“Should we go to Spain tomorrow?”

Six words I never thought I’d hear come out of my mouth, but they did and we did…go to Spain that is.

It was quite an eventful day. 

Ayamante, Spain

It takes us about 5 minutes to walk to the train station in Tavira, but we wanted to get tickets before boarding so we gave ourselves an extra minute. Somehow we are almost always ‘to the very last minute’ type of travelers. We contemplated taking a later train that morning, but knew it would cut our time in Spain short, so we walked fast to the train station, barely taking enough time for me to snap a photo of the amazing tree in a nearby courtyard. It had pink and white flowers with four petals and the tree was absolutely covered with them. They looked like they were made out of crepe paper. 

I’m not sure what kind of tree this is yet, but it was beautiful!

We arrived at the train station in time with even a few minutes to spare. Rick got our tickets at the window and we walked outside to join the other people who were also waiting for the train.

Two British couples were discussing the cause and effects of cheap local gin.

Travelers are unique, many find comfort in the smiles and brief conversations they have with other travelers as they share common bonds that simply put them in the same place at the same time.

“Does that cheap gin give you a hangover?” one man asked in his thick British accent. The other man chuckled and in the same accent with a different voice said, “well, that depends, if you drink the whole liter then yes, yes it will give you a hangover.” I snapped a photo of them just so I could remember this conversation and the banter these perfect strangers had on a train platform in Tavira Portugal. A perfect start to our adventurous day. 

This was our second train ride of the week. We’d stood on this very same platform three days before.

On that particular day I saw a man at the same moment he saw me. We both knew there was a connection of some type. Have you ever had that? I’m sure you have. You see a stranger and yet it’s almost like you know them on some level. That’s how it was with this guy. Paulo Choelo says, ‘Really important meetings are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other.’ 

Rick and Sonnie

It turns out the man’s name is Sonnie and we actually ended up spending the entire day with him. We all had a great time and learned a lot about life, about us, about him, about friendship and about God. It was a very blessed day to say the least.

Only a couple days had passed since that encounter. On that day we woke up and decided to go to Vila Real de Santo Antonio. We skimmed the surface of this town on that day, but our focus was on our new friendship, so today we would revisit Vila Real de Santo Antonio and jump onto the ferry and experience Aylamonta, Spain as well.

The train rolled in front of us and the doors opened. We waited while passengers exited the train around us, then stepped on board. Within moments the train rocked into motion and we were on our way. 

From our seats we could see the Atlantic Ocean, there was a great view of the River Galo and the city of Tavira, we passed orange trees, cactus’, men working in their gardens, an old man had a horse with a wooden cart that looked like it came from the early 1800’s. He was throwing large armloads of weeds into the cart, while the horse waited patiently in the sunshine. There were flamingos, old buildings and in the distance, rolling hills.

River Galio and Tavira

We arrived at Vila Real de Santo Antonio and made our way to the ferry, which was about a half a mile or so away.

In true Rick and Lori fashion, the ferry was loaded and ready to go as Rick stood at the ticket building trying to purchase our tickets before they closed the ferry gate. I stood at the top of the ramp with a pleading look on my face staring at the ferry guy, while the 30 or so people on board watched Rick, tickets in hand, run down the ramp that led to the floating people carrier. 

We made it. I smiled at the ferry guy and said, “Obrigada”, which is the female version of how to say thank you in Portuguese. Rick told him obrigado. 

The ferry ride was interesting to say the least. I’ve come to really love the experience of ferries. They are usually really cheap to ride, in this case it was just 2 euros each, and there is no rhyme or reason to what a ferry is going to be shaped like. This ferry was almost completely open, railing encircled it and people stood along the railing that encircled the open area. The deck curved up at the bow, the prime spot to stand, giving a view of both Portugal and Spain all at once. The captain of the ferry was in the building portion of the boat on the second story. While people sat out of the weather, underneath the captain’s area.

Once we arrived in Ayamonte we spent several hours just walking. We stopped in at a leather store filled with purses, backpacks, hats, vests and jackets. We ate lunch at La Serrania de Macias. We took pictures of churches, statues and tiles, and even walked up to the arena where bullfighting takes place. 

Eventually we walked back to the ferry landing and made our way back across the river.

We’ve been living in Portugal for a month now and have not had American fast food in all that time. Vila Real de Santo Antonio has a McDonalds, so we decided to go grab some French fries before taking the train back to Tavira. Along the way we came across a Burger King. We both like the chicken sandwiches from there, so we decided to do that and then walk to McDonalds for French fries and a frappe…if they had frappes. 

