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Posted by Tim on Apr 13, 2005
First-class Seats in a Submarine

We´re literally minutes from boarding a 21-hour bus ride from El Bolson to Mendoza. This brings to mind the first long bus ride we took in Argentina, from Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn, back on March 28th...

The first thing you need to know about the long-distance bus industry in Argentina is that you have choices. In the United States, you’re basically stuck with Greyhound. Sure, sometimes you’ll have one other option (ie, Trailways), but usually not even that. In Argentina, there are dozens and dozens of bus companies. And if you’re in the quarter-of-a-mile-long Retiro bus terminal in Buenos Aires, there will seem to be sheer millions. You have choices here, friend.

You also have choices when it comes to how comfortable you want to be. There are generally three levels of quality long-distance bus travel available to you: Semicama, Cama, and First Class (also called Cama Suite). They are beautifully illustrated by the following image, stolen from a pamphlet we got at Retiro:

Pretty nice, hmmm? We were especially enamoured with the First Class seats, the way they reclinced completely flat, so that you could sleep on your side if you wanted. We were also, frankly, a little intimidated with the 18-hour ride in front of us, so we splurged* and got ourselves first-class tickets.

*This splurge made possible through the loving support of our friends Noah and Connie. (We thought the two of you would approve of us going first-class on our very first long-distance bus trip.) Thank you both, so so much.

We booked with Andesmar, a very well-reviewed company, and let me just say that the trip was fantastic. The upper level of the bus (see photo, right) was taken up with 48 semicama seats. On the lower level, in the first-class cabin, we had only six seats. Six. Ridiculous.

The seats, too, were marvels of decadance: deep, soft, and leather. As promised, they reclined into entirely flat, 6' long beds. The little footrest/wall in front of you meant that if the seat in front of you reclined, it didn't affect you in the slightest: compare that to an airline seat, where all it takes is for the person in front of you to recline even a little bit, and suddenly their head is in your chest. None of that nonsense here.

And the pampering! The ridiculous pampering! There is simply no way to adequately convey the amount of pampering we were given. That notwithstanding, I will of course try anyway:

  • A heavy curtain, the kind that they have in airplanes to separate the first-class from the coach-class passengers, to to shield us from the riff-raff who bought mere semicama tickets.
  • Fancy little chocolates thoughtfully tucked into our drink holders.
  • An exquisite dinner.
  • An equally sumptuous breakfast.
  • As much complimentary soda, coffee, and bottled water as you asked for.
  • Two movies: Raising Helen (the one where the party girl has to raise her sister's kids) and Hostage (some Bruce Willis movie I've never heard of, which I'd like to point out had a pretty damn dark opening for something I was waking up to at ten in the morning). Ok, they're not Citizen Kane, but movies sure do help pass the time.
  • Pillows and blankets. No, not the little foam pillows and thin blankets you're thinking of: really really nice pillows and blankets.
  • For the love of God, complimentary champagne (see photo) before bedtime.

I can honestly tell you that I slept as well as I've ever slept in my own bed. Hell, I slept better than I usually do. It was so ridiculously comfortable. Everything was absolutely perfect. So perfect, in fact, that we began to worry that something would go wrong, and that we'd lose our precious first-class seats.

That's when the bus began to fill with water.

Wait, maybe I should back up a little.

The weather had been perfect pretty much the entire time we'd been in Buenos Aires: 80 degrees and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. That changed the day we left for Puerto Madryn. The heavens opened shortly after we'd made it to the bus station, and then the rain just kept coming. It was after dark when our bus pulled out onto the road, so we didn't notice at first how bad it had gotten.

The next thing we knew, we were looking out the window at standing water that was easily a foot deep. It would deepen further when the road dipped, at times completely hiding the tires of parked cars. We were driving through a flash flood of some kind.

I fully expected the bus to stop, fully expected the driver to admit defeat. Surely there was no way we should be driving through this?

But our driver was tougher than that. Some would argue that he was certifiable. Me, for instance. We were driving through this temporary lake so fast that long waves were coming diagonally off of the front of the bus. In the places where the water was high enough to be over the tires of parked cars, this wave would literally wash over the hoods of those cars! It was madness.

And still, on we drove. I clearly remember seeing a dolphin in the lane next to us at one point.

All of which brings us back to the subject of the bus filling with water. It did. The first-class seats were on raised platforms, about a foot higher than the aisle between them. That aisle, my friends, began to look disconcertinly damp for a little while, and then began to actively fill with water.

Clearly, our first-class-ness was in jeopardy. I resolved to recline my seat to gain an extra foot or so before abandoning our cabin for higher ground. I'd go down with the ship before joining the unwashed masses upstairs.

Fortunately, this was never necessary: the water never got more than a half-inch or so deep. Moreover, every few minutes our helpful host (the young man brandishing the champagne, above) would appear with a mop, furiously shoveling out all the water and earnestly attempting to make sure all of us were ok. In time, the waters subsided (or perhaps the tide just went out, who knows?) and we found ourselves again driving on dry ground.

By that point, though, my first-class seat was fully reclined into a bed, and I was fast asleep.

April 13, 2005 at 8:56am
Oh Yeah Philsies on fire
April 13, 2005 at 9:28am
That Dude looks classic
April 13, 2005 at 10:34am
perhap you should look into scuba gear
April 13, 2005 at 10:48am
ha! not something you'll likely forget. what a great way to travel, though.
April 13, 2005 at 11:59am
I was imagining some sort of creative dream sequence! What a crazy adventure. :)
Sister Soldier (The Post Hog)
April 13, 2005 at 2:35pm
All of a sudden I want to srart singing " we all live in a yellow submarine…" I miss both of you like crazy, but I'm surviving. Send hugs to Senor Pig and Beary!

~~~ The Post Hog

April 13, 2005 at 7:18pm
Just simply laughing my ass off ! The bus .. the guy who likes like he's straight from some british b-movie or old Saturday Night Live gig! The water, the dolphin? (giggle)
April 14, 2005 at 7:31pm
Sure beats SEPTA!
April 22, 2005 at 10:32pm
I'm delighted that you guys splurged a bit on yourselves, and very happy we could help. I'm living a bit vicariously through you (only a bit; you know I won't do 3rd world countries). However, even vicariously, I like my creature comforts. :)

That bus looks very impressive!

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