Fun with Buses

As many of you know, for the last 10 days or so I have been without laptop. Turned to the curb by the digital gods and forced to graze the internet cafes with lowly backpackers trying to find a cheap hostel I slaved over the typed word. Using the internet cafes allowed me to keep writing for money so that I could continue to live, which as it turns out is very important to me. Inow have a new netbook, courtesy of an import system set up to force me to spend more money than I need to. But the 10 days were not without their benefits. I saw more people than I would have and got to know the city better, but most importantly I got to ride the bus every day. My studio is about 24 kilometers outside the city center. This distance, when combined with waiting times, frequent stops and accidents means that it normally takes me anywhere from an hour to two hours of travel each way. The bottom line is that I have spent a lot of time on the bus. Some may say that I have become an expert at bus riding. Some may say a master. While others will just gape, slack-jawed at my bus prowess, begging me with wide eyed wonder to teach them the secrets of bus travel.




In the US, we are accustomed to certain patterns of fairly straightforward systems. Signs, maps, consistent color patterns, symbolic reasoning, logical modes of operations if you will. Thus, when looking for the location of a bus stop in a sane urban environment, you can depend on these same informational clues that signify bus stops throughout the city, county, even the country. This is not so in Bariloche. Bus stops are assigned based on characteristics chosen at random, perhaps pulled from a hat in some high government office in Buenos Aires. Now don’t get me wrong. There are clues to be sure, but there are no absolutes. Small roadside shacks were my first lesson in bus stop identification.

Open on one side, with roofs made of tin and supporting legs of tin, pvc and human bones, these hasty structures appeared more similar to abstract art or hurricane debris than official bus stops. But I saw real people inside, sheltered from the sun, emerging as the bus pulled up next to their shanty stations. Confident that I had figured out the system, I found a shack and waited. The buses roared by, even sped up on some occasions. It wasn’t that buses didn’t stop at shacks, they just weren’t stopping at my shack. I would ask people, “Why didn’t the bus stop here?” and they would reply, “You ignorant slut that’s a pile of garbage, the bus stop is over there”, pointing to an identical heap of crap. The differences between bus stops and garbage forts were indistinguishable. Furthermore, I began to see people get picked up on the side of the road, where no garbage, shanty, hut or shack existed for hundreds of yards!

After loads of patience and lots of walking, I have memorized where the bus stops and where it doesn’t. Shacks are a good starting point, but you have to know which ones are worthy of a stop. And, when there are no close shacks, an erect arm and a wide shoulder will slow a bus down. With that information, surely I was set to ride the bus.


Argentinean bus drivers are apparently very concerned about making good time on their routes. A strange condition considering the nationwide practice of sleeping for 4 hours during the middle of the day and of drawing simple meals into 3 hour events. But perhaps they are cause and effect, I just don’t know. The point is, they’re in a hurry. This need for speed is signified by their standard pickup procedures.

If you indeed find a legitimate bus stop (outlined in Part I), you will have the pleasure of standing terrified as tons and tons of metal bear down on you, veering off the relative stability of the pavement and onto the soft gravel shoulder, where the edge of the bus misses you by, and I am not making this up, maybe 9 inches. While you may feel inclined to stand shocked, gazing at your urine stained pants or kneeling and thanking God for keeping you alive, these are not viable options because the bus won’t actually stop moving. You have to recover from your involuntary and imbalanced game of chicken and leap into action, grabbing at the handles inside the now open doors. Once inside you must hold on as the driver, in an attempt to make up for the precious milliseconds lost in slowing down to let you on, downshifts and peels out of the gravel without taking the time to shut the door which is still flapping open behind you.


Paying is easy. You can get a card which is preloaded with money. Swipe the card at the machine near the driver and the fare is electronically deducted from the card. It’s a great system.


Seats. They are very important when you are on the verge of an hour long bus ride. Unfortunately, sitting is rather popular with all of mankind. The question of who gets to sit down and when is possibly the most complicated of all bus riding practices.

It sounds simple. Look for a seat and sit in it. Stand if there are no seats. But the reality is far more complicated. First, you must understand the basic seat priority hierarchy, outlined below from highest priority to lowest priority:

The Disabled

The Elderly



Those with luggage or lots of groceries


Criminals/Sex Offenders


This ranking system is law on Bariloche buses. Unlike most American buses I have ridden, there is an empathetic code that permeates the bus walls, marinates and coats its riders with the need for generosity. I have witnessed a single seat change butts more than 5 times in a single ride and none of the occupants abandoned it to get off, but merely to give the seat to another. As a ‘Men’, I am fairly far down on the list which means I stand a lot. If the bus is full and you have a seat, you must acknowledge those who outrank you as they enter the bus. You must think, “Whoop, there’s a lady with a kid and an old man, ready your smile and prepare to stand.” At first it’s nice. Everyone is sharing on the love bus. But after a while you get enough rides in you that the sight of an old lady with a bag of bread makes you tremble with anger.


