How Not to Take a Bus in Buenos Aires

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.

Comments

  1. Oh dear. I would have no idea how to even ride a bus here in the states let alone in a foreign country! :-) Next time will be a million times easier. Hopefully. Otherwise you guys can just get lots of exercise.

    • Stephanie says:

      LOL, maybe we’ll just get really, really fit this year. :) I think it will get easier from now on. Maybe we got most of the kinks out today?

  2. Oh, my. :) What an adventure. I do remember having to fold up the stroller in the USA to board the bus when I would ride it with our baby (back when we lived in the city), so we didn’t have those nice baby-friendly rules like Canada, either. Sounds like you have a good excuse to purchase a cute coin purse, though. :)

    • Sheri says:

      Yes, in our part of the states we most definitely have to carry baby and folded up stroller on as well. No special treatment. Sounds like Canada is spoiled with their fancy baby rules ;)

      • Ellen says:

        Canada has many rules. :) Some go rather too far, in my opinion, but it is a very lovely place to raise children and I am thankful for the many blessings and considerations!

  3. Tiffany says:

    Sounds exactly like our experiences with buses in Mexico. Is there a zoo there? If it’s anything like a Mexican zoo, you’ll be in for a treat.

  4. Charyse says:

    In my recollection, European public transportation is quite easy to navigate…hopefully that will help in one portion of your travel!

    • Stephanie says:

      When we visited Italy and Scotland about 6 years ago, it wasn’t too challenging, so hopefully that will prove true for us once again!

  5. J.Stahl says:

    Oh my. LOL…
    Here in Germany, the center of the bus is supposed to be available for those who are handicapped or pushing strollers/prams – but sometimes the same rules apply as in Buenos Aires when full up in the morning/evening… it’s insanity.

    Hopefully things will go much smoother for you!

  6. Janet says:

    Hi,
    Yes I have to be honest and say I did get a chuckle from the bus adventure you went on. My husband also got a chuckle but we both agreed we would not do what you are doing and think you are brave to step out of your comfort zones for a while.

    I would enjoy buying an RV and traveling through all the states. I think that might be my dream of a lifetime.

    Have a beautiful day!

    • Stephanie says:

      I’m sure a trip like this isn’t for everyone! LOL! But RV’ing through the states also sounds wonderful. :)

  7. Britney Hibbs says:

    Your post made me laugh out loud! My husband and I are missionaries in El Salvador and your bus experience in Buenos Aires is exactly how the bus system is here….missing sign posts, absent road signs, crazy drivers, and buses not coming to a complete stop! I love what you and your family are doing and enjoy following your blog desde El Salvador! Dios les bendiga :)

    • Stephanie says:

      Oh, so you totally know what I’m talking about! In fact, my guess would be that in El Salvador it’s even crazier! Blessings! :)

  8. Erinn says:

    I would recommend doing a little research on this beforehand. Trust me, EVERY country is different. BsAs bus travel can be an adventure, but if you have a Guia T (purchased at any newsstand), it can be a lot better. At least in BsAs everyone lines up in an orderly fashion (they line up for EVERYTHING there). In Mexico, there are no official bus stops and everyone tries to get on at once. It’s different in Central America as well. I recommend looking briefly at Lonely Planet for each country you go to before you head there. They have info like this that can save you a lot of headaches.

    • Stephanie says:

      We did do just a teensy bit of research first, so we at least knew to get a Guia T and we sort of figured out how to find the correct bus lines, but I wish we had looked into it a little beyond that. Oh well, live and learn! :)

  9. LOL! I think these bus revelations will be good to keep in mind throughout the rest of your travels abroad. Glad to see you’re keeping a good sense of humor! Thanks for allowing us to travel along with you. :)

  10. christina says:

    Do you know about the South American explorers? They are a great resource especially if you’re still thinking about where to go next. They also plan great outings usually for a cause. My husband and I visited a tiny mountain village in Peru with no running water. Worth the annual fee.

    • Stephanie says:

      We haven’t been in contact with them yet, but we’ve heard good things about them, so I think we’ll have to try to connect. Thanks for the tip!

  11. Nola says:

    Sounds like an interesting adventure! I’ve been thinking of your family, wondering how it’s all going.

    I still want to know sometime, how DO you diaper the baby while travelling? or are you doing that thing (can’t remember what its called) where the baby doesn’t use diapers? Please tell sometime! I’m curious :)

    • Stephanie says:

      It really is going well. We’ve spent this past week taking some time off of work and just trying to get acclimatized and settled in to this new lifestyle, getting over jet lag and adjusting to a new place. Plus, we started taking Spanish lessons (me, my husband, and our oldest, and the 5 year old sometimes sits in). That’s been a bit tiring, but helpful, as we try to get a better foundation for Spanish. It will make being here for 3 months so much easier, once we get more of the hang of some basic conversation skills.

      As for diapers, we’re doing a blend of things. We did bring cloth, but because we didn’t have room to bring a very large supply (we have 3 Flip covers and 4 good inserts), we can’t really do it all the time unless I do constant laundry. Whenever we can buy disposables, we are, even though that isn’t my preference. We do also have biodegradable disposable inserts that we will use with the Flip covers in the second half of our year, once we hit the countries where finding disposables will be much more difficult (Africa, SE Asia, etc.). Here in Argentina, disposables are easy, so that’s what I’m doing, but he got a bit of a rash from the diapers and the heat/humidity here, so I’m using a bit of cloth mixed in to try to get rid of the rash. I’m also planning to work on training him on the potty earlier, if I can, using some of the aspects of infant training to see if that will help to at least reduce our dependence on diapers. It’s definitely been one of the harder aspects of planning. :)

  12. Karen says:

    I so appreciate the great sense of humor you’ve had through this bus expeience! That will really make or break the situation. Some people (me) might just dissolve into tears at the first obstacle. Thank you for your good example. Blessings on your day!

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