I started preparing for my return to Oaxaca on Tuesday, December 7 planning to leave Taos on Saturday, December 11 for a Monday, December 13 flight. I could not find my passport. After frantically turning my house upside down and inside out, looking in every drawer, pocket and purse six times, I was starting to panic. Friends said it would turn up. It didn’t. The last passport in hand memory was on November 11, when I returned to New Mexico through Houston. I posted an urgent HELP WHAT TO DO on Wednesday via Facebook. (This is where Facebook comes in handy and why I don’t resign from it.)
Lots of good suggestions came in, the most valuable from my friend Lew Borman from Chapel Hill, NC, who worked in government affairs for years. Call your Congressman, he advised. They will help you. They have a case worker who facilitates these things. Who would have known?
My Congresswoman is Teresa Leger Fernandez. I found office phone numbers in New Mexico and Washington, DC and left voice messages on Wednesday. I filled out the request form on her website online. I called the DC office once again and the person who answered took my information. Within the hour Carlos Sanchez called me. My choice, he said, was to go to the US Passport Agency in either Denver or El Paso, each a good five to seven hours from Taos.
(Nothing is close to Taos. Our biggest store is a mini-Walmart with no fresh food department. There is no Whole Foods, Costco or Macy’s. People love Taos because it is LOCAL and it takes some travel and effort to get consumer needs met other than via Amazon Prime. Okay, Taos is a backwater and its the price we pay to live in pristine beauty.)
Onward. I wrote Carlos saying there was a major winter storm coming through Taos and the Rockies with temps dropping to 3 degrees Fahrenheit (this is not a typo: THREE DEGREES). I said it would be wiser for me to go south even though it would add on travel time in normal conditions. I thought to myself, I don’t want to get stuck on Raton Pass in a blizzard!
Carlos got on it for me. By Wednesday afternoon, he called back to say that El Paso could fit me in at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, Thursday. Yikes, I said. I’m 75 (almost 76). I cannot drive seven hours in the dark or split the trip to leave Albuquerque at 3:00 a.m. to get to El Paso on time. Anything else? I asked. I was willing to forfeit my flight to Oaxaca on Monday, December 13 to go later. He called back at 5:00 p.m. to tell me they could take me on Friday morning at 8 a.m. and that was the only option. I took it.
So, I scrambled fast to pack Wednesday night and leave Taos Thursday morning. I stopped at Walgreen’s to get passport photos and hit the road. Even behind a tanker truck on the mountain pass, I was able to get to Santa Fe in a bit over an hour, and then on to Albuquerque in record time, where I stopped to unload groceries with my son and daugher-in-law, have lunch with them, and get back on the road to El Paso, another four hours south. I arrived just as the western sun was a glimmer in the sky.
After spending the night, I arrived at the US Passport Agency downtown, fifteen minutes early. I was the second person in line. Nora greeted me. I did not have complete documentation. I could not find a birth certificate to prove US citizenship. I could not find the hard-copy of my 2006-2016 cancelled passport, only a photocopy. It was the 2016-2026 passport that was lost. I presented my 1996-2006 and my 1984-1994 cancelled passports, along with a certified marriage certificate and drivers license (these verified all the four names I have used in my lifetime). I also presented the necessary Forms DS-11 (new passport application) and DS-64 (lost or stolen passport form). Thankfully, the 1996-2006 cancelled passport was accepted as proof. I also needed to write a signed statement about my travel plans and produce a flight Record Locator Number and proof of upcoming air travel.
Nora sent me to Miguel who interviewed me, too, and accepted my $203 credit card payment. We talked about Oaxaca and mezcal. He asked me if I knew any Zapotec words when I told him I lived in Teotitlan del Valle, too. Just Tsak-Chi (hello) and Cheech-Bay-oo (to your health).
At 8:30 a.m. I was done and told to return at 1:00 p.m. to pick-up my new passport. The new passport was ready at 11:30 a.m I was on the road to return to Albuquerque at noon and arrived by 4:00 p.m. WHEW!
This is a shout-out to the amazing Passport Agency staff in El Paso. Victoria Ryan, owner of Casa Encantada in Patzcuaro said they were the best. Shout-out to Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez, and to Lew Bortman who suggested contacting her, and to Carlos for all his help. And, to my trusty Subaru Forester that got me back safe and sound in blustery south desert crosswinds between El Paso and ABQ.
TIPS for Travel and Getting a New Passport
- Start assembling your travel documents days before your scheduled departure. Thankfully, I did this and had enough time to go to Plan B.
- Ask for advice from your network of friends.
- When you get a passport photo, be sure you DO NOT smile and be sure to REMOVE YOUR GLASSES. They did not tell me do this at Walgreen’s, and the passport agent kindly retook my photo.
- Fully print out and complete the DS-11 and DS-64 forms. DO NOT SIGN THEM. You need to sign in front of the agent.
- Keep your passport tucked away in a safe place. Don’t keep your purse open (like I did — I’m sure it fell out somewhere in transit on November 11). Protect it like it was your most precious possession.
- If you need help with a federal agency, contact your Congressional representative. They know how to help. It’s their job!
- check your passport for expiration date. Most countries require at least 6 months remaining before expiration date in order to enter the country.
Thanks for listening and safe travels. See you in Oaxaca on Monday, December 13. Hallelujah!