Monday, August 18, 2014

A trip to Retiro, executed with military precision

I have visited Argentina now many times over. I got it down: from landing at Ezeiza, the international airport of Buenos Aires to speaking Spanish, to ordering food in a restaurant, shopping or giving directions to the taxi driver. I learned quite a few things over the years: do not take a taxi at Ezeiza; get a ride with Manuel Tienda Leon, a bus and livery company. Do not jump into any taxi in the streets of Buenos Aires; call for known taxi companies. Always watch out of pick pockets. Don't change money in any of the "casas de cambio"; go to the bank or better even, exchange with family and friends as they like to get some US dollars. Overall, with a few simple tips like these, traveling to Argentina is not bad at all. There is however one trip within Argentina I loath: a trip to Retiro, terminal de omnibus.

When you want to visit any of the other cities in-land, you have the choice of taking a plane, from the domestic airport of Jorge Newbery in downtown Buenos Aires, or catch an omnibus at Retiro. While there are still a few commuter trains to and from the outskirts of Buenos Aires, traveling by train is no longer a good option to travel to the provincial cities (wikipedia).

Tickets were usually very expensive, and often come at a premium price for foreigners. On the day I wanted to travel, air travel to San Luis was even cancelled (not uncommon).

The next best option is to take an omnibus. This is in general not a bad option at all. These busses are double decker busses, with wide leather seats. There are several classes: ejecutivo (with a full bed), semi-cama (where the chair folds back), to other levels of luxury with or without food and wine. I ended up snatching a final seat on a lower class bus with semi-cama. After a 22 hours trip from the States, I was ready to hop onto a bus for another 10 hours.

This brings me to the trip I loath: from an apartment in the plush Recoleta district, I plan my trip to Retiro carefully and with military precision.

  1. I call for a taxi to take me to Retiro. When traveling as a family, we may need even a combi, to hold the various pieces of luggage as many taxis use liquified natural gas and have a special tank in the trunk. Going by city-bus is out of the question for fear of getting robbed of much of my belongings. When you take the city-bus, you must brave the masses at both Retiro, the train station and Retiro, the omnibus station. The security has gotten better in recent year with the military patrolling the bus platforms. Nevertheless, the recommended method is a taxi. 
  2. I know exactly where my bus will leave from. e.g., "plataformas 15-25" (link). I believe there about 75 platforms with omnibusses coming and going every few minutes. The taxi will drop you of near where your omnibus will leave from. 
  3. I carry a couple of Argentine pesos in my pocket both for the fellow opening the door of the taxi, as well as for the luggage handlers putting your bag in the omnibus. I calculate 2-3 pesos per bag. Always wait until the bag is actually loaded into the omnibus. 
  4. My backpack I carry in the front. Duh! 
  5. While waiting for the bus to arrive, I find a corner where I have full view of what goes on around me. Nobody is going to bump me there. 
Retiro takes me typically 30 minutes before I am on the bus, all seated and ready to go. I am relieved each time I make it without incident. 

Waiting at Retiro

Omnibus, "20 de Junio"

I made it on the bus.

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