Leaving Bariloche we had a 15 hour to our next stop, Comodoro Ridavia, which we were only stopping in to break up our journey further south, an additional 10 hours in bus the following night. That second bus ride encountered some road work and although we did sleep on the bus, the bus didn’t move between the hours of 9pm and 5am. Thus we began driving around the time we were supposed to arrive. Between these two bus trips and the ensuing 5 hours to reach our actual destination we spent nearly 40 hours in bus over a 48 hour period. This has inspired us to write about our friend, the bus.
We discovered the convenience of the overnight bus on our very first night of this trip where our decision to take the bus was made for us. Since then we’ve come to rely on the overnight bus as the most efficient form of transportation for our time and money. We move while we sleep and don’t have to pay for lodging. At this point, traveling 10 hours during the day is simply unthinkable for us.
At the start, buses were generally what you’d think of if we told you we’d taken a coach bus. Seats 2×2 with a bathroom in back. These were still generally more comfortable than an airplane just on account of legroom. These buses, are called ‘classic’ buses. Now in the far south, we have a few more options. Semi-Cama, Cama, and Super Cama (cama means bed). Semi is still 4 seats to a row, 2×2, but there is a little leg support thing that comes down in front of you to make your chair infinitely more comfortable. Cama is basically the same except there are only three seats to a row, 2×1, and so the seats are much wider and generally do recline a touch further. Super is like flying international first class, the leg support that comes down to give you a lounge chair feel can actually go completely horizontal with the back support nearly hitting 180 degrees as well. This is the ultimate in comfort as you’ve basically got your own bed with a private television.
Which brings us to another great point of these buses, the movies. Countries seem to vary in their preference for watching movies in their original language or dubbed into the local language. Here in Argentina and Chile subtitles seem to win over dubbed films but this is not always a good thing. When we hear English, we can’t seem to pull our attention away. One time we were forced to watch Grease 2 in English, that was hell. We’ve now seen Transporter 3, four times, you’ve probably never seen this movie and believe me…you don’t want to. The movie before bed is often violent and bloody and if it doesn’t involve death it is still generally quite psychologically disturbing. We have seen some great movies though, it is a real shame when some of these are dubbed…like Robin Williams’ Mrs. Doubtfire. (I think there were about 5 different voice actors used to cover Robin’s different voices).
The buses here in the south generally include a meal (the topic of our next Foodie Friday) of some kind which is rather good of them. This we did not have until we reached Peru but have come to enjoy not needing to pack food immensely. While these nicer buses have affected our “bus preparation” some the process is generally the same. Leave toothbrush/toothpaste out for use either on bus or immediately before departure along with the neck pillow and earplugs. If the salesperson told us there is a blanket on the bus we’re always sure to check that out before handing our luggage over to the baggage people…we’ve been disappointed in the past. Another thing we always do is to make sure our valuables are below the bus.
This last part generally surprises people but it seems to us the safest way to travel. Every (by every I mean all but one) story we’ve heard about thievery on the buses involves people stealing things out of your hand luggage. If its down below, usually no one is going to touch it. Now, we do generally watch when we make interim stops to make sure that no one walks off with our baggage but this seems to not happen. The one exception we’ve heard to this rule was in Ecuador where we met someone who was robbed by a child who had been packed inside a piece of luggage, under the bus, and left for some hours with intent to rob as many bags as possible. As there is simply no defense for this, we don’t defend for this. This is of course our opinion, but we feel that our things are generally safer under the bus rather than on the shelf above our heads.
Some of our favorite bus stories are not from overnight buses at all though, but daytime buses. There was the ride in Bolivia, 7 hours, where the windshield broke at the start and we continued the whole way as the remaining pieces fell out…all this while a couple of indigenous women decided to play “annoy the gringo” with me and use me as their seat, nice. There was the time in Peru that a baby lamb was on the bus. It defecated in the aisle and I was curious if any veal was going to be served on account of the incident. The same bus trip also featured a small alpaca placed in the luggage compartment, we’ve seen chickens but this was very special. Leaving Argentina for our first entrance in Chile we waited at the border (10,000 feet) with the A/C running for over 4 hours. In Guatemala our bus broke down and the driver only gave each person back enough money to pay for the next bus. When our entire (full) bus jumped on the (full) next bus to pass they didn’t think to take money (this is just how they do it there) as people got on…you can imagine how much fun that ride was. This was also the site of Jill’s first thwarting of an attempted pick pocket.
In truth, traveling in this method really has saved us a load of money and time. In our 8 months of travel we’ve spent approximately an entire month’s worth of nights on a bus, if we had to do all of this during the day we’d see and do less and just be way less happy. Now in the south these buses are incredibly comfortable but even where there was no bed seating they were still always good enough. Our next voyage will be to Africa so our last night bus in Argentina will probably be our last overnight bus for a while!