Thursday, March 02, 2006

The OC Takes All Its Equipment On The Bus

South American Buses

For reasons historical, there were very few passenger rail lines in South America, so travel in in the region was characterized by many long journeys by bus. This was not nearly as bad as it may sound. Inner city routes were generally plied by comfortable double decker efforts with reclining seats and foot rests. If we were very lucky, we might find a "luxury" class bus with large seats, more padding, and an extra dollop of leg room. All long-haul buses had a toilet. It wasn't much, but it worked for those gotta-pee situations. For journeys that included a standard meal time, you either got served something on board (filling, but nothing to write home about) or the bus stopped at a roadside restaurant. I was consistently surprised by the high quality of food available in South American bus stops, especially in Brazil.

The supply of buses appeared to outstrip demand, so prices were tolerably low, and there was almost always space available at a convenient time. By taking overnight legs, we often saved the cost of a hotel at the expense of a loss of comfort. After the first 5 tries, we got pretty good at sleeping soundly on the road. At one point, I could hardly tell the difference between a night's rest in a bed and a night's rest in a bus. The only real environmental issue was temperature. Some areas were extremely aggressive with the air conditioning. Surprisingly for me, busses were generally very punctual, sometimes arriving or departing within a minute of the scheduled time even though they had come from hundreds of kilometers. Only the vast space of Brazil and it's comparatively cheap airlines pushed us up the transport food chain and onto planes.

As we arrived in Peru, I commented to Jason that I was looking forward to riding a bus with chickens on it. Whenever you see a Hollywood film about Central our South America, someone always ends up wedged between a fat man and a surly woman bearing livestock. Despite many hours logged (30+ on the journey to Cuzco) we never found the chicken bus, but we did get close. In a "combi" (short-distance shared taxi bus, not an inner-city service) in Peru, the gentleman ahead of me was whispering to a rustic cloth bag that wiggled under its own power from time to time. When he got off, we heard the distinctive squeal of a small pig. It seems that chickens are banned, but swine is OK if you can keep it quiet in your carry-on.

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