Friday, October 27, 2006

Buses in Argentina

The long, empty road...

I'D LIKE to do an entry about transport in South America. The distances here are unreal. Maybe if you come from, or have spent a lot of time in the US or Australia you'd used to it. But then I imagine there most distances of note are covered by plane. Not here. Here it's the open road, as Britain's third best songsmith Gary Barlow once sang about.

Travellers think nothing of 10, 20, even 30 hour bus journeys. Literally living on a bus for a couple of days. The longest one I've heard of is 56 hours from Rio de Janeiro to Santiago. That crosses the entire continent. Madness. Who travels on these trips? I wonder what is the longest bus journey you can do, with no stops or changes. I'm going to look into a Santiago to Los Angeles bus. I estimate it would take about 200 hours. Which sounds like insanity personified but think - that passes through over a dozen countries. That's a lot of stamps.

But back to reality, so much as I've been calling it these past few weeks. My bus to Puerto Madryn from Buenos Aires left at 7.30pm on Monday night. I got a taxi with a nice canadian guy called Rob to the bus station. I panic and begin to perspire heavily when I try to get on the wrong bus. Do I want to go to Mendoza? Not today. Where is my bus? Finally it arrives. My company is Andesmar. A group of good reputation, although James tells me they serve rubbish food. But more of that later. First a goodbye to Rob, who is going to Puerto Iguacu (where the National Park and waterfalls are). His is also a 16-18 hour journey. I estimate that within 24 hours we'll be over 2,000 km away from each other, as we are going in opposite directions. In Argentina there are 4 classes of bus transport; Executive, Cama (bed), Semi-Cama and Comun. Executive is for business men and the like. Most travellers and normal people get cama or semi-cama buses.

My bus with Andesmar is semi-cama, meaning the seat reclines most of the way in order for you to get some sleep. I've heard a lot about buses in Argentina, that they are part of the fun of travelling. I thought the buses in Brazil were pretty good, as they have a similar type of system. Well, when I get on my Andesmar semi-cama I am immediately pleased - I have the best seat on the bus. The top tier of the bus has two seats on the left of the aisle and one on the other. I have the single seat AT THE FRONT OF THE BUS. I used to be happy getting that view on the bus to school or into town. Now I have it for 16 whole hours. Excellent. Good start.

I have been suffering from a bit of a cold for a few days and am pleased to notice blankets and pillows on the seat and a passable airplane style meal is served by a man Julian calls a 'feederplayer'. He is called this as his job is not to drive or navigate or anything, but to give you food and play dvds. Speaking of dvds, our 'feederplayer' puts on Mr and Mrs. Smith. Which is technically brilliant but the emotional centre of the film between Pitt and Jolie leaves me cold, and I make a mental note to join Team Aniston as soon as possible.

I read for a time. My latest is I Flew For The Fuhrer, a diary of German WW2 fighter pilot Heinz Knoke. Interesting stuff. He shot down about 52 enemy planes. In the book, one German pilot remarks that "swearing is the laxative that purges the soul." It's an amazing line. Unfortunately the pilot dies shortly afterwards, shot down by 'Tommy', thus robbing us of any other philosophical gems.

After dinner, our feederplayer brings round some vino. Intrigued I forgo my usual travelling beverage of Coca-Cola for a glass (or cup) of lovely, ice-cold RED wine. On first taste I am shocked. But, you know, it wasn't actually too bad. Around 12ish sleep descends over me like some kind of comfy blanket - courtesy of Andesmar no doubt! I wake. I feel like I've been asleep for ages. It must be midday. I check my watch. 7.33am. Twelve hours since departure. Still a way to go. Breakfast is merely some crackers and biscuits. Dissapointed, I glare at my feederplayer, who shies away, probably from the shame of the rubbish breakfast. He then further dissapoints me by putting on a boring war film starring Clint Eastwood, who doesn't even kill anyone that I saw. Rubbish.

I open the curtains to my makeshift bedroom to admire the scenery. I am met by complete nothingness on all sides. Just wide, open grassy plains. This means one thing - we have arrived in Patagonia! When a truck goes by it is a mini event, met with waves from our driver. The view remains the same for the rest of the journey. Shortly before the end of the trip, another event famous among travellers with tales of this company - the Andesmar bingo! Everyone ticking off the numbers down that our feederplayer reads out. In Spanish. I didn't win, so I don't know the prize. More crackers, possibly. Still, I make a mental note to suggest it, when I get back, to National Express whose lack of bingo on their buses is all too apparent.

Finally, around 1.30pm we arrive into Puerto Madryn. Collect bags. Grab taxi. Arrive at hostel.

And that's a note about buses in Argentina, although I intend to try out the (possibly very uncomfortable) Comun buses soon, just to see. Also I'm sure Bolivia will involve many buses with chickens and people sleeping in aisles and such so I wouldn't like to say Andesmar are indicative of all South American buses.

Anyway. That's all about buses for now. I'd just like to make an additional note that someone left some converse trainers in a dorm room I was staying in. From the look of them I'd say they were aged between 6 and 8 months. Coincidently they were size 10. My size, fate! I've been wearing them although this brings up my footwear count to FIVE, which is probably more shoes than I've ever actually had in my life. May have to leave them. Maybe that is what has been happening to them . Maybe they have been all over the world, constantly rejected for durable Merrells. Excitement and fun versus durability and reliability. A metaphor for relationships maybe? Except I don't know anyone making this kind of decision who has three OTHER pairs of 'shoes'.

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