Monthly Archives: March 2013

Finding My Bed For the Night

My taxi driver stopped in the middle of a street. A street full of nondescript buildings and a cafe were the only noticeable things about this street. Nothing about this street said hotel.

street

I gave him the address again, and he literally drove around the block, stopping again at the same exact spot. Thinking this had to be it, I got out.

I looked up, and sure enough, one level up, there was a sign, displaying the name Azur Real Hotel.

signage1

I rang a button and was admitted into a lobby. A totally deserted lobby except for a tube that looked like a space ship. With no idea what was happening here, I got inside.

elevator

As soon as the doors closed, I was whisked up and found myself on this floor. I walked out (yes, that is a glass floor) and was greeted by the smell of lavender wafting through the air and a great music soundtrack. Was this heaven?

I made my way around the corner and found the check-in desk. Not only did she have a room for me but I could get early check in. Check in typically was not until three, but she had a room available and I could check in immediately. I could also use the pool (!) but I would need to wait until 10am, after the staff was finished cleaning.

Before we finalized the cost, I had remembered all the Visa signs in Uruguay, so I asked if there was any discount for credit card holders. She looked through a book of promotions and found one that would work for my one night stay. My already reasonable rate was just made even more reasonable and I got perks of early and late check in and a free glass of wine and tapas at the bar at happy hour.

I paid for my room, we talked about my plan for Cordoba and I was given a map. Then I was shown to my room. Ahhhhhhhh. This was so worth it.

bedclosets

deskshower

I didn’t have a converter for Argentina, so my laptop was no good. The hotel staff had an extra one so I let it charge while I went to explore. I had an extra skip in my step because it seemed like there was a strong WiFi connection and I was certain I would be able to Skype with my family while in this hotel. So even though I wasn’t going to meet many new people, I’d be able to chat with the people closest to me — even though they were far away.

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Change: The Search For (coins) and Departure From (budget travel)

Before I had departed Buenos Aires, I had reasoned with myself…

Since this was my first long-haul bus ride, I would reward myself with a <gasp> hotel room for the night.

I figured there would be internet in the bus terminal and I could just check TripAdvisor, find a nice, centrally located hotel that wouldn’t be outrageously priced.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of myself — but here’s the imagery:

I had disembarked an overnight bus a few minutes prior. I am sitting with my rucksack and a daypack at a computer in the bus terminal. I wrote down a few addresses from TripAdvisor’s top reviews and am comparing them to the location on a physical map (you know the kind, they are folded nice and neat but once you undo them, it’s a mess to get back together) trying to determine which hotel’s location was ideal.

I tried to check availability on a few of the sites and because it was a reservation for that evening, the message said ‘contact hotel.’ Without a phone, and hardly in the mood to think about Skyping, I decided on the Azur Real Hotel and tucked the address into my pocket and went to pay for my internet time.

I didn’t have enough small change to pay my total bill so I went to the ATM. Took out large bills and as I soon as they spit out of the machine, I remembered that changing big bills is a feat in itself. Of course when I got back to the counter, the guy didn’t have change. He told me to go and get some. My exhaustion came out front and center.

I handed over all the Argentinian pesos in change that I had, I found a few Uruguayan pesos in my bag and handed them over. I asked him if it was okay. He shrugged and took the coins without protest.

I thanked him profusely and headed to the taxi line. Yes, the taxi line. Hopefully my driver would have change for my paper bills.

If I’m departing from budget travel for a moment, at least I can take a taxi to (what I hoped would be) my hotel.


Arriving into…Cordoba?

I woke up for good as the sun was coming up over what seemed like the suburbs of a city, a city I could only hope was Cordoba. I had slept pretty good so I didn’t know if I missed my stop and when I checked the time, it was later than the anticipated 9 hour trip.

I hadn’t made a reservation for that night’s accommodation so no one was expecting me. I thought I could ask my seat mate if this was Cordoba but he was still asleep. I figured I’d wing it, if the bus wasn’t in Cordoba, I would wind up somewhere else. No biggie.

After watching the suburbs turn to city, we soon pulled into a bus terminal. Since I had no idea what to expect, I still wasn’t sure where we were. The bus was parked and people started getting up. No one announced anything and I didn’t see any signs so I finally asked my, now awake and ready to hop out of his seat) seatmate if we were in Cordoba. Turned out, we were.

I stretched with the best of them and headed off the bus where I could grab my rucksack from the underbelly of the bus.


