KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
One thing I’ve learned, or maybe I haven’t learned, is that it’s important to ‘manage expectations’ when travelling as an ‘executive backpacker’. If you’re ‘standard backpacker’, expectations are pretty low. The main goal is to get from one place to another, and see all there is to see, while spending as little as possible. I did this in my early twenties and can’t do it anymore. We try and keep our basic expenses (hotel, meals and urban transportation) to approximately $100.00 per day. In most of the places we’ve travelled, this is not too difficult to achieve. Moving from one place to another adds to the costs of course. In some places we fly, in others we take long-distance buses and in others, we have even hired a car and driver.
To our delight, we learned that some of the countries we planned to visit in this, our third year on the road, the long-distance buses are comfortable, affordable and efficient. We love the fact that the buses usually leave from stations near the city center and it’s not necessary to arrive two hours before departure. You don’t face the stringent security controls that are now in place at airports. We’ve found that many of the bus stations have wireless access as well. There is another benefit to riding the bus; you get to see the countryside and not just the tourist destinations.
For all these reasons, we decided to make our circle tour of Chile and Argentina primarily by long distance bus and up until we left Salta, things had gone very well, meeting or surpassing our expectations for convenience and comfort. We had heard that the buses in Argentina are some of the best in South America, and after travelling on buses in Chile, we couldn’t imagine how anything could be better. Then we heard that some bus lines even serve wine along with the meals. Now they really had my attention.
The journey by bus from Salta (in northwestern Argentina) to the Iguazu Falls (in the northeast, near the border with Brazil and Paraguay), takes almost 24 hours. Yes, you read that right – it’s almost 1500 kilometers. Apparently, there are flights now and then between these two places, but most flights pass through Buenos Aires, far off to the south, so it makes flying very expensive. Anil wasn’t keen on an overnight bus journey, but we had heard about the cama (bed) buses and I wanted to give it a try. This was the ideal place to do it too. There are many bus lines in Argentina, so I asked the attendant at the tourist information desk to advise us on the best bus, the most comfortable, to Iguazu and he told us to take Flechabus.
With that information, we booked our tickets and chose our seats. We wanted ones on the lower floor of the double-decker bus because these are the ones that are cama seats and there are only twelve. There are four rows of three seats across and the middle rows were already booked. We decided to opt for the front row and then learned that they were booked for the second part of the journey so we would have to take the back row if we didn’t want to change seats in the middle of the night. I wasn’t keen on being at the back, but we weren’t really at the back of the bus because the luggage compartment is behind the compartment. That taken care of, we settled in to enjoy the remainder of our time in Salta.
On our day of departure, the skies opened and the rain poured down. Once again, it ‘was time to get out of Dodge’. We took a taxi to the bus station instead of walking and when our bus pulled into the terminal, we noticed that many of the other travellers were foreigners like ourselves, though most were young backpackers. When we entered the compartment, we were shocked to see a very beat-up interior and when I sat on my seat, the cushion gave way; it was no longer firmly attached to the frame. The door to the toilet had a handle attached with duct tape and the vinyl walls were grimy. I was immediately reminded of a very old train second-class train car in India. What a shock.
I was more than a little expressive about the situation and when I looked across the aisle to a young woman who was seated there, she made a face that let me know she wasn’t too pleased with the situation either. She used the toilet before the bus pulled away and told us it was smelly as well as old and decrepit. There was nothing much we could do but settle in and poor Anil had to listen to me vent for some time before I calmed down. I was shocked to say the least. The buses in Mexico and Chile and the bus we travelled in from San Pedro de Atacama into Argentina were fabulous. We would never have taken the bus to Iguazu if we had known this was the best we could do on this route.
Before long, we were chatting with some of the other passengers. A couple of American men were seated in front of us and when they opened a bottle of wine to drink with their sandwiches, I surprised Anil by pulling out a small bottle of wine that I had purchased just before we left Salta. We all made the best of a bad situation and before long, we were falling asleep, but without the pillows and blankets that we had come to expect. On every other bus journey, we had taken, we had been offered all sorts of comforts, but this bus was rock bottom. As we bounced along the narrow highway, I was concerned about the state of the bus itself and began to think more about our safety than about our comfort.
I won’t belabour the point any longer, but suffice it to say that tough times cause some people to be even more friendly and by the end of our journey the following afternoon, we had made good friends with John and Vance from Indiana and Ingrid and Siegfrieda from Germany. We parted with hugs all round when we left the bus station, and promised to watch out for each other while walking the streets of the town or the trails in the park near the Falls.