Getting to Buenos Aires: Hitchhiking is safer than Trains!
Leaving Bariloche turned out to be easy enough, our mission of not using a guide book and getting to know Argentina the cheap way seemed to be working out in our favor. We had met so many interesting people and had many great experiences under out belt from just wandering around and traveling with the flow.
We took a bus out of town, put up our thumbs and within 30 minutes a car stopped. The guy just happened to be in town for the weekend visiting his daughter and was now driving all the way to Neuquén roughly 4 hours from Bariloche- just that much closer to Buenos Aires, score! The car was small but the guy was nice and even invited us to hang out with him tomorrow for a barbeque if we wanted to stick around. He let us out at the bus terminal and sped off to work at the local casino. (Why does every town here have a Casino with really cheesy advertisments?)
So we walked into the bus terminal, expecting some kind of tourist information center or a map or SOMETHING. Nope. The info place is closed in the evenings. And in the day for siesta. But its open at 8am…perfect because thats when I need to find a hostel the most. So we decided to walk into town and wing it. Once we got into town it seemed pretty cool, lots of people in the streets for some sort of city festival but we really needed to find a place for our 100 lb backpacks. So our journey continued, and continued, until we finally started asking hotels if they knew of any cheap hostels. “Yes, we’re sure your 200$ with breakfast deal is a good rate but we can definitely not afford that, sooo where is the nearest backpacker hotel?” Finally we came across a little hotel that we were afraid might be a LOVE motel. (Oh man, that deserves a post all on its own but basically to sum it up- Everyone in South America lives at home to save money until their late 20s. Not everyone who is younger than 28 is a virgin and doesnt want to wake up the family with their wild nights SO its really common to go to Love Motels, which are cheap but clean hotels that have a low hourly rate.)
ANYWAY, the lady at the hotel ended up feeling sorry she couldnt tell us of any hostels in the area and ended up letting us stay the night for a little under $20. Not bad, and very nice of her, but this was the second time that night I had started to feel a longing for a Lonely Planet guide book. Having that red flag book that let everyone around you know you were a tourist, and often led you into tourist traps, ALSO let you know of cheap places to stay when you arrived late at night. Oh Lonely Planet, I use to make fun of you so and feel embarressed, shoving you in my backpack when I thought locals were looking… IM SORRRRRY!!!!
We didnt want to chance spending a ton of money again so we left town the next morning, hoping to make it farther to Buenos Aires. We first caught a ride with a farmer who told us all about where he had traveled in South America (he highly recommended Venezuela) and then gave us a bottle of wine from his nearby Vineyard (which turned out to be delicious!) as a gift.
Then a priest and his guitar playing, powdered sugar donut eating son picked us up and took us about 90k further. I was about to suggest to Matt we stay in this cute little town they dropped us off in when he compromised that we try with the next three cars before heading in to find camping. I was sure no one would pick us up when a HUGE semi truck stopped. A semi had never stopped for us before but I had heard from many other travelers that they were the way to go with long distances. The guy said he could take us 4 hours closer to BA. PERFECT! He turned out to be a cute old man who really just wanted someone to listen to all his stories while he drove and shared his mate(mah-tay) tea. He even made us sign his Black Book, a book filled with contact information from every backpacker he had ever picked up in the thirty or so years he had been a truck driver.
He had even picked up one girl from Argentina 3 times coincidentally, and once with her parents! Filled with tips on how to order steak in BA, what to avoid in Brazil and every Argentinian saying EVER we said goodbye to our new friend and headed to a campsite for the night.
As much money as we were saving hitch hiking, we were both kind of worn out from being in a situation where you feel obligated talking to this random person for hours on end. We kind of missed taking buses where you dont have to talk to anyone if you dont want to. This was the beginning of what started our next adventure….
