South American bus company

Travelling by Bus in South America: Always a Gamble!

It was much more delicious than you’d expect a bus-issued asparragus tart to be.  Enjoying such a delicate little treat was not how I expected to be spending my afternoon aboard an Argentine bus.

I was on a bus in South America.  Which is always a gamble.

Like playing roulette.


When shown the little diagram of the vehicle and asked to select your seat, there’s no real guarantee that the diagram is in fact a faithful representation of the bus you’re going to catch.  Sometimes, the seat you purposely chose (because there was no one in front going to rain on your travel parade by inclining their seat dramatically; or because it was close to the TV) is not at all where you expected it to be.  In these cases, moving to another seat currently unoccupied is an option, though you’ll have to be attentive each time the bus picks up new passengers, hoping that they’re not the rightful of your (stolen) place.


Will there be food?  How much?  Time of journey is not always indicative of food served, nor is price.  You may receive a tiny little sectioned off tray, not unlike in the army, with mini portions of varied dishes…or a simple sanger…or a packet of tiny cookies…or…nothing.

One time, I received the Holy Grail of bus food treats:  An entree followed by a hot meal.  And wine!  And then the option of even more wine.  Or whiskey.  Or champagne.  Ohhhh, it was wonderful.  Such sweet memories…

A Bolivian Bus Meal
On my trip from Sucre – Samaipata, an enormous herd of women came on selling these plastic bag meals. My seat partner accepted…this was her dinner.

Other times, you’ll be offered street food by a gaggle of vendors who’ll jump suddenly on to the bus, sell frantically (and sometimes be taken a few kilometres away from their stalls in the process) and then depart as quickly as they appeared.  These meals are likely to be soupy, casserole-ly concoctions in plastic bags, like that in the picture above.  Punters will eat them with their fingers, delighting in the mess before tossing the plastic happily out the window.


Sadly, as with the length of your journey not representing the quality of your food, a TV’s presence does not necessarily a film suggest.

There’s a TV, but will there be a film?  In Spanish or English?  Dubbed or au naturelle?  Subtitled?  Will the headphone jack above you work, or will the story be blasted in your general direction for the duration of the trip?

One trip, I watched four car-themed movies in a row, including two of the Fast and the Furious persuasion.  On another, it was a cartoon spectacular with the Smurfs, followed by Garfield, followed by…who even knows!  Once or twice, new releases have been the much desired offering; though with far too much Nicolas Cage in tow for my liking.


Booking a 12 hour night trip leaving at 6pm will get you to your destination at 6am, therefore making null and void all necessity to reserve a room for the night.


No.  Not necessarily.  Sometimes mathematics serves the world correctly, and this is exactly what happens.  But other times, you’re left at a terminal at 3 or 4 in the morning, after the drivers have managed to defy the laws of physics and arrive ahead of schedule.

Occasionally, they will defy these laws even after stopping to stuff the bus full of a variety of extra “passengers”:  Such as wholesale sheets, apples, televisions and the like.  South American buses are verrrry often used as removal vans too.

Bolivian Bus
A bus being used as a removal van in Cochabamba…


So you’ve eaten (or not) and watched a quality film (or certainly not).  The next question is:  “Where will this bus leave you??”

Stops are rarely, if ever, announced.  Interestingly, Bolivian buses, wanting so keenly for increased comfort, toilet facilities, entertainment (and safety in general) do usually sport staff who’ll alert you to where you are, opening the door separating passengers and yelling out “Samaipataaaaa!” or “Potosiiiiiii” to allow you to have a chance in hell of successfully hopping off at the right moment.

However, be aware:  More often than not, it’ll be up to you to magically know when you’ve arrived.  If not going to the final destination, a state of constant alertness will be required.

So…it’s never a dull moment on a South American bus.  Just don’t look out the window at night in Bolivia and realise just how far up the narrow sides of a jagged mountain you are.

Without lights.


2 thoughts on “Travelling by Bus in South America: Always a Gamble!

  1. Oh the memories… I think you forgot death roulette. Some of those buses are plain terrifying! Especially if you’re seated on the top of a double decker, with cracked windscreen from head to toe in front, a broken seatbelt, and a very dark and windy road. Eep!

    1. Oohhh you’re so right!! Sometimes I just put the ipod up loud and purposely forgot where I was and just how quickly the bus was flying towards god knows where! Am looking forward to the supposedly quite awesome buses Peru has to offer…

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