16 April 2011

Bus travel in South America

Travelling by bus in South America is always an interesting experience. Well, to be fair, it's not too bad in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. But once you start heading north it starts to get sketchy.

This was particularly the case in Bolivia, where a non-stop service would mean that one driver would drive the whole distance... non-stop. The most I [un-] happily experienced was a 13-hour journey, but I heard horror stories of trips which lasted 18 hours and longer - and during the wet season these journey times could double, as heavy rain wreaked havoc on the many raw, un-made roads. Imagine one driver on a 36 hour shift. Now think about your safety.

How do they do it? In Bolivia, they chew on coca leaves - coca as in cocaine. Leaves don't have quite the same kick, but they serve to keep the driver awake. Unfortunately it does nothing for their sense of alertness and reaction times.

When reached Peru, I was somewhat happy to see the following:

One of the baggage compartments under the bus has been equipped with a mattress where a second driver can sleep, to be well rested for alternating driving shifts . Ahh... the security of having bus drivers who won't veer off the road with fatigue. Though I was told by other passengers not to keep any valuables under the bus: it seems they sometimes get a little bored under there and entertain themselves with theft from the luggage and backpacks.

During one trip in Bolivia, my bus stopped in the middle of the night for some reason. There was a commotion outside - it sounded like a little child was crying and screaming. I looked out my window and thought I saw the driver force a little child (around 8-years-old) into the baggage compartment. I went back to sleep thinking that I was was either still half-asleep or just seeing things. I realised later that what I thought I saw was actually real.

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Related Posts

- Diarrhoea and Bolivian bus accidents
- Travelling light
- The road to Colombia


  1. I have traveled to over 60 countries in the world which is approx. 22% and have yet to make it to South America, so whenever I see a post on like this I can't wait to check it out.

    Actually what drew me to this post was the picture. It reminded me of my high school days, roughing it down on some surf trips to Baja Mexico,we used to go on. The painted van, the relaxed happy-go-luck attitude, it's all great. Good times, Good times! Cheers, Roman T.

  2. While Argentina's buses were the best we saw, we did hit a motorcyclist on our 24-hour trip from Salta to Puerto Iguazu. I slept through it but awoke while the bus was still stopped.

    Bolivia's buses will be a life-long discussion in our house. No heat. No toilet. Many of the roads look like not much more than dirt paths. Unable to move seats back because the person behind you has their life's possessions in their lap.

    Once we stopped in the middle of the night at a place that sold soup and beverages and had "toilets." After having some quick food, I got in line for the bathroom in a mud hut behind the establishment. When I finally got to the front, it smelled so foul that I refused to use it and instead found a not-well-covering bush. As I came around the front of the building walking toward the bus, it started to pull away!! As my husband was freaking out inside, some native woman started yelling "La gringa! La gringa!" He barely stopped to let me swing on! Holy crap!

    As we found in many other ways, Peru split the difference between Bolivia and Argentina. It's buses, while simple, were serviceable with restrooms and fold-back seats. We watched Braveheart on one trip. Actually that overnight trip also had a guy that brought us a pastry and beverage. They had blankets and toothpaste/toothbrush packets.

    So, it's obvious I agree that the South American buses are something worth writing about. I just added my own blog entry! Hope you are well!

  3. Thanks for sharing that Kristen. I really enjoyed reading your comment... partly because I could relate to everything you mentioned. It made me smile while I reminisced. Sending you a big hug!! =)

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    1. I agree. Though Brazil is pretty good too.

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