Thursday, March 25, 2010

The wheels on the bus...

In order to have a truly complete South American travel adventure, every explorer needs to do at least one excessively long trip by bus. The thought of a 20 hour bus ride is intimidating, but these journeys are a must....and can even be enjoyable. The flights within South America are expensive, and buses provide a cheap and easy-to-use alternative. Because buses are such popular forms of transportation, they are a relatively comfortable, clean, and safe way to move from point A to point B. The nicer buses have seats that almost fully recline to make a legitimate bed. If you're taking a particularly long trip, it's worth it to splurge for the full "cama" bus. Overnight buses also eliminate the need to book a hostel or other accommodations for the night--you're saving money while snoozing!

The buses offer food en route, but the quality of your in-transit meal varies greatly from company to company. It's always a safe bet to pack snacks 'just in case.' However, the nicer buses offer a pretty decent meal with a complimentary mini bottle of wine (definitely helpful when it comes to sleeping). On other rides, you may get stale or soggy ham and cheese medialunas that look like they've been trapped in plastic wrap for well over a week.

Be careful not to eat or drink too much. The bathrooms on the buses are predictably not the most luxurious. Additionally, as the steward explains when you arrive on the bus, there are absolutely NO 'number 2s' allowed on board. One unfortunate passenger on a bus trip I was on clearly could not restrain himself long enough to follow this rule. He was publicly chastised, turning beet red and mumbling apologies, in front of the whole bus. On long trips, they stop at rest stops to refuel along the way, and you may use the restrooms there. Make it quick...a friend of a friend was left behind at such a rest stop en route to Mendoza. He had to get on the next bus headed there and luckily had friends on the bus that left him to collect his luggage.

The "in-bus" entertainment usually leaves a lot to be desired. There are always a few movies queued to play, but you rarely are watching Oscar quality flicks. I've watched Phat Girls dubbed in Spanish THREE TIMES on bus rides. Occasionally you'll get a good one that will occupy the brain for a few hours. These movies are never censored. On a bus full of families and children, my dinnertime movie was once Lord of War. A great movie, but packed with drugs and violence and probably only appropriate for non-breastfeeding audiences. My favorite part of the entertainment selection is the music video hour. Sometimes hours on end of crazy, over-the-top reggaeton music videos: amazing. With these questionable entertainment sources, don't forget to pack a book and mp3 player in your carry-on.

Overnight bus rides do have their fair share of unpleasant moments, but overall I enjoy travelling by bus here. They are very comfortable and the time always passes much faster than you think it will. You simply have to be prepared for whatever twists and turns the trip will bring you. Below is my list of on-board essentials when preparing for a long bus ride:

  • Warm socks: It gets really cold on the buses...even in the middle of summer. Many of them have air vents located on the floor, so a pair of cosy socks always serves well
  • Blanket or other warm clothing: same reason as above. Also, a bit of a personal preference...I love wrapping up in blankets while sleeping
  • Snacks: I always try to bring some fruit (nothing they serve you will be fresh) and a few other of my favorite goodies (Frutigrans!!)
  • Earplugs: You only have to be stuck next to a snorer or crying baby once to never forget them again
  • Sleeping pills: I always need a little help when trying to sleep in transit. Booze is also an acceptable substitute...especially when returning from trips to wine country. Don't knock yourself out too hard though. I've never encountered problems with theft on buses, but I've had friends that have had things taken.
  • Book: Self-explanatory
  • Magazine: When I get sick of (or finish) my book
  • Luggage ticket: Don't lose this! They give you a little slip of paper when you check your bag below...hold on to it!
  • Charged mp3 player: I actually don't have one so never travel with one, but for most this is a long trip essential.
Suerte and happy trails!

1 comment:

  1. DO NOT forget the Frutigrans! I made it to Costa Rica only to discover I had eaten all of them on the plane and had a mini-crisis realizing that it's an Argentine item. Ahhh... already missing home. And the buses are certainly a luxury in Argentina. Recommended! (also with you on that ear plug idea)