Lost and Alone in a Foreign City- Learn from my Mistakes

By September 7, 2013Uncategorized

It all began so innocently, we were to get off the bus in Mytilene, Greece on the island of Lesbos.  We were going to see a bit of the city for about 1/2 hour prior to catching our ferry to Chios around noon.  I was with the group and coming back soon to the same bus which had all my luggage.  I left my cell phone, which I always put in airplane mode anyway when I’m in Europe.  That way I don’t get charged for incoming messages.  I had my passport, camera, cash, and credit cards with mee.  I was with our group of 25 and we began by setting out into the winding and crowded merchant section of town.

Immediately people began to dodge into bathrooms, stop at storefronts, and basically wander down the road together.  As is my habit, I began looking at the scene through my camera lens, and found lots of interesting subject matter all along the road.  I wasn’t exactly sure of our destination, I didn’t really care. That was my first mistake.

We approached an old abandoned and decayed mosque, and I heard from a friend that the interior was beautiful.  I was intrigued, and stepped onto a side street to get a better look.  I never went in, I just poked my camera through the windows.  What I saw was so engaging…abstract patterns of bricks, arches, steel rods, and soft light poking through sky holes here and there.  It was gorgeous and wanting to look at it from another angle I stepped around the side of the building without telling anyone.  That was my second mistake.

After getting some terrific shots for about 5 minutes, I came out on the street and didn’t see anyone, so I continued going down the street in the same direction toward a church we had all been photographing.  I didn’t see anyone in either direction, but I just figured I would see them around the next bend in the road.  I didn’t.

I got to the church, and figured they might be inside…they weren’t.  The church was at a fork in the road.  I went down the first fork for about 5-10 minutes…and began to panic.  Where were they??? It was such a big group, and how could I not see them???  My next thought was that they must have gone down the other fork in the road.   I began to jog.

When I got back to the church I checked inside again- nobody there.  I asked around but no one spoke English.  The other fork in the road was a possibility.   Time was not my friend at this point so I began to fun a little faster that way.

I traveled down that fork for about 5-10 minutes but it felt all wrong.  The street emptied out onto a large church and the harbor. There were buses there, but not mine.  No familiar faces.  How could this have happened?  Where were we supposed to meet?  I realized I didn’t know.  What were the contact numbers for our tour guide?  I realized I didn’t have them with me!  I left them in my backpack on the bus.  My options were limited and none of them were great.  How could I be so stupid??  I was definitely lost and alone.

I had my passport, my money, no phone, and no way to contact my group.  I did not know where exactly we were meeting our bus, although I did know where the bus had dropped us.  It was about 20 minutes away if I ran the whole way.  Perhaps that was where they were.  I could go back there, but I wasn’t sure I could get a taxi in that location if I was wrong.  There also was the possibility that they might leave without me and try to find me later.  Where would they look for me?  Would it be best to stay where they last saw me?  I began to feel panic not only for me, but for the group, knowing that there would be an uproar when they realized I was missing.  I knew they would be terribly worried about what had become of me.

At that point I had been separated from the group for about 40 minutes and I didn’t know exactly when the ferry left for Chios.  Given the deadline, and not knowing exactly where to meet them, I decided the best idea was to find my way to the ferry.  That was the one place I knew they would be.  It was the only certainty I really had.

I saw a number of taxis near the harbor when I had been there, so I decided to run there and grab a taxi  to the ferry…or ferries.  I wasn’t sure whether there was more than one. Approaching the first cab driver I poked my head in the window and asked if her spoke English.  He answered,”Yes”, so  I asked him when the next ferry was to Chios, and he said, “Tomorrow.”  I knew that was wrong, so I told him,” No, I need to go today.  When is the ferry today?”  He thought for a moment and then said,”Yes, there is a ferry in about 1 hour.”  I asked him how much to go there, and it was only 3 Euros.  That was my first piece of good news…the low price told me I was close!

I got in the cab and asked him if there were any other ferries headed to Chios today.  He said, “No.” but after his initial answer about the ferry schedule, I wasn’t completely confident of his knowledge.  He dropped me and ran to the ticket counter…nobody was there.  Some sketchy characters were hanging around the ferry station and I decided I wasn’t going to speak to them.  I rounded a corner and there was a group of ambulance personnel.  I asked if any of them spoke English.  They directed me to someone inside a trailer.

Inside the trailer, the man told me that the ferry was on it’s way and would leave for Chios in about an hour.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and realized that I was probably not lost forever.  For better or for worse, I could get myself to Chios.  I didn’t know the hotel name, but I figured that worst case, I could figure my situation out once I got there.  I went back a few times to my English speaking contact.  “Is there any other ferry leaving for Chios today?”  The answer was,” Yes, there is another leaving at 8PM.”  I knew that was not our ferry, so I figured I was in the right place.  Later on I asked,” Do any other ferry lines operate a boat to Chios?”  He assured me that this was the ONLY boat bound for Chios leaving from Lesbos today.  That was when I finally relaxed and realized that all would be well.

It was also when I allowed myself to imagine how concerned and upsetting it must have been for all the rest of my group to have me go missing.  How could I have prevented this?  What were the lessons?
I had an hour to reflect, and this is what I came up with.  Maybe you can learn from my mistake.

If you’re traveling abroad with a group on an excursion, here’s advice I learned the hard way:
1. Always have your passport, money, credit card, and PHONE with you.
2.  Inside your passport or wallet, slip a list of contact numbers pertinent to your trip.  Think about adding the numbers into your phone contacts.  I have!
3.  Know where you are to meet before you start out. Write it down.
4.  Always tell someone where you are, even if you think they know.  Travel with a buddy if possible.
5.  Wear a watch so you can keep time.

The end of the story is happy.  My bus driver found me at the ferry, and telephoned the tour leaders to let them know my whereabouts.  My biggest regret is having inconvenienced and worried my fellow travelers, but they were  incredibly generous and supportive once they found out I was ok.  Their reaction was such a balm for my frazzled nerves.  I appreciate their support more than they will ever know. Hopefully, this post may help someone else avoid finding themselves in a similar situation.

We are safely arrived on Chios and I look forward to checking the island out tomorrow…

Rebecca Zdybel
Artist, Instructor, Art-Travel Instructor
Art Lessons in all media
Myrtle Beach, SC

Spread Light, Share Love, DO Art!

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Rebecca Zdybel is an artist and instructor in Myrtle Beach, SC.  Follow her and see her work at https://rebeccazartist.com/

Author Rebecca Zdybel

Artist, Instructor, Art-Travel Instructor - Spread Light, Share Love, DO Art! Rebecca Z Artist (Rebecca Zdybel) is an artist and instructor in Myrtle Beach, SC. She blogs and teaches locally and internationally. Sign up for her blog, classes, workshops, art travel tours, or see her work at RebeccaZArtist.com.

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Keith says:

    Wow! I'm glad it wasn't me. That sounds like a really scary situation. One thing you can't help, which is typical Rebecca, is that you get caught up in the moment when viewing good art. You drift away from your surroundings… and in this case… drifted away from the tour group 🙂
    I'm glad things worked out in the end.

    • rzdybel says:

      You're so right, Keith! I am easily transported when something engages me artistically. I think having a camera which requires that I look through the lens only amplifies that problem. So easy to disengage from where I am when looking through the lens. I'm thinking about getting a different camera for just that reason. Thanks checking in!

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