26/10/2019 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad
After being robbed the only thing to do was try to get replacements for all my stuff. First port of call had to be the British Embassy in Buenos Aires which involved a seven-hour overnighter on the train. Fortunately, it was very cheap to the point of totally shaming the rail networks in the UK. 200 miles, in old money, for less than a fiver! It was also extremely comfortable with a huge, reserved seat and a buffet car that sold food and drink of a more than ok quality and without the ‘you are taking the piss’ prices that are prevalent on trains ‘back home’.
The only concern I had was would I be able to successfully meet up with Pablo, a great friend of Lisandro’s, who had offered to put me up at his home and take me around the city to get the replacement process started. I had been shown a picture of Pablo but he looked like so many other guys here, and remember Buenos Aires has around 9 million inhabitants. I took great care in describing to Lisandro what I would wear so he could relay this to Pablo and where we might meet. Pablo’s positivity, which became very evident the moment we did meet, was such that he stated that it would be impossible for him to NOT recognise a gringo at Retiro station.
Even though I was a bit apprehensive about the possibility of something going wrong and not meeting up with Pablo and being in BA with very little cash and a police report regarding the theft as my only ID, we recognised each other immediately and a traveller’s bond was formed in an instant. He had brought along the lovely Gina, as a translator, which was a tremendous idea as Pablo’s English is a lot less than my Spanish and despite my requests for him to speak more slowly, his enthusiasm for life is such that his speech, and pretty much everything else is done at a thousand kilometres an hour.
First port of call was The Embassy and we had to look lively as the lazy bastards there only work in the mornings, so we hot footed it across BA via the subway which was as busy as. When we arrived I was shown to a desk where a lady told me she would call the passport office in England and I could take the call on a phone in the reception area. The phone rang and I picked it up and realised straight away that it was going to be a problem. The volume was so low I could hardly make out which numbers to press and it was made worse by the TV right behind me showing BBC world news reporting on the countless stabbings happening in Blighty which made my mere gunpoint robbery seem a bit tame.
With such difficulty hearing the options I pressed the wrong button and could only just make out a list of charges which I didn’t need to know. With message complete the line just went dead. I then had to ask to be connected again but the lady who put the call through first time was having a manicure or doing some urgent flower arranging and I had to wait for, what seemed an eternity. Eventually I’m put through again after asking for the volume on the TV to be turned off. (I had checked to see if the volume on the phone could be increased but it was bolted to the stand it sat on. They obviously have a lot of thieves working there)
Don’t you just hate those automated messages telling you to press this and press that? What about some bloody action eh? When I did get a connection and could hear, but only just, this one started with, ‘If you would like to hear the following options in Welsh, press 1’. My thought was, ‘actually I’d rather have my testicles connected to the national grid’, so I pressed 2. Then it went on, ‘to have your testicles connected to the national grid, press 1, to be waterboarded, press 2, to have red not needles inserted in your eyeballs, press 3, to be hung drawn and quartered, press 4, to have your toenails ripped out with pliers, press 5, to speak to a human being press 4867294055167389’ This is not just a criticism of the passport office but all other large organisations who are total cheapskates. Pay someone to answer the bloody phone and things would be much better!
Eventually after just holding on and pressing nothing a voice came on the line and started with the usual questions. I was still having great trouble hearing and despite my massive frustration I, very politely, informed the lady that I couldn’t hear her very well and could she speak up. She hung up, the bastard! After a third call I found out that my options were to get an emergency travel document (but how to pay for it?) and go back to the UK, or get a passport sent to Argentina after applying online. Immediately I begin to imagine the hell that is trying to get a new passport with no credit/debit cards and, more importantly, no phone. In conclusion, the British Embassy in Buenos Aires, and I’m sure UK Embassies worldwide, will only be useful in the event of death, which I was now starting to wish for! Also, the lack of a phone these days pretty much means that no-one believes you exist. Surely no-one can be real if they don’t have a phone? ‘Actually, I used to have one but it was taken off me by an arsehole with a gun……capiche?’
