Buses in South America – A State of Mind

First lecture on a South American night bus: nothing is impossible.

First lecture on a South American night bus: nothing is impossible.

 

I embarked on a big journey this January: I went to South America for the very first time, and I planned to travel the whole continent from south to north: from cold and rugged Chilean Patagonia to the hot sandy Caribbean beaches of Columbia.

And I planned on doing this by basically only one means of transport: long-distance buses. I know, this does not sound unusual to many of you out there, but being German I hardly ever took a long distance bus before.

For one, they have not been widely available in Germany until very recently. And also they do not really reflect my state of mind: riding buses takes time, patience and is a bit unorganised and unstructured. On top of it, it's unsafe. At least that's what I thought. Very much me: sometimes judging stuff that I don't really know well.
 

 
A robbery? An accident? Whatever happended to this bus, it is a scary sight when you are on a bus yourself.

A robbery? An accident? Whatever happended to this bus, it is a scary sight when you are on a bus yourself.

 

So naturally, when I got on my first long-distance bus I did not look forward to the ride at all. With hindsight, this was even one of the shorter ones I took in the upcoming months: ten hours from Vina Del Mar to Pucon in Chile.

The bus was quite nice, but it was overnight, and I did not sleep well because it felt to me like the guy in the front was driving recklessly. He was not - bus drivers in Chile are sane, and roads are really good, compared to everything that should follow. But what did I know back then?
 

 
A break in the middle of nowhere. If you made it here, you've earned yourself a beer.

A break in the middle of nowhere. If you made it here, you've earned yourself a beer.

 

A lot has changed in the last couple of months: because often buses are the only transport available, I got used to 10, 15 or even 20-hour bus rides and now I love it. It's so relaxing for me, I put on great music and enjoy the ride. And what seemed to be a great threat to me at first is now an amazing show. I always ask for the front row seat on the top level to watch the countryside, the people and most importantly the style of driving. It's just crazy and I still go like "don't do it, don't do it, overtaking a truck up a hill going into a corner is not gonna work, oh yes of course he's gonna try", but by now I laugh about it because I know the driver will not always succeed with his attempt to overtake a truck or a car or a horse carriage, but somehow it's always going well. To me, it's pure magic, and I love watching magic happen right in front of my eyes.
 

 
Driving this at night with 80 km/h in a ramshackle double-decker is nothing short of magic.

Driving this at night with 80 km/h in a ramshackle double-decker is nothing short of magic.

 

Also, occasional random stops in the middle of nowhere don't bother me anymore. I just buy a beer from the driver's cousin running a shop right there (what a coincidence!) and make the best of it.

So clearly I became more open, more relaxed during this trip. In addition to the bus rides, interacting with so many different people from South America and from all over the globe has led to that new-found openness. I now trust that things are gonna be ok. Like the locals do. The question is: can I sustain it once I am back home, back in my normal environment? This will be very interesting to observe. One thing is for certain: I will definitely try and take a long-distance bus through Germany when I return.

Chris Rump
 

 
A common sight in Bolivia: Lama crossings

A common sight in Bolivia: Lama crossings

Happy ending: my relation with South American buses.

Happy ending: my relation with South American buses.