Angels and Demons in Portugal

Have you ever had an experience that further cemented the fact that there’s both good and bad in the world?
An experience that makes you believe in the power of Karma.
An experience that leaves you with a resolve to be a better person or do more good deeds.
An experience that strengthens your faith in humanity.

Almost three months ago, I visited Portugal with my wife Ritu and our friends Harshit and Shalini who also live in Dublin as we do. We had planned a road trip from South to North Portugal, covering the Algarve region and the cities of Lisbon and Porto. Having a great trip, we set our footsteps in Lisbon after exploring the beautiful Algarve region. On our last day in Lisbon, we planned to visit the famous Pena Palace in Sintra and then head to Porto. We were supposed to fly out of Porto the next morning.

We started our day on time and reached Sintra. It was a typical touristy day for the place with a lot of people around. Due to the congested roads, public vehicles are not allowed to go up to the Pena Palace. There are a few parking spots at the base of the hill and from there you can either walk or take a bus/tuk-tuk/shared taxi to the palace. Because of the crowd, we had to park our car in the farthest parking spot and then walk back to the point where we could hire a tuk-tuk.

All went well, we visited the palace and spent a good amount of time there. The palace is beautiful, but we had our expectations a bit high after having seen the magnificent forts and palaces in our home country. After concluding our visit, we hired a taxi to go back to our car. We had to use the saved location on Google Maps to find the spot where we had parked.

We reached the spot and the taxi driver stopped a few meters away from the car as it was convenient for him to stop there and turn around his cab. We got out of the cab. The cab driver turned around his car at the time I was taking out the cash to pay him. I unlocked the car and started to take things out of my pockets to get myself comfortable for driving. While doing so, I was watching Harshit open the rear door to get in. As he opened the door, the first thing that I noticed was that half of the rear seat was folded. When we had parked, Harshit was the last one to get out of the car and had taken some time to adjust stuff in his bags. So, for a second, I thought why would he fold the seats. And then Harshit said, “Oh, shit!. There’s been a robbery” and at the same time, I noticed the broken window and shattered glass on the seats. It was hard to notice the black glass on the black seats. And at that very instant, I had my “Oh! fuck” moment.

Due to the constraint of the space, I had parked the car very close to a boundary wall. Those robbers chose the rear window of that side of the car to break in. We opened the trunk to see what stuff was gone and found out that all bags had gone. The first thing that struck me was that I had lost my bag pack as well and that bag had my and my wife’s passport in it. And that was the “Man, we are screwed” moment. Fortunately, Harshit had carried his backpack with him and their passports were safe. All the stories, and social media posts that I had read/heard about lost/stolen passports started to ring bells in my mind.

There was another indicator of something going wrong which wasn’t paid as much heed earlier. While we were still visiting the palace, Harshit kept receiving a few messages and notifications about some transactions being done on his card. But, due to the poor network availability, he couldn’t check those thoroughly. He had been a victim of online fraud in the past and thought those transactions to be something of that sort again. But, those transactions were being done from the cards that Harshit and Shalini had kept in their bags.

Now, it was the time to keep our calm and deal with what had happened. Amid the weak reception, I tried to call the emergency number 112 to get some help and had the first disappointment. The operator told me that they don’t deal with such matters and I should call the police and hung up the call. I called them again to at least give the contact number to the nearest police station as we were having trouble finding the same on the slow internet. We called the police station, reported the situation, and asked for further instructions. They asked us to come to the Sintra police station and file a complaint.

We started driving towards the city and reached the police station. Our complaint was filed. The only use of the complaint was to get proof of the incident for insurance purposes. Since we were supposed to fly out the next day, having the thought of retrieving the lost stuff would be stupid. We hadn’t any hopes from the police either. Even the tiny glimmers of hope were further diminished when we told them that we could track our Airpods on our phones, but the police said that they couldn’t track those thieves like that due to the “laws and regulations”.

