What was expected to be a Peaceful 16 day Pilgrimage to Portugal, Spain, France and Italy turned out to be, for me, a tour of tribulations. Looking back it seems so strange that we can laugh about things that were not in the least amusing, when they actually took place. My thoughts went back to where it all started. Our travel agent called to let me know that she could not accompany us on this trip as she did on the previous Pilgrimage and since I was the coordinator, it was all up to me to carry out her duties. Thinking positively that this might be, just maybe, a real learning experience I agreed. So the story unfolds.
Because we were arriving at Fatima on the 99th Anniversary of the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin to the three children, it was impossible to get rooms at the same hotel for all 32 of us. Two hotels were booked, about two blocks from each other and since it was going to be our first night there, we decided in advance that the 10 of us at one hotel will walk over to the other hotel so that we will all be together for our first dinner as a group.
We arrived at Lisbon Airport, expecting to be greeted by our guide who should be carrying a sign to let us know who she was. But where is this guide I thought, walking around, dragging my suitcase behind me plus coping with my heavy backpack on my back. I told the others to stay in one place while I looked for her but after a futile search I realized she was just nowhere to be found. I am one of those people who just cannot sleep on a plane so by now I was feeling really exhausted and about to start pulling my hair out!
I approached a young lady who was helping other arrivals and inquired about our guide but she too could not find our ghost guide. When she heard we were heading to Fatima, she remembered someone telling her that there was a bus waiting outside to take a group there, so off we went to see the driver. They spoke in Portuguese and she confirmed it was the correct bus. I thanked her and headed back inside to collect our group to follow this pied piper to our Bus.
We settled ourselves in the bus and I started talking to the driver to let him know which hotel we needed to go to first but, what’s this, is this a joke? Could this be for real? I can’t believe this driver does not speak a word of English whatsoever. Being very clever, I called out the names of our hotels and showed him on my fingers, the first one he had to take us to. Whew! I patted myself on the back and told myself: “Way to go man”. What a relief, all our problems were over, cool sailing from now on, after all, those were just some small everyday mishaps, weren’t they? Time to move on with our Pilgrimage which I knew was very well organized so from now on, everything should go smoothly, I mean, what else could possibly go wrong? Trying to extract the entire morning’s events out of my mind, I reminded myself that at least I knew from then on we will have only English speaking bus drivers and guides, right?
The first night we walked over to the other hotel, had a beautiful dinner and got to know each other better then we headed back to our hotel for a much needed sleep. Morning came and wait, where are some of our group? I wondered if they went to the other hotel for breakfast. I was positive I told everyone that we will be having breakfast at the hotels where we slept so running over to the other hotel, I was just in time to see them finishing their breakfast at the hotel where their breakfast was not paid for! Up to this point nobody bothered to tell me there was a couple with us who did not speak or understand English.
We had a really nice balance of the day as our English speaking guide met us and took us around showing us what was needed to be seen and telling us all about what was to be told. The following morning at breakfast I noticed that this couple who came from Peru, was nowhere to be seen. I went to their room and knocked, then knocked louder until I was banging on the door, no answer! I suddenly thought: “Oh my Lord, could they possibly have misunderstood and thought that we were to meet the bus at the other hotel and pulled their luggage over there?”
Off I ran (and ran I did!) to the other hotel, but wait, what is this, are they really not here? No they weren’t so I did a small marathon back to our hotel as I was now having all sorts of awful negative visions which I will leave to your imagination. After finding a porter who spoke a little English and trying to explain the situation, I finally urged him to go to their room and open the door to see if they were ok. Well, well, why was I so foolish not to think of this? There they were, just as I had not suspected, sitting on their beds. I felt to give myself a swift kick for not guessing this only logical answer. So, moving on, our new bus pulled up and we started embarking, oh no, this just cannot be real, I just can’t believe our new driver really does not speak a word of English! This is the driver who is supposed to drive us from Portugal to Italy for 16 days and he does not speak any English? This is just unbelievable! Well, lucky for us we had God on our side and He saw this problem before we knew about it and He put one of His angels there with us, our very own angel Napoleon. He was the only one in our group who spoke Spanish so his work was cut out for him, poor angel. I will not like to think what would have taken place if he was not on this trip with us. He translated everything to the couple who spoke no English and throughout the trip he was constantly running to the front of the bus to translate for us, telling the driver what we wanted, what time to stop for lunch, washroom breaks and the list goes on and on.
There were quite a few other mishaps along the entire trip that I kept from the others because I felt they did not need to know or share those negative things. They were there to have an enjoyable trip and that’s just what they were going to get. What really amazed me was the fact that these 32 total strangers instantly bonded as one very close family. We were all joking, laughing, praying, helping each other, singing and doing all that a normal, loving family will do. They were an amazing group of spiritual people who will always remain in my heart as very dear friends and I can’t thank God enough for sending us our angel Napoleon.