The Beauty of the Omnibus
Corrientes Travel Blog› entry 11 of 17 › view all entries
I believe that the story of the Omnibus is one of the most impressive facets of South American life and deserves a space in my historical blogs. When I arrived in Argentina and began to plan many adventures across the country and other parts of the continent, many fellow travelers suggested the Omnibus as a preferred method of travel. I, however, couldn’t fathom taking a bus for longer than two or three hours. The plane ride to Argentina- a Delta jet the size of a country elementary school, leather seats, all English speakers, and FDA approved food- hadn’t convinced me that I could handle more than the 10 hours it took to get down here.
My hand was forced though, when my desire to take a reprieve from the cold pollution of Buenos Aires, left me with a bus ticket- five hours- to the Termas of Concordia and Salta respectively. In a vain attempt to save a few bucks I opted for the semi-cama (or semi bed) option. It was only a few American dollars less but I thought that the "semi" versus "full" cama would make a difference. Later on that month I took several more bus trips- all with increasing favor of opinion. I used services by Fletcha bus, Via Bariloche, and many others. On the trips that followed I tried variations on the semi versus full cama option and will go into more detail further down this story.
A few things on all of the trips took me aback: the cleanliness, the food, the service, and the entertainment. As a resident of Atlanta Georgia, home of the largest bus service in the United States- Greyhound- I assumed all buses were dirty, nasty, places where people went as a last resort. In Atlanta, I still believe this to be true. I would never suggest anyone to use this bus service in America unless it was preceded by the word "tourist." Mainly because the buses in the U.S. are DIRTY, filthy, germ infested, and in a word gross. I have had the misfortune to be on a few American buses and I would be content to forget the experience ever happened. In stark contrast, the Argentine buses were immaculate. The seats were either leather or nice cloth that was vacuumed and wiped down. The floor was spotless and mopped clean; even the windows were freshly washed and the chrome on the wheels reflected the sun like a pimped out ATL expedition. As if I wasn’t thankful enough that the bus was clean and appeared disease free, I was thrilled again by the food. In my first bus ride to Concordia, I had brought a few snack packs and some bastioncitas for dinner. It never occurred to me that the bus line would serve dinner. Not only did they serve dinner, but if you went with the full cama option ( I did that on the Via Bariloche) you were served snacks, mints on your pillow, wine with dinner, flan for dessert, and get this- champagne! I think Delta could learn something from this type of service. So, thus far I am sold on riding buses about the country- clean and food- but the situation only got better. The service on the Omnibus is incredible. You know when you are on the airplane, and if you got to use the restroom when there is turbulence, the stewardess jumps on you? Well, none of that here. You can go to sleep and the waiter (yeah, I said waiter) will come by and gently wake you when it is time for you specifically- as their are many stops- to get off. They are courteous and friendly and have helped me find places to stay in the cities I am visiting many times. When you compound the former three exceptional qualities with the entertainment they provide you, well, there is just no other way to travel. The most obvious form of entertainment- for the average traveler- is a tv/dvd/radio combination. That in itself is wonderful, but in addition I have found that the omnibus is the best place to meet and talk with locals on a really personal level. Everyone is comfortable, happy, and doesn’t have anywhere to go for the next 18 or so hours.
In one particular omnibus ride, I got to know the bus driver really well. His name was Ezekiel, he is 25, and has been driving buses for two years. He let me join him in the "cock pit" (not sure if that is the correct terminology) for some mate, and we talked for about 6 hours on the economy, soccer, the president, traveling, what his life is like in Argentina, what he thinks Argentina should do in the near future to support a work force... and many more things. That was a great experience, but I have also met so many other people, Elio, Teress, Juan, Jarrah, Sergio and Alejandro. In all of them, I have been able to work on my spanish and more importantly talk about politics, economics, and soccer. Although I have really enjoyed learning in class, the beauty of learning about current events is to be able to discuss them with other people, especially the people they effect, and gain a better understanding from a point of view that is impossible to harbor in a tourist.