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Night Train Out of Lisbon
updated: Dec 12, 2009, 4:28 PM
Beware of the Night Train Out of Lisbon: You Can Be Robbed!
By John McCafferty (aka McSeas)
Backtracking a few countries let me share one of the few downsides to this "Happy Campers on the Train" series:
We booked seats on the only available night train headed from Lisbon to the French border, and were enjoying a slow-rolling ride through the Portuguese countryside, when we began to fret a little about the tough-looking dude in our compartment. We also shared the space with a young couple who got off late in the evening, leaving us with this guy, who looked like an escapee from a Russian jail. Hair butched off, a couple of nondescript tattoos, good-looking, but not well dressed -- wait, that sounds like a State Street barfly. Mainly, as Sharon wondered aloud, why didn't he have any luggage?
We spoke about him in normal tones, since he had only shrugged when I asked him a few questions. No English? Or just sullen? Mostly he stared straight ahead like someone in a doctor's office with no magazines. We kept an eye on him but finally lost interest, ate some grub we'd brought and watched night fall.
I succeeded in sleeping scrunched into a corner, my one small bag crammed safely into the corner underneath. I awoke about 2 a.m. and noted that the sullen stranger was gone. Good. I dozed some more and woke up again, looked out the glass door, and saw him standing in the corridor outside the compartments. Uh-oh. He turned and looked in. I waved slowly. Don't know why. I decided to stay awake and keep an eye out. Just stretch out and lie there for a minute. . .
At 3:30, the train lurched forward after a brief stop, waking me up. The tough-looking dude was gone. MY BAG! OH - - -! I felt under the seat and yep, it was gone.
Briefly: I couldn't help venting with the biggest fit I have ever thrown. I am SO grateful that I didn't have a heart attack, and would love to know how high my blood pressure got.
"The trip's ruined", I yelled at Sharon, who looked sad and tried to calm me.
"My pills are gone, my camera, computer, everything. . ."
I went out into the passageway breathing deeply and trying to calm down, but I couldn't. I pounded on walls and kept shouting about various things. . .
An old man (even older than I) came out of the next compartment and asked in good English if I had lost a "rucksack".
"YES!" I shouted, "That (censored)!!!"
He put his palms out toward me in a calming gesture and then motioned for me to follow him. I couldn't imagine why, but it was better than standing in the aisle raging.
He took me to the bathroom at the end of the hall, opened the door and pointed down -- at my bag! With all my stuff scattered on the floor around it.
Muttering an agnostic's versions of prayers of thanks, I put away my computer, camera, and pills . . . everything of value that had been in the bag and was now on the floor. Evidently the thief was just looking for money. Or perhaps he was surprised and left hurriedly.
But he had some success.
I was back in the compartment hugging and laughing with Sharon, my feelings soaring from depths of despair to top o' the world, when an old woman stumbled along the corridor wailing, "My sack, my sack!" So the swine had made off with HER bag. She was crying and speaking Portuguese to a couple of officials, who had probably been awakened by my raging and reluctantly decided to investigate. They looked bored, and of course there was nothing to be done. The crook had no doubt leaped off the train after his well-timed theft.
We were left with great feelings of relief, but also considerable feelings of sadness about the human condition. That poor woman . . . The lesson here, of course: If you must take a night train in a non-locking compartment, tie your luggage to your ankle. And maybe carry a small club.
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