Anyway, the major task was to deal with the issue of lost passports. While on our way to the police station and during our time at the police station, we were constantly trying to contact the Indian embassy in Lisbon. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that. The emergency numbers provided by the embassy were not responsive. Although it was already past 5 in the evening and outside of the working hours of the consulate, we still decided to go to the embassy and try to get some help. We rang the door and after 4-5 unanswered attempts, a lady came to the door. She didn’t open the door as there was no security around and asked us to come the next day or call the emergency number. I informed them that I had been calling the emergency number but wasn’t getting any response. She again asked to go back and told me that someone would call me back.

Immediately, I received a call from the very same emergency number and the same lady inquired about our situation. After learning about our situation, she consulted her superiors or the concerned offices and informed us about the options that we had. Those were:

  1. Take an emergency travel certificate from the embassy and go back to India. Get fresh passports issued in India and then come back to Dublin.
  2. Apply for a temporary passport(1 year validity) and travel to Dublin since we had our Residence Permit cards with us. This would take around 10-15 working days, and we had to stay in Lisbon for that time.

None of these options were convenient to us, but she advised us to go for the second option and asked us to come back the next morning with the passport form and other necessary documents. Simultaneously, we were also able to talk to a mutual friend who also had a similar incident with him in the past. He told us that he was given another option by the embassy. Under that option, the embassy would issue a temporary certificate stating the validation of your identity and passport numbers. You could try to use that document to travel if the immigration departments of the concerned countries i.e. Portugal and Ireland allow you to do so. This sounded like a better option to us as we would be able to get back to Dublin faster and then apply for a re-issue of passports from Dublin. However, the lady on the phone denied the possibility of any such option.

So, after all this, we decided that the next morning, we would first request officials at the embassy to give us the 3rd option. But, if they don’t, then we will go for option 2. In the impatient wait of the next morning, we started to deal with other things. Got our hired car exchanged and extended the booking by one more day as it would have been helpful to have a car while running around various offices the next day. Harshit and Shalini had also decided to stay in Lisbon and take the flight the next day From Lisbon only.

The next morning, we reached the embassy right on time and found long queues outside the gate. They were the people who had their appointments booked for various passport-related things. I had to inform the security guard about our emergency as he wouldn’t let us in without an appointment. After getting to the counter, we got to hear the same thing again. Only two options were available. We asked them about the 3rd option, but they weren’t ready for any such thing. The consulate officer told us that the certificate that we were asking for might not be treated as authentic, and we could land in some other trouble. We kept requesting them to please be kind and help us in some other way which would suit us. After seeing our sad and distraught faces for quite some time, they agreed to issue us that certificate. But, they warned us about the consequences. We decided to take our chances and give it a shot. Even, if that didn’t work out, we could come back the next day and then go for the temporary passport option. A single day wouldn’t have made any difference if we already had to wait for a minimum of 10-15 days. They asked us to come back at 2-2:30 to collect the certificate as they couldn’t use the time of booked appointments to attend to our issue.

A moment of hope and childish wishes:
While we were standing at the counter and talking to the official at the embassy, a parcel was handed to the officer that had come from the local police. The parcel had “lost passport” written on the envelope. Then, for a very small period of 2-3 seconds that was taken by the officer to open that parcel, we might have prayed the strongest and wished that the parcel contained our passports. But, that wasn’t the case, and it was someone else’s stolen/lost passport that was sent to the embassy.

Now, with this third option, we had another two major hurdles to overcome. Get clearance from Portugal to leave the country without a passport and clearance from Ireland to enter the country without a passport. We started to try to get in touch with the required authorities. At first, we got in touch with various help centers and got some half-baked pieces of information. Soon enough, we got information on how to get clearance from Ireland, but the process would happen over email. We had to send an email explaining our situation and asking for permission to enter Ireland without a passport. I was very skeptical about that at first since things tend to take long over emails, especially in Ireland. However, we got the approval in 2-3 hours after a few questions back and forth. But, we hadn’t been able to get in touch with anyone for the Portugal side. Even the numbers that we tried contacting, either were not functional or had IVR responses only in Portuguese which we couldn’t understand at all. Even the translator apps couldn’t translate those calls for us. Anyway, we decided to directly go to the airport and talk to the immigration police officials over there.

