Over eight months of travel, I hadn’t lost anything. By keeping my two bags to a combined weight of 20 kilos, I could easily carry everything while maneuvering through busy Asian markets, massive airports, and chaotic transit systems. So when I realized that I had lost my phone on my second day in Australia, I was dumbfounded.
Twenty minutes into my Contiki introductory meeting at the Ibis Hotel in Alice Springs, I realized my iPhone was missing. I just had it 30 minutes earlier in the kitchen of my hostel. Between there and the Ibis Hotel was only two kilometers, a taxi ride, and subsequently, a tonne of unanswered questions. I was sick to my stomach with the thought that somehow I had so carelessly lost my phone. Having just met the other people on my Contiki tour, I was reluctant to admit my folly and ask for help. Unfortunately, or fortunately, my panic gave me away. Immediately Blair, a very kind (and as I would later discover, a little wild - but in a good way) Kiwi, offered me her phone to try the application "Find my phone". However, in order for it to work, the lost phone must be connected to the internet. Having not purchased data in Australia, the application was rendered useless. In a last ditch attempt, we decided to send my phone a text message. If it somehow connected to the internet, the message "Phone lost. Please call ####" would appear on the home screen. The number was Zara’s, a sweet Brit who had an Australian phone number.
When our introductory meeting ended, our group was taken into the downtown of Alice Springs to explore. As soon as the bus parked I hopped off and without a word raced back to my hostel to see if anyone had found my phone. Not knowing my problem, Mark the Contiki tour manager would later confess that he was more than a bit perplexed by my strange behaviour that day. The hostel, the taxi company, and the police station turned up nothing. I began to accept that my phone was gone for good.
At this point, I needed to figure out how to get a new phone, and more importantly, a camera before we left for the barren outback and arguably some of the most beautiful sights in Australia. This would have been fairly straightforward in a city but we were in the great "metropolis" of Alice Springs where the need for decent technology is minimal. Dread was sinking in.
While I deliberated about what to do, my Contiki tour kept moving. That afternoon, we visited the Alice Springs Reptile Centre. While people squirmed and squealed as lizards were placed into their hands, Zara's phone rang. She stepped out to take the call but soon returned with a confused look and beckoned for me to join her. While it was difficult to understand the thick Australian accent of the Indigenous man on the other end of the line, we gathered that he had my phone. How had he found my phone? How did he know Zara’s phone number? (We had forgotten that we put her number in the text message.) Curious Reptile Centre staff looked-on. We quickly enlisted their help as they were more easily able to understand what he was saying. They asked him where he had found the phone. "By the creek", he said. The creek? Alice Springs only has one ‘usually dry’ (read: always dry) Todd River. The next task was to find out how I could get the phone back. The Reptile staff deciphered that the man was in an Indigenous camp, oddly, near the Reptile Centre. As close as it was, however, I couldn't go alone. I also had to get back before the tour bus left. As luck would have it - a third Reptile Centre employee, Greg, offered to drive me there and make sure I got back, both safely and quickly.
We drove through the camp trying to locate the street name. Of course, no streets had signs – at least none that were still standing. Finally, we were waved over by a few people standing outside a “house” (using this term in the most liberal way). There on the front veranda was an old man sitting on his walker with my phone in his hand. He gave it to me with a warm smile. I could hardly believe that I had my phone back. I thanked him profusely. The screen was smashed but it still worked. I tried getting more information from him as to where he found it but the language barrier was too great. I handed him a bit of money (lent to me by Greg as I had not brought my wallet along), and thanked him again.
Greeted to cheers from my fellow travellers, none of us could believe that I had both lost and found my iphone within hours. Later, I would check my email to discover that the “Find my phone” app had in fact been activated. Whomever had my phone happened to walk by a restaurant where I had gone the night before and used the wifi. As the wifi password was already programmed into my phone, my phone connected to it just long enough for the message with Zara’s phone number to be sent through to the screen. Had that person not walked by that particular restaurant, I’m certain that my phone would have never been returned.
Two months later, I find it increasingly difficult to use my phone due to the smashed screen but when I think of replacing it, I think of the story it tells. It reminds me of the ladies on my Contiki trip who didn't know me but offered up their own phones and reassuring words without hesitation. It reminds me of the kind Reptile Centre employees who went out of their way to help me safely retrieve my phone. And of course, it reminds me of the old man sitting on his veranda who handed me my phone asking for nothing in return. While I still have no idea how I lost my phone, what is certain is that this is a story of being lost and found: the Australian way.