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Russell Hemmings life lessons through a lens

Going loco down in...Cancun (or expect the unexpected)

I’ve always had a touch of the wanderlust. I love travelling and I like it even better when I get to immerse myself in the culture of the local people and really learn something new. Sometimes, as a tourist, it’s easy to become detached from what is real and what is projected for your benefit and enjoyment. Anyway, I was honoured to be invited to a client’s wedding recently. You might remember her. She was the lady who had decided to make some real changes in her life after she felt embarrassed because an airline seatbelt wouldn’t fasten around her and she was offered a special one for obese people. I had helped her achieve her target weight and she was delighted to be able to fit into her dream wedding dress.

So it was going to be wonderful to be able to be part of her special day and to cap it all off, the wedding was going to take place in Mexico, so I would have chance to take a little break too. What could be more perfect?

Stepping off the plane, I was filled with that lovely sense of there being good times awaiting me all to be shared with lovely people. Of course, then practical thoughts kicked in and I had to get through passport control and then find a taxi to take me to my hotel, but I was determined that none of these things were going to puncture that holiday feeling. Everything went smoothly, and in no time I was in the back of the taxi, navigating the chaotic, but colourful Cancun rush hour, my hunger compass directing me towards sampling some of that wonderful Mexican food! Luckily, my driver could speak pretty good English, and he generously took the time to point out things of interest on the way, as well as giving me some much welcome ‘insider information’ about what to see and where to eat.

The hotel was everything the website had promised it would be and as I stepped out of the car to take in the view, I took a deep breath and was rewarded with the evening scents coming from the wonderful array of tropical plants that surrounded the entrance. Eager to get settled in, and after saying goodbye to my brief, but very helpful travelling companion, I grabbed my bags and headed for reception.

The smiling receptionist welcomed me and then went through the formalities. “If I could just have your passport sir,”…and then it hit me. My trusty old leather satchel, which had my passport, my phone and my money in it, was still on the back seat of the taxi. My attention had been so diverted by the experience and the wonderfully warm day-dreamy holiday feeling that I’d done the very thing all of the tourist websites warn you not to do; I’d taken my eye off the ball.

I can’t tell you how gutted I was. Not only was there the enormous headache of losing my passport in a foreign country and all that would entail, but I felt so heartbroken to lose my phone and some other personal affects that were I always take away with me. Sentimental things, not worth anything in insurance terms, but worth so much to me. No insurance company was ever going to be able to replace the photos stored in my phone. I really could have kicked myself!

Thoughts of many long hours spent filling in forms in the local embassy started to replace those dreams of relaxation and enjoyment and the initial euphoria of being on holiday was rather swiftly replaced with a mixture of sadness and frustration. Despite running out of reception in the vain hope of catching the taxi driver (I knew in my head he’d sped off pretty soon after dropping me off, but we often automatically do these things out of panic when situations like this come out of nowhere), deep down I knew I’d never get my things back. After all, this was Mexico. I’d heard all the tourist warnings and now I was inclined to believe them!

The hotel called the police, but their CCTV hadn’t picked up a number plate, and the car just looked like the thousands of others that service the airport. After statements had been taken and the news broken that there was probably very little they could do, I went to bed feeling rather dejected.

Despite the unsettling events, I slept well, but was abruptly awoken by the telephone beside my bed. Groggy with sleep, it took a little time for me to process that someone was waiting for me in reception. I wasn’t expecting anyone, so I assumed it might be another visit from the police, got dressed and made my way down. At reception I was directed to a man sitting in the lobby and as I walked towards him, it dawned on me who he was and a great big relieved smile spread across my face. Here was my taxi driver and lo and behold, here was my trusty old bag. I think I probably momentarily overwhelmed him with my response of pure joy at the sight, but finally he got the chance to tell me his name was Carlos and that he hadn’t returned it sooner as I had been his last customer and he’d then driven home and gone to bed after then end of a long shift. It was only when cleaning out the car the following morning that he happened upon my bag. I asked him to stay for breakfast and he regaled me with stories of how many times he’d been in this situation and how common it was for him to be returning forgotten bags!

After we’d said our goodbyes, I had time to reflect. I’d gone to Mexico to go to the wedding, but also in the hope of new experiences too. For me, as I’ve got older, I’ve begun to prioritise the experience over the material. It’s a personal thing, but I get much more out of doing things than having things. It makes me happier and I realized that in just one day, I’d achieved what I hoped. I’d definitely had an experience and I’d almost certainly learned from it! Yes, I’d learned to pay more attention, but I’d also learned a more valuable lesson; try to avoid making snap judgements. I’d assumed that the taxi driver would have driven off into the sunset with my bag and I’d never see it again. I’d basically assumed the worst and so Carlos’ actions made me think about all of those times when people automatically look for the negative.

Like when a text isn’t returned and you instantly feel slighted or when you are suspicious of a potential ulterior motive. I’m not saying the world is all cuddly and fluffy and nothing bad ever happens – of course it does, but I think we all have to be careful not to use negativity to shape our realities. That internal monologue that tells you you’re not good enough or that you don’t deserve to be happy or that you’re a failure, shapes your behavior and your choices and takes you down paths that only end up confirming all those negative things that you suspected in the first place.

So, I’d like to thank Carlos for reminding me that most people are good and just trying to get on with their lives the best way they can. For reminding me that faith in humanity is sometimes a scarce resource, but where we can see the good in people then it’s more likely to produce positive outcomes. And of course I’d also like to thank him, because his honourable actions meant that I was able to thoroughly enjoy my time in Mexico.

I look back at my eleven-year-old self and realise that life can sometimes be fabulous and sometimes it can be a struggle or sometimes it can simply be ‘mundane but necessary’, but it’s always about the experience and that is where all the learning takes place.

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