As fate would have it, my girlfriend flew home from Vietnam the day before me for 10 days, leaving my to my own devices. As my visa was due to expire the next day, I flew to Taipei in Taiwan. For the first time in six months I was on my own and travelling as a solo traveller.
After a few nights in Taipei, I took the train down to Kaohsiung and a few days later I took a bus down to Kenting. I absolutely loved both of these places and was lucky enough to meet a great group of people to go exploring with, made up of a lovely dutch couple and an American guy called Benson. He is the hero of this particular story. This is us together after a day out exploring.
After a few days frolicking on the beach, driving around on scooters and eating everything in sight, we decided to all head to Taitung on the train. We woke up early, checked out of our hostel and took a bus from Kenting to Fangliao, a journey of almost 2 hours. During this time we chatted, watched the scenery and I worked a little on my blog. As we were all backpackers, we decided to take the cheap local train, which took 2 1/2 hours to get us to Taitung. Here is a video I filmed showing some of the amazing scenery and the “local train” which very much reminded me of the trains I took in Sri Lanka.
As we arrived at our station at about 1.30pm, I packed up my bag and did my usual checks through my stuff. It was at this point my stomach feel through the bottom of the train. My black nylon document wallet, containing my credit cards, sim cards and passport was not there. I checked under the seat, down the sides and 20 other places there was no way it could have been. Finally, sure that it wasn’t on the train, I exited the train to the platform where my friends were waiting for me.
Seeing the panic on my face they began to enquire what was wrong. I’m pretty sure all they got back from me was a string of worried expletives. I tried to retrace my steps, I was sure I had it when I checked out from the hostel. And if it wasn’t on the train, then I must have either dropped it at the train station or on the bus. I then began to frantically try and recall the details of the bus. What was the number of that route? Who operated it? They hadn’t given us tickets and in my panic I couldn’t even recall what colour it was. I tried to google the bus route but was met with websites and timetables in Chinese.
It was here, in my darkest hour, that the hero of this piece emerges. I met Benson in a dorm I was staying in a few nights before. He was American and his family were originally from China. He both spoke, and read, Chinese and had already helped us on numerous occasions navigating menus and negotiating with locals. Benson somehow managed to track down the bus company, find their customer services phone number and explain to them what had happened in Chinese. He left his number with the company and I booked the first fast train back to Fangliao to go and search.
And that’s how we left it. I said goodbye to the guys and jumped back on the train. I sat in the seat, my head whirling with the ramifications of what was unfolding. I was supposed to be meeting my girlfriend in Manila in the Philippines in 2 days and with no passport, she would end up there on her own. A new passport meant 6 weeks of waiting in Taiwan and an emergency passport meant flying back to the UK and most likely an end to my trip, 6 months earlier than we planned. After so many countries, so many miles of local busses, boats and mopeds, our journey was going to end like this. It was almost too much to take.
And then it happened. Our group Facebook chat sprung to life and there on my screen were some of the greatest words anyone has every sent me. “They found it.” The bus company had located the bus and contacted the driver. The icing on the cake was that the driver would be passing back through the train station about an hour after I arrived. Having drunk one of the most joyful coffees of my life, I managed to pick up my passport and head back to Taitung in time to meet my friends for dinner. This is us at dinner that night.
It’s so crazy that life forked so dramatically today. There were two paths ahead of me and fate, karma or whatever you want to call it dictated which I was to go down. At that point, it was totally out of my control. And yet I am lucky enough to be able to continue on this incredible journey. To whoever, or whatever, was looking after me that day, thank you.