When the Unexpected happens…What I learned

A conversation to have with yourself when the worst is over

Here’s part 2 of the story I wrote last week about our scary volcano trip.  If you missed the first part, you can read it here.  And stay tuned for the end to know the real learnings in this adventure.  

I left off when we looked in the back of the truck and it was completely empty.

Where was my backpack?  My purse?  Did they unpack it with the other guests at the last hotel?  For a fleeting moment, I thought, you know, we’ll get our stuff back.  It will just be inconvenient.  I’ll have to just suck it up and sleep in my clothes tonight. 

The driver said he would bring us our bags the next day.  Before we left for the airport. 

Right.  I believed him.  What else to do at this point?

There was no one at the hotel which was dark and locked up tightly.  The owner had apparently given up on us as we were the only guests that night and he’d gone home.   

Hidden Pleasures Resort near the volcano

Our hotel which was locked up tight

Once again, adventure. Boiling pots.

We just wanted to get back to the airport for the flight back the next day.  Please.  I just wanted to see my granddaughters again. 

The three men searched in darkness, to see if they could find someone to let us in our room.  Oddly, they found a set of keys on a ledge somewhere & opened up one of the rooms for us.  So bizarre but welcome.

That night lying in bed, staring at the ceiling of the tiny thatched roof, under the mosquito net that draped around us,  my husband and I wondered, well, who knows we’re here?  Will someone come to take us to the airport? 

We had no food, no water, just ourselves.  We fell into an exhausted but fitful sleep while we waited until daylight. 

The morning arrived and we discovered we were right by the ocean, in a beautiful landscape with palm trees, tropical blue seas and black coral.

We found the dining room and saw that there were two coffee cups and a place setting waiting for us. 

young woman with bright shiny teeth

The daughter of the owner of the hotel with her baby boy

At 7:30 am a young woman with a bright smile and very white teeth appeared and welcomed us to breakfast. 

She told us her father was the owner of the hotel and that they had all wondered when they had gone to the airport to pick us up “what had happened to us.”

She also mentioned that she had forgotten her keys the afternoon before & left them on a ledge.

It was nice to have the fresh papaya and coffee.  And homemade bread.

Breakfast of papaya & bread

Breakfast of papaya and bread.

At least we wouldn’t starve.  And the potential for being boiled in a pot seemed much diminished. 

The end of the story is that we got to the airport on time and returned from our journey safe and sound. 

It is now 8 weeks later and we have not seen the backpack or my purse.

My ex-husband, Robert, is a member of Parliament in Vanuatu. He has spoken to the Member of Parliament from Tanna.  A police report has been filed and my son has made numerous calls to try to locate the stolen possessions.

Just 2 days ago, Robert wrote to say that a new saga had developed.  The police investigated and discovered the house where the backpack may be. They were planning to make a raid on the house when the lead policeman had an appendicitis attack and had to be rushed to the hospital.  Honest, I’m not making this up.  You have to laugh.  

I still have hope that some of it will be returned to us.  Why I have hope I can’t say.  But it could happen.  I am still hopeful.

This was an expensive learning opportunity so I want to make sure I get every bit of it.  

I have been through a range of emotions from anger and sadness, to grief and blaming myself. Ultimately it has been important to realize it was an adventure and that we didn’t end up in a boiling pot somewhere on a remote island. 

I always come back to one thing. 

That we came back safe and unharmed.  That we had each other.  That things could have turned out so differently. 

If there had been any intention to harm us for any reason, I would not be writing this story today.  And my family would only know that we visited the volcano and after that no one would know what had happened to us. 

One part of me still has not let go entirely.  I have thought why did I take so much stuff with me?  I didn’t even need most of the things in the bag. We were gone overnight, for 24 hours, not on an extended sabbatical.  What was I thinking? 

I  thought of the disparity in the expatriates and tourists who go there to this place where people are so poor.  And I know that they would have delighted in finding the $500 in my wallet. 

And too, I am beyond grateful that I remembered to take out my passport and my military ID before we left. Had I not, I would not have not been able to get back into Japan or leave the islands.  Vanuatu does not have a American Embassy.  So much to learn when you travel.

