After our first experience with Workaway at Quinta da Pena (“quinta” is the Portuguese for “site” or “farm”) and having spent a month at Quinta do Muro helping our Portuguese Family, it was time to leave for our second experience, this time in a small town called Benafim , in the middle of the Algarve region. We had scheduled with our next host we would stay the entire October/2018 there, helping him with his daily chores (basically picking olives, carobs, figs and others).
To get to Benafim, we could choose between going by “autocarro” (bus) or “comboio” (train). By train, we could get discounts of up to 60% in tickets if we bought them 5 days in advance or more.
About 15 days before the start of October, we noticed that Comboios Portugal (CP) had a promotion on the Guimarães -> Tunes route (Tunes is the nearest train station for getting to Benafim). With this promotion, we would save a good amount of money, so it seemed like the best option. We checked the dates and times and bought two tickets with which we would depart from Guimarães on September 30th, 2018 (Sunday) and arrive at Porto, at Campanhã station, at midnight on October 1st, 2018, where we would wait for a connection. The train from Porto to Tunes would leave at 05:40AM on October 1st, 2018 and arrive in Tunes at 10:53AM. We would have to wait 5 hours and 40 minutes at Porto – Campanhã station, but that was okay: we would be prepared with water, something to eat, clothes, etc.
Approaching the date of our trip, we received an e-mail from CP advising that between September, 30 and October, 2, there would be a strike and many trains would be suppressed. They provided an internet address on which we could consult the trains that would not be suppressed during the strike. We did not worry too much, since our ticket was guaranteed and our train Porto -> Tunes was in the list of those that would not be suppressed. We also phoned CP and confirmed with the attendant that our train would take place. All right!
On September, 30th we went to Guimarães station and were informed by a guard that there would not be any trains departing on the day. The “bilheteiras” (ticket offices) were also closed because, besides the strike, it was Sunday. As we already knew this could happen, we returned home and asked our friend-almost-sister Ana Teresa to take us to Porto-Campanhã (around 60km trip) the next day. Despite the inconvenience, at least from there – we thought – our train would be guaranteed.
We went home, had dinner and went to bed.
The next day (October 1st), we woke up around 4:00AM, had a “pequeno almoço” (“breakfast” for the Portuguese) and headed to Porto.
Arriving there, we verified that our train was scheduled for the stipulated time, so it was only a matter of waiting for the train to arrive, hop on and enjoy a long trip until Tunes.
When the train arrived, precisely at 5:40AM, we boarded and found our seats. We noticed that unfortunately we would travel facing the back of the train, which we don’t like much, but it was okay: at least we were finally able to board.
A few seconds after the train departed, a lady approached us saying that her ticket had the same seat we were using. We showed her our tickets and we saw all tickets had the same seats printed on them, then we suggest checking with the train supervisor. She did this, and moments later, a supervisor came in to check our tickets. After the check, he turned to us and, in a extremely rude face, said:
– Your tickets are for the yesterday’s train. You’ll get out on the next station!
Immediately we tried to argue that we had the correct tickets, but it could be a problem on their system, since we had bought our tickets weeks ago, in advance. But he did not accept any kind of justification and told us to allow the lady to seat and go with him to the other “carruagem” (wagon), where there is a kind “supervisor’s room”.
We followed him. He kept saying our tickets were invalid and was even insinuating we were trying to misuse an already expired ticket. No matter what we said, the answer was always the same: “you will have to get off at the next station”. The supervisor showed us in his equipment that our seats were reserved for that lady and another gentleman who would embark further, respectively.
We tried hard to explain, but the supervisor didn’t seem to hear us. We had the distinct feeling that we were talking to a machine.
When the train stopped at the next station, he forced us down. We had to almost scream we had our bags in the train and that we had to at least take them out too. We almost had to leave our luggage in the train!
We took our bags and, for the entire time the train was stopped at the station, we tried – in vain – to argue. The supervisor was a rock. He kept repeating, always rudely, “Your tickets are invalid. You can not board. “
The doors closed and the train continued its journey. And there we were, astonished, in an unknown place, in a station called Vila Nova de Gaia, without internet, without the possibility of calling someone (our phones could only communicate via internet, since we didn’t have any Europe phone plan).
We did not know what to do.
I was able to verify the next train to the same destination would pass this station after 14:40, but then we would not have a valid ticket for boarding anyway.
We tried to contact Ana Teresa, who was already many miles away, but we could not get a WiFi signal.
The ticket offices were all closed due to the strike, so trying to change or revalidate our tickets was impossible.
We contacted Ana Teresa again, this time using a pay phone. No luck.
We approached a line supervisor who was in his office and kindly borrowed us his phone, which we used to try calling Ana Teresa again, but – again – we had no reply.
Some time passed and we finally got a precarious WiFi signal, so we called Ana Teresa via WhatsApp and she, completely upset (with CP, of course), told us to wait in the station as she would come get us. By the time, she was already in Guimarães, that is, almost home. She turned around and came back to Porto, to Vila Nova de Gaia station, to pick us up.
We were in a complete indignation and perplexity atmosphere. We could only think the supervisor should be a very unfortunate person, in order to treat someone in a so rudely way and have absolutely no interest in solving the problem.
We even tried to go to a bigger station in Porto to see if we could change the tickets, but because of the strike, everything was closed.
The solution was to return to Ana’s house in Fafe once again and wait for the strike to end and then decide what to do.
Another day passed. We feel very bad, with the feeling of being exploiting our “Portuguese family”. But they were so kind to us at all times! We don’t call them “family” in vain.
Next day, we packed up again and Ana Teresa drove us to Guimarães (10km from Fafe) to try revalidating our tickets by explaining what happened. We hoped to find a more coherent attitude from CP. Fortunately Mr. Luis Silva, attendant of the CP in Guimarães, was very cordial and exchanged our tickets for the next train, which would leave in less than 1h. We would arrive in Tunes by the end of the day.
With everything ready, we waited for that 1 hour to pass and we embarked full of fears of new unpleasant experiences, but this time everything went well. We arrived in Tunes and met Hans, his partner Sabine and his friend Gundi. They are really “altamente” people (how anything very cool is called by the Portuguese people).
Everything as right then, but we were very unpleased about everything we went through, so we decided to file a complaint on CP’s website, reporting all the inconvenience we faced, not only for our own sake, but because we think there is a problem in their ticket sales system, regarding journeys starting in one day and finishing in another day, as in our case. According to an analysis we did, what happened was that the system “understood” that we would leave at 10:00 on the 30th of September and we would get the connection at 05:40 the same day, which – unless we travel in time – would be impossible. In this way, we had two tickets for the same day, as stated by the unhappy supervisor. In making the complaint, we hoped we would at least contribute so that no one else had to go through this type of situation.
We were surprised when we read the reply from CP. They immensely lamented the incident and informed us that as compensation for the inconveniences generated, we would be fully refunded of the value of our tickets, which in fact occurred.
All these things we went through served as a reinforcement on not staying quiet when we see injustice, be it with us or with anyone else.