We punched our order in on the order screen and it wasn’t until we walked up to the counter that we noticed they were getting ready to fill about 20 happy meal boxes for the birthday party that was happening near the play structure. By the time our order was done it was past time to head to the train. 

We debated on whether or not to eat our Burger King chicken sandwiches in the restaurant or while we raced to catch our train. We decided on the latter and began walking fast in the direction of the train station.

We followed google maps and even ran from time to time, knowing our arrival time was two minutes after the train was supposed to depart. We hoped we would make it in time. The last couple of hundred yards we could see the train station and the train. We ran and walked alternately until we finally realized we were on the wrong side of the tracks and there was no way we could get to the train station without going back into town and going toward it from a different direction. We stopped and watched our train pull away from the station.

Since it was Saturday the next train was not due to leave for three more hours, so we decided to walk back into town and see what we could find.

We try to live by the fact that God is in control. We can make our plans, but we try to ‘happily’ yield to that higher power that really does seem to direct our steps. We walked back into town expecting to see why we had missed our train.

On our way back we ended up walking beside a deserted building. The building had broken windows, crumbling walls, locked doors and rotting wood; it was fabulous. This photographer’s dream. 

I took picture after picture through broken windows and rotting boards and from time to time I would peek my phone camera into a crack or a hole that I couldn’t see into and on one occasion it ended up taking one of my favorite photos of the entire day.

This was my favorite photo of the day. It was the one photo that made missing the train worth it.

We continued walking around Vila Real de Santo Antonio, shopping, eating and enjoying the cool night air at the border between Portugal and Spain, separated by the Guadiana River.

Finally, we decided to head to the train station again and catch our train. We would arrive at least 30 minutes early this time around, just to make sure we weren’t going to miss it.

It was late, close to 9 p.m. and there was a lot of commotion at the station because of one guy and his dog that he kept lunging at, making it bark. You could tell the dog was nervous and his owner was making it worse by acting loud and aggressive at the dog. We kept our distance and once on the train even moved to a different car so we weren’t near this obnoxious man. 

The train clicked and swayed along toward our stop at Tavira. This was the last train of the night, so there were actually quite a few people on board, with more and more people climbing on at each stop along the way. 

We watched carefully at each stop. It was dark and the train stations, while they do have lights on, were still a little hard to see which stop you are at. Since this was only the second time we’d ridden the train this direction, we were being vigilant at finding our stop. There are no signs to show what stops are coming and no one announces anything about the stops. 

Finally, we arrived at Tavira and headed toward the door. Once we got to the door near our seat, we realized we were at the door where bikes are loaded on and off. Several young men were loading bikes preventing us from going through that door, not to mention there was not a set of steps here. 

We turned around to head back through the car to the other door. We were met with a sea of people that were just boarding. Try as we might, we could not get through the people in time. We reached the door, but it was already closed and locked. The train slipped into the darkness away from our stop. We stood dumbfounded for a moment, then made our way to a set of seats, unsure of where we were going or how we were going to get back. 

My phone was completely dead, so it was of absolutely no use. Rick had 4% of his battery left. We knew we had boarded the last train of the evening heading toward home, but maybe there were still trains heading the other direction. Maybe we could get off somewhere and grab a train back to Tavira. Rick found the train schedule and sure enough there was still one more train heading back the other way. We talked to the ticket master on the train, and he assured us that if we got off at Olhao we would have to wait about 30 minutes, but we could then catch a train back to Tavira. 

The obnoxious guy ended up getting off of the train at the same stop, but he did not hang around long, so that was a plus. We waited, along with about ten other people for the last train of the night going back toward Tavira. 

Once it arrived we climbed on board and found our seats. I looked across the isle at a woman holding a small child. 

‘I know that child,’ I thought to myself as I searched my mind on how on the earth could I know that child. I don’t hardly know anyone in Portugal yet. 

The woman probably sensed me staring at her in disbelief and looked up at me. “We know each other don’t we?” I asked.  

“Yes,” she said smiling, I could tell she too wasn’t sure why we knew each other. 

Then in an instant it clicked, we had both been given a ride to church by the same lady and we had sat in the back of a car together just days before. 

Time and again I am shown that it is truly a small world. 

We finally arrived in Tavira, walked the few minutes back to our apartment, thankful for a fabulous day of adventuring. 

Marina in Vila Real de Santo Antonio


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