Everybody has that one story. That crazy travel story that no one could possibly believe. Mine was this summer in Salta. It’s hard to explain this trip. Words don’t really seem to suffice. Crazy, stressful, fun. Perfecto. Between roadtripping with an Argentine couple we had never met before, hitchhiking, seeing wild llamas, spending the night in a village in the middle of nowhere, sunset over a salt desert, a crazy all-nighter – we thought we had seen it all. But the madness was yet to begin.
To give you some bearings: Salta is a province in the north of Argentina. From Buenos Aires it takes about 22 hours on the bus to get there. Yes, 22 hours. But doable – in South America the bus is the easiest and cheapest way to travel.
Our bus was at 11am on Wednesday the 13th of July and we were supposed to be arriving back in Buenos Aires in the late afternoon of the 14th of July. The plan was to get back, head straight to our despedida cum French national day party, pack and do the last few things we had to do (buy souvenirs, pay rent, etc). My brother and I’s flight back to Paris was on the 15th of July at 5pm. These seem like unimportant details, but they must be kept in mind throughout this monologue.
The first hurdle came in the form of actually getting on the 11am bus: we were told our names were not on the list, we had not reserved spaces on this bus. After a heated discussion, it was agreed we could pay the equivalent of 5 pounds extra to get on the bus and be upgraded to the ‘bed’ type of seat as opposed to the normal one. This was actually extremely good news, as the normal seats were pretty uncomfortable.
Pleased to be on a bus on the way back to Buenos Aires, the three of us passed out after a long night. I woke up what I thought was a good 5 hours later and the bus had stopped. I was excited – perhaps we were already stopping for food. So I got off the bus but – to my surprise – we were in the culo del mundo. Confused, hungover and sleepy, I headed back to the bus to wake up my friend and asked him to check out where we were. Not that he would have known, but this seemed the right thing to do. We concluded this was not a planned stop, that it had actually only been 3 hours since we left and asked ¿qué pasó? It turned out the radiator was broken. The mechanic would be here in an hour or so. No big deal. Tranquilo.
So, it’s 2pm and we’re 3 hours from Salta, by the motorway. The only sign of human life is the tiny little comedor, hut, which had no electricity but had food. Could be worse. We had checkers, cards, iPods with a few hours left. All was well.
The mechanic eventually arrived and messed about with the engine for a while. At 5pm, he proclaimed that Todo bien, we could leave now. We piled back onto the bus, ecstatic that we could go back to sleep. We drove a grand total of 1000 metres before turning around. We were back by the comedor. Slight panic. Apparently, the radiator was totally broken. Not usable.
I’m just going to interject to remind you that it was now 5pm on Wednesday, we were 20 hours from Buenos Aires, and my flight was on Friday at 5pm. I’m not going to lie, panic was pulsing through my veins at this stage.
We were told a replacement bus would arrive at 7pm from Tucúman. So we waited. We played checkers. We argued. We laughed. We chatted to other passengers, made friends. We played checkers again (turns out no matter how many times I play it, I’m crap). 7pm came and went. ¿Dónde está el omnibus?
The bus that was supposed to be coming at 7pm from Tucúman, was actually coming from Córdoba and this new bus would arrive at 1am. I don’t know how good your geography is, but Cordoba is easily 10 hours away from where we were. There was no way in hell it would arrive at 1am. Further panic ensued on my part. Must. Catch. Flight.
Another perhaps unbelievable – or maybe stupid – aspect of this trip was that I didn’t have either credit or battery on my phone, my friend had practically no credit, and my brother was dangerously close to his phone dying. So no one actually knew where we were. In hindsight, definitely stupid.
Before we knew it, it was 1am and still no bus. I was getting desperate. My friend and I had actually calculated that if the bus would not arrive before 10am the next day, my brother and I would miss our flight. Could we hitchhike 20 hours to Buenos Aires? Could we pay someone to take us down? Should we just wait? Again we asked, where was the bus? It was coming, it would be here…
1am, 2am, 3am … 4am, 5am go by. It was not until 6am that the other bus arrived. I’m just going to cheekily remind you here – we left at 11am the day before. It was now Thursday. I had to be in Buenos Aires by Friday.
We dragged ourselves to the bus. 10 hours down the road, we hit stand still traffic. For about 3 hours. By this stage, I wouldn’t be surprised if a freak tornado happened to hit the motorway, the only motorway to Buenos Aires, and that we had to find an alternative route that would maybe take 30 extra hours.
We arrived in Buenos Aires at 3am on Friday with only a few hours to spare to pack and get to the airport. We smelt disgusting but couldn’t even tell because the three of us were so used to it. We were exhausted beyond exhausted. In fact, exhausted doesn’t really sum up just how tired we were.
You could say it was the worst bus ride of my life. But it was also the best. I wouldn’t have changed anything for the world. I had so much fun in the middle of nowhere, chatting away to people who were taking the bus with us, playing football with a bunch of plastic bags wrapped together. The time the three of us spent together made us that much closer. It’s something no one can understand when we laugh about this trip. It’s trips like these that teach you about yourself. The expression Expect the Unexpected has never applied more.