Saturday, December 1, 2007

Mishaps on the Bus

From Puerto Madryn, we took a long, long bus ride and eventually ended up in El Chalten. As boring as that sounds, we managed to make things a bit more exciting than necessary.

First off, as much as it would help Argentina, they certainly don't have anything like a national bus carrier like Greyhound, or at least a way to shop efficiently for bus tickets from different companies, like we can use Orbitz or Travelocity. To get from Pto. Madryn to El Chalten, we had to:

1) Bus from Pto Madryn to Comodoro Rivadavia (6 hours)
2) Bus from C. Rivadavia to Rio Gallegos (11 hours)
3) Bus from Rio Gallegos to El Calafate (4 hours, different company)
4) Bus from El Calafate to El Chalten (3.5 hours, yet another company)

Additionally, you can't buy your tickets for some of the smaller companies online or over the phone; rather, you have to buy tickets at the bus station or an agency for that company, which is generally found only in the bus station of a city served by the bus (or Buenos Aires, which wasn't any good for us, obviously). In the summer, the fewer services further south mean that buses frequently sell out. But, you can't buy tickets ahead of time if you're not down here. I assume you can all see various problems here.

So, with tickets for the first 2 legs of the trip in hand, we boarded our bus in Pto Madryn. 45 minutes later, we made it to the industrial town of Trelew, where my limited Spanish allowed me to understand that we would be stopping for 25 minutes. I even confirmed this with another passenger, because the loudspeakers on the bus sound worse than Charlie Brown's mom.

Erin and I decided that I would go get some food from the Trelew bus station and a couple of bottles of water, while she stayed behind to watch our backpacks. So, I went in, bought some water, only to glance outside and see our bus backing out of its parking spot. I ran over to the bus, waved at the driver, who made what I interpreted as a "I'm just turning around" motion with his finger, and didn't seem concerned at all. You can imagine my surprise when he pulled out of the parking lot and sped down the street. The windows on the bus were tinted, so I couldn't see Erin at all.

Assuming the bus would be coming back at any moment, I sat there wondering what on Earth just happened. Over the course of the next few minutes, several buses of the same company pulled in, but none was our bus. I wasn't entirely sure what to do, because I obviously didn't want to leave the parking lot, but at the same time, I didn't want the bus to get any further away than it already was. I also assumed that Erin wouldn't have let the bus get too far down the highway without me on it. The scary thing, for me, was worrying about Erin, who had no Argentine money, and doesn't speak Spanish, dealing with the bus company people, who steadfastly refuse to speak a single word of English. But, I decided to wait the 25 minutes and see what happened.

Still no bus.

My concern was steadily growing. All along, there had been a good number of people waiting for what I assumed was my bus, but then they all got on another bus that came and then left, leaving only a couple of other people. I finally asked one of them who said not to worry, that the bus was coming back, and when I explained that Erin was on the bus, she said that she had understood that we were all supposed to get off the bus...oops again.

Finally, about 35 minutes later, the bus returned. I got on, went upstairs, and found Erin in a similar state to me. Turns out they had gone to a bus company service area, but none of the crew had noticed Erin on the bus until they were nearly back in the station.

It's definitely a strange feeling to be in a foreign country, with all your earthly belongings either in storage in Los Angeles or on a bus which contains your wife in an undisclosed location.

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