If there’s one way of impressing somebody who has never been to South America before, it’s by saying, “Oh I’m going to such and such tomorrow, it’s a 20 hour bus ride”. To someone who has been here before then all you’ll get is an unsympathetic nod and a change of subject, but to the uninitiated you will a short pause while their mind assimilates what you’ve just said and then a gasp of horror. “20 HOURS?!” they will squeak, while you nod with the unbearable smugness of the seasoned traveller.
So, this is for all you who have never had the pleasure of dealing with the terms Cama and Semi-Cama, to whom Andesmar and Crucero del Norte sound like beach resorts. Firstly, let’s be clear about this, if you’re travelling round Argentina (let alone other South American countries) on any sort of budget, you WILL encounter at least one 12+ hour bus trip. There are planes, but they’re expensive and don’t always go where you want to go. Which leaves the bus. Forget trains, I’m aware of one train line that could be considered an inter-city line here in Argentina, and trust me they ain’t 2 cities you’d want to go to. Plus it’s slower than a bus,
So, you’re stuck with a bus. You bravely head to Retiro bus station in Buenos Aires to buy your ticket. This is where the problems start. There are intergalactic spaceship docking stations smaller than Retiro. This place can take over 100 double-decker buses at a time, is always full of people you’re convinced want to steal your bags (or your kidneys) and it’s bloody chaos. Upstairs is the ticket section, which is not a simple question of walking up to a desk and asking in your shabby Spanish for a ticket to El Culo del Mundo. You first have to figure out which company goes there and then ask each one if they have a bus on the day you want to go. Most of them don’t. Eventually you find one that does and then they ask you what class you want. Class? On a bus?
Well yes, there are 3, and within that varying levels of food and drink service. To keep it simple there is Semi-Cama (cama is spanish for bed) which is the cheapest and gives a fairly standard coach seat which reclines about halfway. Then there is cama, which despite the name is still a reclining seat, but reclines more and is wider (3 across the bus) and at the top of the tree there is Ejecutivo or First Class which is the same width as Cama, but the seat goes all the way down to make a flat bed. Pretty much all 3 classes feed you, although alcohol usually only comes with Cama and Ejecutivo.
I’ve tried all 3 and have come to the following conclusion. Even if it means waiting in El Culo del Mundo for another 3 days, I ain’t ever going Semi-Cama again. The recline is not bad, but of course the idiot in front of you reclines too which limits your personal space to a very small tube and sleeping just is not an option. Plus people reclining in front of me inspires sheer hatred in me. Not the picture of reasonableness I know, but in my mind, it’s one step away from child abuse. Cama is better and is an option, although the person reclining in front of you is still a problem. Which brings us to Ejecutivo which, in my humble opinion is the ONLY way to go. Each seat is cocooned in its own space (a suite is the marketing term) therefore nobody can impinge on your space. And you have a bed. A flat one. It’s wonderful.
This has been on my mind a lot recently as yesterday I took my first 20 hour trip (from Buenos Aires to Bariloche in Patagonia), and I stumped up the extra 50 pesos (£10) to go flat. Now, 20 hours on a bus is still 20 hours regardless of the shape of your seat, but by God is it easier when you do it in comfort. For a start you spend the first hour playing with the recline button, thinking, this IS a comfy seat. So only 19 hours left. Then you have to get to grips with the lie flat mechanism and make your bed. Luckily they tell you how:
The result is something like this (although it does actually go flatter – this is just chillin’ mode)
Pretty good huh? However, even this little marvel of modern engineering cannot compensate for the sheer size of and boredom induced by crossing the Argentinian pampas. However, given that you have no choice in this, I know where I’d rather be…