Have you ever lived in a place where things just keep going wrong for you? We absolutely loved Chile, but we could not catch a break there! Our computer cables kept dying so Seb couldn’t work, no one had replacement cables locally, we couldn’t order new cables online–Chilean sites don’t allow foreign credit cards and receiving things from other countries was very expensive, our house would regularly not have running water, the ATM fee went from zero to 6000clp–almost $9usd!!! Since we couldn’t get a bank account without some sort of residency, we relied on ATMs to pay our rent and bills. So we were bleeding money with foreign exchange fees, ATM fees, non-traditional transaction fees (whatever that is) and we knew we had to make a change.
Planning our move to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, was one of the most stressful things I’ve been through! It would have been really simple if we had left our German Shepherd, Bruno, but there’s just no way that was gonna happen. Our friends down there all had dogs already and to be honest, most people (not including our friends!) do not treat dogs the way we do in the States or England. We often walked by a house that had 7 German Shepherds crammed in their yard, and their yard was teeny! Also, I can count on one hand how many times I saw people out walking their dog…and we lived there a year and a half!
So, yeah, he’s our buddy and we love him and he’s never leaving us!!
If you missed my last post, you can read more about the craziness of planning the trip here.
The second half of the journey should have been the fun part! Everything had been bought and paid for, Bruno was being taken care of by the pet shipper guys, we had a shuttle and a dog friendly Airbnb booked and ready to go in Mexico. Time to drink overpriced sparkling wine at an airport bar and relax!
The first problem we ran into was at the check in desk for Copa Airlines. Our flight left at 3am. We had been at the airport since around 11am when we had to drop off our rental pickup and coordinate with OWTI (pet guy company). We go to check in and they say they won’t let us on the flight. At the time of check-in, Bruno was already on his flight to Panama City. My face went pale, I could feel it. They said they would not allow us to board because we had a one way ticket to Mexico and no proof of onward travel. Airlines are hesitant to allow this because if we were to be denied entry, the airline is responsible for flying us back to our origin city. This also happened to us when we flew to Vietnam to live back in 2013, but they produced a document that we signed saying we would be responsible for ourselves if we were rejected.
We started off politely informing them that we would not hold Copa Airlines financially responsible in the event of our rejection from Mexican Immigration…and after half hour I was crying, Seb was very angry, and we were demanding to speak to the manager. We waited almost 45min for the manager, who basically told us, “No, we don’t do that” when we asked for that document relinquishing them from responsibility.
THERE’S NO FREAKING WAY I’M NOT GETTING ON THAT PLANE, LADY, MY DOG IS ALREADY IN PANAMA!!! She clearly didn’t know what we had already been through. So then we go back to the original desk agent and she wants us to buy bus tickets to Belize over the phone. We resisted, because it’s a total waste of money and we were already scraping the bottom of the barrel with this move. We go back and forth and finally Seb just told her, “Look, we need to be on that plane, there is no alternative. Let’s stop arguing and find a solution now.” Also, there was no internet in the airport so we couldn’t have bought bus tickets anyhow.
In the end, I was able to open my email and produce a confirmation number for our pre-booked shuttle…our shuttle from Cancun to Playa del Carmen…she jotted down the number and LET US CHECK IN TO OUR FLIGHT. Thank goodness!!! It didn’t make sense that a 45 min shuttle ride was enough proof of onward travel, but I did NOT care, we made it!
It wasn’t long after we sat down to wait at our gate when I realized I had left our phone charger in the wall in Chile 2 days earlier. I sent a message to my mom that we were boarding for Panama and turned the phone off.
The flights from Santiago to Panama City and then on to Cancun went smoothly (thank you, finally!) and we arrived around 11:30am. Bruno was on our flight too! We were eagerly watching the bags come in…we had no idea where we were supposed to go. Did he just come in on the conveyor with the other luggage? When we left Bruno with Daniel, the OWTI pet shipper, he said to just tell someone in customs that you have a dog on board and they will do everything when you arrive.
HE WAS SOOO WRONG!
We went to get our bags and I decided to go talk to the baggage kiosk guys to see where Bruno might be. They asked my name and when I told them, they said, “Oh, you’re here to make a claim about your lost bag?” What? NO, my dog…..they didn’t even know about the dog, but sure enough, COPA LEFT ONE OF OUR SUITCASES IN PANAMA.
