… or how complicated it can be to take the bus in Argentina – and also with some tips for your vacation. I don’t know when I felt so lost the last time, but I was sure I would laugh about this story afterwards.
First time in South America
In September 2015 I left Europe for the first time. A friend from Buenos Aires invited me to visit him in his home country. We met circa one and a half year before in Madrid. We were both on vacations and slept in the same room in a hostel with six other strangers. Okay, for me there were only five other people strangers because I was travelling with one of my oldest friends to visit some places in Spain and met another friend during her internship at Teneriffe.
My Argentinian friend Fabi lives in Banfield, it’s really near to Buenos Aires. He picked me up from the airport and brought me to his flat. Unfortunately, he had to leave and go back to work. So I was on my own. After freshen up I planned to go to the city centre. I thought it wouldn’t be a problem … but I’m afraid the bus system is really hard for Europeans.
No timetables and hidden bus stops
Maybe it’s because I’m German. You will know the clichés about us. We’re always very punctual and busy. I wouldn’t sign this for everyone. But yes, our buses have fixed timetables (not all of them are always on time) and routes. Actually, I wasn’t so sure if Buenos Aires also has this. For sure they have no timetables. So sometimes the same bus line comes in a row, sometimes you wait for a really long time. The routes and bus stops were absolutely confusing for me. Most buses stop after every second block. – Argentinians count everything in blocks. However, you will not recognise these stops so easy because most of them don’t look like bus stops and aren’t named. I believe they have a sign, but really not easy to find.
But these are not the only problems you will have as a tourist – like me. When you first take money from a cashpoint, you will only have paper money. But you can pay for the bus only with coins or a bus card. I had this problem. So I had to ask someone to pay for the bus for me because I couldn’t pay for it with my money. I think it’s not so hard to find someone who will pay for your ride. All Argentinians I met were so friendly and really helpful. The bigger problem will be to find someone who will understand English (if you speak Spanish, you won’t have a problem). After I asked five persons I met a girl, who spoke English. But she had to go in the other direction. However, she asked another girl to help me. It was really complicated because she didn’t understand a word and I had forgotten every word in Spanish I ever learned. We stand there and waited for the right bus – over 30 minutes. She stopped a few buses and asked them something, I only understand something like “Inglesa” (English) and “chica” (girl) and recognised she was talking about me. But the bus driver always shook his head and she came back to me. I was really afraid she had to wait for another bus because of me.
Shaking busses and no “Inglesa”
Finally, one bus was coming which we could take. In Buenos Aires, you have to stop the buses by showing them the palm of your hand. They won’t stop automatically when they see passengers waiting and when the buses are too full, the driver won’t stop. Public transport is really cheap in Buenos Aires. Maybe that’s why the Argentinian girl didn’t even want to have some money back (I tried), but I believe also because Argentinians are so friendly. The girl went off the bus just a few stops later. Before she left, she introduced the bus driver to tell me when to get off (she explained it to me with the help of a translating app). But of course, the driver also didn’t speak English. I sat in the first seat next to the bus driver and observed all the people and places I saw. The bus was so fast, it gave me a really good shaking. The doors were already open when the bus stopped and the bus started after the last passenger was on the bus even if he hadn’t paid yet.
I sat for more than one hour on this bus. I felt so lost because I really had no idea, where I was and also not sure how to get to the place, I wanted to meet Fabi. I just hoped the bus driver would drop me off the bus at an alive place. I saw everything, from really bad streets with deep potholes to narrow alleys and multi-lane roads with pompous buildings. Nonetheless, for one second I forgot all of my problems because for sure I saw one of the prettiest sundowns on the highway.
The dangerous city
After thousands of stops, the bus driver found a woman who spoke a little bit of English. She explained to me, that I had to change the bus two times. When I showed her my map of Buenos Aires and asked her, where I was, she said it wasn’t on the map. This is the moment when you believe you will never find the right way. The woman helped me to find the next bus, I had to catch. She called her mother to explain to me everything in English because she had some problems with the language. I was so thankful. After a few stops, we went to the next bus, and after a long time, we changed again. She paid for the bus for me and went out. So I was alone again and had no idea at which bus stop I had to leave the bus. Another woman appealed to me. She asked me in English if I were a tourist and where I’m from. I explained everything to her and asked her if she could tell me, where I have to leave. She said I should leave the bus at the last bus stop, but it won’t be so safe there. She said if I wouldn’t find my friend, I should take a taxi, it would be too dangerous for me to walk. That wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear. It reminded me of my sister who told me I should send her a message every second day so she will know I’m okay (later she said every fourth day would be also enough). The woman left the bus a few stops before me. Actually, the bus driver told me when I had to leave the bus.
Happy End and my résumé
The main streets of Buenos Aires are really big with many traffic and thousands of people (it was a Friday evening). I was so confused with the thousands of streets, that I had no idea in which direction I should go. I was at Retiro station. There are many different stops and stations for buses and trains. I was looking for some trains if probably one would bring me back to Banfield. But in the end, I was lucky. I finally caught Fabi on his cell phone and we met at the big clock near Retiro. I was so happy to find him.
So my résumé: If you are for the first time in Buenos Aires it’s really difficult to find the right buses and to know where to get out. Friends of mine were also in Buenos Aires and told me, they tried to take the bus, but the left at the wrong stop, because they couldn’t count the stops so easily. I think I took only two bus lines until the end of my vacation because these lines were the only ones I knew where to get off. It’s so much easier to use trains and metros because they have names for every station and will stop at every station, so, it’s kind of the same as in every other big city. So my advice would be to take trains and metros. To take public transport you need a Sube-card. You can buy a card in most of the drugstores (kioskos) and load money on that card to pay.
By the way, Argentinians have a special word for buses, they call them “Bondi”.