When I wrote my first post about travel fuck-ups, I thought that was all of them. Later, I remembered my Phuket-poisoning. But I still forgot about the big one. The mother of all travel fuck-ups, if you will. Spoiler alert: Never put your passport anywhere near liquids in your bag. Especially when those liquids happen to be coconut oil.
While traveling Cambodia, a bottle of coconut oil opened in my bag. Unfortunately, I had previously just chucked my passport in the same compartment for some reason. The result was a completely drenched passport. I tried cleaning it up a bit, but no matter what I did, it did nothing.
The good news: the ID page of my passport was laminated. But as I quickly found out, no kinds of stamps or glue were able to attach to the oily pages anymore. While the immigration official on the border to Singapore just laughed at me and waved me through, the Indonesian officials just told me to get the hell out of their embassy. My plans for a two-months visa to Indonesia thus squashed, I smartly thought I’d just travel to Bali anyway.
My flight was already booked, and I didn’t want to rebook it just to get a temporary travel passport from the German embassy in Singapore. So fly I did, and leaving Singapore went just as smoothly as entering it. After waiting for two hours at Immigration in Bali, the border official just looked at my passport, then at me, then at my passport again, and then proceeded to wave one of his colleagues across. Said colleague brought me into an area rarely seen by tourists, where what I can only assume was a debate about my passport soon broke out among the officials there.
The main problem was that the green-ish pages of my passport, now turned dark green by the coconut oil, pretty much rendered the also dark-green immigration stamp of Indonesia pretty much invisible. Eventually they decided to just press the stamp on really hard, told me to get a new passport from the consulate and waved me through. Naturally, I did no such thing.
Instead, I read on the internet that heating up the coconut oil may convince it to dissipate from the pages of my passport. After quickly disregarding any ideas that involved stoves or open fire, I put my passport in front of a (closed) window, hoping that the hot Indonesian sun would do the rest.
When I returned a few hours later, I discovered two things. First, it had rained. Second, the window was leaking. I took my passport to find it completely drenched in water. The immigration stamp had entirely disappeared. But, as the light-headed, traveling hippie I was at the time, I consequently decided to ignore the passport situation for the time being.
Once it was time to leave Bali again for a visa run, I made sure to arrive a few ours early at the airport, assuming they may have some questions for me. So they did. Soon, I found myself in yet another rarely-seen part of the airport. The thing is, I had thought that, while the stamp had disappeared from my passport, my arrival date and personal information should still be registered in the country’s immigration system. The immigration officers, apparently, thought the same.
Imagine their (and my) surprise when it turned out that I was not registered in the immigration system at all. Instead, their last record of me was from when I left the country a year earlier, after visiting Bali for the first time. Now, everyone was confused. I got worried that they could send me to the German consulate on Bali, surely costing me my flight.
But I wondered if the immigration officers may have also been a bit worried that someone higher up could ask awkward questions about how this could have happened. My theory is that in the confusion when I entered the country, scanning my passport simply slipped everyone’s mind – I certainly don’t remember anyone doing so. Fortunately, an official from AirAsia was able to confirm that I indeed arrived on Bali in the plane and at the time I claimed I did, and I was able to leave.
Back in Singapore, I finally conceded that something needed to happen. I went to the embassy, applied for a temporary passport, and within three days I had it. So easy! They allowed me to keep my oily passport, so I decided to continue using that one, keeping the new one as a backup, just to see how far I would get.
And I got quite far, as it turned out. In fact, I never had another problem with my oily passport until my flight back to Germany, when I had to switch airports in Bangkok. There, had I not had the temporary passport from the Singapore embassy, they would not have let me through. So, it was worth it after all.
Did I learn any lessons from this? Well, there is the one I mentioned at the start – now, my passport is always safely stored in a plastic wrapper. I also learned that always knowing where all your stuff is really makes a difference when traveling (you’d think that one is obvious). But perhaps most importantly, I really noticed my travel privilege for the first time.
Try showing up with an oily Filipino passport (as Micah says), and your only choice will be to get a new one or get lost – if they don’t just send you back to The Philippines immediately. The same is probably true for the vast majority of passports out there.
But this is my story, I hope you enjoyed it. Nowadays, Micah and I still joke about my oily passport sometimes, which is probably good because it keeps me on my toes when it comes to caring for important documents.