Left Behind

As I mentioned in my last post, my friends and I decided to have a fun yet relaxed Saturday night in Lisboa, so we bought some wine and played charades in our hotel room.  We ended up staying awake so late that a bunch of us decided we ought to just stay up until breakfast opened at 7 AM.  As expected, the breakfast was GLORIOUS.

Afterwards, I went to go shower and start packing my things, but after my shower I was feeling really sleepy. It was 8:30, and I figured if I napped for an hour it wouldn’t hurt. I set my alarm for 9:30 (we would be departing from Lisboa at 10:00 AM), snuggled into my sheets, and napped.

Well. I forgot one teensy weensy but ever-so-crucial detail.

Daylight Savings Time. The change occurred that very night.

The blaring of the alarm startled me awake, and I jolted upright in bed.  I was still a bit too groggy to be thinking clearly, but it’s as if some part of me knew what was going on and wanted me to start moving ASAP.  As my vision started to come into focus, I realized the room was completely devoid of any of my roommates’ belongings. Suspicion dawned, and I glanced at the time. Then it hit me:

It wasn’t 9:30 in the morning. It was 10:30, and the bus was supposed to have left to go back to Sevilla at 10:00.

HO.

LY.

$H!T.

I launched myself out of bed, threw my clothes on (cleaning lady walked in on me half-nude, awkwaaaaard), grabbed my backpack and jammed it full of whatever I could grab hold of **organization be damned! I’ll fix it later!**, did one quick glance around the room to see if I had forgotten anything important, and ran to the elevators.  Once in the elevator I prayed to every god I could think of that a large group of obnoxious American students would be in the main lobby, but when the elevator doors opened….

Silence. Just some hotel employees chatting in Portuguese behind the front desk.

I glanced outside, hoping to see two large buses, but there was only a line of taxi cabs.

At this point, Dread curled its clammy fingers around my stomach and gripped it tightly.  I approached the front desk and asked in a shaky voice, “Americanos?”

Receptionist: “Oh, they left 10 minutes ago.”

**Oooooohhhhhh myyyyyyyyy gaaawwwwwwwddddd-**

Receptionist: “Were you a part of that group?”

*nods head*

Receptionist: “We’re calling the lady in charge….. Hello, Lola? Yes, we have a student here…. Okay.” (turns to me) “Here you go, she wants to speak with you.”

*grabs phone* “¿Hola?

Lola: “Biqui, where were you?”

“In my room.”

“The room keys were turned in, so there was no way of knowing yours was missing.”

“OK.”

“Well, I’m sorry, Biqui, but we just left the city limits of Lisboa, and we’re not turning around to get you. You’ll have to find your own way back to Sevilla. Vale?”

“…. OK.” *feels tears welling up*

Vale, good luck, and I’ll call you in a few hours to get an update from you.”

“OK.” *Hands phone back to Portuguese receptionist.*

By now the three receptionists were looking at me to see what Lola had said, and I’m pretty sure the look of devastation on my face was a clear indicator, but I told them that the bus wasn’t coming back for me.  They looked at me shocked, and kept repeating how they couldn’t believe it, it was only ten minutes, etc.

So at that point I did the only thing I could think of doing.

I cried. Like a Fado singer.

Not really. It was nowhere near as pretty as Fado.

So, crying, I went and sat down on a couch by the reception area and started reorganizing the things I had hurriedly shoved into my backpack. A litany of thoughts that kept repeating in my head. **How could nobody have noticed that I wasn’t there? Am I so easily forgotten? Not even my roommates? Not even my friends? How?** As I finished repacking, I told myself that enough was enough, to stop with the pity party, and figure out how to get back to Sevilla. I rubbed the tears away and one of the receptionists approached me. He handed me a bus schedule for that day, with buses leaving from Lisboa to Sevilla.  The soonest was leaving at 1:30 PM. By now it was a little past 11:00 AM.  The receptionists told me to catch a cab from the hotel to the bus station, then to buy my ticket there.

I thanked them for their help, smiled, grabbed my backpack and walked out the front door.  I went to the first taxi in line and asked the driver to take me to the bus station. Once there, I purchased my one-way ticket to Sevilla (37 Euro; much cheaper than I had expected!), called my host-mother from a pay phone to let her know what had happened, then found a bench where I could hang out for the next couple of hours.  As different buses arrived and departed from the station, I would steal their free Wi-Fi for a few minutes at a time so that I could communicate from my iPhone apps.  I sent my mom a message via Whatsapp to let her know I was safe, and then I posted a Facebook status to let my friends know what was going on: “Got left behind in Portugal, I’m alone but safe & have found a way back to Sevilla. Good thing I speak Portuguese.”

