Leaving Portugal, Part 1: Meeting New Friends in other Languages (Day 6 of 24)

 Mar, 30 - 2012   FamilySpain, Portugal, Morocco tripTravel

Going back a few days to Lisbon: this was my third time visiting and Karen’s second (and our second together)–all three visits were in March, and it rained for pretty much the entire duration of my first two trips, so we were delighted to find nothing but sunny, clear skies here.

One of the reasons I was happy to come back here is the fact that Lisbon was host to one of my most memorable travel experiences. Perhaps third only to meeting Karen at a youth hostel in Dublin and us getting engaged at the Taj Mahal five years later was my experience in Lisbon the first time around:

I’d just arrived for my three and a half months in Europe after finishing college and before starting work full time. (Prior to this, I’d earned some money working as a substitute teacher for a few months, but I was trying to spend less than $50 per day.) My first stop on the trip was Madrid, Spain, but a few days later, I found myself on a bus to Lisbon that arrived late at night, with me speaking almost no Spanish and even less Portuguese. On the bus, a fellow traveler named Tony took pity on me after guessing I spoke some German–translating announcements by the driver and later helping me get my bearings when we arrived in Lisbon. (Side note: this story not withstanding, I’m not sure why American high schools teach German–almost all native speakers know English more or less perfectly and generally don’t let you practice your pitiful spreching with them.)

Tony’s family was originally from Angola (a former Portuguese colony,) although he’d grown up mostly in Portugal and was living in Northern Europe at the time (which was how he happened to have learned German.) He was making the trip back to the capital to update his passport. We arrived Saturday, so he had nothing better to do for a few days than hang out with me and show me the town. In a nutshell, that (and the near constant rain) is how I ended up spending a few days exploring pretty much every African bar and restaurant in Lisbon while speaking nothing but German the whole time. (My parents sounded a little nervous when I made my first call home and explained my activities.)

Back to present day: we’d arranged to fly to Morocco out of Seville, Spain and figured that even though it was in a different country from Lisbon/Portugal, it’d be relatively easy to make the 4-5 hour trip (according to Google Maps, at least–they’re very close.) Turns out that was a really bad assumption.

Our first choice was to rent a car for the day at around $80. That seemed perfect until we found out about the additional and universal ~$500 fee for returning a car in a different country (on top of the rental price.) Next we looked at trains, which would have meant an overnight 12+ hour trip with a transfer in Madrid. Finally we looked at buses: one option was to drive through the night, the other arriving close to midnight–both around 11 hours long because of roundabout routes and frequent stops. Again, if we could only drive it affordably, we were looking at 5 hours tops (much preferable with a 9 month old who hates car seats.)

After getting a $900 quote for a private car transfer fron a travel agent, we were resigned to the late night bus as the least bad option. After I hopped a cab for the bus station to buy our tickets for a few days later, I struck up a conversation with the taxi driver in Spanish (which I’ve had the chance to study in the last 13 years) and thought I’d found the solution to our problem.

For less than half the price of any of our other options, Jose (pronounced “Joe”-“say” in Portuguese, even though he happened to speak Spanish) was willing to drive us to Seville the coming Sunday. Even better, he was willing to pick us up at our hotel in Sintra, eliminating the need for us to make the annoying 1-2 hour trip to the Lisbon bus station during the morning of the trip. I paid him for the trip to and from the bus station (which I never actually entered since I came to an agreement with Jose right before arriving,) and started looking forward to a pleasant 5 hour trip instead of the blown, stressful day we’d been prepared for. As I’ll detail in an upcoming post, it ended up being a little more stressful than we’d planned.

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