I filled out the form with what I thought was the correct address of our Airbnb (more on that in a minute!) and the Airbnb host’s phone number as a contact since we didn’t have Mexican phones yet. The guys at this kiosk were very nice to me. They told us we need to go speak to Adolfo Cortes at the Copa Airlines office and they wrote down it’s location in the airport for me. They even complimented my Spanish!!! So thank you airport baggage guys, it was a breath of fresh air to be treated well!
We go talk to Adolfo, and turns out this guy was such blessing! He spoke some English and he was appalled at the ineptitude of OWTI. He told us they should have arranged for a pet broker to meet us here and take care of all the paperwork. But he would help us! We then started off on what ended up being a 6 hour ordeal to get Bruno out of customs.
I had no idea it would be this much work! I blindly followed orders and waited where I was told and produced money in exchange for a mountain of paperwork I didn’t understand. We walked soooo much! We walked to every corner of the airport and back again…twice.
All this time, we were waiting to see Bruno. We hadn’t seen him since 5pm the evening before. He’d been in his cage that whole time! I was just sick with anxiety, was he even ok? I was so mad at that OWTI guy, Daniel. No dog should have to be in their cage that long and it was because this guy was lazy and did not do his job.
On top of this, here’s a list of other things that were happening:
- Our shuttle never showed up. Pre-paid, $85 shuttle.
- ATM card not working even though we called them before and told them we are going to be in Panama and Mexico during our trip.
- Phone dead, unable to charge.
- No free wifi at the airport so I could check in with our families. I know my mom was really worried! Sorry mama!!
- The Customs office where Bruno was being held was closing at 5pm.
We were finally able to see our sweet pup after waiting for what felt like hours for the Customs Inspector. Bruno was so excited to see us! But we weren’t allowed to take him out of the cage yet, she just wanted to makes sure that yep, that’s a dog! (I’m guessing?? She literally just looked into the cage and then left.)
So we were nearing the end of this whole thing and had to start thinking about how the heck we were going to get to Playa del Carmen from there. You can’t just hop on the ADO bus when you’ve got an 85lb dog with you! I ran over to the car rental area to see if there was something we could get.
Remember how Seb doesn’t have a license? Well, I don’t have a credit card in my name. So they wouldn’t let me rent the car because…no card, and they wouldn’t let Seb either…no license! I got so frustrated I ran off and FORGOT MY DRIVER’S LICENSE THERE!
Thankfully Seb went out to arrange something with a shuttle and was able to retrieve it as well. He bartered his way onto a shuttle that would take us all for $80.
For a moment there, it looked like the Customs office was going to close and they wanted to keep Bruno OVERNIGHT. I was not having it. We were so done with all this walking, this paperwork, this (pardon me) Bullshit. Just give us our dog and get the eff out of our way.
It was after 6pm when I finally paid the last thing (whatever it was, no idea!) and got the last receipt. The office was closed. We waited and waited and banged on the door and FINALLY, someone came and let me in to finally get our Bruno!!! He was quite the popular guy with the Customs warehouse people. Six workers had stayed after the office closed to say goodbye to him.
Eek! This is such a long post! Hang in there, it’s almost done, I promise! haha
So we finally can take Bruno out of the cage. He has never been so happy!! He was a little thirsty, but he was healthy! Thank you God! Our shuttle driver was really cool and let him sit with us on the seat, rather than in the back in his cage.
OH AND GOOD NEWS! We had been at the airport so long our lost bag had arrived!!
Everything was falling into place…until we got lost! I had written the Airbnb address down wrong!!! D’OH! I couldn’t look up the correct address…dead phone! Tried to log into my email from the shuttle driver’s phone but it wouldn’t let me (We detect some unusual activity on your gmail account). After driving around and around and even getting out and knocking on a random house to ask directions, I remembered the claim receipt for the lost bag…it had our Airbnb contact number on it!!! HALLELUJAH!! Our shuttle driver called her and we found the place!
It was almost 10pm. The nightmare was finally over. And if they had never lost our bag, we might never have found our Airbnb. Things do happen for a reason!
TL;DR…almost weren’t allowed on flight, airline lost bag, credit cards not working, shuttle no show, no broker, walked 10 miles, mountain of paperwork, had to pay over $100 more, can’t rent car, yay find bag, find shuttle, can’t find house, phone dead, mind lost, emotional wreck, find host number, find house! Find peace! Hahaha 🙂
Sarah, Seb, and Bruno