There is always learning in something like this if you want there to be.  And I do.

I choose to focus on the fact that we came back from the volcano without harm, how lucky we were, and that it was a big adventure. 

I choose to not harbor any grudges about the people who stole our stuff. 

I choose to see it as part of our adventure although my husband  has a slightly less benevolent attitude toward the “adventure.”

Also, a big part of it is about forgiveness.  Not so much for the people who took our stuff, but for myself. 

I have to let go and stop blaming myself that we got into the wrong vehicle, that I didn’t know which hotel we were staying at, that I took so many valuable things with me I didn’t need, and that I let my guard down when I shouldn’t have. 

Cameras, money, and purses can be replaced.  It’s a hassle.  It’s disrupting.  It’s expensive but it can be fixed.  I discovered I could indeed live without my makeup. And that I could buy more if I wanted.

I am choosing now to forgive myself, to forgive the thieves and to learn from this incredible experience.  And actually, I choose to go there all over again. 

And I choose not to let this experience dampen my love of travel & adventure.  There.

Vanuatu azure seas

The view from our hotel

When have you had something stolen from you?  How did you handle it?

What did you learn about yourself? About life?

Join the conversation below.

I’d love it if you’d share on Facebook or email this post to a friend. 

Share hereFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailFollow meFacebooktwitterpinterestinstagram


  1. Jo, I’ve never been in that sort of remote situation that went south. I certainly hope I would handle it as well as you did. You inspire.

    • Jo Hatcher says:

      Hey Leila, see Jerry’s comment. He’s had a lot of instances that were dicey and he’s still traveling! I know you and I know you would handle it with grace. You handle so many other challenges in life that I truly admire.

  2. Jerry Magaro says:

    Thanks for sharing your story Jo. I’ve done a lot of traveling and I do value the adventure of it all. Of course, it would be nice to be spared from having valuable things stolen or making “stupid” decisions that cause anguish.

    I had a wallet with $500 cash and credit cards picked out of my front pocket while riding the metro in Paris. I was with a friend who insisted that we get on an overcrowded subway car. I regretted not following my instinct by not getting on the car but succumbed to the pressure to follow my friend. I stopped payment on the credit cards and was able to borrow some money from my friend.

    Many years ago while traveling in Asia, I met a man on a bus in Bangkok, Thailand who wanted to take me to visit his Buddhist temple. We took a small boat and visited many enchanting and distant places far away from the city of Bangkok where i met the man. We visited his temple and had lunch and I had a very good time. I paid for our lunch a gesture of appreciation. When we returned he had no money to help pay for the boat trip so I paid. I was charged an exorbitant sum of money for such a trip and later realized I had been scammed. Like you, I was grateful it was not worse. I could have been killed or kidnapped or had my camera and other valuables stolen.

    In India I stayed at an ashram at Bod Gaya where the Buddha found enlightenment. I was invited to the director’s place for dinner. When I returned to my room I found over $400 of American Express Travelers checks had been stolen. The director did not believe me and thought I was trying to scam the ashram. I had a hard time filing a police report of the incident. Among other things, the police were looking for a bribe when I already had very little money left.

    One can get a distorted view of people in the world by unfortunate incidents such as these. While traveling there have been countless times when an “angel” appears out of nowhere to offer me help, whether it is giving directions, offering hospitality, guidance, friendship, and generosity in so many ways. No matter where I have been, I believe people are essentially good, generous and kind. It is important to exercise wisdom and discretion when making decisions but we are not always right. I am not dissuaded from traveling by a few unfortunate experiences. They have been rare and I hope I have learned from them.

    • Jo Hatcher says:

      Wow, Jerry, what stories you have. I have never experienced a pickpocket and imagine it could be quite disconcerting. How inspiring it is to hear you say that you have experienced the very wonderful things, too, and that it doesn’t deter you from travel and adventure. So true that one has to use discretion & wisdom while traveling. I love that you also have learned from these experiences. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Speak Your Mind


%d bloggers like this: