Witness Post: Train Ride

Nancy Hooper and I looked like pack horses, as we carried our goods from the hostel in Albufeira, Portugal to the bus station. We had to go by bus to the train station, which would take us to the capitol, Lisboa. The walking route to the terminal navigated the narrow streets, which did not afford much room for cars and speeding motorcycles, much less pedestrians with wide backpacks, but somehow we all fit without incident.

Every person in Portugal, whether in a car or on a motorcycle, feels as if it is their moral obligation to honk their horns at any and every obstruction that lies between them and their destination. There also seem to be more loonies on the road than I’ve ever seen. And taxis? They must charge Honk Fees, which they add to their usual fare, as a surcharge.


To review another point on Road Rules, in Spain motorcyclists are NOT required to wear helmets. In Portugal helmets ARE required. That said, the helmets they wear are either the minimum or the maximum allowed by law. This is to say that most of the riders balance a dark cap on their heads that has leather ear flaps and an untied chin string. These riders look like a cross between a WWI fighter pilot and a roller derby drop out. Whereas the minority of others have the absolute latest in protective head gear, fancy, studded, Star Wars outfits that have been retrofitted to earthling use. The variety and contrasts of helmets are amazing and comical. I do not know the accident rate, but with all the honking and the speed, it seems to be high, and it’s dangerous on the road.


When we made it to our bus, we were sweating like we’d been in a sauna and arrived two pounds lighter. It was a short drive to the train station but we were grateful for the breather. And Trains in Iberia are always late. We had never been on one train ride that was less than 20 minutes later than its posted time. This was 1979 Portugal, after all.

Once on the platform, Nancy made an oddly-fateful decision to grab a Fanta di limon from the station counter, before the train departed. We were parched. The train bound for Lisboa arrived, right on time. Passengers exited the train and I grabbed our gear to carry it aboard. As soon as I dropped the second set of backpacks and bags on the train, it pulled out. Our car was moving, in slow motion at that point, but down the tracks. I panicked; the train was definitely moving away from the station, sans Nancy!

Just as Nancy arrived with her drink on the vacant platform, I stuck my head out of the rail car window and whistled, as loudly as I could. She got smaller and smaller in the distance; her arms were stretched out from her side, and her slouching posture matched her forlorn face, showing her anger and frustration at the predicament. What was she going to do?

Better yet, what was I to do? Go forward? Go back? I asked a man in the first compartment if he knew the time of the next train to Lisboa — he said, “Two hours.”(There were no cell phones to remedy the confusion in 1979. My mind was racing: if I got off at the next station, Tunes, I could miss Nancy altogether and not get to Lisboa that day; if I went to Lisboa, I would possibly have to wait for hours for her to catch up with me and her bags; if I went back to Albufeira, how long before she could find me?) Instead of going back, it seemed wiser to wait at the station in Lisboa for Nancy to arrive.


Tunes is the main connecting station from all southern Portugal trains heading north to Lisboa. It is a mere 10km from Albufeira. I was still mulling over what to do, when we rolled into the Tunes station. There we stopped and waited for approximately 10 minutes. During that pause, the conductor added train cars to the rear of the line, we took on locals and all passengers perspired. About one minute before the train left Tunes, Nancy came running through the car and scurried into my compartment. I was thrilled and shocked. Unbelievable!

My sister’s version of the trip is priceless and pure Nancy:

“A man at the Albufeira station was getting off the train as I walked to the platform. When he saw me and noticed that I had that look of shock and alarm, he knew that I had just missed my train. He grabbed my hand and dragged me to his car. He drove me at about 100 mph on a side road, that paralleled the train tracks. I watched in amazement as he pulled even with and then passed the train. We were bouncing around in the car, as he sped along. Before I could catch my breath, he landed me at the Tunes Station and here I am!”

After a series of hand shakes, hugs, kisses and “obrigados,” he stood on the platform and watched our train car head toward Lisboa, waving as we headed up the tracks.

Serendipity? Good luck? Nancy’s charm? Whatever you call it, Nancy and I were now on the same train, in the same car, headed in the same direction for the first time that day. Amen to that outcome! And it could only happen for Nancy on a train in Portugal. She is ever-so grateful to the kindnesses of strangers, who “show up” at just the right time.