I’ll be honest–buses here are probably loads better than Greyhound in the States. Not that I’ve ever ridden a Greyhound and can actually comment on them confidently, but just the name Greyhound evokes long, dirty bus rides through endless deserts with only criminals and hooligans as your fellow passengers. This is probably totally wrong, but I’ve never ridden Greyhound, Craig’s never ridden Greyhound, and nobody I know has ever ridden Greyhound. I think that, and the fact that it’s the only widely known long-distance bus company throughout the country, illustrates why I have the opinion I do.
Now, check out this sleek example of modernity and comfort:
Buses down in South America are usually like the photo above and have more leg room and seats that recline back way more than airplane seats. They will almost always give you one snack per every 6 hours, their bathrooms are no worse than airplane bathrooms, and they also play movies (invariably starring one of these three actors: Vin Diesel, the Rock, and Sylvester Stallone).
In short, I like riding the buses down here. Now, this is why our 18-hour bus ride from La Serena to Iquique was not indicative of typical South American bus travel…
Our bus was supposed to leave at 7:35pm, but it arrived 10 minutes late at La Serena station. As we lined up to put our luggage into the cargo bay, we were told that the bus was broken and we would have to wait for another one to arrive. This next bus didn’t come for one hour, but since they couldn’t give us an exact time, we had to just sit and wait outside in the cold.
Finally, we get on the bus and get going. I enjoy a showing of dubbed “We Bought a Zoo”. Scarlett Johansson in Spanish is kinda funny (but still extremely attractive). At around 3:00 in the morning, the bus stops on the side of the road. It is the middle of nowhere and pitch black. We wait… and wait… Nobody was sure what was going on, but it’s South America, the middle of the night, and most everybody is sleeping. At 4:00am, we are suddenly told that we need to change buses (this is why we were stopped for so long) because the second bus that was supposed to replace the first broken bus, ALSO broke. We stumble around to our new seats on this third bus, bleary-eyed and exhausted. The bus driver and attendant move our backpacks from one cargo bay to another for us.
Third bus’ speedometer warning (they all beep loudly when exceeding 100km/hr) was either broken or circumvented, because at one point we passed a checkpoint and I saw we were going 107. This gave both Craig and I some serious carsickness.
Finally we get to in Iquique 3 hours later than the time we were supposed to arrive, having subsisted on the free snacks of crackers, wafer cookies, and juice. Craig and I were feeling way too sick to try and eat our warm and soggy sandwiches. When we get off the bus and get our backpacks, I notice that our tent poles, that survived 10 weeks strapped to the outside of my pack, have vanished (along with a pair of socks). Bus company attendant is rude and unhelpful when we point this out to him.
We trudge into the bus station to talk to somebody at the ticket window, but she is also unhelpful. “I’m just the ticket office person, I can’t help you.” Well, what, are we supposed to just personally inspect every single one of your buses?! Can’t you just CALL somebody?? No, no… apparently WE have to do the calling, even though they don’t give us a number or any advice on how to go about it.
And so, the morals of the story are:
- Don’t ride on any buses that are associated with Pullman Bus, especially Atacama VIP.
- Pay the extra $6 per fare to get on a slightly better bus company.
- Make sure you check your luggage when others are moving your backpacks for you, especially when you’re half-asleep and you’re in the middle of nowhere.
- Don’t strap anything important to the outside of your pack (doh!).
The upside to all of this is that it makes the decision of whether or not to keep lugging our tent around totally irrelevant. There is still the tiniest, remotest possibility that we’ll recover the poles, but I think the chances of that happening are very small. Considering how unhelpful the people we’ve encountered so far were, I can’t imagine anybody mustering up any energy on our behalf in trying to find our lost poles.
There are lots more bus rides in our future, so hopefully this will go down as our worst experience… I hear some gnarly things about buses in Bolivia, though, so we shall see…!