Friday, April 13, 2012

los colectivos de buenos aires. or, i feel like a freaking genius!

that's right, this is an entire post devoted to figuring out a form of public transport. 

one of my most favorite things to do in this world is to figure out how to get from point a to point b and full-time travel provides that opportunity in a big way.

a sample of "los colectivos" in buenos aires taken from our bus stop in el barrio de palermo.

the wife is good at research, very good in fact, and loves to make lists. this is where the team effort comes in and just one of the many reasons why we travel together so well. she makes a list of the places she would like to visit, hands said list to me and says "get me here." i smile, find map, and off we go...

we added it up and figured out we've taken some form of public transportation in 23 countries.

linea a, buenos aires metro system.
we're now in buenos aires and it has a subway system with, as they will proudly tell you over and over and over again, "the oldest underground line in the southern hemisphere, linea a." it's really quite cool, in fact. sure it's a bit gritty but it gets us some places and it gets us there in style. they've preserved the old cars and stations; check out the seats and lamps. during a particularly brutal rush hour we also experienced our first attempted pickpocket here. fun!

but what buenos aires also has is buses. LOTS and LOTS of buses of all different colors, with no apparent order and a rich history all their own. "los colectivos" harks back to the early days when they were referred to as "vehicles for collective transport." today, the sheer number of buses, along with all of the different colors representing the companies that own them, is really quite intimidating, not to mention the language barrier! i might also mention the added adrenaline rush when watching one pull up to your stop (la parada) at high speed with its doors already open and people stepping out the rear door, others running and trying to step up into the front door, all before the bus has stopped! but they go places the subway will never reach and this is a huge, and i mean HUGE, city. we needed to figure this out if we were going to survive.

$2 and SO much info. a great read.
so cool, yeah, hop on a bus and go across town. but a quick search of buses in buenos aires brings up a long list of bus companies, not just one company. separate bus companies vying for your pesos have competed against each other for decades. they have historically tried to paint their buses in more garish color schemes than each other to stand out, and they've retained that spirit to this day. most have added a musical soundtrack now, too, and during the course of one ride we heard lionel ritchie, sting and amy winehouse. whatever. why don't they play local music?

over the years the bus companies have managed to standardize fares and stuff, but it took another company to step in and print the labyrinth of routes all in one place, resulting in one of the most thrilling public transport guides money can buy, the "guia t." that's right, i said thrilling. pocket-sized, too: "de bolsillo."

it took me days to really understand how to use this thing. it's a book of maps (yay for maps!) and it's a long list of buses with little pictures of them, who owns the bus lines, and a long sequence of roads each route follows.

the "big map," with the city broken down into quadrants.
let's say we want to get from our apartment to a microbrewery (which we do, duh) in another part of the city. first, you need to identify the quadrant on the "big" map that contains your starting point and you then flip to that corresponding map. on the facing page, you have a list of bus numbers that travel through that quadrant. then, you find your destination quadrant and match up the bus numbers that travel through that one.

you now hope and you pray that one of them appears in both. the challenge is to read the sequence of streets these buses travel because buenos aires is full of one way streets so the return route will be completely different than the way you got there. remember the brewery idea? this becomes very important to know before you drink that first pint.

destination page. scary, no?

here's the best part. michelle and i have been "commuting" from our apartment to our spanish classes in the center of the city. it costs us 30 cents each to get across town, all while watching the city go by and trying to understand the language being spoken around us. good budget travel!

it's a small victory when we step off the bus and find ourselves where we intended, like we're the smartest, most savvy travelers in the world. truth be told, we have a lot of time to fill and some days this may represent our biggest accomplishment. 

1 comment: