I love reading about a good old fashioned crazy adventure and accidental travel story – stories of a place far, far away
(especially while I’m at work). Stories about the delightful challenges we love to face while immersed in strange cultures. We all do love it right? It’s what keeps me beating a path to the airport: this quirky blue marble of a planet of ours and the promise of future tales. This week I am going to chime in with my own travel story, and this travel story is like most travel stories when you look back: funny NOW, but so frustrating in the midst of it, long before I knew it was going to turn into a travel story.
This travel story takes place in Argentina — Buenos Aires to be exact. It was nearing 5:00 in the afternoon in the lobby of our hostel, and we were sitting and double checking our tickets for a bus ride that would take us from the capital up to Iguazu Falls; it was a bus ride that would take no less than 20 hours and cost us 3 days worth of budget. We asked one of the lovely staff members to call a taxi for us, and she informed us it would be 30-45 minutes. Hmmm, uh-oh; it was Sunday, and we certainly hadn’t factored a 45 minute wait into the schedule. We pondered for a moment, and then decided to walk down the street a bit to see if we could flag one down. Sure enough there was cab parked on the side of the road, but upon further inspection, it was unoccupied. As we turned to walk in the other direction, a door opened and out from the building walked the cab driver towards his car. Perfect! We gestured and pointed up the street to our hostel and he seemed to know what we were trying to communicate. As we stuffed our backpacks and other things into the trunk, I tried to let him know where we were going.
To give you some context, I took Spanish classes for a year before our three-month long journey through South America, and until Argentina, it had served us well enough. But now I have to interrupt my travel story for a moment and tell you that — for those of you who have never been to Argentina — they don’t speak Spanish in Argentina; they speak martian, or some dialect of martian (in Chile, too!). Confidence in my Spanish ability had been growing steadily with each country we traveled to, but for some reason in Argentina, every time I opened my mouth to speak, my words were met with a perplexed, blank stare of confusion. After some back and forth with the cab driver, I felt certain he knew where we wanted to go as he said “que compania?” to which I replied “Rio Uruguay,” the name of the bus company, and the very same awesome bus company that had brought us to Buenos Aires from Mendoza before. So on we drove.
The taxi pulled up to a line reserved for drop off and pick up. We paid him and thanked him, grabbed our belongings, tapped the roof of the car and off he sped. Once inside the terminal we quickly noticed that, curiously, there were no buses parked anywhere, no ticket booths, and no departure boards. It was a fairly nice looking space with lots of tourism banners hanging from the rafters, floor to ceiling glass and polished concrete floors. It may have been the sign for immigration and vessel boarding that ended up being the dead giveaway: we were in fact at the ferry terminal. He had taken us to the ferry to — you guessed it — Uruguay. Many a descriptive but inappropriate words entered into my brain at that moment, but looking back, I blame the bus company, because ‘rio’ means river. When the driver asked “que compania?” (at least I think that’s what he asked), I said “river, Uruguay.” Honestly, how was he to know, when he couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak martian, that we didn’t want to go across the river to Uruguay? We plodded over to an information booth and showed the lady our ticket; aghast at the idiot foreigners, she said “no, no, no” and started frantically, pointing out the doors and indicating where the bus station was. Upon noticing the departure time on our tickets, she told us to “RUN!”
Now, here is where our little travel story takes another turn. We didn’t pack well earlier. We decided we didn’t have to, as it was to be hostel-taxi-bus-taxi-hostel, with no prolonged bouts of carrying the backpacks. Too late now! BOOM! Out we burst from the ferry terminal’s glass doors with our big, heavy backpacks on our backs, daypacks on the front, and jackets, bags of souvenirs, snacks and wine in our hands, running at full speed in the general direction of the bus terminal, and still not totally sure where exactly it was. With the summer heat and no less that 20kgs on our shoulders, plus whatever goodies we had in the bags, full speed soon became somewhat of a dejected saunter. Families were out strolling, enjoying the perfect, early Buenos Aires evening along the pathways that line the river, only to be rudely interrupted by panting, heavily sweating travelers with everything they own bouncing on their backs shouting “estacion de bus?” Estacion de bus?” “Donde?” “Donde?” The people were great, very good natured and willing to point and gesture and give directions in their native martian. We thanked them the best we could and just kept on running. Aside from being a very safe country, the people in Argentina are very nice, and perhaps too nice in our situation?
A moment later, an official looking white pick up truck pulled up beside us and asked us (in martian) what we were doing; they were the Port Authority. We showed him our ticket and, to our bewilderment, the driver immediately told his colleague to get out and for us to hop in! We threw our stuff in the bed of the truck and he hit the gas so fast he must of laid rubber behind him and left his colleague behind in a cloud! With our backs firmly pinned against the seat, we slid from side to side as he weaved around traffic, our bags in the back also sliding side to side with each jerk of the wheel. Up ahead a police officer was directing traffic and signaled our driver to stop, he shouted and pleaded with the officer (in martian) and the cop immediately ran out, stopped oncoming traffic and let us speed through! We went around one corner and the next and finally blasted up to the bus station’s front entrance with a long screeching halt.
I did mention before that we were carrying wine, right? Yep, not anymore. We jumped out to collect our things only to notice the two bottles of red wine we brought with us had broken, leaving all of our belongings sitting in an inch deep mini red sea. The driver was indicating this was the least of his concerns and that we must get going. We apologized profusely and each apology was met with a wave of his hand, as was an offer to pay him -“go, go” he kept urging and off we went. We checked the board for the stall number of our bus and sprinted as fast as we could to the end of the bus station only to find the stall empty. Our bus had left over ten minutes before.
Standing there, out of breath, foreheads and armpits dripping with sweat and bags and clothes dripping with red wine, a large man walked over to ask what we were doing. Angry and defeated I showed him the tickets and frantically tried to ask if there was anything we could do. Is there another bus? Can we connect through another city? Another bus company? What about refunds? Without a word he took his cell phone from his pocket and dialed a number, and after a moment he pressed END and began to dial another number. I tried again to ask questions, and each time he said in perfect martian, “relax.” Yeah right, relax! He had a short conversation, ended the call, and started to dial yet another number. Frustrated, I asked again what we were to do and who he was calling and he said again, “relax.” He winked at Katie as he began a new phone conversation, and gave her a look as if to say ‘tell this guy take a deep breath.’ Katie had now adopted her usual positivity: ‘think about where we ARE right now!’ ‘Isn’t Argentina amazing?’ ‘Could be worse, we’re traveling, what’s another night?’. As always, she was right — I’m just not as quick to the punch as her.
With his phone call now over, he explained that he is a bus driver going in the same direction. Get on his bus, take an empty seat and he will call the driver of the bus that we missed and when we are on the outskirts of the city and it will pull over on the side of the road and wait for us, its tardy two passengers. I thought there would be no way this rendezvous would happen but sure enough, about 45 minutes later, ahead on the shoulder of the road was our bus and all its ‘on time’ passengers waiting for us.
We boarded and found our seats and settled in for a long, long bus ride. And this is where this ridiculous travel story ends: no one got hurt and no one got left behind, except maybe the other passenger in the Port Authority pick up truck, the passenger who got kicked out of the truck now thoroughly dowsed with red wine! I’m a beer guy anyway.
It was an enjoyable bus ride. A 20-hour bus ride may seem daunting, but Argentina’s night buses are a thing of beauty. The VIP service has full leather lazy boy seats that fold flat into a bed — I’m not talking about folding back into the passenger behind you; it’s all your own space. There are blankets, pillows, personal TV with on-demand movies (and not one of them dubbed in martian), dinner, breakfast, and a steward serving the meals and refreshments upon request. Red wine? No problem! Here’s a half liter bottle for you. Champagne? Same deal! All included in the price of your ticket. And Argentina being Argentina, the roads are smooth, well maintained and people generally obey the traffic rules. If your Argentinian bus story is any different, you took the wrong bus! It was 20-hours of wine soaked bliss, but it wouldn’t have happened without a good deal of karma.
All lot of things had to come together for us to get to that bus and we firmly believe that karma, especially travel karma, must be paid forward, because as we all travel, we all get in to sticky situations and are in need of someone to help us out once in a while. I am determined to pay this forward because you can’t get karma unless you give karma, and often think of this story when I see lost people in Vancouver before going over to help them!
Tell me about a time when you have had help from unexpected places. Have you helped or been helped when traveling? Tell me your travel karma story in the comments or link to your blog if you’ve written about it. Safe travels!