Traveling on a bus in South America is absolutely awesome experience and for me it becomes even more fun by boarding on the wrong bus. I wanted to travel from Argentina capital ‘Buenos Aires’ to Chile capital ‘Santiago’ by bus. I choose to travel with ‘CATA Internacional’ because of its quality service feedback and stylish bus looks. I booked the ticket via busbud.com website. They sent me tickets via email and it is all Spanish. No English in it.
There were direct bus from Buenos Aires to Santiago but i was unable to book on the day when i try to do it. Some error happened with prevent me from booking that ticket. So i ended up in booking 2 tickets. One is from Buenos Aires to Mendoza. Second is from Mendoza to Santiago. Some people suggested the travel from Mendoza to Santiago is full of mountain views and it is good to travel that route on a day time. So i booked a night travel from Buenos Aires to Mendoza. And a day stay at Mendoza. Then day travel from Mendoza to Santiago.
I reached Buenos Aires Retrio omini bus terminal and visited the CATA Internacional booking kiosk and shown then the ticket. The guy took my ticket stamped a seal says Platform between 11 – 25 in Spanish and he speak English and told me to look for the bus 15 minutes prior to the departure time. All the boards displaying bus arrival & departure are in Spanish. I had Google Translate app with Spanish downloaded for offline use. So i was able to translate some of the words and understand that. When the time comes the display board says Platforma 23 CATA.
So i rushed to the Platform 23 and found a bus with board ‘Mendoza’ (It was actually standing on 22 but i confused it as 23 as the board numbers were kept in between to bus bays). The bus which was standing belongs to ‘CENTRAL ARGENTINO’ company not CATA. As they wrote their name stylish ‘CA’ in the front of the bus i thought it was the one i have to take. Because it was the only bus with the name board ‘Mendoza’ and on the time i was told board the bus. I looked around for a minute just to see if there is anything else and since i did not see anything i go directly to conductor of bus and show him the ticket. He said many things in Spanish and i keep telling him i can speak only English. Then he looked into the ticket for few seconds and did action like this is the bus i need to board. He also show me action to keep my luggage in the luggage area of the bus where others were standing in queue and checking in their luggage.
Since he looked at the ticket for few seconds and told me this is the bus i also thought CA sign stands for CATA only and focused on checking in my luggage. The check in luggage process is done by a ported who had a tag in his had and stick the part of a tag in the luggage and other end at our ticket. So it is a sign that our ticket had a luggage in the backside of the bus. Everyone gave tip for him so i also gave him 20 pesos and he was happy with that. Then i come back to the conductor who again took my ticket and tear top portion of it for him (Which is his copy) and gave me the bottom portion of the ticket to me which had my luggage tag. Then he asked me to take the seat inside bus. My fate the same number i booked was same location on this bus also and window seat as well. But the issue i noticed is i remember my seat was supposed to be single seat on 2+1 seats row. But it was 2+2 style seats row. And bus also not really stylish as it looked on the pictures that i saw at the time of booking. And also the fare i paid was bigger than the flight ticket cost from Santiago to Buenos Aires. So i was upset i get this poor service for that big money and i still had this doubt if am in correct bus. But then after seeing my ticket the conductor told me this is the bus so i had no choice but to stay calm and travel.
When the bus started moving from the bay i see CATA International bus was in the next bay which i did not noticed as all windows were closed on the bus i boarded with cloths. It seems like they arrived 10 minutes late than departure time. Now my doubt has increased to the peak as i believe this Spanish – English conversation between me and the conductor went wrong and now i have no choice as my luggage was pushed too much inside as i said am traveling till last stop to the porter. Now if i go and stop the bus again they have to unload all other luggage before taking my luggage out so again Spanish – English war is going to happen and i really don’t want that to happen… 😀 😀 😀
So i decided to stay on the bus thinking whatever happen let it happen and anyway it was absolutely conductors decision for me to board this bus. For about 45 minutes there was no issue as the 2 stops where people board the bus did not came to me for the seat. Now after an hour of journey… on the third stop of the bus a guy came to me and told me this is his seat in Spanish. I understand that i knew this would happen 😀 😀 😀 I showed him my ticket with same number and the lady next to me said something in Spanish and that guy moved back. Later when the conductor came backside the guy called him and told him that am sitting in his seat. The conductor took both of out tickets and were looking at it for about a minute and he did not figure out still. Then he said something and gone inside driver cabin and did not came back for about 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes he came with smile and told something in Spanish to that guy and gave our tickets to us and gone back. For another 15 minutes nothing happened and then he came to me and asked me to come with him to Drivers cabin. So i got to know something is going to happen but he had smile on his face. So i was hoping that am not going to be put down on the mid of nowhere 😀 As soon as i enter the driver also said ‘Hola’ (Means hello) and smiled. More than smile i can say it they could not control their laughs. Then he tool a white paper and started to explain me with actions as he don’t speak English and he aware that i don’t speak Spanish. He draw a picture shows departure and arrival points and timings and two bus drawings showing one is CATA another is CENTRAL ARGENTINO. As i already know the issue i can understand what he is trying to say. Then i told him you only checked my ticket and told this is my bus. He did not understand that then he finally made a phone call to his girl friend who can speak English and explain the situation. Then he gave me the phone and she told me that i am in wrong bus. But no need to worry. It is the mistake of the driver so i can travel in the same bus and arrive at the destination as this bus also going to the same destination and have same arrival time as the one i booked for. The only difference is the bus i booked for offers dinner, breakfast, snacks and drinks, etc… but in this bus nothing will be given as the fare they charge less than the other bus i booked for. So the driver will stop at a shop for few minutes you please buy your dinner by yourself. That was very kind of them as it was a 16 hour journey and without water surviving is hard.
