If you've traveled in South America, you'll know that buses are the way to get where you're going: It's a vast continent, and airfare is not cheap, especially for "extranjeros", or foreigners. A first-class bus ticket, on the other hand, with fully reclining seats, two meals and alcohol service often costs less than $100 USD per person. The catch is that you'll be on the bus for anywhere between 16 and 23 hours, which means that you'll likely be spending at least one night on the bus (hence the fully reclining seats). This is usually okay; but on our way home from Salta, we experienced a hellish night like I've not had in a long time.
You Can't Pick Your Fellow Passengers
The trip started out innocently enough: We climbed aboard our bus, and to our delight found that the third seat in the front row was vacant, leaving us a little extra space up front in case one or both boys wanted to come "visit" (they were in the two seats behind us, beside the stairs to the washroom).
Alas, somewhere around Cordoba, an ENORMOUS fellow boarded the bus, and guess where his seat was? That's right kids, no more "bonus space" for the traveling Canadians up front.
As the corpulent passenger heaved himself mightily into the spacious yet too-small-for-him seat next to us and began listening to music on his phone without headphones, we mourned the loss of our peaceful ride home.
He did turn off the music eventually, and resorted to watching a violent movie on his screen with headphones instead, but the sound was so loud that we could hear the incessant fight scenes loud and clear next door. :(
Dinner on the Road
Our new "room mate" and his noisy media habits marked only the beginning of our troubles, however... After feeding the boys some fruit and other snacks we'd picked up in Salta before boarding, we got them settled into their "beds" for the night, then went to wait for our own dinner, which would be served several hours later.
(I've often commented in this blog about the ridiculously late night dinner habits of the Argentinians; it was now about 7:45 p.m. -- we anticipated being fed at 9:30 pm at the earliest!)
The boys chatted amiably for a while, and then somewhere just before 9 p.m., things quieted down as they started to drift off to sleep...
-- and then AWOKE ABRUPTLY as the bus pulled into a roadside diner and came to a complete stop: All lights were turned on, and after considerable and noisy static, a voice came over the loudspeaker informing everyone that we had arrived for a roadside dinner and that everyone must get off the bus for 40 minutes, as they were going to clean the bus!!!
I'm not sure what's worse: Crappy bus food while kids are sleeping peacefully, or marginally less crappy restaurant food while kids are forced to stay awake well past their bedtime.
In any case, we finally got the ordeal over with (it was sweetened a little for Alex and Simon when the server brought 'round popsicles after the average-at-best chicken), and boarded the bus once again. This time the tuck-in was short but effective; within minutes, both boys were fast asleep (it was now nearly 11 p.m.)
Desperate for Silence
Our own troubles started after we had chatted for a bit, used the by-now-disgusting bus bathroom one last time, and settled into our reclining seats for the night. The massive figure beside us was still consuming crash and fight movies, and snorting a little as he breathed laboriously through his heavy frame. I wish I could say that minor annoyance was the worst of it; I thought it would be, and so I stuffed my earplugs in optimistically, and put my eyepatch on to isolate myself sensor-ably . This was effective enough; I soon fell asleep.
My peaceful slumber did not last long, sadly.
The clock read 1:53 when I was rudely awoken by a LOUD NOISE. I looked around to see what it was, and discovered that our corpulent roommate had fallen asleep, mouth open, TV still on, chair semi-upright, and was snoring loudly.
I was irritated, but not yet at my wits' end: I had at my disposal a phenomenal set of noise-cancelling headphones, which had been purchased for Tats to use while studying or flying commercially (these headphones are so powerful, they drastically reduce the sound of an airplane engine, even when one is sitting right above the wing!), and which she had passed along to me, finding that she did not often use them.
I confidently pulled these out, and placed them over my already-plugged ears, as another layer of silence insurance.
The sawing of the logs could still be heard loud and clear. :(
To make matters worse, the snoring seemed to be getting progressively louder.
Undeterred, I turned on some music. The strains of Mozart's 21 Piano Concerto - First Movement poured promisingly into my ears --
-- AND WERE PUNCTUATED WITH OUR LOUD NEIGHBOUR'S NOISES!!!!
Even my $300-dollar headphones could not save me. I was livid!
By now, Tats was awake, too, and she resignedly reminded me that even clocking the fellow one would only help for a few minutes. I knew she was right; I had had some previous experience with snorers, and the change in position induced by a shove or other movement only lasted a short time before the offender's body would realign itself and begin noisily sawing logs once again.
Angrily, I resigned myself to a sleepless night, and lay mostly awake counting the seemingly endless hours until we arrived in BsAs around 7:00 a.m.
Not all bus travel on this side of the equator is as brutal as this incidence (and some is in fact far worse). We've been pretty lucky, in general. But after 20 mostly sleepless hours, I was ready for a real bed and some serious SILENCE!