So, now, we plan to collect the certificate from the embassy, go to the airport, talk to the immigration officials, and if they allow us, book tickets directly at the counter and fly to Dublin. But, fate had something else in store for us. We left for the embassy to collect the certificate. I parked the car outside the embassy and started to walk toward the gate. At that time, I received an email from an unknown person with the subject “passport” saying that he had found a passport with my name on it. And he found me through Linkedin. A strange adrenaline rushed through my body as it was happening right outside the gate of the embassy. I immediately replied to that email and asked for his phone number. While waiting for his response, we collected the certificate from the security guard at the embassy. We weren’t allowed to come in, so I couldn’t inform the officials about the email that I had just received.

Now, sitting in the car, we were waiting for the response to our email. During this time, I was praying for things to go well but also trying not to get my hopes high. I couldn’t relax until I had the passport in my hand. Various thoughts were flowing inside my mind. For e.g. this guy could be one of the robbers and could be thinking of taking advantage of the situation for money etc. And even, if I got my passport back, we would still have to go through the risky road of convincing authorities to travel without a passport for Ritu. We could still be stuck in Portugal waiting for her temporary passport.

A few minutes later, he replied with his number on the email. I immediately called him, and he told me that he found the passport on a trekking trail in the forests of Sintra. He also told me that he had found Ritu’s passport as well and that was a small moment of relief hearing that. In arranging the handover of passports, he asked us to come to a famous shopping center close to his house. It was 20-25 kilometers away from us. The choice of the place for the meeting gave us some confidence about the authenticity of the person. Had he invited us to some shady or not-so-public place, that might have been a risk.

We reached the shopping center and started to wait at the mentioned entrance gate. We had even started to make the people entering the mall freak out since we were checking out every person entering the mall and wondering if that was the guy. Imagine four people staring at you in a very weird way at the entrance of a shopping mall. A few minutes later, our angel arrived with two passports in his hand. That was the moment when anxiety literally appeared to fly out of your body. We all sat down for a coffee and chatted for a while about the situation. He was trekking with his friends in Sintra forest in the morning when he found our passports. He took the passports and had thought of handing them to the local police. That would have been helpful but surely made us stuck in Portugal and apply for a temporary passport by the time our passports would reach us. Fortunately, while working on his computer with passports lying on his table, he thought of doing some exploration and found my LinkedIn profile and then my website. With this chain, he was able to contact me over e-mail.

We thanked him as much as we could. He was also sorry about the fact that we had to face such a situation while on vacation. Now, it was time to fly to Dublin, but we had missed the few last seats left on the flight that Harshit and Shalini had booked for themselves. There was no other flight available that day, so we had to stay another night in Lisbon and fly the next day.

It was Halloween week, and we had witnessed demons and angels casting their charms on our lives. I know the comparisons of thieves with demons and the guy who returned our passports with an angel might sound a bit too much. But, that’s how we felt at that time. We had been saved from a lot of trouble by a good deed from a good person and were able to get back to Dublin in time.

With our angel in Portugal

With our angel in Portugal

As we reflected on the events of that day and the impact it had on us, we couldn’t help but think about the power of karma and the importance of doing good deeds. While it’s easy to get caught up in the negativity of the situation, we also saw the positive side of it. The kindness and generosity of the people we encountered along the way reminded us that there is still good in the world.

We left Portugal with a renewed sense of purpose and a desire to do more good deeds. We wanted to pay forward the kindness we had received and make a positive impact on the world. The experience made us realize that even in the face of adversity, there is always an opportunity to do good and make a difference. And who knows, maybe the good deeds we do will come back to us in unexpected ways, just as the kindness of strangers helped us in our time of need.

Rohan Jaswal

Software Engineer at Udemy. Playing around with Python, Java and stuff!


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