Once that had been taken care of, all that I had left to do was wait.  In my idleness, the thoughts crept back in. **How come nobody noticed? Why didn’t my roommates wake me up? Why haven’t my friends tried calling me? One of the room keys wasn’t turned in; how could they not know? Why didn’t anyone knock on the door? Why did I have to nap? Why didn’t I update the time? The bus was only 10 minutes away…** On and on it went, until I couldn’t stand to think of it anymore. I figured I would get my answers once I got back to Sevilla, but until then there was no use agonizing over it.

Eventually my salvation rumbled into the station. I found a seat behind a happy Asian couple, plopped myself down onto the cracked plastic, curled up into the fetal position, and endured the longest bus ride of my life.

By the end of the trip, I’d had plenty of time to reflect on everything that had transpired, and, believe it or not, I was kinda feeling proud of myself!  I had accidentally been left behind in another country and was able to get back home on my own (with the help and guidance of the wonderful Portuguese receptionists)!  That’s certainly one way to gain confidence in yourself. Not that I recommend my particular way!

After talking about it with my friends and roommates over the next few days, it became clear why I had gotten left behind. Everything that had occurred that Sunday had created the perfect storm.  There were two buses. My roommates thought I was on the bus with my friends. My friends thought I was on the bus with my roommates. The directors of the trip had already been angry because a couple of party boys had slept in really late and made everyone wait 30-45 minutes. Lola kept counting and knew one person was missing, but then someone commented to her that a girl had stayed behind to meet with her parents in Lisboa. It was really all too perfect.

The next time I walked into the API office, I could tell that Lola felt a little apprehensive around me.  I think that she thought I would be mad about the incident, but I wasn’t.  It was an accident; these things happen.  If anything, it was my fault for not updating the time on my phone.  When the API staff asked me about that morning, I just laughed it off (Of COURSE this would happen to me!).

If someone had to have been left behind, I’m glad it was me. I can only imagine how much more scary it would’ve been for someone who didn’t even understand the language. At one point on the bus ride, I wondered to myself if I had learned Portuguese in college just to prepare me for this moment.  I guess I’ll never know, but this experience affirmed my belief that everything happens for a reason.  If anything, my misadventure in Lisboa was a learning experience, and I gained invaluable confidence in my abilities as a traveler.

You can call me Carmen Sandiego. 😉

I am definitely a 90’s kid.

Olá Portugal!

Welcome to Portugal!

My observations about Portugal in general: If the two Iberian countries are sisters, Portugal is the younger sister that always got the hand-me-downs and grew up in Spain’s shadow.  They’re both beautiful, and smart, but in their own way.  Portugal definitely got more beat up and teased than Spain did.  However, Portugal is more self-aware, self-confident and proud of who she is, whereas Spain has been plagued by insecurity and stuck in an identity crisis for a long, long time.

Having said that, Portugal needs a better marketing team.  It’s a country with a fascinating culture, great architecture and natural beauty, but I would feel confident in saying that most U.S. Americans know hardly anything about it.  For example: Did you know there’s an instrument called the Portuguese guitar? If you have heard about it, kudos.  It’s an amazing instrument that produces a great sound, and yet, it’s completely been overshadowed by the Spanish guitar. I suppose I might have to attribute this, in part, to the country’s size — Portugal has a population of about 10.7 million people.  Spain’s population is over 47 million.  I guess it’s only natural that the one with a larger population will receive more attention (other examples: Canada/USA; New Zealand/Australia).

As for Lisboa (or Lisbon, in English): it’s a lovely city, situated right on a bay, but it looks a bit worn down.  It’s like your favorite pair of jeans that are frayed and have patches on the knees and need to be restitched in places.  I would love to see this city with some new life breathed into it, but it’s beautiful either way.  I have to say that Lisboa has some of the best street art I have seen in the Iberian peninsula.  I highly recommend a visit;  Lisboa is worth seeing and I’m glad I did!

After Greece comes Portugal. ANARCHY!!!!Probably my favorite street art ever.Plouf!Fadista & Portuguese guitar

I also got to practice my Portuguese, which was one of the things I was most looking forward to. However, Brazilian Portuguese, as it turns out, sounds really different. I was able to read and communicate effectively, but understanding the fast-speaking Portuguese was a bit of a challenge! But that whole challenge of communicating with someone who speaks a different language is one of my favorite experiences in this world. I love everything about it: the patience and creativity you need to have, the frustration when you can’t seem to figure out how to communicate a relatively simple idea, the exaggerated body language and hand gestures (it’s like a real-world version of charades!), the excitement when you finally understand each other, the sense of camaraderie that’s formed when they realize you are making an effort to speak their language and understand their culture… I love all of it! Of course, there’s some people who will just treat you like crap no matter what, but I suspect they treat just about everybody that way.

