Hi. It’s been awhile. I was on a forced digital detox. Not because I needed it (ok, maybe a little), but because in last month in Indonesia, in one second of bad judgement I lost every piece of technology we had.
- Macbook Air
- 1TB harddrive with the backups = ALL our photos from the last 10+ months of traveling.
GONE. Add to top it off, my glasses (annoying), full journal, and all my beloved travel jewelry. GONE. Can you say DEVASTATING!?!? There really are no words for how I felt at that moment….worst. day. ever.
I’ll spare you empathetic souls the feelings of shared agony by telling you how this story ends. The bag of precious goodies traveled 400km across the island of West Timor, and without knowing where it was, we traveled 1500 km in the opposite direction via a 2 hour flight back to Bali.
Twenty-four days passed, and by a miracle facilitated by 7 perfect strangers (“picked to live in a house”…no , sorry, wrong strangers) I had no clue existed last month, WE GOT IT ALL BACK.
This is a story of karma, of trust in the good of humanity, and of inspiration to look for opportunities to pay it forward and do your part to help someone when you can.
- Charysty – The Good Samaritan, cell phone store worker
- Dom – The Groom
- Todd – The Best Man
- Matt – The Pilot
- Dominggus – The Fixer
- Mr Willy – The SUV Driver? The Buyer? The Middle Man? The Mystery.
- Eleksia – The Mule
- Find My iPhone & Skype – The Technology
The Rookie Move
It all started with the damn ferry. We’d arrived in the dirty port town of Kupang, West Timor the night before knowing we had to overnight to catch the morning ferry to our surf mecca destination. After waiting four hours in an empty ferry terminal we realized this ferry ain’t leavin, so we hoofed it up the hill to the road in search for a taxi, backpacks and surf boards in tow. No taxis today either apparently.
Within 5 minutes a black SUV pulled up with a father and son in the front, wife in back and offered us a ride. As Eric loaded the back of the car, I let the woman help me load in by handing her one of the small daypacks. Critical mistake. I allowed her to take the bag off my hands and put it in the seat behind her. I THOUGHT it was going in the back with the other bags, but I learned later it was a third row of seats. Whoops.
As we pulled up to the hotel, I was so concerned with sorting out the cancelled ferry situation that I bolted into the hotel and left Eric to unload the bags. He did so, counting the bags he was responsible for, paid the driver and let him drive off. Within minutes we realized the backpack was missing, and I held my breath as I opened the second backpack, a twin of the other, praying the one lost wasn’t the one I’d just stuffed ALL the valuable goodies into. And with a crushing wave of loss, I realized it was. In one careless moment it was all GONE.
I ran to hotel driveway hoping to see the black SUV turning around waving me down. They were gone. That’s about the point where I started sobbing on the side of the road…
The Private Jet and the Wedding Party
Meanwhile Eric was trying to sort out a plan inside. He’d booked us back into the hotel for another night and was talking to a group of Aussie surfers who were in the same predicament. Two of them were regulars to the island. Damo, “The Groom”, was getting married there in 4 days. They had inside info that the ferry wouldn’t run for another four days due to wind. Strike two. Being the groom, Damo had to get there. No waiting for the wind for this Aussie. He held a cell phone to each ear, wheeling and dealing to try and charter a plane to the island. It would cost $2500 AUD and they needed more passengers to fill the plane.
At this point I was over any surfing agenda, I hated Kupang, I hated Timor and I wanted to get back to my happy place in Bali. Screw the ferry, screw the surf, just get me my stuff back! And strangely, within a few hours, it lifted. Somehow I started to let go a little, it’s just stuff. We have our health, nobody got hurt, and I have my memories. As my friend Teri said in her blog post about my story, I was “trying to be brave”. Damo’s plane became a reality, he had enough people to make it affordable, and we had to make a decision quickly to secure a spot. Screw it, we won’t let them ruin our trip, and I’m sure as hell not staying in Kupang for 4 days – so we left contact information with the hotel in case the bag turned up, and went for it.
I questioned this decision for weeks, but it ended up being the most important decision we made.
As we boarded the plane I saw they’d removed 4 seats to make room for the boards, now this is a surf trip! Our pilot caught wind that E & I were from CA and came around to introduce himself. Enter “The Pilot”, Matt, from Fresno. He plays a part later, but with a different haircut, remember him. Aside from the fact our landing was the windiest, sketchiest I’ve ever witnessed and at one point I saw the landing strip out my side window as we were about to touch down, the trip was uneventful. I’ll fly anywhere with Matt, the man’s got skills.
Eleven days in paradise were epic. I’m not allowed to talk about the surf or how awesome it was lest the word get out, so shhhhh!! Eric may even make me replace the name with “secret island” before I publish this, we’ll see. We got to know Damo, John, Todd “The Best Man”, and the gang over many surf sessions, sunsets and Bingtangs and Damo invited us to the wedding. It was gorgeous. One day at breakfast I look up and guess who’s there? Pilot Matt! The Gods were good to him, not only is he a brilliant pilot, but he’s a talented photographer. He shot this epic photo of Eric – nuff said. He rocks. Here’s his website if you want to check out his portfolio.
I’d left instructions with the hotel to contact me via email if anyone returned it, showed them the sister backpack and got a translation of “return for reward” in Bahasa for my Find IPhone message. Using someone’s phone hotspot I called several times but nobody knew what I was talking about. #frustrating I remote locked and erased all the devices through Find IPhone and waited. At least they were password protected. I mourned, I let go, I got generous offers from friends we’ve met along the way to have their photos and from friends back home to have their laptops. I love my friends.
