The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round…and Round…and Round

Even though I didn’t really want to stay in Buenos Aires any longer, as we packed up our possessions in our backpacks that hadn’t been touched in two months, I started to get a nervous feeling. I was ready to leave the big city and get back to the small towns, wilderness, and hiking every day (and so was my waistline), but we had gotten so accustomed to being in a big apartment. There was nothing that we ever had to do. And the feeling of uncertainty and apprehension of being in a new place had vanished long ago. Now we were facing smaller living spaces, places that we had to get to on time, and an uncertain future involving long bus rides, new towns, border crossings and recrossings, and the certainty that we were going to have to speak Spanish to communicate. So as we left the apartment on that last day in a taxi bound for the bus station, I felt almost the same feeling that I did when we left the United States. But our bus ride to Puerto Madryn was all that we needed to remind us that there was nothing to be nervous about. Annoyed and disgusted perhaps, but not nervous.

Our adventure began in the bus station in Buenos Aires. Having been kicked out of our apartment at 10 in the morning, we had 10 hours to kill before our bus left. After stowing our luggage in the lockers, we took off to explore the station. I took probably 20 steps away from the lockers before the strap of my flip flop broke loose and left me shoeless. After paying for the locker again so that I could extract another pair of shoes from my backpack, we really did set out to accomplish the tasks of the day: change money, print our bus tickets, and buy a new camera since we had been without one for almost two months. After these tasks were accomplished, there was nothing to do but wait. It was unnaturally hot, so even though my instinct was to go running through the city taking pictures of everything that I had seen in the past two months, my body told me that there was absolutely no way that was going to happen. I reminded myself that people used to travel without cameras, and took a seat in the air conditioned bus station. I watched with fascination the couple waiting on a bench outside, the woman sitting on the man’s lap. At first I thought that the woman was performing some sort of dental procedure on him, but after a couple of minutes of observation, I realized that it was more likely that she was trying to pop a pimple on his face. Either way, ew. To pass the time I read a bit, walked to the grocery store to get snacks and almost got hit by a bus crossing the street, and took laps around the bus station. After a minor freak out when the bus didn’t show up on time and I thought that the guy at the information desk said that the bus was not coming (he said it hadn’t come yet, but I wasn’t paying attention to the conjugation, only the verb), the bus showed up and we pushed our way onto it.

Since we were going to be on the bus for 20 hours, we decided to spring for the really nice seats. These seats are quite wide and comfortable and recline 140 degrees. The seats were great. It was other factors that made the trip a bit less than ideal. As soon as we got on the bus, there was music blaring from above at a volume way louder than necessary. I figured that it would stop once we got on the road, but I was wrong. It continued at varying degrees of intensity for several hours so that Adam could not turn up his Ipod loud enough to hear anything over it and I was having trouble reading. Finally at around 10:30 it stopped. “Yes,” I thought, “time for bed.”

But that was a silly thought. People in Argentina don’t go to bed at 10:30. In place of the music there was now on the TV in front of us a DVD of a concert by a man in a white suit who looked like he was about to enter a Yanni look-a-like contest, but seemed to be as popular with the ladies as Tom Jones during his heyday. I can’t remember his name, probably because the women in the crowd at the concert were shrieking so loudly that my brain was actually rattled. Anytime this white-suited ass-clown would hit a high note, the speakers above our heads would visibly shake. And this is where one has to make a call. There are two possibilities here. One is that in Argentina on a bus this is what usually happens. People in general support this form of entertainment at this decibel and to complain about it would make you look like an ethnocentric jerk. The other possibility is that the bus driver has no idea how loud the DVD is and everyone would gladly welcome the reduction of volume. However, since everyone on the bus seemed to be a native and no one seemed the least bit bothered by it, I erred on the side of caution and assumed the former was true. Mercifully, the concert ended around midnight, and there was no more music during the course of the night. No more music until the next day when the bus driver tried out his Phil Collins, Peter Cetera mega-mix CD which was abandoned midway due to the poor quality of the disc. The only thing worse than listening to a Phil Collins song is listening to a Phil Collins song skipping.

One quickly learns that unless it is a dire emergency, one does not use the bathroom on the bus. It was as if someone had stood on top of the bus and peed indiscriminately into the bathroom covering all of the surfaces in urine. To make matters worse, the morbidly obese child who boarded the bus clutching two large bottles of soda had some sort of digestive system issue which prompted the bus driver to disinfect not only the floor of the bathroom, but the entire floor of the bus. Later a little girl being led quickly down the stairs, her mother’s hand pressed firmly over her mouth, projectile vomited an extra chunky, day-glo mixture onto the floor right outside of the bathroom. So it is wise to try to plan bathroom breaks around stops at bus stations along the way, although there is no guarantee that the bathrooms in those stations will be anything but a shade less disgusting.

Complain as I might about the buses, I must admit that Argentina does have an unbelievable bus system. And considering how outrageously expensive domestic flights are, they really are the best travel option available. Be that as it may, we were tired and cranky after our bus trip and just wanted to settle into our room and get some sleep. But first, as this is the way things go, we had to walk from the bus station to the hostel in the driving rain since it was just close enough to make us look like wussies if we took a taxi. Thankfully, the next day the weather cleared up and we had two enjoyable days in a town that was…not Buenos Aires.

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