Your Holiday Disaster: On the midnight train from Lisbon, Sarah Marriott and her companions became embroiled in an ugly incident

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I was with two Irish friends, Barry and Fionnbarra, and we were catching the midnight train from Lisbon to Porto, to look for jobs as English teachers. With most of our worldly possessions, we settled ourselves onto the empty train, and the other two went to sit in another section so I could get some sleep. When I woke up, the train was chugging through pitch black countryside, and next to me were three young Portuguese guys, who left as soon as my friends appeared. For some reason Barry was suspicious and told me to check my bag - I discovered that my passport and credit card had gone, as well as my travellers' cheques, and pounds 80 cash.

By this time the train was full of skin-headed teenagers doing military service, on their way back to barracks for another week of boredom. I was the only woman. But the thieves weren't soldiers, so Barry and Fionnbarra reckoned that they'd be able to find them fairly easily. Leaving me to guard the luggage, they went off up the train in pursuit.

On being confronted, the thieves denied taking anything, so the Irish guys tried to make a deal. "Just leave the passport in the toilets and you can keep everything else - we'll be back in five minutes." Meanwhile, the ticket inspector was trying to throw me off the train because I'd told him my ticket had been stolen too. We sorted that one out and my protectors went back to collect my passport.

It wasn't there. The Portuguese guys now began to get aggressive, and so Fionnbarra decided to try threats: "We're Irish and we're in the IRA. And I've got an Uzi in my bag. If you don't give us the stuff we're going to kneecap you." In fact, dressed in long tweed overcoats, they did look like characters from Michael Collins. The thieves chose this moment to translate everything to the soldiers sitting nearby - who immediately jumped Barry and Fionnbarra. Lying on the floor, each pinned down by three soldiers, they were saved by the arrival of two Military Policemen. When the situation was explained, the MPs insisted that we all get off at the next stop and go to the nearest police station. Since we were passing through seemingly deserted countryside, and the MPs were less than friendly, the Irish guys were somewhat reluctant to agree to this. After a lot of negotiation, it was decided that we could stay on the train as long as we stopped accusing innocent boys of robbery and promised not to shoot anyone.

We spent the rest of the night struggling to stay awake, paranoid that the soldiers, who were getting off at regular intervals and disappearing into the blackness, would take some of our luggage. Barry and I stayed on teaching for three months and still visit regularly, but Fionnbarra, who'd never been to Portugal before (or since), left after a week.

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