Blogging with the Amazing Lost and Found iPhone

The amazing lost and found iPhone 4s.

Although I’m back from Spain there’s part of me that is still there — my beloved iPhone 4S. When Jacqueline and I arrived at the airport in Santiago (her flight left just an hour after mine) I put my hand in my pocket to pull out my iPhone and, “Holy Cow!” my iPhone was gone. I checked all my pockets. I checked my backpack. I checked my jacket pockets. Gone.

Jacqueline and I thought through where I might have left it. Yes, I had it out at the cafe where we’d had lunch with the German/Dutch couple. Yes, I’d had it for photos at the cathedral where I’d prayed before the bones of Santiago. But that’s the last time I remember having it. Had I left it at the hotel where we’d caught the taxi? Or had it fallen out of my pocket in the cab?

Over the last weeks I’d come to rely on my iPhone in a big way. Before I left Seattle in May I’d paid for an International Data Plan, an International Calling Plan and an International Text Messaging Plan from AT&T. This would allow me to blog directly from my phone with the help of the great WordPress iPhone app. I would be able to take photos on the tiny camera, write text on the tiny keyboard and upload text and photos whenever I had a good 3G signal.

And it worked! I blogged every day, posting a selection of photos from the over 700 pictures I took in my month of walking. The 3G signal strength was usually good, especially near highways and in cities. Other pilgrims got used to seeing me in the late afternoon or late at night after lights were out, typing away on the tiny keyboard. I shared the blog’s URL with many pilgrims and the text and photos became an easy reference for others as they thought back through the places and people they’d met.

Plus, of course, I could check email from home. Gail, my mom, and my sister wrote regularly to the special email address I’d set up in order to avoid contact with my work emails and other personal, non-emergency communications. I received tons of texts from other pilgrims, and also used web search to find out information about places I’d be walking through. The Map feature was brilliant, with its GPS getting me out of trouble many times. I even made an occasional cell phone call. Other than the cost of the various data and calling plans (not cheap) the biggest price was making certain I had access to an electrical outlet each night so I could charge up my little white slab of amazing electronic wonders.

In short, I found the iPhone to be indispensable. Which meant that when I lost it I was in shock.

My first thought at the airport was, what confidential info is on it? I never used the 4-number lock code available for the iPhone because it was too awkward to punch in the code every single time I wanted to use it. So I quickly went through the various items and realized there really was nothing that would endanger my bank accounts or reveal other important personal information, except giving someone access to my email for a brief time.

I then called the hotel, my favorite Santiago nesting place, the Hotel Altair. I’ve loyally stayed there four times since 2008 and their staff has graciously remembered me and my various visits. I asked them to check the hotel lobby and bathroom to see if I’d left the phone there and, if not, to call the taxi service they’d arranged for us earlier that day. They soon called back to say they hadn’t found the phone at the hotel and that the taxi driver was at lunch and was not available. Drat.

Jacqueline then had a great idea: send a text message asking the person with the phone to take it back to the Altair. Brilliant. We put together a text message and sent it off. Then I remembered another great feature of the iPhone — the “Find My iPhone” function of iCloud that allows the phone’s owner to lock the phone, send a text message and make the phone ring loudly so whoever has it realizes it’s in their possession. The only problem? No Internet at the Santiago airport.

By now it was time to catch my flight, so I said goodbye to Jacqueline and stepped on my plane to Dublin. When I arrived I found an Internet kiosk and went to iCloud to “Find My iPhone.” Amazing! I located it on a satellite map in Santiago near the polymedical clinic, which proved it had fallen out of my pocket in the cab and was in the possession of the driver. I locked the phone with a 4-digit code, sent a text message, and rang it several times in hopes the taxi driver would hear it and find it. Then I jumped on my flight to London.

When I arrived in London and found another Internet kiosk, Voila! The taxi driver had returned my phone to the hotel, which is shipping it back to me tomorrow. I’m deeply grateful to Conchi and Pepa of the Altair staff, and to Jose Manuel, the taxi driver who found the phone and returned it. Without their help I’d have lost all 700 of this year’s camino photos — far more valuable to me than the replacement cost of the phone itself.

The star of the show was the iPhone. It took my pictures, posted my blog, checked my email, texted my friends, searched the Internet for important information, helped me find myself when I got lost, made calls for me and, when it was lost, helped me find it. Thank you, you clever people at Apple.

Postscript on July 5, 2012: So happy to receive my iPhone via UPS today from Spain. A very big thanks to the good folk at the Altair Hotel. Thank you!