By Dan Warelis
I was on an intercity bus from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, Argentina’s beautiful wine region nestled in the foothills of the Andes, and the steward looked at me with a wary eye while making his way down the aisle.
His suspicions were warranted. Having no prior experience with bus bingo I had missed a key rule during the initial explanation and my bingo call was premature. Although I didn’t win the bottle of wine that evening, I did find solace in the wine included with dinner. (I also learned to listen more closely when instructions are not in your native language, and to take your ear phones out when people give you directions.)
Later I flipped on the screen in front of me, kicked up my feet and scrolled through the movie choices. I ordered a snifter of whisky (included in my ticket and a seemingly more appropriate choice than the offered champagne), told the server the type of dessert I would prefer and settled in to watch the flick while waiting for my sponge cake. Later, feeling a little sleepy after my whisky and cake, I pushed my seat back to its comfortable bed-like 180-degree position and lapsed into a comfortable sleep.
This was the Bingo Bus, bus travel Argentine style, a style as far removed from the buses I am used to in my home in Ontario, Canada, as Ontario is from Buenos Aires. Moreover, the 14-hour luxury trip cost only about $100.
If all of this sounds like fantasy — more like a first-class flight than your average long bus trip – you’ve probably endured the prison-like experience many of us have on our North-American intercity bus lines.
In Ontario, as in many U.S. and Canadian cities, the vast majority of inter-city bus routes are run by one company. Tickets are expensive, buses are cramped and amenities are non-existent, with bathrooms often being the sole “extravagance.” My experience on the Bingo Bus, on the other hand, is common in Argentina.
This vast, beautiful country has must-see locations in all four corners and a first glance at a map makes it appear so daunting, that to try and cross it by anything but airplane would seemingly be torture. However, the miles roll by when you buy a seat on one of the country’s intercity bus lines sunch as the Bingo Bu.
There are many different bus services that run throughout the country that offer excellent service at fair prices. Checking http://www.omnilineas.com/ is a good start as it provides all the options running from Retiro, Buenos Aires’s main downtown bus station. Beyond that each area of the country has different bus lines running between cities, most of which connect to the major routes originating in Buenos Aires.
In these buses you choose the types of seat you like — Cama (bed), Semi-Cama (semi-bed), Cama-Suite (bed-suite), and Cama Ejecutivo (executive bed). My whisky and sponge cake came on an executive class ticket, but the economy rides also offer games, food and entertainment.
Better still, while Argentina’s inflation rate is driving up costs annually by quite a percentage, Argentina’s Bingo Buses remain much cheaper than the average bus trip in North America. Executive seats on the 10½-hour bus ride from downtown Buenos Aires to picturesque Córdoba, for example, are only $61. Fares to dozens of other destinations around the country also provide great savings.
Even better, if you listen carefully you just might hit Bingo and win a bottle of one of Argentina’s splendid wines.