After another 27 hour bus journey from El Calafate to Bariloche, Andrew and me came up with our 5 step bus judging criteria. These are the 5 services you expect your long distance buses to have and judge them based on how well they provide this service;
1. Check the recline - The very first thing you check when you sit on the bus is your recline! It's the most important, especially if you're planning on trying to sleep on these buses. There are 3 levels of recline and depending on what one you pick will determine the price you pay.
a). Semi-Cama - don't go with this one if you're on a trip longer than 12 hours, these seats are narrower with only about 110 degrees recline. These seats will always be the cheapest.
b). Cama - comfortable and most of the time you'll get at least a 150 degree recline.
c). Cama-Suite - this is how the rich travel. These are full beds with a curtain to shut yourself away from the rest of the lower-class peasants on the bus. This is far too expensive for us backpackers but it's nice to dream. Also I might add you get free wifi with this service.
2. Where is the TV? Very important feature on buses, ideally you want to be close to the tv but some s***ty buses only have one TV up the front and if your blind as a bat like me, you might as well try and fall asleep early because the film just looks like a blur.
3. The Food - ok so lets note get carried away with ourselves and start expecting 5 star cuisine here... It's similar to plane food and I have no issues with that. Everytime the food was delivered out, I was like a little kid at Christmas because I couldn't wait to see what would come, although most of the time, of course it was the ham & cheese option. Andrew on the other hand, hated all the food, he got so annoyed when the tray was put down in front of him. I just pissed myself laughing asking him "what the hell did you expect". Anyway the point is, you are getting free food so just be grateful.
4. Toilets - there is no denying toilets on any sort of public moving transport are going to be disgusting and smelly. You are just adding to a hole of dirt! Soap, toilet roll and paper to dry your hands is the least you expect but some buses didn't even give you that.
5. On bus entertainment - ok so only on one bus to date, have we had bingo but it means every other bus that we went on had to compete with that.
So far Andesmar has our top rating but that could all change. Taqsa was the company we got to Bariloche and my estimations of them went up very quickly after 'the incident'. So 'the incident' began about 3 hours before we arrived in Bariloche. I took out my iPhone to take pictures from the bus because the scenery along the way was stunning. Anyway, once we arrived I stupidly left my phone on the bus, it might have fallen between the seats and I not have seen it. I didn't realised until later that night when I was unpacking, obviously I started crying hysterically to Andrew. I had lost an iPhone before and wasn't sure if I could go through the pain of it again. After running down stairs to the reception in the hostel, I asked them to ring the company and see if it was found. The hostel owner just looked at me with no hope basically saying there's no chance! It's gone! I ran upstairs again crying hysterically. At this stage the whole hostel thought I was mentally ill. Trying not to let the upset of the phone get to me, I started looking into what we could do in Bariloche.. there is almost too much choice, I got slightly distracted with the planning for a while but the pain of what felt like losing my right arm was still ever present. We spent four days in total in Bariloche and had full day trips organised everyday. We could have spent longer here!
We met another Irish guy in the hostel called Patrick that we called Patch who became our no. 3 for a few days. We decided to rent some bikes and do the popular circuit called "cercuito chico'. It was very tough because half of it was uphill and there was a lot of stopping and trekking along the way. The whole round trip took about 7 hours and we were all exhausted after but never has anything been more rewarding (well al least I thought that at the time). The scenery, views and landscape were so beautiful. We had to keep stopping just to take it all in. Everything was postcard perfect. Even Andrew (the most unfit person in the world), actually enjoyed it, although he did complain the whole day. We added on another part of the circuit by going to 'colonia suiza' where this tiny little Swiss village was. We stopped here for well deserved cake and tea. Please go here if you're ever in Bariloche, you won't be disappointed!
Next day we decided to give our legs a break and go kayaking on one of the many lakes. I got to share a Kayak with the lovely Diego while I let Andrew and Patch convince themselves they were Olympic kayaking champions... Men... Another nice day but probably a bit over priced at 190 pesos each. After getting back to the hostel and the boys deciding to cook for once. I got to relax for a while. I was sitting in the common area and looking around when who did I see but the infamous Justin from our previous hostel. There he was kitted out in some ridiculous looking clothes and Dr. Dre beats that were almost the size of his head. After I while he joined a group of us on the table and oh my god did the bulls*** start flowing. I enjoyed every minute of it! We heard how he had almost blown all his budget on prostitutes in Rio and how the weed he has gotten in South America had been so bad that he wished he could just get back to Jamaica and get 'the good stuff' again. I also asked him how long his trip was for to which he replied "well it depends when the parents stop feeding the account". Honestly this guy was hilarious. He talked about all the things he had done travelling so far and how he barely had a minute to relax but the 4 days we spent in the hostel, I never saw him leave it once.... can anyone smell BULLs***??...
Next day in Bariloche and the best and most challenging day of my life in a long time. Got up early and me being the stubborn person I am, decided to march down to the bus stop and just know once and for all whether this phone was actually gone. I couldn't believe my luck when the girl behind the counter told me someone handed it in. The chances of this happening are so low, I felt like all my Christmas's had come at once. I basically skipped the whole way home.
Later that morning, we decided to climb a 'leisurely' mountain called Lopez. The guy who told us it was leisurely had obviously never climbed it. Oh my good god, this was the challenge of a life time. About a third of the way into the climb, Andrew gave up and I was so close to doing the same but my stubborn nature doesn't allow for giving up so on I went with patch leaving cigarettes, half the food and my iPod with Andrew. 'He will be fine', I thought to myself. On we climbed for another 2 hours of torturous, steep climbing. I'm talking free fall steep here! We eventually made it to the top where this pink refuge house was. We both were very happy with this personal achievement. The views along the way made it all worth it too. After about 20 minutes we decided to head back down to find Andrew who little did we know at this stage was on the verge of turning mad with no human contact and out in the wilderness for over 3 hours. If we thought going up was difficult well going down was a whole other ball game. My legs are just not meant for that sort of pain. I spent a lot of it sliding on my ass because parts of it were so steep. We eventually found Andrew who at this stage had made friends with a group of ants and was starting to think about drinking his own urine just to survive. I would not like to think what would have happened if we left him any longer.
We made it down safe and sound but in agony. Our bus back to the hostel wasn't for another 2 hours so we just thought we have to wait it out. Two serious Argentine hippies joined us at the bus stop and told us to hitch hike instead so that's just what we did. Oh it was all very exciting. Only s***ty, old cars pick up hitchhikers by the way so don't bother with the new ones. We were all so exhausted after getting back to the hostel but decided we could pull through and have a few drinks with some other Irish and English travellers, we couldn't let the side down. Had to put up listening to a 'wreck the head' Aussie girl for a few hours who loved hearing her own voice. Sometimes I would love to just slap some people, she was one of them.
El Bolson is another town about two hours South of Bariloche and definitely worth a visit especially on a Saturday where their if this huge hippie market. The town itself is full of hippies so definitely worth a visit just for that. There is plenty of hikes to do for you crazy hiking types but I had had my fair share of them so no more for me.
Another popular trip in Bariloche is the seven lake trip. You need to rent a car for this with a minimum of four people to make it worth your whole because otherwise it too expensive. We didn't do this one but heard good things.
Next stop Mendoza (wine country).
I'll keep you posted!!!