Thursday we spent traveling by bus from Sevilla to Lisboa. It was about a 6- or 7-hour-long trip. As we crossed the border, my friend Ian whipped out his guitar and the whole bus sang a rendition of “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” by Michel Teló (Watch the video here!). Sooo it’s Brazilian, but since we didn’t know any songs from Portugal we figured it was close enough.

Jammin' at the rest stop in PortugalAlways with the harmonica

That night we arrived in Lisboa, wandered around, and enjoyed pizza for dinner.  We found a place that was about to close (the Portuguese eat dinner earlier than the Spaniards), but they were really accommodating, and served up some great pizza! Afterwards we just hung out in the hotel.  We wanted to save our energy for Friday night!

It's a blurry Lisboa!Mmmmm Portuguese pizza!

Friday, after a GLORIOUS hotel breakfast buffet, all day was spent on a bus touring the city. We saw the most famous spots, which included a beautiful Cathedral and an impressive monument dedicated to those who discovered the New World and funded their voyages.

Did you know that Lisboa has a Golden Gate Bridge look-alike? It’s called the Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge) and was constructed by the same company that built the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, but its rusty red coloring is reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Lisboa's "Golden Gate" Bridge

We then visited two other nearby towns: coastal Cascais (we went to the beach and then the Boca do Inferno or “Mouth of Hell”) and charming Sintra in the mountains.

Mouth of Hell, right sideMore from the Mouth of Hell
Yep that's a castle along the top ridge.

Friday night we went out to a traditional Portuguese restaurant to try the local cuisine (I enjoyed Caldo Verde (green soup) and Bacalhãu à Brás (a mix of cod, eggs, and thinly-sliced crispy french fries)).

Sopa VerdeBacalhao a Bras

Then, after taking an hour to figure out the Lisboa metro system and deciding what we wanted to do, we partied it up in the Bairro Alto — a giant grid in the city completely dedicated to getting people intoxicated.  It’s street after street after street of bars and clubs.  Have I mentioned that everything is legal in Portugal?  Well, it is.  All drugs are legal there, and the country is doing fine. So if you wanna party, the Bairro Alto is for you (and the name is definitely not a misnomer— we had to make our way up a steep hill to reach it)!  Another observation: they guys in Portugal are taller and broader than the Spaniards.  And much more flirtatious than the guys in Sevilla.  Sevillanos, y’all have gotta step up your game! You don’t wanna be shown up by the Portuguese do you?

MetrooooooNot THAT many people...Ok it was packed.

Saturday was a free day, and in the morning after yet another GLORIOUS breakfast, we went somewhere really, really cool: The Thieves Market.  It’s a giant flea market, where people come and lay out their blankets and their wares and set up their little shops and display the most random, eclectic collection of stuff I have ever seen.  You can find anything in the Thieves Market. I had a field day running around and looking at everything, but I didn’t end up buying anything.  I regret it though!  They had such cool things! For so CHEAP!! (The market lives up to its name: some items were definitely stolen… like beautiful tiles pried from the walls of the city… O_o)

Afterwards, we went in search of the restaurant Chapitô (that was a mission) for lunch, and Kevin and I accidentally ate our friends’ tapas because we had all ordered the same thing and they had brought it out combined on one plate.  It was only nine small pieces, so we thought it was one serving.  The moment when we realized what we’d done was horrifying and shameful. We paid for all of it, of course, but it was still so embarrassing!  After the fiasco at Chapitô, we headed back down into town and ate at a famous pastry shop while we waited for everyone else to show up.  We were all being taken by API to go watch a Fado performance.  Fado is Portugal’s national music.  It usually involves a woman who is singing in the saddest way imaginable— it sounds like she’s crying as she sings.  She’s accompanied by a Portuguese guitar, which, as I’ve said before, is a really cool instrument and deserves to get more attention.  After the performance we went to a market to get snacks and alcohol (what else do you need?), then had dinner at a really classy establishment: McDonald’s.  I’m proud to say I only ordered a McFlurry.  I had a bocadillo in my backpack that I had made that morning at the hotel breakfast, so that’s what I ate for dinner.  We went back to the hotel and ended up playing charades and drinking the whole entire night.
Trolleys!!LisboaaaaaI had to be sneaky to get a pic of FadoKeeping it classy. Mickey D's.

Saúde!

Sunday: That’s the one anecdote I have from Lisboa that deserves its very own individual post. Here’s a preview: tears of despair and abandonment were involved.