crispy notes .
Yesterday I got to the hotel – the Kandawgyi Palace, which is definitely nice, wooden-made, with a superb garden overlooking the Kandawgyi Lake – and at 2 pm I decided to go for a tour in the downtown. I avoided to take cab, since I wanted to explore a little bit. I just went out bringing with me my camera, my passport holder and my wallet, since I needed to change some money.
After a quite long walk I entered a bank ‘cause I wanted to change my 100 crispy note into 2 50 euro notes (basically the EUR rate of exchange is definitely better than the USD one to pay the hotel). The clerks at the bank were arrogantly rude (and I must say they are the only rude people I met here as of now) and they were totally uninterested in my business and refused to help me.
I went away, crossed the street, turned around the corner and reached the KZB bank where I got what I desired even if I had to pay something like 1400 Kyat (1,2 Eur) because they bought 100 Eur from me, and then they re-sold the same amount to me.
Anyway, I walked along the riverbank and then I strolled across the market before getting into a cafè (Harrio’s), where I got a blueberry cake (600 Kyat) and a very awful coffee . I looked at my map and decided I was tired enough and it was preferable to get back to the hotel.
When I left the cafè, I approached a taxi driver bargaining the price to reach the hotel (for those unexperienced of Myanmar: there’s no taxi-meter here. You have to discuss the price in advance). While I was seated in the cab, I realized I was missin’ something… not the wallet, not the money, neither the camera…. just my PASSPORT.
At first, I tried to convince myself I left it in the room, since I didn’t take it out during my sightseeing tour in the city. I asked the driver to drive faster and when I got to the hotel room I discovered my passport was not there.
Without getting into panic, I got to the reception and I explained the situation. Consider that the average command of english in Myanmar is poor, they understand only extremely basic words.
I asked for a new map, I tried to locate places where I had been, the two bank institutes and the cafè and I asked the concierge to retrieve their phone number and to contact them.
Guess what? Internet connection was not working. So I asked for the old-fashioned instrument, the white pages… which weren’t helpful at all to me, for the very simple reason they are written in burmese!!
I took a new cab and I personally instructed him on the route to follow. At first, I got back to the cafè, just to realize they didn’t find it. I begged for them to check in the waste bin, and you could imagine how avid I was (some of you may know how much I hate to deal with waste and rubbish!) . They allowed me to browse into that (indeed, it was so awful), among the coffee powder and any other kind of waste.
You can also guess my face when I found some sheets of mine in the bin, without any trace of my passport. I handled out to the staff some of my business cards in the hope they could find it and give me a call.
Then I went out and reached the first bank, where they didn’t find my passport as well.
When I reached the second bank institute, it was already closed and I felt myself quite lost. Luckily, some locals pointed me around the building and I discovered the service entrance, where some of the guardians were having a break.
I politely explained the situation and they sympathized with me. When I said I was looking for my passport, one of them smiled and said “yes yes”. I asked if they found it and he nodded. It seemed a total relief. I stepped up the stairs just to get a huge disappointment. Inside none found a passport, there was only few people looking at me (I was so sweat and drippin’wet) clueless.
I decided to get back to the hotel and while I was on the taxi I tried to evaluate the situation: being in a foreign country without a valid document, unable to leave it, with my next flight within 17hrs, two absolutely unuseful credit cards and some hard cash. I realized I could live for some days with cash but it was definitely necessary to take some actions to reduce at minimum the issues.
When I reached the hotel, I checked my laptop to lookup the Italian embassy phone number in Myanmar (btw, Yangoon is not the Myanmar’s capital, but still all diplomatic offices are located there!) , ‘cause – I thought – “they are the men who can help me: I need a new passport, they are the one who can issue that”.
I contacted italian embassy and you know…. it was closed…. call tomorrow!
I had always judged embassies and consulates representative offices only, totally uncapable of providing support or help to the citizens experiencing serious difficulties: now I can reaffirm it was a correct opinion by me.
Furthermore I tried to study a new exit strategy since all my flight plans and hotel stays needed to be revisited and adjusted accordingly to the new dramatic scenario. And you can only guess the total mess about it when you cannot use an internet connection or your own mobile.
I got back to my room and pursued to seek for my passport desperately, pushing away the bed, or looking into the bathroom – places where clearly it could not be. Unexpectedly someone knocked at the door and it was the hotel director: he innocently announced they had erroneously kept my passport at the counter upon check-in!!!!
I felt myself fainting, missing my breath and my blood pressure. I sat down on the floor since I couldn’t believe to my own eyes and ears. Director’s assistant (a nice 30 y.o. girl) told me to remain calm and quiet and to breath deeply while she poured me some kind of eau de vie.
It has been definitely one of the worst afternoon in my life.