3/12/10 – 3/14/10: Argentina
I wish space on the bus were a little more… malleable. They give me and Zhou two seats, but when she lies down she hardly uses any of her space. What if I could somehow mold that extra space into a nice twin bed for myself? That would be the good life.
Instead there is real life though, and for us these past 52 hours that meant sleeping, eating and breathing only in our given seats on a bus heading from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. (Technically we needed three buses to get there, but I’ll get to that later.) I’m sure you’re wondering at this point – how did the ride go?
How did it go?!? It went something like this:
7:00pm, Friday: We hesitantly climb the stairs to the top level of our double-decker, knowing that this is the last time we’ll smell fresh air for the next 36 hours. We had wanted to book cama seats which fully recline into a flat bed, but there were none available. Fortunately the semi-cama seats in front of us look fairly comfortable.
7:01pm, Friday: The seats are comfortable!
8:00pm, Friday: The first in a string of bad movies comes on. This time it’s the Vince Vaughn epic thriller, Four Christmases. At least it passes the time until dinner, which is served halfway through the film. Today’s feast: vegetable lasagna, bread and cold rice topped with ham and cheese. We will soon learn that ham and cheese is the staple Argentinian bus food.
10:30pm, Friday: The movie has ended and I can’t figure out how to operate the bathroom door. A line forms behind me as I wait for the person inside to come out. Boy, this sure is taking them a long time! I try the door again and realize no one was ever in there. I sheepishly smile at the guys behind me and then feel bad enough that I don’t even use the bathroom – I just brush my teeth and decide to come back later. I do however find out that the toilet is for liquids only. There’s Spanish graffiti on the wall next to this sign that says, according to my rough translation, “This means pee only! No poop!” I silently hope that the lasagna treats me well.
4:30am, Saturday: We reach our first lengthy stop to pick up and drop off people. There were a couple of quick stops late last night, but this one feels like Mike Holmgren came in and is trying to rebuild the passenger list from start. The worst part is that my seat is directly next to the stairs to get off the bus, and everyone feels the need to bump into my head, or shoulder, or leg before getting off. I will learn soon that smacking the guy sitting by the exit is a staple Argentinian bus tradition.
5:15am, Saturday: We’ve been sitting at a blinking train track crossing for the last 10 minutes and there’s still no train in sight. The driver and the attendant finally decide to get out of the bus and manually lift the arm guarding the tracks. The driver then gets back on to get the bus across the track, leaving the attendant struggling to keep the arm in the air. He looks a bit like a skinny version of one of those World’s Strongest Man competitors: his veins are popping out of his forehead and his face is turning bright red. We make it safely across the tracks though, and I silently hope that the poor guy gets some rest.
5:30am, Saturday: I feel like blah from the humid bus, so I go downstairs to wash my face. As is often the case, a bloody nose strikes at a very inopportune time, especially since I don’t realize it until after I finish washing. I spend the next 20 minutes doing battle with this problem. I eventually win.
12:45pm, Saturday: I finally wake up after a very mediocre night’s sleep. I remember the big stop and the train tracks, as well as getting a weird Argentinian breakfast cookie that I didn’t eat, but other than that I had been iterating through the same three step process all night: listen to music, fall asleep, wake up and repeat.
1:00pm, Saturday: I woke up just in time for the action! A dog climbs on board and it appears to me that he is sniffing all the passengers for drugs. I think the passenger in the row in front of us thinks he is a candy-sniffing dog, because when the dog starts smelling him intently for a long time, he pulls the candy out of his pocket and gives it to the dog. The dog, unfazed, keeps sniffing around the guy. Eventually the policeman asks the guy to leave the bus while he and the dog check his belongings. Unfortunately since everything took place in Spanish and there were no subtitles, I can’t tell quite how the story ends. But the guy is eventually allowed back on. For the next thirty minutes he keeps looking over his shoulder suspiciously.
6:00pm, Saturday: The attendant thinks the bus has magically transformed into a retirement center, as he hands out Bingo cards to everyone. We play a game and a guy in the back of the bus wins a bottle of wine. We think Zhou got pretty close to a Bingo, but we’re not really sure since all the numbers were called out in Spanish and we were just randomly crossing off squares. It’s funny that even though we were guessing at what numbers were called, I still did terribly. I guess I’m not cut out to be a Bingo player.
