Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Portugal: Get a Date

Get a Date: a Play by Play of Getting Kicked OFF the Bus!

It was a pretty easy trip by bus from Santiago de Compostela, Spain, down to Porto, Portugal. Leasa, my travel buddy, and I thought the bus was rather hot on the way there, but it was a nice bus with padded seats and movies playing. Let’s be honest, it was only three and a half hours between these two delightful cities. We could put up with anything for that long. Plus we had guaranteed comfort and good food on each end of the trip.

On our journey to Santiago, we had advanced purchased round trip bus tickets to avoid any future complications on the way back. Very forward thinking… we thought. So it was Saturday morning and we were ready to leave Santiago. We had just spent two marvelous days eating Spanish tortilla and paella, and wandering the beautifully crafted streets. The way back was going to be easy: fool-proof. When we got to the bus stop, Leasa even recommended a strategy to avoid the ventilation problems that we had experienced on the way there. Good idea. She took the bags to the back while I pushed and shoved my way to some good seats near the air conditioner. We sat down, the bus started up and we were off. Piece of cake.

What a beautiful route it was: lakes and wide open spaces, balanced by quaint little cities with red roofed houses… and countless satellite dishes to remind us that we were in the 21st century. The bus was full. When we arrived at our first of three or four planned stops, there was a crowd waiting to get on. I was curious: how were these people going to fit? There were zero seats left. So I was thinking about this while I was flipping through my tour book in the forefront of my mind. I was glad we purchased our tickets ahead of time and already had our sea…

“Laura, Senorita Laura, shdondesh eshta shda shda shda?” gurgled in from the loud speaker to the back of my not-really-Portuguese-speaking mind. Long pause. “SENORITA LAURA!!!...SHDONDESH ESHTAS?”

What? I think they’re saying my name over the loud speaker, I thought. My mind shifted from planning our leisurely day in Porto back to the bus on which I was riding. Oh shoot! There was a really long awkward silence and it was ME they were searching for. Why? How did they even know my name? …and that I was a senorita? OK, I told myself, start thinking in Spanish and come up with some quick reasons why your seat shouldn’t be the one that’s given up to the seat-hungry crowd.

I spent a few minutes begging and pleading with the driver not to drop Leasa and me off in this random town. “What if we sit on the floor?” I asked. “How about the co-pilot seat up front?” Just don’t leave I told myself. If I leave, I’m no longer a problem (except to myself!). But if I stay, I’m everyone on the bus’s problem… sort of a tough place! The driver permitted Leasa and me to stay until Vigo, close to the border of Portugal and Spain. Then we were shown the door. The person who won our seats smiled sheepishly and wished us luck.

Apparently we were supposed to get our pre-purchased tickets validated before we hopped on the bus. Our tickets didn’t have the date. “You need a date! You don’t have a date!” the bus driver kept telling me.

So there we were… in Vigo. First we were told that we needed to hang out in Vigo for nine hours at which point the next bus would come. While we did enjoy our brief stay in Vigo, nine hours would have been overkill for the little town. We found a local bus (with a much happier driver) that took us to Tui where we could walk across the border. We picked up a new Polish friend who was also accidentally dumped in Vigo and a Spanish guy who had a similar problem (and he was even Spanish!). We felt like pilgrims as we boldly marched across the bridge that links Tui to Valenca (Spain to Portugal). With the Schengen Agreement, no one actually ever walks across the border anymore. It was a special moment.

After a marvelous lunch followed by some much needed ice cream, we hopped on the train, the Valenca-Porto train, that is. We enjoyed a mix of English, Spanish, and attempted Portuguese on the train ride, which brought us all safely to Porto by 5pm, just in time to grab a glass of sweet port wine and watch the sun set in Portugal!

Either the plan was not fool-proof or we were the fools! Anyway, Portugal (and Spain) was filled with adventures and good times!

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