If you remember, I found myself in a peculiar predicament following a road accident during a severe rainstorm in southern Spain. While physically intact, circumstances necessitated securing the repairs on my van that would allow me to continue my indefinite journey. Following my rescue by a group gregarious and kind Spaniards, I was now alone, still in the rain, sitting on the side of the road making plans to move forward.
I reconnected the battery, added oil and limped westward crossing the frontier into eastern Portugal.
I drove to Lisbon in my battered van in search of a dealer that could resolve my insurance claim and allow me to continue my travels. I felt lucky to be unhurt and spirit intact. I had now been away from home, family and friends for three months. The rain continued as I drove into the Municipal Campground on the outskirts of Lisbon. The next morning, I maneuvered to the local VW dealer where I was informed that I would have to continue on to Porto (several hours north), the second largest city in Portugal, to make arrangements for an insurance claim. The next morning which was Friday, I drove through the lovely countryside, and then maneuvering through the crowded avenues of the old city of Porto until I located the only VW dealership in the north of the country.
I drove into the service garage where I was greeted by a friendly but non-English speaking young man. I did as well with my Portuguese as with my Spanish. That was my problem, not theirs. I learned that they don't get many Americans here. Now what? My vehicle was a mess and seemed to be of great interest to all.
After several of the service people conferred, they made a couple of phone calls and gave me the international hand signal for "wait here for a few minutes" (hand held out with fingers up and showing me his watch with three fingers). I got it, smiles all the way around. 10 minutes later, a middle-aged, well-dressed gentleman arrived and introduced himself to me. He was Dutch, working in Porto and was happy to translate for me. My lucky day! (Although, if I was really lucky, I wouldn't be in this dilemma to begin with).
This current character in the my life's play, told me that he would phone the insurance adjuster and let me know what to do next. Thankfully, many people were trying to help me. Soon, I discovered that the insurance company would have to fly in an adjuster and that wouldn't be possible until Monday morning at the earliest. That was fine with me. What else did I really have to do? I had graduated from college, had no job to return to and I was on an unlimited journey for as long as my bank account held out. The folks in the garage encouraged me to simply stay in my camper van right in the garage over the weekend. They were very kind to me and said that the night watchman would look after me. This was the oddest location for a camping site in my life.
So, I "camped" my first night near the oil change and lube bay. The next morning while cooking breakfast (in the garage), the Saturday staff came to work, each greeting me with warm "Bon dia" and a welcoming curiosity. During the day, I walked around the neighborhood, did a little sightseeing and reviewed my plans for when this was over. In the late afternoon, Luis, a young man in his mid-twenties came to me and invited me for dinner at the home of his wife and parents. I cleaned up and dressed and the two of us boarded a local bus for the ride across town. The bus dropped us by a tiny cobblestoned lane where we walked up a slight hill, past many white-washed old residential buildings and into a small plaza where clothes were being washed in a community fountain. We arrived at a nondescript carved, dark wood door. We entered the apartment to the smiles, handshakes and welcome of a very sweet family. I felt badly that I didn't have flowers or some other gift of appreciation. It still bothers me years later. The row house was small with a lovely little living room, kitchen, dining room and I would assume two sleeping rooms. Following the warm welcome and introductions (now remember that no one spoke English), we were ushered into the small dining area. The furniture was dark, beautifully polished wood, probably dating back decades. I noticed white traditional Portuguese lace table runners and lovely glass vases and china behind glass cabinet doors.
Dinner was served. I smiled and constantly said, "Obrigado" which expresses gratitude in Portuguese. They smiled and talked a bit to one another apparently pleased that I was there. I was VERY happy to be there!
I was served a traditional Portuguese meal of fried eggs, beefsteak and thin fried potatoes. It tasted so good and was much appreciated after months of eating my own cooking or from roadside vendors. I ate everything on my plate. Maybe that meant that they didn't serve enough? They insisted that I have more and joyfully loaded up my plate for the second time.
There was a quiet knock at the dining room windows. Luis peaked out and then opened the windows. Several neighbors were there to watch the American eat dinner. Really! I certainly felt like a celebrity although it was somewhat awkward. Now, imagine five people around a lovely table, one American eating, with three or four more hanging in the windows watching! Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. My previous misfortune had transformed itself into a truly wonderful and memorable human event. Following dinner, the time was getting late and Luis insisted on taking me back to the garage on the public bus. When we arrived at the service entrance, the night watchman waved and smiled and let me in to have a peaceful end to a long day. Luis had to ride the bus all the way back home once again.
Monday morning after a few flight delays, the insurance adjuster arrived from Germany, assessed the damage and discussed the repairs with the shop manager. He informed me that they would need the van for at least six weeks to complete all the mechanical and body damage. I said goodbye and thanked everyone in the garage. He offered me a ride to Lisbon (with one small suitcase in the back seat) where I would book a flight to Madrid, then on to Alicante located on the east central coast of Spain. In the same day, I hired a self-drive car, drove north to a former fishing village, and rented an apartment overlooking a white sand beach on the Mediterranean Sea.
Eight weeks later, I traveled by train to Portugal to pick up my van and continued my journey. Perhaps you'll join me down the road in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.