Sunday, November 01, 2009

A long bus trip to Salta

I did most of my trips within Argentina by air, simply because it is faster, but I arrived to Salta by bus. I think many people who live in Argentina do much of their traveling this way because it is cheaper than flying. In any case, it is very well planned.

The cama buses are designed for sleeping during long trips, and the trips themselves seem to be designed with sleeping in mind. The bus terminal is impressive. It has the feel of an airport inside, with lots of people coming and going, snack stands, shops, and so on. Instead of gates it has bus stalls lining one side of the loop outdoors. There are perhaps 80 or 100 stalls in the bus terminal in Buenos Aires. I suspect most of the smaller terminals have fewer stalls than this. The ticket doesn't say "Stall 32" but "Stall 30-35," meaning somewhere in this range, and that's generally close enough.

They had something set up that looked a bit security-ish, but they didn't appear to be checking much of anything. I showed the person there my ticket and he didn't seem too interested. He just shooed me through the door, out to the stalls, which are all connected. (Speaking excellent English is occasionally an advantage in convincing some officials that a conversation should be a short one.) Within about five stalls of the right bus turns out to be quite sufficient in finding the right bus.

Checking luggage consisted of handing the suitcase in question to the person standing by the back of the bus, who did take a look at the ticket and try to load the last stop's luggage first.

The bus is quite well-equipped. Quite a few bus companies compete for business, and I think it helps to have nice amenities. The cama buses cost a bit more, but the seats are larger (frankly too large for me) and recline further. The seat in front has a leg rest that folds out. It doesn't become a flat bed, but it's still fairly comfortable for sleeping, which is good because it's about a 20 hour trip from Buenos Aires to Salta.

There is also a bus attendant, who acts like a flight attendant. The next time you're on an expensive, domestic airline flight that refused to check your bag without an extra fee and didn't include more than sodas, consider this. The bus to Salta included meals. There's a lap tray with reliefs for the knees and raised edges so nothing goes sliding off.

They served a late-afternoon tea around five in the evening. Even once I convinced the bus attendant that perhaps Spanish would work, I couldn't convince him of, "nothing with caffeine," so he brought me a little bit of tea to go with my alfajor and the other cookie.

Around 9:30 or 10:00pm, just as I was starting to think that the tea was a little bit slim and beginning to ponder the granola bar I had tucked into my purse, the attendant came around with dinner. There was a salad of some sort, followed shortly by a foil tray full of pasta with tomato sauce and cheese, and some sort of little sweet. It was better than anything I've ever had on an airplane in the U.S.

There were a couple of movies along the way. I ignored one movie, in favor of my book. The one I watched (I've forgotten the title) was not a great one. I ended up following the subtitles in Spanish because the English audio was turned so low I couldn't really make out the words. The attendant made a point to explain to me (once he was convinced that I'd get it if he spoke slowly) that one of the other videos was SalteƱo music and dance. I watched parts of that one.

Bedtime was comfortable, and I managed to sleep most of the night, except that the stops woke me up. As I learned from another traveler later on, it's possible to get robbed without even leaving a bus. People did enter our bus selling magazines and other items. I'm a bit surprised the bus company tolerated it, but evidently they either tolerated it or turned their backs long enough. I'm glad I woke up at least a little at the several stops. They were usually signaled by the bus getting off the highway to lumber across town.

The morning meal consisted of a couple of packaged pastries and another drink, simple but good. And sometime shortly after noon, I arrived in the bus depot in Salta, collected my bag, found a restroom, and requested a taxi at the taxi stand.

The person behind the counter at the hostel had a paper map, a recommendation for a restaurant for lunch (a huge meal with more individual attention than I really needed for about $4; things are cheaper in Salta than Buenos Aires), and various suggestions of what to see around town. He explained it all in Spanish, and it all made sense.

It's a beautiful part of the country, and I'm very glad I went. I'm also glad I tried the bus, once.


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