Taking public transit in any unfamiliar place can be a challenging thing.
Today, however, our family decided to go out of our way to prove just what obviously ignorant tourists we are as we made our first attempt to ride a Buenos Aires city bus. For your reading pleasure, I’ve compiled the top 5 things not to do if you’d like to have an enjoyable bus ride.
1. Don’t assume that bus stops will be logically placed or have adequate signage.
Definitely our first mistake. In a city with hundreds of different bus lines, why should they share the same bus stops? For that matter, why make the bus stop signposts stand out from any other vertical piece of metal you might find in a crowded city?
Best of all, ensure that the road signs are missing on 80% of the streets where a bus stop might be found, to ensure complete and utter confusion as to where you are. Then add in plenty of one-way streets, just for kicks.
2. Do not attempt to ride the bus without a pocket literally full of change.
I actually feel silly now that we didn’t realize this ahead of time, but since there are 2 peso bills (the equivalent of about 40 cents), we thought we’d probably be ok. Not so much.
After walking around for quite some time, simply trying to locate a bus stop for Linea 29 (that was actually going the right direction- we made that mistake first), we managed to get on the correct bus. Hooray!
Until we pulled out our bills and tried to pay, and the unimpressed bus driver told us firmly (in Spanish) that we could only pay with coins. We quickly pooled the contents of our pockets and realized we had approximately $3 pesos and 50 cents. We needed $14. Now what?
More willing to lose our pride than lose our spot on this long-coveted bus, we began asking other bus patrons in our pathetic Spanish whether they would kindly trade us their $1 and $2 peso coins for our bills.
It took a little while and I noticed many thinly veiled smiles and smirks at those “crazy tourists”, while I jostled around at the front of the bus, trying not to fall into some old Argentine man’s lap, but eventually I had all of my coins neatly deposited into the machine behind the driver’s seat. He harrumphed that I had met the correct coin quota and I squished bums with the kids to grab a seat for the remainder of the ride.
3. Do not eat an empanada de pollo (otherwise known as a pastry pocket of chicken deliciousness) immediately prior to boarding a bus.
Or at least not without your travel sickness remedies on hand, if you’re someone that is prone to motion sickness. That would be me.
Though the traffic here is far more sane than in some places my husband and I have been, the buses definitely runs just slightly on the loco (crazy) side. The stops and starts are incredibly quick, the turns sharp, and lanes don’t mean a whole lot to them.
It’s important to note that I did not actually get sick. However. My stomach was in mild revolt from the time I finally sat down after 5 minutes of hustling for coins, until about 30 minutes after we got off the bus at our destination.
Also important to note is the fact that eating an empanada de pollo is probably almost always worth the consequences.
4. Do not assume that babies and their strollers have any sort of special place of privilege.
It might just be in Canada, but when we’ve taken the bus with an infant in a stroller, people are supposed to give up their seats in a particular area in order to make room for the stroller to sit during the ride. Babies stay put (and even asleep, if the parents are lucky). Even better, many Canadian buses will lower slightly closer to the ground, making it easier to heft the stroller up onto the bus.
Here, however, we found that babies must be taken out of their strollers, the strollers be folded up and carried, and you’re super lucky if the bus slows down enough to let you get off completely before it begins driving again.
5. Do not expect that your children will tell you that they have to go pee BEFORE you get onto a 20-minute long crowded bus ride.
Do I even need to explain this one?
We’ll spare the guilty party any further embarrassment by sharing the details, but suffice it to say that we now have a backpack that needs a wash, and somewhere on Linea 24 there is a seat and floor in need of a bit of disinfectant. We’re really sorry about that.
Now don’t you feel prepared for riding the bus in Buenos Aires? I thought you would. If not, perhaps you’ve at least had a chuckle on us.