We woke up to find that we had been camping out next to some other Argentian natives and decided to get an early start hitch hiking out of the small town ASAP. We went to the nearest gas station and discovered the world of Semi Truck hitch hiking. It was like sending a kid into a candy store. “Where are you going? Buenos Aires, Mar de Plata, Rio de Janeiro, Ushuaia” pretty much any long distance destination you could want. This was way better than puddle jumping with families and priests taking weekend trips- and much more spacious. We caught a ride with a Chilean driver making his way to a town near the coast. He stopped at the next city to refuel so Matt decided to jump out and buy some steak. After all, we had left Patagonian and were officially in Las Pampas aka where all the delicious Argentinian steak is from! He came back with a steak sandwhich the store had given him for free after seeing him struggle in trying to buy some carne. Again, why are Argentinians so nice?!!!
Oh, you are hitch hiking? Here is some wine form my Vineyard!
Oh, you are struggling trying to order steak but you are excited about it because you are American? Here enjoy our steak, its on us. Im starting to be spoiled by all this niceness…
Everywhere has its weirdos too, right??….
Just then a bum looking dude wandered over, who we were sure was going to spit out some random English phrases at us. “Hey! Where are you from?” he asked. Hmm, here it goes. The United States. “Where are you traveling?” ….Buenos Aires for now… “Buenos Aires?! We have a train here. Did you know? Its like 40 pesos ( 10$ US) to get there,” …..Really? But the buses are like.. “$300, I know. The train is more economico.” Hmmm. Matt looked at me with wanderlust in his eyes. We could be there tomorrow morning, and not have to talk to anyone for a whole night, in ANY language, about the same story of what we were doing, how long we had came, if we like meat, etc. SOLD. We needed a vacation from our vagabond lifestyle.So we decided to C’est La Vie and live the adventure.
We said goodbye to our Chilean bus driver friend and jumped on the next city bus to the train station. When we arrived, it looked like it was once a magnificent structure, brining people to destinations far and wide…..now, it was a little bare. We bought 2 cheap tickets for that night and took pictures with what we THOUGHT was an old train left out for tourists, etc. WRONG.
We came back later that night, packed and ready, to find a line of strange people boarding the same broken down train we THOUGHT was for tourists. One lady walked up to us as we sat down with all our things..
“Hey what are you eating?” she asked, stepping around our things and peering down at us.
“Why?” she asked, peering down closer. I cluthed my backpack closer to my chest.
“Because we are hungry,” answered Matt.
“Oh man, here, I have some better potatoes!” she said offering us some potato chips. Thinking that she was just showcasing some more Argentina love and conern, we took a few potato chips with a smile and turned back to our impromptu dinner while we waited for the train. Matt had just gotten up to check out if we were actually on this train when the lady circled back over.
“Where are you going?” she asked me. I could see her two older lady friends looking over at me curiously from about 20ft away as well.
“Buenos Aires,” I said, unsure of what tone to use.
“Oh, we are going to my village askdlfjasdf, its not far from here. Theres a party there. Its official, even on Facebook. But my parents think Im bad. Im not bad. Im just going to a party. Its not fair. I just dont understand.”
Oh man, shes crazy. ”Umm, what do your parents want you to do instead?” I asked, unsure of how to end the conversation politely in Spanish.
“Idk, they dont understand. Its just a party. Even on Facebook! But I just dont understand.”
I made my best sad face to convey my international condolences and started poking the potatoes, pretending to be absorbed in cooking instead of in her crazy lady story. Matt came back and she went back to talking with her friends. Other people that looked Peruvian circled around with bags stuffed to the brim. With what, I have no idea. People also swarmed around with chocolates, sandwhiches and scizzors for sale.
“Oh man, I just had the WEIRDEST experiance in the bathroom..” Matt said.
I was still on the lookout for the crazy lady and where all my things were when I shifted my attention back to Matt. “Yea, what happened?” I asked.
