After my first long-distance bus ride on Via Bariloche from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, I was strangely looking forward to my second: a 28 hour megatrip from Bariloche to El Calafate via Río Gallegos, which isn’t actually on the way at all.
The only company that does this trip in one go is Taqsa, and the only seats available were Cama, which are mostly reclining (rather than the flat-bed SuperCama seat I treated myself to last time.) Despite this, the ticket was pretty pricey: at AR$902 (about R1800) it was a fair bit more than my first luxury ride and, although it took several hours longer to arrive, would only take me a roughly equivalent final distance. So I expected the ride would be decent.
But Miss Grumble-Trousers was destined to walk again.
The first sign that things weren’t going live up to famous Argentinian Bus standards of excellence were the seats. On Via Bariloche, they were impeccably prepared, with woolen blankets, travel pillows and seat belt arranged in a smart little welcome pile. On Taqsa, they were covered in old crumbs. Mine was further decorated with a straw wrapper and a blob of old chewing gum stuck to the arm rest. I asked the attendant/co-driver to remove the chewing gum, which he cheerfully did with his fingers.
There was no cold water in the dispenser, only super sweet coffee and, downstairs, hot water (at least I could make maté). I asked for cold water. The no-longer quite so cheerful attendant/co-driver brought some in a small bottle.
An hour later, I realised I was sweating in my seat, so I made another trip to the cockpit to ask them to put the air conditioning on. The attendant/co-driver stopped smoking (sorry can we pause for an exclamation mark here? …!) for a moment to comply with a grunt.
A movie was played, but since the television near my seat was missing (the bracket to hold it still remained), I couldn’t see anything at all. I could hear everything though, as the volume was nicely turned up and remained at top volume for five more movies.
The movies were all in English, with Spanish subtitles. I only mention this because on my next trip to the cockpit, I couldn’t help noticing that the driver was watching the movie on a very small screen next to him. Presumably, since he spoke no English, he was reading the subtitles too.
I returned to my seat, comforted to know that we were being driven down a narrow, bumpy highway in the dark by a man who was simultaneously smoking, watching a movie and reading subtitles.
After an incredibly inedible dinner was served, another movie was played at top volume until midnight. And then… another movie started. I decided a further trip to the cockpit was necessary, so I could do some watch-tapping and say the word ‘Dormir!’ very sternly.
In the morning, I once again visited the cockpit to ask for toilet paper. And again to ask for some water (there still wasn’t any). A small biscuit with what appeared to be jam on it was served for breakfast, along with a tea bag.
A while later, we were stopped at a police checkpoint and our passports were inspected. A young local woman was taken off the bus and her bags were searched at length in a room that we could see into from the bus. The police wore white plastic gloves and bullet proof jackets. The bus drivers stood outside laughing and smoking.
Another woman was taken off the bus to watch the first woman being searched. When the second woman eventually returned, she told us that the first woman was carrying a lot of cheese and chicken. Apparently you can’t travel around Argentina with dairy and meat products. I started to worry about the stash of emergency food I’d bought in Rio Gallegos and hastily ate my small, overpriced yoghurt.
It is much later now. Another movie is playing. We are still at the police checkpoint. I don’t think we shall ever leave. I shall sit on this bus until I have eaten my small, overpriced ham and cheese sandwich and then, I shall start to eat my fellow travelers.
And then, I shall eat the policemen and women and the bus drivers. (No, maybe not the bus drivers. They’d taste of cigarettes.) And after that, I shall run down the freeway, stopping cars and eating their drivers….
(Note: We did eventually make it to El Calafate, after 30 hours, and I did not eat anyone.)