From Isla Mujeres to Chichen Itza – A Traveler’s Nightmare Come True

One year ago today, I awoke in Connecticut and fell asleep on Isla Mujeres, Mexico. In commemoration of the week of bliss I spent on this tiny isle just about a half hour ferry trip from where vacationers flock to take Cancun holidays, I wish to focus on the negative and recount a not-so-happy tale, a tale of a massive travel mistake. I will never, ever in my life repeat this gross error. I’d better not, anyway.

Yellow house on Isla Mujeres

My favorite little house on Isla Mujeres

One evening on Isla Mujeres I very fastidiously prepared my day pack with all items I would need to make a 14-hour round trip the following day to Chichen Itza, large and significant Mayan ruins – basically the eighth wonder of the world.

My day pack was perfectly filled when I climbed into bed, except for one item – my camera, whose battery was tucked into its charger and attached to the outlet so it could juice up for a full day of work as I slumbered. At one point in the middle of the night I awoke and impressed myself by possessing the presence of mind to check my charger, notice that the battery was full charged, and unplug it before I fell back to sleep.

The morning ticked by perfectly as I, in a very quick and organized fashion, readied myself, tucked my camera into my day pack, and glided down the dark streets to the ferry that sailed me serenely across the water, at the end of which I took a lovely taxi ride, then floated into the bus station with half an hour to spare and bought a ticket for the one and only bus that would depart on this day to Chichen Itza.

Man asleep in hammock attached to underside of truck

Asleep on Isla Mujeres - this is not me

Careful planning can result in perfection, I thought, patting myself on the back as I exited the station for a quick walk around to see what this area of Cancun held. This was downtown, far from where people typically take their all inclusive holidays. A little bit of the life on the streets caught my attention, so I stopped and pulled my camera out of my day pack. I extracted it from its case, pressed the button to turn it on and…nothingness. Blankness. A black hole. I had entered the abyss. My heart sunk into immediate recognition and resignation of what I had done. My planning had been precise but not perfect after all, for I had left behind one critical element of visiting a world wonder – my camera battery. Within 1.5 seconds of pressing that button I knew the battery was back in my hotel, safely – and stupidly – tucked into its charger which I’d pulled out of the wall in the middle of the night.

Crazy thoughts borne of desperation flooded my head. If I just look around enough, I’ll see an electronics store open at 8:30 on this Sunday morning which I can walk into and quickly find an identical battery, take it out of the package to make sure it fits in my camera, which, of course, it will, buy it and still make it to the bus on time! Other such fanciful ideas flitted through my mind as I struggled to come to terms with what I had done.

As reality started setting in, my fancy thoughts fizzled. I began to talk myself through the disappointment of the heart-stopping realization that I was going to be spending the day at incredible ancient ruins with nothing but my mind to record the sights.

Once I arrived at Chichen Itza, I meandered around, consoling myself by noticing that most all I would have photographed would be identical to images I could see on the internet at any time, anyway – pyramids, colonnades and the like. I love taking videos, though, and could have caught some moments that would have been all my own.

The ruins themselves are not all that I missed recording with photos and videos while living through this traveler’s nightmare. Here are some more sights that my camera-less self had to store only in my memory.

The largest iguana I have ever seen in my life.

Another large iguana crawling around on a tree trunk, its eyes glued to yet a much smaller iguana sitting motionless high up in the next tree. Its tiny heart must have been pounding, as it was obviously hiding from its big brother. Are iguanas cannibals? Whether the large one wanted to eat the little one or just beat it up, it would have made a great video.

A tree I have never before seen in my life, blossoming with beautiful small red flowers.

A beautifully colored bird which flew onto a grate-type covering on a window in one of the ruins, where it perched and posed for several minutes.

A small town I passed through on the bus back to Cancun where a great rainfall had obviously just occurred although the sun blazed all day at Chichen Itza. Little boys were playing, pushing each other down, laughing and getting back up again in the muddy waters swelling through the streets – a scene which could have given me several minutes of tremendous video.

Bird perched on wood sticking out of water in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Birds on Isla Mujeres - captured with my camera, not my memory

I will never be able to support my memory in the most effective way possible, with photographs of Chichen Itza. In digging up my notes of the day to write this, though, little memories have been set off for me. Perhaps our minds would hold for us more vivid recollections of the places we see, if we didn’t have cameras to document everything.

