"Women are the guardians of continuity. If the hearth moves, they move with it. Remember, it is the gypsy women who keep their men on the road."

~"Boomerang Love," Jimmy Buffett

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Bussing it throughout Argentina

As promised, after logging over 150 hours of bus travel (and counting!), I can comfortably say that I’ve become an expert at bussing through Argentina.  I have experienced every level of “bus,” which has become a fluid term, since it includes everything from a modest 10-seater van which took us from Rio Gallegos to El Calafate to the Marga bus which ended up boarding a ferry to cross the Strait of Magellan:

As I started writing, I quickly realized that the variety and breadth of these experiences could not be encapsulated in just one post. As such, I'm taking a page from my food post, and splitting this entry into a three-part series (sort of like a Horcrux, only not the consummation of all that is evil and unholy). Over the next few days, I hope to shed some insight on one of the most fundamental aspects of traveling in Argentina, while hopefully dropping some amusing anecdotes along the way. 

Part 1: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When the buses are good, they’re awesome.  When they’re bad, they can be miserable. Anybody who's traveled knows that the smallest complications (delays, feeling under the weather, forgetting your camera, etc) can affect your perception of the company, and it can often difficult to separate those issues from a genuinely bad experience with the busline/airline/travel agency itself. Nevertheless, I have endeavored break it down as objectively and honestly as possible. 

  • Good: A standard long-distance bus ride with servicios usually provides food at the appropriate mealtime. Some bus companies have provided pretty solid offerings, including a protein entrée, a side of bread or rice, dessert, and occasionally a beverage. If the bus times don't necessarily fall during mealtime, they may still offer a snack box or drink. 
  • Bad: Some cheaper companies settle for really stale vacuum-packed ham and cheese sandwiches on processed white bread which just leave you thirstier than when you left. 
  • Ugly: It can often be unpredictable in what situations they will serve food. The very same company that served some of the best bus food I have eaten also left us starving on the 14 hour ride from Trelew to Rio Gallegos. Foolishly, with each passing bus stop, we refrained from purchasing a snack because we thought to ourselves, “Surely they must feed us soon.” Silly us.

  • Good: Interestingly, the seats are classified by angle of recline. The standard “economy” seat is a semi-cama (semi-bed), which reclines so the passenger can sleep in a semi-prone position. I have never really experienced problems sleeping in this position, but then again, I’m short enough to fit in the seat. If you are willing to spend a few extra pesos (I’m talking roughly the equivalent of $5USD), you may get a full cama which unfolds into a completely horizontal position. In this regard, an executive or first class bus is luxury when it comes to leg room, comfort, and cushiness. An advantage to the cheap seats is that they are on the top tier of the buses.  If you buy your tickets in advance, there's a good chance you can get a front seat with a little extra leg room and a fantastic view. 

Front row seats
  • Bad: The complete disregard for any semblance temperature control. In the summer, the buses are almost always about 10º too cold, resulting in my wearing a laughable number of layers for a tropical climate.
    Entirely too many layers for a visit to Iguazu in May
  • Ugly: During my first long distance ride to Resistencia (about 12 hours from Tucumán), it was uncharacteristically rainy throughout the entire country, and it rained the entire ride. It was as if a storm cloud was following me all the way to my next destination. Since I wasn't driving,  this would normally be a minor inconvenience at most, if not for the small problem of the leaking ceiling dripping cold rain water over my head.

  • Good: Some rides are timed remarkably well, so there are very few moments of idle dead time where you’re staring blankly out the window or sleeping for lack of anything else to do. During these rides, the conductor keeps a steady cycle of meals, movies, and the occasional game of bus bingo to keep our circadian rhythms as normal as humanly possible. In particular, some of the bus rides have showed some very high quality boot-legged movies, including blockbusters like “Sherlock Holmes” and Academy Award winners like “Hurt Locker” and "Blind Side." 
  • Bad: If the conductor can’t be bothered to turn on the DVD player, they will turn off the lights at 8PM and expect you to sleep until morning. 
  • Ugly: Some of the awful straight-to-DVD movies that they wouldn’t even bother releasing in the US, normally starring either Rob Schneider or Michael Jai White. 

Bus Stops
  • Good: Long-distance buses usually make several stops along the route. On an overnight bus, a considerate bus line might turn on the lights when they approach a major bus station, so people who will be disembarking know to wake up and start gathering their belongings. A particularly attentive conductor may even announce the stop for people too disoriented and groggy to notice their surroundings. An exceptional conductor will announce exactly how many minutes the bus will hang out in case you need to make a bathroom or snack run. 
  • Bad: Not knowing which stop you are at (bus stations are often unmarked), and out of fear of missing your stop, being forced you to stay awake for several hours, straining to catch a kilometer marker or some city sign to orient yourself. 
  • Ugly: Not knowing whether the bus is stopping for a break, to refuel, or to drop somebody off and being so paranoid about being left behind, that you end up holding and waiting when you really, really, need to use the bathroom.

  • Good: A bus originating from your destination, so it departs on time and arrives relatively close to the ETA (approximately within 15 or 30 minutes). 
  • Bad: Mechanical or electrical problems that cause you to be stuck in the Resistencia bus station for 3 hours, after only having traveled 17 kilometers. 
  • Ugly: A 24-hour transportation strike on the day you were originally planning to travel from San Juan to Bariloche: the longest leg of your journey (approximately 16 hours)in which you had bought the tickets a week in advance in anticipation of high season.  
A noble fleet of buses

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You really are a totally expert!!! This info will be very usefull to me and my husband, con we are going next week to Argentina. We will rent one of the apartments in Buenos Aires, but we want to travel all aorund the country in busses!! I think that will be an amazing experience, what do you say??

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