I was so happy to leave depressing Lisbon behind as I travelled south on the train. South, you say? Why not north to Porto? Porto had great reviews and was actually meant to be better than Lisbon. I heard a lot of travel bloggers enjoyed the Travel Bloggers Unite Conference (TBU) and the architecture and atmosphere was awesome.
However, I was going south, not north. Why? I had an appointment to see my neighbour, from back home, to get married in the Algarve.
The Algarve lies on the south coast of Portugal and is extremely popular with northern European tourists, particularly Germans and British expatriates. The Algarve’s popular beaches with its Mediterranean climate, low-cost of living, safety and fish-based cuisine are an extremely huge draw. That’s what I need to hear. I need to tan my sexy body, spend little, and eat seafood, my favourite food. So you can see why I was a hurry to get there and also see my beautiful neighbour get married in a beautiful scenic setting.
2 hours later, the train pulled into the main train station of Tunes. This train serviced the line from Lisbon to Faro, Algarve’s main airport. Going to Faro would be going too far from my intended destination.
I hoped it would be okay at Tunes. I heard conflicting reports on trip advisor about the station – the worst saying you would be stranded there with no buses and taxis. Surely not if it’s a main station for the Algarve? But as the region is very popular with holiday-makers and not backpackers, most people opt for coach or taxi transfers from the airport. Heck, it was urged that I should fly from Lisbon to Faro. But it was the train for me, seeing I was a tight-fisted arse and unwilling to pay the flight fees. I could live in Thailand for 5 days on those fees alone!
But luckily, as I stepped out into the glorious sun outside the train station with my shades down, my backpack slung over my back and a Khmer scarf round my neck, I looked every inch the cool, sexy and outrageously handsome backpacker. Pouting slightly in a picturesque pose on the roadside, perhaps trip advisor was right as there were scarcely any cars in this mid-morning time. However, I spied a cafe, outside of it milled a lot of bored looking men, glancing occasionally to the car park behind it. Following their gaze, bingo! I saw a line of taxis parked. Walking up to them, I cleared my throat and while I stood before them mightily, uttered ‘taxi?’ Well, the hubbub of conversation stopped and all of them looked at me and looked at each other warily. I began to think, just maybe, I did a faux pas. But before I could coolly walk away, all of them jumped up and shouted ‘I take you!’ making me back away slightly as they lunged towards me. I couldn’t just choose one without offending the others. Obviously, they had waited for such an opportunity for a long time. Before I could make my mind up, a curt comment cut through the crowd and everyone quietened down and turned to a small, wiry man at the doorway holding a coffee and a bagel, his eyes covered with shades and an inexpressive face.
‘I take you,’ he quietly said. The rest looked at each other with grimace and at me with pity.
Wait, what does that mean? Am I missing something? The other drivers stayed back and watched as the mafia driver (I immediately thought of that) jangled his keys out of his pocket and gestured me to go to his car. I followed in submission leaving urgent mutterings behind me. If you watched the Godfather, you don’t piss off the quiet man. Opening his car boot, he turned round to me with the same in expression and said ‘in.’
What? Does he want me to get into the boot? I thought that was for dead bodies? Seeing my gaping mouth, he sighed slowly and grabbed my backpack off my back with one hand showing a lot of strength for his size as he came up to my chest. Placing it respectfully inside, he even dusted it off before replacing the door. Taking a long swig of his coffee whilst looking at me standing awkwardly and probably assessing my usefulness as a male prostitute for one of his brothels, he gestured with his empty cup and again said ‘in’. Luckily, it was the passenger door.
Climbing in, I saw him fiddle with the glove compartment. Wait, does he have a gun in there ready to use on me if I ran off? I imagined it would be a small gun with a huge silencer. My thoughts were soon interrupted when he stared at me impassively through his shades. I gave him a failed winning smile to give the impression that I was okay with things. Oh! He was waiting for me to tell him where to go! Fumbling for the paper with the address on it in my pocket, I smoothed it out and handed it to him, apologising for the creases.
‘Very good’, he replied coolly. And drove off leaving Tunes, the place where Rexy was last seen alive (according to future newspaper reports). As the journey passed by in silence, I noticed pictures of people dotted around the car, one ominously had a head torn off.
I couldn’t bear the silence so I said to the Mafia driver, ‘nice pictures!’ He looked at me over his shades and lit up a cigarette at a crossing. Blowing smoke out of the window, he replied ‘they are the family,’ and rolled off. What? Why did he say that?! He said THE family. Not MY family. My paranoia grew that I was truly in the Mafia ring and actually, he was taking me to be a smuggler at one of the nondescript fishing villages that dotted the Algarve coast. Staring bleakly out of the window, I couldn’t marvel at the gorgeous scenery that flashed by showing exclusive villas amid a setting of rural Portugal as I was too busy wondering how to get out of the car alive. Then it hit me, I knew how to get out safely.
‘I am going to see my family at the hotel. They know I’m coming, you see,’ I blabbered, ‘they ARE expecting me.’
Sorted, he can’t exactly abduct me now…can he? Finishing his cigarette, he calmly said ‘ok’, and flicked his butt out of the window.
Breathing in, he followed up with,
‘Where you from? You look different.’
What does that mean? I just said I was from the UK and I was here on extremely important business with my family dealing with exclusive clients. That would be enough to throw him off the scent that I’m insignificant. Wait, I was travelling with a backpack and I looked utterly scruffy. Inwardly, groaning, he carried on talking.
‘So you have iPod?’
Oh my god, he was going to rob me there and then and leave me stranded on the side of the road.
I meekly handed over my iPhone and lowering his shades, he glanced through my music as he drove expertly around the twist and turns of the rural roads. He froze and his mouth curled.
Uh-oh. My musical taste must have offended him…heck it even offended my friends violently back home. This was the first time I’ve seen his face change.
Reaching a crossing, he took off his glasses and leant towards me. I noticed his cool blue eyes hidden behind a long fringe of jet black hair. Right, he was going to off me. My eyes widened as he stopped his face inches to mine and suddenly, like a burst of unicorns leaping out of a rainbow, his face transformed into a HUGE smile.
‘You like Glee?’ he excitedly spluttered out, drenching my face with his saliva. My utter shock at this didn’t move my face this time. He gestured to his radio with an iPod port built-in. ‘I play Defying Gravity?’ Seeing this god-father like tough man transform into a giddy boy as he plugged in my iPhone, the first piano sounds reverberated through the car. Wait, this was a Mafia Taxi Driver who likes Glee? I burst out laughing and he started laughing as well. No way, he was Mafia. I must have been so delusional! He explained his daughter, as he pointed to a 16-year-old girl in a picture loves Glee and hopes to be a singer in a musical. I mentioned the ripped head next to her. ‘No boyfriend now’, he spat out. Ah so that explains it.
Reaching my hotel, he fumbled with the glove compartment and pulled out a business card, ‘if you want taxi, ring me. I give you special offer,’ he presented to me with a smile as he handed back my iPod. Grabbing my backpack, he drove off, donning his shades again and the same inexpressive face as he saluted me with a finger to his head.
My, I survived the Glee Taxi Mafia of the Algarve.