Have you ever left behind your camera – or camera battery – while traveling? If so, how did your photographic memory work for you? Do you think our minds might better always record for us what we see if we didn’t have cameras to do the work for us?

32 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Joel says:

    Ouch. Definitely a tough one when you’re seeing such a significant destination. Not that I would ever want to miss those photos, but I would definitely try to make up for it through words – hopefully painting a picture that is even more compelling for others to enjoy.

    Like you did here :)
    .-= Joel´s last blog ..My World in Numbers =-.

  2. ayngelina says:

    When I was in Tulum I had forgotten my DSLR battery and had to use my point and shoot. Fortunately the ruins weren’t that impressive.

    But even if I hadn’t had my point and shoot I realized that I would have been okay. I’m traveling with two cameras and three lenses but sometimes I put my camera away because it can be better to be in the moment than always worried about capturing it.
    .-= ayngelina´s last blog ..Mexico isn’t all mangos and limes =-.

  3. Dina says:

    I will totally hate it if I’m in the same situation with yours! I feel like my camera, a camera, is an extension of my right hand. It must be there. Luckily so far every time I forgot my camera or accidentally forgot to recharge the battery, I could still depend on my husband’s camera (even though most of the time he “chose” to leave it). Lately my battery gets depleted quicker and quicker, and it’s frustrating in the end of the day you can’t capture what you want. This coincide with lately Ryan don’t bring his camera either. I can preserved the battery for more precious objects only, but, I just love to take picture of everything.
    Just a few weeks ago we purchased 2 extra batteries, I’m so happy! So far every day I have all of them charged. One inside my camera, 2 tucked in inside my purse :)
    I feel your pain not having your camera in Chichen Itza
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..Top Things Chosen by Travelers Around the World Series =-.

  4. Gray says:

    That is definitely disappointing, Sabina. I think Joel’s advice is sound–when without the camera, try to take copious notes to remember things by. As we grow older, our memories fail us, so photos and words become really important as we travel. Or, if you happen to befriend other tourists in a place, perhaps you could give them your email and ask them to send you some of their photos for your own collection?
    .-= Gray´s last blog ..Shiny Travel Objects: May 9, 2010 =-.

  5. Sportz Pedia says:

    […] A Traveler's Nightmare Come True – From Isla Mujeres To Chichen … […]

  6. Sabina Lohr says:

    Oh, thank you, Joel. I did enjoy writing this. But I would have enjoyed the videos more.

  7. Sabina Lohr says:

    Definitely true – and something I told myself over and over – sometimes it’s better to just be there rather than clicking the camera.

    And I’ve also heard other people say Tulum isn’t that impressive. I thought it was pretty good – especially as it sits right on the Carribean.

  8. Sabina Lohr says:

    Oh, you are really, really careful. Good for you. I doubt you’ll ever end up camera-less.

  9. Sabina Lohr says:

    Hahaha, it could absolutely have been an aging memory issue. You have a good idea there about asking other people for their photos. I will never be in that situation again personally, but if anyone else ever asks me to send them photos I’ve taken, I’ll gladly do it.

  10. Brian Setzer says:

    I can totally see myself doing this (and probably will). You remembered the visit remarkably well and at least the battery was only forgotten, not lost. Sometimes it’s nice to put the camera down and immerse yourself in the moment, but only by choice!
    .-= Brian Setzer´s last blog ..Ride Report #1 =-.

  11. Eli says:

    I know this feeling. There were a few days when I was in Puerto Rico, out seeing some great sights on days when I thought I wouldn’t need my camera. We were in the town of Mayaguez for five days, and we went out to find a place to eat lunch. I decided to leave my camera, after all it was just lunch, but our quest to find an open restaurant on Sunday took us to parts of town we’d never seen, and I missed out on a few dozen awesome photo opportunities. Definitely a “kicking myself” moment.
    .-= Eli´s last blog ..New York, New York: A City In Transit =-.

  12. Candice says:

    Agh! I feel your pain. That’s pretty unfortunate. But kinda cool what you observe when you’re not glued to a camera, right? I find recording videos the biggest distraction.

    When I studied in England, I didn’t have a camera but my roommate said I could just take photos with hers. Except we didn’t see eye-to-eye about the sorta things that should be photographed, so they didn’t feel like my own photos. Know what I mean? It was crap.

    Also, I LOVE those pictures!!
    .-= Candice´s last blog ..Video Post: Candice Does Vegemite =-.

