I am ready to share this story now. I have cooled down. Actually I cooled down once we were back at our B&B, but it has just taken me a while to get this story written down.
My wife and I were in the small town of Alcácer do Sal in Portugal a couple of months ago (more on the reason behind that later, in another post). The town is situated on the river Sado about fifty minutes drive south of Lisbon. We had had a busy day and decided to drive the forty minutes to the town of Comporta, situated on the Atlantic coast, and the nearby beach to watch the sunset.
So far all was uneventful. We stopped at a grocery store to stock up on a few items, sat on the beach, tested the water’s temperature (cold), and started the drive back to our B&B.
Now we had been in Portugal for a little over a day. We were still learning about the country and scraping by on our couple of Portuguese words, the generosity of the Portuguese people as they spoke English to us, and gestures or iPhones where the rest failed. We were on the main road back to Alcácer do Sal, a two lane road with sand on both sides. That is, the road appeared to be built on top of deep sand disappearing off into the surrounding forests. With the sun low in the sky, we left Comporta just before sunset, it was starting to get dark.
Suddenly I hear an odd noise in the car. My instinct was to pull over and investigate. I didn’t want the car to break down out here. Ironically it wasn’t going to, but I made things much worse and in a split second, as I pulled off the road, I realized my mistake. I was driving the car into sand. We were stuck. No forwards. No backwards. Stuck in the sand with the back of the car sitting on the road.
My command of English very quickly, and sadly, dropped to a few unprintable words. What were we to do? Traffic was little and those that did pass up appeared to be in a hurry to get home for dinner. We considered who we could call for help - the rental company, a couple of people who we knew in Portugal - but none were nearby. In hopeless desperation I started digging around the tires, but it was a futile effort.
We looked on helplessly as cars drove by, and then a small van pulled over. A man got out. Verbal communication was minimal, but then the problem was obvious and it was a case of figuring out what to do. I felt mildly better now that someone had voluntarily stopped to see if they could help.
After a short while trying to figure out what to do and not appearing to be getting very far, a much larger van pulled over and a crew of men got out. A construction team heading home and one spoke good English. He told us not to worry. There was a lot of looking around and under the car. Discussion between the men ensued as they figured out options.
I had no idea what was going on, was humbled by my helplessness, and at the same time feeling deep gratitude that these strangers had stopped to help.
They fished around in the trunk of the car, pulled out a tool, attached it to the back of the car and to that attached a rope. I still wasn’t sure what was going on, but it appeared that a plan was being acted upon.
The other end of the the rope was attached to the work crew’s van. The van was going to reverse slowly. I was instructed that as soon as I felt the pull of the van to slowly reverse the car. Someone stood out in the road to slow traffic down. Afraid that I would make a total hash of these simple instructions, I followed them and with great relief we were out!
The final part all happened very quickly then. We cleaned up, my wife and I thanked them all profusely and we started towards Alcácer do Sal, moving in convoy.
The Kindness of Strangers
I have spoken before about the kindness of strangers. Again I found myself on the receiving end of such kindness. We did not know each other, and likely won’t meet up again. We came from different countries, could not speak each others’ mother tongues, but they stopped to help just because they saw someone needing help.
For me, not only does something like this deepen my faith in humanity wear it might be tested at times, but it was as I said above, humbling. I think that one would have to be like a rock to be in a similar situation and not feel humbled. As such it is a good reminder for me if and when I am ever feeling a little full of myself. I made a mistake, was helpless in being able to do anything about the situation, and a group of strangers took time out of the end of their day to stop and help us.
If you ever read this, thank you to you all.