The Dreaded Overnight Bus

22.August 2009

Travel

Some backpackers take overnight buses to avoid having to fork over the cost of a room. Some use them as a time saving device, to quickly get from one place to another. And some must take them just for the bragging rights of how many hours they’ve clocked in a darkened, rolling funhouse.

I’m not a fan. I’ve come to quite like bus riding. It’s a great way to see the country and watch the landscape slowly change. On a night bus, there is no seeing the country  or the landscape…it’s dark.  And, in this part of the world at this time of year, it’s dark about 12 hours a night.

But, as we have found, sometimes they are inevitable. And so, here I am, on the dreaded overnight bus. And tonight, as a special treat, there are three children under the age of 5 right in front of us. It’s a 23 hour ride….twenty three hours!!

There are varying degrees of buses in South America but it’s been a bit of a crap shoot as to which level we’ll end up at (I should probably do more research). Our first, from Lima to Cusco, sucked the big one. The second, from Mendoza to Buenos Aires, was sweet heaven. The third, from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu was mediocre but passable. And tonight…well we’ll see but this is the longest ride we’ve done and there is no meal service on board…we just stopped at a truck stop restaurant for ‘dinner’ (it’s 10PM)…who knows what breakfast will hold?

They all start out fine as it’s still light outside and I can pass the time staring out the window – which I’ve become quite good at. There might be a movie playing – if it’s not an action movie, or violent, or dubbed only in spanish, I might watch or I might just keep staring out the window. I save all my reading, writing, game playing and other such activities for after dark…there’s a lot of ‘dark time’ to pass.

I always hope that dark will fall later than I expect…but it never does. Night always falls and the familiar pattern begins.

Just before dark, as the temperature outside drops, the windows will start to fog up. I hate that as it robs me of precious staring out of the window time. And so the windows and I start our night bus fight – I ritually aim all the air vents at the windows and pull out my ‘window rag’ to wipe the condensation of as quickly as it forms. I’m usually pretty successful and manage to keep a clear hole until nothing more can be distinguished in the dark.

During this time, if there is an attendant (and there isn’t tonight), he/she will come around and close all the curtains as if we riders could not decide when or if we wanted our own curtains closed. There is no disputing that this should be done – it’s best to let it happen and then open them again once they leave. The reverse happens in the morning.

Depending on the level of service dinner may be served. Keep in mind that even the best service offers airline type food…the worst serves a box with a stale sandwich and a juice box. If not, then it’s now that Jason and I pull out our snack/dinner which is usually tastier and somewhat healthier than either above option – except tonight as we’ve had potato chips, peanuts, pop, and an ice cream bar to get us through the night.

After dinner, maybe another movie or some reading, or writing, or card playing…anything to fill the time and wait for sleep to come.

Now the bus is really dark. No aisle lights, no illuminating tv, no reading lights and, if we’re really out in the country, no street lights either. Just complete darkness, the sound of the engine and the wheels and the feeling of the bus hurtling down the highway.

I hate this time. Usually I am tired but just can’t drift off. The movement of the bus simultaneously lulls me to the edge of sleep and then pulls me back from that edge…it’s exhausting. At best I can sleep an hour at a time, waking up regularly for I-don’t-know-what-reason, at worst the cycle continues and I count down the hours until dawn will break and I can see outside again.

Eventually, thankfully, dawn does break, the windows and I start our battle again, and I can resume staring out the window until we arrive at our destination. First stop? Find the hostel and have a nap!

PS…there are no pictures with this post…because it’s dark!!!

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4 Responses to “The Dreaded Overnight Bus”

  1. Dirk Says:

    I’m not sure which one I would like the best. I always drive in our family, so I love when I get a chance to be the passenger and look out the windows, but it would be nice to fall asleep and wake up somewhere else, although I don’t know if I could sleep. At least you got some writing done.

  2. Nomadic Matt Says:

    I dread overnight buses, trains…overnight anything. I’ll go out of my way to avoid them at all costs! I could never have put up with a 23 hr bus ride with kids!

    on another note, I hear the buses in Argentina are quite luxurious so that must be nice

  3. Mom Duffy Says:

    Oh I remember it so well……Are we there yet?. Are we there yet? and I had the three kids who were in front of you. Hope you did OK and I know it will be worth it. Really loving your posts, pictures and e-mails. Luv for now. Me.

  4. Carla Young Says:

    Wow, call me naive but didn’t realize the night busses didn’t have overhead reading lights. Yikes!