It is said that the true breakthrough in a language comes when you start dreaming in it. So, when that happened to me while dozing on a bus right at the beginning of my Spanish learning curve, I excitedly thought I might have genius-like aptitude.
Sadly, as I rubbed my eyes and came round to reality, I realised it wasn’t the case. The voice that had been reciting my very limited vocabulary (in this case, numbers) was actually coming straight from a real, live Argentinean man standing a few feet away. “48”, he called, “23”. He was the bus steward, I realised, and he appeared to be – I rubbed my again – he appeared to be leading everyone in a game of bingo.
This wasn’t on an organised tour, but an ordinary (by Argentinian standards) long-distance coach. Five minutes later, the strangers around me were clapping as the day’s winner was presented with a bottle of Malbec. Stranger things have happened at sea goes the saying, but perhaps it should be stranger things have happened on an Argentinian bus.
A few trips later – and bingo games aside – you start to realise Argentina bus travel is akin to being on a plane. The stewards dress in the company uniform, serve you a hot meal and switch on the onboard film. The good ones might even bring you a blanket or help you recline your seat.
And whereas on a plane a fully reclining flat-bed seat is only for the elite or those with a generous employer, on an Argentinian bus, it’s an accessible treat for any flashpacking wannabe. ‘Cama suite’ (i.e. bed) or ‘ejecutivo’ tend to have the best facilities and recline most fully. ‘Cama’ is comfortable a step down, while ‘semi cama’ (semi bed) still manages to provide a perfectly good tilt for the less fussy, or more budget conscious.
Experienced bus travellers in Argentina soon learn to dress in layers to combat Arctic blasts of air conditioning, carry earplugs in case of snorers, and have a stock of snacks to combat hit-and-miss food and unpredictable timings. With so many bus companies all offering slightly different services, it is worth clarifying exactly what you ticket price includes. If you’re lucky you’ll get the hat trick: a hot meal, an alcoholic nightcap and onboard Wi-Fi.
Here are a couple of travellers in awe of their Argentina travel experience:
Taking at least one overland trip in Argentina is a must and the only way to really appreciate the country’s vast size. There are no shortage of route options, with some of the most popular ones including Buenos Aires to Iguazu (17 to 19 hours) and Buenos Aires to Mendoza (14 hours). Highly recommended is the eight-hour trip through the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago in Chile, as you get to experience views like this:
Down in Patagonia, the views are less varied, but watching the arid steppe roll on and on can also be appealing in its own way. Just don’t get too carried away and book a trip from the capital to the country’s southern tip, Ushuaia. At over 60 hours, that could prove a little too much ‘thinking time’ for even the hardiest traveller.
When it comes to making your plans, you do it online with the (relatively) new site, Pasajes en Casa. Or when in Buenos Aires, you can let the booking become an experience in itself. The first floor of Retiro bus station has over a hundred counters served by 80-plus companies and, fortunately, its desks are colour coded by geographical region to help you find bearings. Some of the big companies to look out for are Via Bariloche, Flechabus and Chevallier.
Finally, if you’re looking for the iconic game of bingo, it can usually be found on buses from the Andesmar chain, which has fully branded the experience. Be sure to shout the company’s name – not bingo – as you cross off that final number or you may risk losing the prize vino.
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