Wednesday, 30 October 2013

On the Buses

The sorry fact is,the train lines are extant, but defunct. Rusting iron that might carry the occasional goods train, but no passengers. So it's back on the buses. Only now we've learned a few lessons, sussed how to reduce the frenetic hiatus that are the few minutes that your bus is on it's stance.

Rule # One: Avoid Retiro. An eponymous title that could translate as 'The Return'. Suggesting a Porteno's relief at a safe conclusion to a trip out into the great and dangerous beyond. A synonym that stands in for the capital's name. Many of the route maps will not mention the name BsAs, they'll state 'Retiro'. You're supposed to know. I'm just relived that we don't have to shift our 'golden fetters' of panniers and cycles through it's manic mayhem. Imagine any international airport without baggage trolleys, air conditioning and queueing civility, but with chipa touts, garbled tannoys and black diesel fumes.

Rule# two: Put all the loose panniers into a cheap poly-prop bag. It reduces the number of total items. I'm sure you can thole looking like a bag lady for a while. They will be heavy and you might have to do the heave into the hold as the wizened, ancient fly-weight loader can't. He'll still require his tip.

Rule # Three: Offer the extra baggage bung, the cycle sweetener before the tooth sucking handler gets a chance to quibble. There's little point in mentioning you're bikes when buying the tickets, the clerk will always say that there's no problem, certainly there's no indication of charges. We still don't really know whose pocket we're lining. A degree of brinkmanship and time management might be required. Present your baggage too early and there's a chance you're precious bike ends up under a crate of beer, too late and there could be little room left.

Rule # Four: Go with the flow, but remember to sharpen your elbows.

Two large unwieldy bags, two cycles without wheels, two sweaty gringos. A dodgem of 'meeters and greeters' and no indication as to which stance your bus will pull into. A recipe for stress. Think of it as that conundrum. 'How do you shift a goose, a fox and a bag of grain over the river?' It's probably the only occasion when a three person travelling team is an advantage.

We' ve ridden the Trans Chaco before, a road that will barely rise forty metres in it's entire eight day duration. Flat. Interesting in a particular way. Yet for this bus trip, when I equate the distance to anticipated time, I get an answer in the region of 50kmh. Slow. Why? After we've pulled into the third pueblo in under a hour, rattled down their mud rutted streets, I've got an answer. We're on the long-distance local, non- express to the Andes. We'll visit each and every Chaconos community and a few of their lamp posts forbye. Even stopping in the middle of the night, in the middle of the road for a chat with another bus. Relaxed.

We've dined sumptuously on some of these Trans continental busses, they can be lux. However over the years, the after dinner liqueurs have, with inflation, deflated from hot meal to white bread to, three dry biscuits. And now not even over sweetened coffee. I now know why the service was labeled "comun". At least it had " aire". What it does give us is a starting destination within a few kilometres of a new road into Bolivia.