The Persistent Best Man
Todd and John went back to Australia, Todd wasn’t giving up. I posted this photo with the announcement on Instagram of what had happened. At this point I had stopped hoping. But Todd reopened the case. He had me at “I have a local fixer”. So we send over this photo and a description of what was in the bag, and the few bits we can remember from the SUV and family.
Find My iPhone FTW
Back in Bali two weeks later sitting at breakfast on Bingin Beach I get an email: And then…
HOLY SHIT!! Do they have the other stuff? What do I do now?? Call “The Fixer” of course! So I reach out to Todd in Australia who gives me his number. Next thing I know I’m firing up Skype and call him up, get his email, and our correspondence began. And then I get this sketchy one from Charysty: This is about the time I started to get nervous about “The Fixer”. Until that moment it was sort of a joke, we laughed about the Indonesian Harvey Keitel. But we’d heard some disturbing stories about what happens to people who steal in West Timor, and suddenly and IPad wasn’t worth anyone getting hurt over. Charysty had given me the cell phone # though…what did he expect would happen…do we abort mission??
The Social Network Cheerleaders
By now I’m posting snippets to Facebook and my friends are cheering for us and also worried we are stepping into some shady deal trap. As Todd quoted so perfectly later on Instagram
And then, the best email of all…
“You should be The Fixer”
I knew in my gut that if the bag got to Kupang, to Dominggus or his sister, I would get it back. At that point it would just be about logistics. So who else do I call, but my new pilot friend Matt! Matt had his “pilot network” ready to go so that when the bag got to Kupang, he would arrange to get it on a flight to Bali. Three cheers for Pilot Matt!
At this point my friend Nick was visiting with us, living through the play by play as the saga unfolds. One day on the beach he turns to me and says “You should be The Fixer”. “Who else has a network of friends, “fixers” and “pilots” across Indonesia helping them recover a lost bag after a few weeks in a foreign country? This is what you do.”
Grin. Should I update LinkedIn?
From Nusa Lembongan we waited. Saturday turned to Sunday and finally we got confirmation. The Eagle had landed, and it was coming to Bali. Pilot Matt, you’re off the hook.
We hopped a speed boat to Bali, scooted to the closest BCA bank and deposited the reward/ransom money to Dominggus’ account to pay Mr Willy.
The Ransom Payment
Now we wait. Some friends were sure this was a scam, it sounded like a scam. “Deposit MILLIONS of Rupiah (hold pinky to chin) in Indonesian account and you’ll get your stuff back.” Still no photo despite my requests…so shady. But I’d met The Fixer’s sister, and I just knew they had my back, sometimes you have to trust your gut and trust in your fellow Fixers.
Back in Bali we waited again. And finally, he wrote. I called him. He said to look for a 17 yr old girl at the airport. I needed an Indonesian number she could call when she landed.
Me: “But I don’t have an Indonesian phone.”
Fixer: “Borrow one from a friend.”
Me: “I don’t have any friends here.”
Fixer: “Lisa, you have to make this easy. Go to a cell store, buy a phone for 150,000 rupiah.”
And that’s how I got my new Android phone. Which I love. Why we didn’t get an international phone 10 months ago I’ll never understand. Plan to use it in Tokyo and Europe this fall. Take a backseat painfully slow iPhone 4S!
Next thing I know I’m texting the 17 yr old mule who he’s told me to meet at the airport. She has my stuff, she’s wearing a purple tshirt and jeans! OMG this is actually happening!
We screenshot Google maps directions, throw on helmet and take off on our scooter to the airport. Then the phone craps out, then we have it fixed, then E expertly navigates nightmare traffic and white knuckled, we make it to the Denpasar airport in time.
And then the flight is delayed. I didn’t realize how anxious I was until I went to bed exhausted that night. Was this really happening? Would we complete our mission today??!?
I don’t know how I missed her since I was staring down every passenger that came through that door. She approached me from the side, “Miss Lisa?”. Clearly she didn’t know the story because she was shocked when I bear hugged her, near tears of joy. We offered to compensate her, she refused. In her bag she had our Macbook, IPad, IPod and hard drive – every last file in place. Even the GOT finale. #WINNING
And that’s it. The Good Samaritan, the Groom, the Best Man, the Fixer, the Pilot, the Bank Teller, the Mule and countless others – THANK YOU for not only helping us get our precious items back but for reminding me that people are innately good, and it’s in helping each other, even in small ways that together we can make a difference in someone’s life and to humanity as a whole.
I’ve tried to find a way to repay Charysty (who’s real name is Charles), but he says he can’t accept anything and just wants to be my friend. I now follow him on Twitter. The Fixer says to let him know anytime I’m in Kupang, and I will. Maybe someday we’ll meet in person. I hope he really does look like an Indonesian Harvey Keitel. I plan to bear hug him. Todd says to let him know if I make it to Korea, he has a Fixer there too.
Hi Lisa- This is an amazing story underscoring the best in people. It must have been beyond stressful but as your Aussie friend The Best Man points out, it was worth doing! Thanks for sharing this great adventure!:)
This is incredible!!! Reads like an adventure novel!
You should seriously consider writing a book!
I am reading this great book right now ” Glitter and glue”. I will give it to you in August. Her writing style is very similar to yours and I think it will be both entertaining as well as instructional. Love it!!!
Can’t wait to see you!!!!!
And by the way: AWSOME surfer dude photo of Eric!!!
Ps: we are at Grizzly bear cabins in Denali.
Auction tonight, home tomorrow
Sent from my iPhone