“I went into the bathroom and decided to brave out using it before we left. (Its a hole in the ground). I noticed that there was one man standing in the urinal, but for too long. Then another guy walked in and started peeing. The other guy seemed to be peeing, but I knew he had been there for like 5 minutes already. He was acting like he was finishing up, but I think he might have been sneaking peaks at the other guy and “finishing up” in other ways…you know?”
I started laughing. Hahaha I guess there are weirdos EVERYWHERE right?
“Ya, but thats only part of it…I also went into a stall when I noticed someone was in the stall at the end of bathroom. But instead of facing the normal way, they were facing where the toilet would have been and the door would crack open for this guy to peer out every so often. Im not sure WHAT is going on in there…”
Hmmm, Id heard of weird male bathroom shananigans before but wasnt too curious to further investigate. “Lets get on the train already and away from all this weirdness,” I suggested. So we got on the train which YES was a) still functioning and b) was our train to BA. Its like they didnt want to pay money to fix it up or maintain it so they made it super cheap. Weird, but good for us cheap travelers..I guess?
We got in, unloaded all our stuff and kept our valuables next to us. Soon the train took off..and so did all the craziness. Locura!
Within minutes various groups were walking up and down the aisle, slamming doors that barely shut anyway. A black brazilian man walked up to us and tried to sell his wire thingys which werent really jewlery or anything for that matter. We finally convinced him we had no money and he made his way down the aisle. Then a family with a crying baby decided to switch seats and come sit next to us. Ironically, this was probably the best thing that could have happened all night. The family was relatively young and seemed like really good people. They took really good care of their baby and young kid ..except they put Coca Cola in the baby bottle….
Then the crazy lady returned. “Policia!!!” she yelled throughout the train.
Out of breath and half crying she dove towards me. “Please! I need a camera now to document what is happening!!” Matt and I both leaned back in our seats, away from her. “No, sorry, we dont have one.” “Mine was robbed!” I burst out, making sure she believed me and left us alone. She looked deeply at us, took deep breaths, and then bounced up and headed down the aisle. She stopped in the middle of the aisle and began preaching, begging, all the passengers to listen to her story about how someone did something injust to her. The family next to us kept glancing over at her wide eyed. “Crazies,” we both seemed to be thinking.
Then two boys, one punk about 14, and another who seemed to be an adult bum, approached us. Being a gringo and standing out is NOT always in your best interest. “Hey! We need to borrow tape!” they both cried out to Matt and I, almost panting they were breathing so hard. “We dont have any,” Matt and I replied firmly. They seemed to believe us and took off running. “Policia!” the crazy lady cried again, running after them without shoes on. The train had stopped in a small village to pick more people up and the police were there. The crazy lady was shouting out to them and they were trying to board the train. The train started up and began moving towards BA however. “Policia!” the lady kept crying, reaching out to them. They were now running, trying to jump on the train. Nope, they missed it.
At this point the family with the crying infant and I were really wide-eyed. God help us, this is the craziest situation I have ever been in.. we were better off on the side of the road at this hour. All the crazies are on this train!
Matt and I buckled out backpacks to the chairs in front of us, and held out jackets tight (my camera was well hidden, sorry). Another drunken blonde Argentinian ran back and forth down the aisles, each time with a different group, and each time that group would return with full paper bags….hmmm. 12 hours crept by though, and Matt and I finally arrived in Buenos Aires. Alive. We managed to find the nearest Metro and get the hell out of that part of town, which was almost as uninviting as the train we had been on.
We finally popped up from underground, sweaty, smelly and really stressed out, into the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of the long awaited Buenos Aires central.
We made it, through everything, and the last thing we wanted to do was wander around the city of 13 million looking for cheap accomodation. We wanted to be clean, to sleep and hell, to even mingle with the gringo backpacking circle. We had swallowed up enough culture for one day. We picked one of the 1000s of bookstores here and bought a used Lonely Planet guide. The $4 USD I ever spent.
Bring on plump delicious steaks and Tango lessons, Im ready to live another sort of craziness…the crazy fun of gigantic Buenos Aires! <3
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