Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Algarve to Sevilla. The Bermuda Triangle of European Transportation

In their infinite wisdom, the governments of Spain and Portugal decreed that there should be no direct rail connection between the Southern Algarve region of Portugal and Sevilla, Spain. Really making it the Achilles heal of one fabulous vacation, and causing it to be the only time I have seriously thought 5 ladies with huge backpacks might potentially make a pact to eat my first born child - ha - that's not true, there have been plenty of people who have made that pact.
Ayamonte - Desolate Bus StationIt really all started with hours of careful planning to get our bodies from Lagos, Portugal to Sevilla with the goal of NOT spending a ridiculous amount of money on transportation, and NOT spending 12 hours of our precious vay-cay time making what should be a 3 hour trip. Let me first lay down some rudimentary knowledge on you, so if you should ever decide to make a similar trip (and oh for sweet baby jesus you should), there won't be any pacts made.

You might be thinking: "Molly, get a freaking rental car, and call it a day!" Wrong-o, boy-o! You will quickly find that taxes and fees for international rental car drop-offs are astronomically high (even between E.U. countries). In the spring of '08 (this year) it was going to be over $1,000 TOTAL for a four day rental of a four-door manual compact (
www.arguscarhire.com actually had the best prices I could fine for Portugal). Don't be fooled by initial costs, they will stick-it to you just as you are getting super psyched that everything is going to work out.

With both trains and rental cars out, the only other affordable option I found (via the internet) was to take a bus. Even this option provided very few bus lines, departure terminals (direct), and departure times. Here are the handful of companies who "said" they make the trip: Rede Nacional de Expresso, Linsesur and Eva Bus. I ended up selecting Eva Bus, because they had the perfect timetable, responsive email customer service, and I noticed they were mentioned in several blogs and guidebooks. So, my perfect planning in place, the only thing left to do was to call and order tickets once we arrived in Portugal - damn international phone rates, damn them to hell.

Flash forward two months to find out via the concierge at my hotel in Lagos, Portugal that in fact no buses run between the Algarve and Sevilla on Sundays (apparently "daily" in Portuguese means any day but Sunday). No matter who we called or what insane ideas we came up with, nothing seemed to work out (shuttles weren't reasonable, there weren't any accessible rental car companies across the border in Spain. NOTHING). Then, a ray of hope - a Spanish company called Alsa departing out of the Portuguese border town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio. Everything seemed legit, and ready to rumble. So, we got up at the ass crack and high tailed it down the coast to Vila Real de Santo Antonio (which I would define as potentially quaint, commercialized, touristy, and grungy). We easily found the bus terminals, but no one who had heard of an Alsa bus line (even the other ticket agents). The only information we got was that in fact NO BUSES run from Vila Real to Sevilla on FAH-REAKING Sundays.

You might be thinking: "well what now", my dear reader, and to that I say for shame. Knowing the answer to that question is rule #1 for any traveler, especially when time and $$ are concerned. Rubbing our 6 domes (brains) together, we realized some key points: 1. We still had our rental cars - they were due to be dropped off later that afternoon in Vila Real. 2. The town of Ayamonte, Spain was only a 5 min drive away. 3. We had a better chance of finding a way from Spain to Spain, than from Portugal to Spain. 4. We had at least two people that could butcher Spanish, and no one who could butcher Portuguese.

So, away we went, pedal to the metal to Spain (no border guards wahoo - smoke em if you got em). Oh, and the travel gods were smiling on us my friends, and it was in the form of a four star hotel on the edge of Ayamonte. And now begins a tutorial in one of the easiest travel scams for any 20-30 something woman. First, throw a scarf around your neck (DO IT). Next, walk into any fancy hotel (larger is better), and head straight to the bathroom - you'll blend in more easily. Next, go to the front desk and state your problem - for us it was "we need a bus TODAY from Ayamonte to Sevilla." Make eye contact and don't be too nice, the concierge will simply assume you are a guest. Finally, let the concierge do the rest, they are trained in GD high class service.
ALLAKHAZAM, you'll be sitting in a cafe in Spain, drinking a beer in the sunshine, waiting for your bus to Sevilla. No joke. Harmless scam. For you reference we ended up getting a bus via the Damas bus company from Ayamonte.

Ayamonte Fine Dining
P.s. Hotel Parador, Ayamonte- thanks for your services. No concierges were harmed in the execution of this scam.


Lil' Boozie said...

HA! Fantastic post, my friend.

Why O WHY, did I need to wear the bomber jacket that day? I've never looked happier..

Lindsie the Flashpacking wife said...

Great post! Love the tip! Smart thinking ladies.