7:00pm, Saturday: After several bad Spanish movies, they finally show another American movie with Spanish subtitles. I get excited when I start to see things get blown up, but eventually I learn that we are watching what has just dethroned Mars Attacks! as the worst movie of all-time. Yes, 2012 was that bad. Without spoiling anything for you, during one scene a plane is taking off amidst a volcanic explosion. Rocks are coming down everywhere around the plane, which is gaining speed down the runway. I understand that if the plane is hit that makes for a bad movie, but what I don’t understand is how all of a sudden John Cusack climbs up a cliff and runs on foot quickly enough to catch the plane just before it takes off over an immense gorge. The movie is so bad that I silently hope that I get to see it again and laugh at it.
7:45am, Sunday: Ahhh, fresh air! We were supposed to arrive in a small town called Rio Gallegos at 6am, but were running way behind schedule. We don’t care though, as not counting one ten minute break yesterday morning, neither of us have seen the outdoors in quite some time. Using my best Spanish, I order some breakfast croissants for us. “Cuanto cuesta croissants? … Dos, por favor. … Gracias.” This makes me two for two in talking in Spanish, if you’ll remember my triumph from a couple days ago. I devour my croissant, because not counting the two medium-sized dinners we had the past two nights, we haven’t eaten much food. Which brings me to:
8:00am, Sunday: This might be our last chance all day to use the bathroom. We haven’t been allowed to for the past 36 hours, so it might be wise to use it. The problem is that it’s too early in the morning for that kind of thing. I’m not ready. As I mentioned though, we haven’t been eating a lot, so I go ahead and chance it. Soon we board our next bus.
10:00am, Sunday: We park at a brick building and wait. And wait. At 11am, we’re finally told to get off the bus – we’re at the border. We spend the next hour in lines, five of them to be exact. At one point we re-board the bus, only to be called back out to get into another line. Eventually, we make it into Chile. We will soon learn that crossing borders is a staple Patagonian bus tradition.
1:00pm, Sunday: I should watch what I wish for. Guess what movie they show now? That’s right, 2012, starring John Cusack. At the beginning I am hopeful that I will be able to laugh at it this time, but after a few minutes I realize that it’s just going to get on my nerves in the same way that Tyra Banks’ speeches do on America’s Next Top Model (Zhou watches it – I just overhear things). I spend the next 2 hours, 38 minutes praying that the movie will end.
2:00pm, Sunday: We all get off the bus and onto the ferry to cross into Tierra del Fuego. Then the bus pulls up right beside us on the ferry, making us wonder why we got off in the first place. After a few minutes on the water, we understand. The ferry is rocking more heavily than a long-haired weirdo at a Metallica concert. If we were all still aboard the top level of the bus, it would probably tip right over into the sea. As it is, we’re surprised the whole boat doesn’t pull a Titantic on us.
3:00pm, Sunday: We get off the bus for the last of our four immigration stops. Well, I think it was four stops. I lost track a long time ago. Suffice it to say that I no longer have any idea what country we’re in. I just know that my passport is collecting valuable stamps. It’s now up to almost 60. Not bad for what started as a blank book just six months ago.
7:30pm, Sunday: Right on schedule, we pull up to Ushuaia. Hard to believe that 48.5 hours ago we were just starting our jour… what’s that? We have to get onto another bus? But all we’ve had to eat today is half a ham and cheese sandwich. I’m starving! Ok, fine, I’ll get on the next bus.
7:45pm, Sunday: Each bus has gotten progressively worse than the last. I can barely fit my legs into the allotted space, and then the guy in front of me leans his seat back into my face. I have no choice but to lean mine back just as far, creating a domino effect through the bus. Now everyone is effectively laying on top of each other at a 45 degree angle. This bus ride better be quick.
9:00pm, Sunday: We stop to get dinner – this isn’t a good sign. If we were near Ushuaia we wouldn’t stop. I don’t complain though as not only have Zhou and I not eaten much all day, we haven’t had a chance to get any water either. So I run off the bus and am the first one in line at the nearby restaurant. I buy a bottle of water and a couple of salami and cheese sandwiches (for variety, obviously, from the ham and cheese) and Zhou and I devour everything as if we were trying to impress Kobayashi sitting in the seat next to us.
10:45pm, Sunday: Almost 52 hours since the beginning of this post, we finally arrive in Ushuaia. Of the past 52 hours, I estimate that 48.5 were spent on the bus and the rest were spent in lines at immigrations. It’s freezing cold outside, in stark contrast to the good air of Buenos Aires. The entire bus ride was over land as flat as the Serengeti, but Ushuaia is more hilly than San Francisco. Zhou and I power walk up the hills to our hostel, where we immediately run for the showers and then crawl into bed. We both agree: no more buses.
Until tomorrow afternoon.
Picture of the Day: I feel on top of the world whenever I go to Tierra del Fuego.