Brrrrrr on the Bus

The bus finally departed the Buenos Aires terminal after 11p, only a few hours delayed. The company I chose to go with, Chevallier, was recommended by my waiter earlier in the day and two women I met en route to the bus terminal.

The ride was going to be give or take nine hours.

Before my trip I had written why long-haul buses scare me and now I was about to embark on my very first one. I figured I wouldn’t see much excitement since the fires needed to be extinguished before the buses could leave the terminal. As I had figured, the bus was freezing! I bundled up and made myself comfortable for the overnight ride.

There was an infant sitting behind me and aside from a little wailing, it was actually a fine and uneventful trip.

I have a playlist on my iPod that I call ‘airplane sleep’ — and even though this wasn’t an airplane, it came in handy and put me to sleep. I put my headphones in, put my arms through my daypack so if anyone wanted to take it, they’d have to wake me up and shut my eyes.

Other than a middle of the night wake up — I think when the bus stopped to refuel, the stopped motion woke me — I had a solid few hours of sleep — good sleep, who knows, but I definitely got some sleep!


The Rest of My Night in the BsAs Bus Terminal

I spent the next few hours dodging the stray dogs that wandered around the terminal looking for food and water. I basically walked laps in the terminal with brief stops to drop my backpack to give my shoulders a break. Needless to say, I was sweating from the heat, the crowded terminal and the weight on my back (and I packed light!!).

I met a woman in the terminal, and asked her about the delay. She turned herself into my personal guide checking the boards and the gates for my bus. At one point she left to check on my bus and I wasn’t sure if she was coming back. I got nervous since I saw hordes of people lining up among more hordes of people. I was pretty certain that was my bus but I figured I would wait for her and if the line got too short, I’d leave.

To my surprise, my newest friend came running through the terminal. She grabbed my arm and brought me to the gate (the right one!). It was so amazing to see people looking out for me, in this crowded terminal, where everyone had somewhere else to be. It made me think about this situation had it been in New York. I’m not sure the same experience would have been had by a foreigner. Especially on a crowded Friday night, where everyone had somewhere else they wanted to be.

In terms of price, my ‘free’ night of accommodation would be on the bus. And I couldn’t have been more excited to get on a bus that I knew would be insanely air-conditioned. I had already dug up my sweatshirt and pants so that I’d be warm (after the heat exhaustion from the bus terminal left my body!).

My bus ticket (which at $70USD) was not inexpensive, but if you averaged it out for a 9 hour ride, it turned into $8USD per hour — plus a ‘free’ night of sleep.


A 3am versus a 7am arrival

I wanted to get the bus that left the soonest — even with the delay. But my new friend told me that the bus I wanted would get me into Cordoba at 3am. He suggested I hang around the terminal for a few hours longer so that I would get on a bus that would get in at 7am instead.

Realizing he was right, since I had no idea where I would be sleeping in Cordoba, I decided the adventure in the Buenos Aires bus terminal would be better (read: more people around) than in the Cordoba bus terminal at 3am.

And an adventure it was!

My new friend helped me buy a ticket and since his bus was also delayed (he was en route to a friend’s wedding) he invited me to grab a drink. Thinking I could pay with a credit card for mine, I agreed. Dreams of a nice Argentine Malbec were quickly put aside when I realized I was in a bus terminal! A hot, overcrowded bus terminal.

That drink wound up being an orange soda, and credit cards, as you might imagine, were not accepted. My new friend treated me, and grabbed two glasses — yes, glasses! The bus terminal restaurants have glasses — could you imagine that at a random bodega in the Port Authority in New York City?

We had a lovely conversation — and his English was excellent so I didn’t get a chance to practice much — but then an hour later his bus was ready to depart. Mine was still not even on the board as it was still a few hours delayed.


Daybreak?!

Not only was it a Friday, but it was also very backed up because there was a protest. There were TV screens inside the station and even though you couldn’t hear what the news was reporting you could see the images — fires being set in the streets – and thus, outbound and inbound buses were hours delayed.

I found one of the bus companies that had been recommended to me. I got into the (very long) line and was practicing my Spanish in order to secure my ticket. The man in front of me was dressed in a suit and tie and I just took a chance and asked if he ‘habla ingles?’

He did! We talked about the excitement just outside the terminal and he assured me we’d get out of the terminal before daybreak.

Daybreak?!