We left the Embassy with me wishing the whole place would vaporise as soon as we were far enough away to be able to enjoy the spectacle and it began to dawn on me that I was in a large dollop of the smelly stuff. I had not lost all my money, I did have some that was hidden about my person. I won’t divulge the exact whereabouts but a clue would be to say it was the first time in my life I wished I was a centipede. Pablo and Gina were very positive though, and they took me to Pablo’s place where I was introduced to the family and told that their house was my house for as long as it took to sort stuff out. It then appeared that I had become a premium member of an exclusive club of cycle tourists who had been robbed at gunpoint. There were, apparently, a number of associate members who had only been robbed at knifepoint but they were all cool, people and willing to help in whatever way they could. Pablo called everyone and very soon I had been given an old phone and a cable so I could charge my iPad, the only problem being the phone was an old Samsung and I would have to learn how to use it. Me being me, that was going to be tough but ‘gifthorse’, ‘mouth’ etc…………..
The online passport application process is a nightmare! To pay for a new passport you need a credit card. My new card had turned up at my daughter’s house in England pretty quickly and I asked her to send me all the relevant numbers in 3 separate emails for security, and then, maybe, I could pay for the passport and that issue would be on the way to being sorted. I entered all the numbers and the screen then told me my bank would send me a code via a text to my phone so I could authorise the payment. Of course, the text would be sent to the phone which now I don’t have!
Then I emailed a mate in England and explained my predicament. He emailed me his card details (different bank) and I tried again. To authorise that payment, I had to access the app for his bank which of course I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, do. I then sent a message to my bank through online banking explaining my predicament and asking for a solution. I was told it would be possible to change my phone number so I could receive the authorisation code on my new phone. I could do it online but I would need to have my debit card in my card reader to receive another code. Yes, I have my card reader but my debit card is in England. You really couldn’t make this shit up!
Now I really put my foot down and sent a strongly worded message suggesting that by being able to send a message through online banking it would mean that I had passed security and I was, actually, ME! Therefore, there should be no problem in me being able, via this type of message, to authorise the change of phone number without cards and readers. Eventually I got a message back (the system takes up to 48 hours) telling me that someone would ring me, take me through security and then my phone number could be changed. Wonderful. I waited and waited and no call came through. I went online and checked to see if there were messages for me and yes there were, telling me that calls had been made but no connection was possible.
I felt I had no choice but to dip into my remaining cash and put some credit on my phone and call the bank myself. I tried that, but after being unable to get any connection I received a message from Movistar, in Spanish, which told me I had to register the new SIM card. After the process was explained to me by Pablo’s Mum and Sister it seemed that for me to ‘register’ it involved me sending them a selfie with me holding my passport! Catch 22 or what? No passport = no phone. No phone = no credit cards. No credit cards = no passport! Again, you couldn’t make it up.
I eventually got the phone registered in Pablo’s name and made the call. By the time I’d had my testicles connected and then disconnected from the national grid, then passed security, we had just reached the point where I was dictating the new number. I got to +54 9 11 and my credit ran out and the line went dead! Pablo, sensing I was about to self combust, got the house phone and told me to use that and don’t worry about the cost.
Now it seemed as if I could make the payment for my new passport but the next hurdle was going to be getting a satisfactory photo done. Pablo took me to a photographic place but one look at the ‘background’ that they wanted me to sit in front of was enough to tell me that it wasn’t going to work. We headed back to the house and Pablo and I, with a lot of google translate and sign language started to try and get a photo of the required quality.
To get a plain, light coloured background, with no shadows on my face or behind me was a nightmare. (I really wanted the thief who had caused me all this grief to appear so I could connect his testicles to the national grid and much worse) Eventually we got something close to what was required by me climbing a high step ladder and Pablo, camera in hand, with one leg on the ladder and another on a bed. It really was like a game of aerial twister, but we got a photo that was the best of a very bad bunch and although I was convinced it wouldn’t be accepted I was going to try and I submitted it along with my application.
It turns out that despite my lack of confidence the photo was accepted and my new passport is on route, along with credit and debit cards, to Embalse where I arrived at my new Workaway placement. Huge thanks to Lisandro and Barbara, (who passed her English exam at a canter) Pablo and his entire family, not forgetting, Gina, Tommy and Esquiel who all helped keep my spirits up at an extremely difficult time. I’m still hoping that the bastard who robbed me bought some really bad drugs and died a slow painful death along with all his family. That I would have liked to have watched. Thanks also to me old mucker back in Blighty who, as a retired senior policeman, was able to confirm to the passport office that I was me! He did send me a WhatsApp message saying that, in reply to the question, ‘how do you know this person’ he’d written that he’d locked me up! With friends like that eh?
Enough for now, thanks as always for reading this far and may the Flying Spaghetti Monster go with you.
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward