There was a time–let’s call it 8.20pm–when, still standing outside our hotel in the centre of Mendoza vainly waving at every full taxi that passed us, we started to think that maybe we weren’t going to be catching our 8.30 overnight bus to Rosario on the other side of the country.
Gone, by this point, were the days when we used to turn up at the bus station an hour or so before departure. We’d learnt that there was really no point in being early and had started cutting things increasingly fine but we’d always been able to jump straight into a taxi and we hadn’t missed a bus.
Which was going to be annoying, as we’d paid a whopping A$190 each (about thirty quid) to travel in a sleeper. Argentine buses come in a variety of flavours, with the cheapest, semi cama, being like coaches back in the UK. Next up from that is the cama, which although it literally means “bed” really just means a slightly bigger seat that reclines a bit further. The best, though are the cama suite buses, where the seat goes completely flat and they serve you wine and hot food. It’s well worth the extra pesos if you’re travelling overnight, but not such good value if you miss it.
At 8.25 an empty taxi passed, and responded to my frantic waving by slowing down.
As we threw the bags into the back seats, I jumped into the front and started explaining in my still broken Spanish how we were running a bit late for our bus.
Of course every red light was against us. As we pulled up to one the driver asked us what time our bus left.
“Er, now?” I replied.
And upon hearing the name of the bus company, CATA, he shook his head and declared that he thought we might be out of luck. That company is “muy o’clock” he said, pointing at his watch.
But he let us out anyway around the back of the station (even though by this point it was already 8.35 and we’d almost given up hope) and we legged it with our packs past 25 other platforms, only to see a CATA bus pulling out of the bus station and heading into the distance.
“¿Ha salido el autobus para Rosario?” I asked a bloke wearing a CATA uniform who just sort of shrugged at me in response.
And then I realised that I was standing next to it. Somehow it was still here (and apparently it was just as well I hadn’t run after the other bus shouting “Stop!”). As Sal arrived behind me, we threw the packs into the hold and collapsed into our very comfortable seats. Totally out of breath and quite unable to believe that we’d made it.
And then the bus sat there for another 20 minutes before it left.
Our luck began to run out when we got to Rosario, though. As I opened my wallet to pay for the taxi into the centre of town, I realised that the 10 peso note I thought I had in my wallet was actually a 2. Apparently in my panic the previous night I had given either the taxi driver or the guy who puts your bags in the hold of the bus a huge unintended tip.
The only other note in my wallet was a 50, which of course the taxi driver couldn’t change. He turned out to be the world’s most understanding taxi driver, though, as he said he’d just take whatever I had–the 2 peso note and a handful of change. When I asked him if he was sure, he said “it’s only five pesos…”
It was probably just as well I hadn’t gone off to try to change the 50, though, because when we did try to spend it on breakfast a few hours later it turned out to be our first fake note of the trip so far.
“Es falso”, said the girl in the café, laughing and pointing at it. “Muy falso”.
On further inspection, this turned out to be true. It had been amateurishly cut to the wrong size, looked and felt fake, and the foil strip had been drawn on in felt tip.