  13. JoAnna says:

    I have so been there and done that. I went on a press trip to Honduras last year with a new camera. Within the first day, the battery had died. The person at the store who sold the camera to me and the folks at Kodak that my husband called when I was in a panic reassured me that I could charge it through my laptop, which was wildly unsuccessful. I went a whole week on a press trip without a camera.

    Lesson learned: Always carry two cameras on every trip.
    .-= JoAnna´s last blog ..9 Reasons Why It’s Okay To Stay On The Beaten Path =-.

  14. Sabina Lohr says:

    Agreed! Only by choice.

    And I really hope you never do this. Just try really hard not to.

  15. Sabina Lohr says:

    Oh, no! I pretty much have my camera with me at all times when traveling, but I guess I do also leave it behind if I’m just stepping out. I shouldn’t.

  16. Sabina Lohr says:

    Oh, that’s too bad that you didn’t get any photos of England that were really your own. I know exactly what you mean.

    And thanks for the photos compliment. Mexico is a colorful place.

  17. Sabina Lohr says:

    Oh, wow, that is a horror story. I’m sorry that happened to you. It seems you got plenty of material out of the trip anyway, fortunately, despite the lack of photos.

  18. Maria Staal says:

    It must have been horrible to have that happen to you, specially with something like Chichen Itza. Luckily something like this has never happened to me yet, and I hope it never will.
    .-= Maria Staal´s last blog ..How Hard Can It Be To Find A Waffle Iron Expert? =-.

  19. Sabina Lohr says:

    Well, it made for a blog post, anyway. Thanks, Maria.

  20. Mike says:

    I swear, you could take a lemon and turn it into apple juice with your writings.
    Now I’m supposed to be a Pro with the camera, so I won’t go into all the details but, take my word for it; I’ve made bigger mistakes.
    JoAnna’s nightmare sounded much worse. Dang, a whole week on a press trip with no camera? My Visa card would’ve jumped right on that !

  21. Rebecca says:

    my heart sank for you when i read this piece but sometimes i think we spend far too much time trying to “capture the moment” that we miss out on the experience. i like that your notes helped you to recall other details
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog ..Photo Essay: Kyoto Garden, London =-.

  22. neha says:

    oh if I had a penny for every missed photo!

  23. Sabina Lohr says:

    Well, that’s two people who have had worse happen. This seemed quite bad enough at the time, though.

  24. Sabina Lohr says:

    With your writing you don’t need photos, Neha.

  25. Sabina Lohr says:

    Definitely we spend too much time photographing. Still…

  26. j choban says:

    I’m sorry this was so traumatic for you. I have a different perspective. I intentionally travel without a camera. I feel more “present”, more in the moment if I’m not trying to capture things. And I agree you can find photos of anywhere online. If you accidentally find yourself in this situation again – try to think of it as an opportunity and notice what you can experience when you’re not busy taking pictures.
    j choban recently posted..Five Things You Should Know About Pushing Your Backpacker Lifestyle into Middle-ageMy Profile

  27. Sabina Lohr says:

    It was so traumatic I was hospitalized briefly.

    But seriously, it is a good way to take the opportunity to experience things differently. Photos aren’t always necessary.

  28. Lutfor says:

    It is definitely tough to come closer of such significant destination .
    Taking photo is a matter of luck . So I think you are so lucky and did your best .

  29. Sabina says:

    Hi Lutfor – even if I had taken photos, I would never look at them. So it was no big deal after all.

  30. Mike says:

    I completely understand where you’re coming from! Sounds like you still enjoyed the experience though.

    This is also the exact reason I decided that buying a camera that takes AA batteries was worth the extra weight. They are replaceable and widely available. I use rechargeable ones so I don’t have to keep buying (or damaging the environment!), but if I forget them or they run out, I have a good chance of not being stuck without a working camera for very long.

  31. Faraz says:

    I can’t remember having been in a similar situation myself. But did you feel that, having left the camera battery at home, you ought not only to commit more of what you saw to memory, but also look for things you wouldn’t otherwise immediately notice about the place? Perhaps, in some ways, leaving a camera or its battery behind and so knowing that that particular moment can’t be relived by looking at photographs or videos, enhances one’s appreciation of a scene.

  32. Sabina says:

    You’re right, Faraz. I still remember things from Chichen Itza that I think I probably would have forgotten if I hadn’t tried so hard to commit them to memory due to my missing camera battery. It’s a great exercise to undergo, but I still wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. :)

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