Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Second Peril of Argentina: Transportation

In Buenos Aires, the bus system operates under the philosophy of “eh, you wouldn’t understand; just take a cab.”  Lonely Planet washes its hands of explication, and even if you know your bus stop, number, and route, there’s a 15% chance it will take you to your destination, and an 85% chance it will take you to La Boca where you will be stabbed.

If you’re lucky enough to travel by private bus, after a 15-minute welcome video which explains the concept and execution of seatbelts for those who have never seen seat nor belt, they play New Year’s Eve and Pirates of the Caribbean 4 until walking or death seems preferable.

To avoid buses entirely, when I daytripped to Colonia, Uruguay, I traveled by boat.  Now, I’ve ridden boats before.  I sailed through icebergs in Alaska, back when there were icebergs, and I’ve visited Staten Island four times, which makes me either rugged or insane.  However, the Colonia Express was different.  It was...bouncy.

About fifteen minutes into the voyage, I noticed that something was wrong.  My mouth filled with a metallic taste usually reserved for food poisoning or Little Women.  Glancing around the ship, I saw that everyone else looked fine.  Okay, great; the nausea must just be my imagination.  After all, I wasn’t going to be That Guy.  Thirty seconds later, I was decidedly That Guy.  I staggered up the oscillating aisle, ignoring the waves exploding outside and the penguin documentary playing mercilessly within, and I looked for some, for any sort of receptacle.  Cue the Abuela Brigade.

Argentina is a very matriarchal country.   Sons love their mothers, mothers dote on their sons, so when sons finally leave the nest, mothers have nothing to do but ride to and from Uruguay until a young and very attractive man needs mothering.

Within seconds, four elderly women had pounced on me, splaying me in the aisle and hoisting my legs skyward while calling to the crew for ice.  (At least, I think they were calling for ice.  My only Spanish is “yo soy un sombrero,” which didn’t apply to the current situation.)  But the crew members didn’t have ice, so they returned from the snack bar with the next best thing: cans of Coke, which the abuelas applied to my forehead, neck, stomach, and either armpit.  As they doted on me, asking questions in Spanish about things other than sombreros, my main thought was “are they still going to sell the armpit Coke?”

Once they ascertained that I would survive the passage, the abuelas spread news of my condition throughout the ship.  That day in Colonia, whenever I saw fellow passengers, they either wished my stomach well or pulled their families out of the potential splash zone.

By the time I got to Mendoza, Argentina’s wine country, I had ruled out most forms of transportation.  However, Chris and her friend Paul had a marvelous idea: bike rental.  They brought us to Bikesandwines, whose title is pretty comprehensive, but in case the customer doesn’t get it, the logo is a man riding a bike while chugging merlot.

Over the course of a bucolic afternoon, we planned to ride from vineyard to vineyard, sampling their wares and tossing out adjectives like “oaken” and “tannic” with abandon.  In practice, the bike ride was more difficult than the ones I’d remembered from my youth.  For those involved functional tires and sobriety.  Mendoza did not.

But whether flat tire, nausea, or interminable Jonny Depp sequels, transportation in Argentina is ultimately manageable.  The main lesson I would impart is travel with care.  And don’t buy Coke on the Colonia Express.

[Continued and concluded...]

The super-fancy private bus provides champagne, as well as bingo.

Our first vineyard and my second rent-a-bike! (The first didn't really have tires.)

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