Then i was there in the drivers cabin until the dinner purchase stop comes which was about 2 hours and we were discussing using Google Translate app. They wanted to listen Indian Music and connect the speaker with my phone and i played AR Rahman 2.0 songs and they started dancing for it. The driver is dancing when the bus is at 80Kms speed. And sometimes he took my phone and start typing his question when the bus is on full speed. My heat beats badly when he do that as the road is two way traffic road. Then he started telling his questions to the conductor and he typed it. We discussed about the politics, games played on the countries, economy, etc… when i said Lionel Messi is famous all over India he asked if i play food ball. When i said no he said food ball is the best game at sports and i should learn it. Then i showed him the marks below my lips and typed… my lip came out of my mouth on a food ball match and that was the last day i was allowed to play food ball in my life… these are the marks that they stitched my lip back with my mouth 😀
Then they did not say anything about food ball further… They were not happy with their president it seems 😀 😀 😀
After dinner stop they asked me to take a free seat and use it until we reach Mendoza. Then i took a window seat and used it till i reach Mendoza. When we reach the destination i thought i have to pay for this trip but he just shake hands and said something in Spanish and moved on. Then i walked towards Exit and that’s all. A free 16 hour journey ???!!!? Am not sure if that is even possible here in India. They were so sweeter than i thought.
It was a good experience for me after all.
I booked a hotel very near to the bus terminal at Mendoza. The city was very nice and the city center Av San Martin was about 1.5 kms distance from the bus terminal. The Av San Martin filled with lot of shops and Tourist Information Center is located here as well. They offer free walking tours in the evening time. Compared to Buenos Aires here i found more English speaking people. In the morning time the city view is awesome as it was close to mountain range which contains many ICE peaks.
Mendoza to Santiago
Next day i had to take 7:30 AM bus to Santiago from Mendoza Terminal. I reached 6AM itself as it is a International transfer so thought may be its good to go early. It was not needed. I just sat 1.5 hours in the bench without doing anything… just watching buses and people around. When i reach there i visit the CATA International kiosk and they asked for my passport and checked the details and put a stamp in Spanish which says Pre-Boarding Verification Done. And she also told the bus is scheduled to depart at 8AM instead of 7:30AM and it will arrive between 14 – 17 platform. So i sat near by Platform 15 and waiting for CATA Internacional with ‘Santiago’ board. At around 7:30Am a CATA bus came with the board ‘Santiago’ but it was ‘Royal Suite’ class bus. I remember i booked for ‘CAMA’ class service (they have Royal Suite, CAMA, Semi CAMA services). So i did not check-in and was just waiting hoping another bus may come. Then i thought of checking with the driver once and shown him the ticket. Same as previous day he said many things in Spanish and i did not understand any and i reply in English and he did not understand anything. And the whole crowd is watching us 😀
Finally he looked at the ticket for few seconds and shown sign like this is the bus and have my ticket back. So i gone to conductor again and checked it for second time and he also said this is the bus. Now i want to conform for another time so i shown the word ‘CAMA’ in the ticket so he understand that i want to be sure before boarding the bus. So he took the passenger name list and check my ticket seat number and told ‘Joseph ?’. Then i feel comfortable to check in my luggage and board the bus. At the time of boarding inside the driver gave ‘Chile’ customs form and asked us to fill.
Once the bus started the conductor gave us headphones, snacks box, coffee. The seat was very comfortable and it goes almost 160degree flat i guess. So its almost like sleeping feel on it.
In a few minutes bus enter mountain ranges and it was very good. Nice to see snowy top mountains even in this hot summer. The melted water run after long travel we reach Chile Border and there was no exit process in Argentina process. There was a tunnel in the border as per google maps. Half of the tunnel belongs to Argentina and remaining to Chile. After crossing that tunnel in about few minutes the Chile customs building. We were all asked to get down and go inside the building and take arrival stamp. The officer could not able to speak English and i showed my return flight ticket from Santiago to Buenos Aires and told him i will be there only for 3 days in the city. He stamped and said something in Spanish and then i moved on. In the mean time our bus was under inspection and our luggage were taken and sent under a scanning machine for inspection by couple of guys. We were all asked to come and stand in line and the first thing they did is collecting tips 😀 😀 😀 I actually didn’t understand anything but when i see a guy came with a plastic cover one by one and people put some change in it i understand it was tip. I didn’t put anything so he crossed me and gone to next person. I just noticed he was one of the guy actually took our luggage from bus and put inside the scanning machine for scanning and load it back to bus. Then i called him and gave 2USD to him as i initially thought this money is for immigration officers.
Then we were allowed inside bus and then bus travels inside Chile. Once the mountain range is over then it is just a normal ride and nothing to see through window. Finally we arrived at the Santiago bus terminal nearly an hour late. There was a Taxi stand inside bus terminal so i took them to ride to my stay location. The driver again cant understand what i speak but he understand the address i shown. So i was a good and safe ride.