Unless you are an old grocery-laden, one-legged grandmother you are going to end up standing on the bus and when you do, it will help to know a few procedures. As outlined in Part II: Getting on the Bus, the drivers like to go fast, stop hard and turn sharp. The bus route I take is about 18 miles in length. It is a narrow two lane road that winds along an abrupt, rocky cliff that meets the lake shore. I have never seen a speed limit sign and can not even guess at the speeds the bus reaches. However, I do know that we frequently pass other cars and motorcycles and on rare occasions, my watch starts ticking backwards. Combine that velocity with massive bouts of acceleration and poor roads and you begin to understand why standing is difficult.

After falling down several times, experimenting with different stances and observing more experienced riders, I feel I have finally cracked the secret to the best standing position. Below is an interactive, 3-D–maybe even 4-D–image of the stance. If it looks like a half-assed drawing made with Paint then your computer probably needs updating.

You will notice that a sideways stance is necessary at all times. The forward and rearward G-forces are far greater than the lateral ones. Therefore, the use of the more powerful leg muscles is reserved for these stabilizing vectors. Note also the open foot pattern, allowing for extra stance security. You want to grab the handle of the back of the seat you are facing with one hand and the rail above the seat with your other hand. These anchor points will help keep you upright as the bus drifts around hairpin turns. You may also notice that this position places your package, or genitalia, directly in the face of the disabled, elderly, women and children whom you just gave your seat to. It is a small victory for the loss of the seat. Especially when combined with consistent bends that translate into a rhythmic humping motion carried out by you and every other man now standing on the bus in the same position.


Now that you have successfully gotten on the bus, paid and stood without falling, you need to get off. Let me first say that there are no designated bus stops when getting off. Instead, you ring a bell. Read that again. There is a bell. Not several bell buttons, but one and it is located at the very back of the bus.

On a very crowded bus you must start your journey to the button miles ahead of time. Weaving amongst standing ‘Men’, sex offenders and Chileans who are busy humping the seated riders. This is a particularly dangerous time because you are not in the proper stance for standing on the bus and you are attempting to move with nothing to hold onto. Luckily the forward momentum of the bus throws you backwards, towards the bell. The best you can hope for is to not fall down. It is OK to grope at strangers at this point, you have given up.

Once you hit the button, the bus will slow, rapidly. The doors will open, possibly at speeds of up to 40 mph. Jump off when you can or watch the doors close in your face and your stop roll away. Because when the bus is full, the driver cannot see that you have disembarked. He can only assume he went slow enough and that your window of opportunity was generous. If nothing else, remember to tuck and roll.


What if seats become available as people leave?

If the bus population thins out enough for seats to become available, you still follow the hierarchy. A good trick for determining who gets a seat: imagine you are pitted against this person in a caged death match, whoever you think would lose gets the seat.

I hate standing. Is there any way for me to cheat the system?

There is, in fact, a way to get past the rules. If you don’t want to stand and want shame brought upon your head, find an empty seat and go to it quickly. As soon as you sit down, lean against the window and pretend that you are soundly asleep, oblivious to the needs of weaker passengers. It helps to cover your face with a hood or to put headphones on, even if you don’t have a music player connected. Everyone will know that you are awake–for it would be easier for an astronaut to doze off during re-entry than for a man to fall asleep on the Bariloche bus–but politeness will prevent them from saying anything.

How do I know where a bus is going?

You don’t.

How much does the bus cost?

Don’t worry about it. Just get the card. As it was explained to me by the Tourist Center, “The card is for special handsome Americans and is tied to their credit card accounts for extra special bus fare rates. You don’t need to check your bank account balance or look for any transactions that involve the bus company. It’s all taken care of and everything is fine”.


~ by Hutch on January 25, 2011.

4 Responses to “Fun with Buses”

  1. Do all of the buses in Argentian have the face of an angry masked wrestler?

  2. Hahahahaha!

    Have you considered getting a cast? One of those fake ones you can pull off and on? A crutch? Hell, I’d almost think a real, fixed cast for the 3 months you’re obliged to be there would be preferable to the ‘bus surfing’ you’re describing.

    I know this is cheating but…

    I guess you should considered yourself blessed that you are not a Chilean. =)

  3. Patrick-

    I absolutely loved your ” Fun with Buses “. Having worked with buses for the past 31 years, I could so relate to alot of what you described. If only ” Fun with Buses ” could be shared with Battle Creek’s bus riders, I think that they would appreciate our buses more and complain alot less!

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