I am typing quietly from the overnight sleeper bus traveling from Buenos Aires to Porte Iguazu, a rustic and sleepy forest town sitting at the base of the beautiful Iguazu Falls that serve as partial border between northern Argentina and southwest Brazil. By way of foreshadowing, the streaky gray early morning sky is dumping rain torrentially outside, which, bouncing back skyward off of the glistening concrete of the road passing violently under the bus, is muddying even my windows 15 feet from the ground. The earthen rain spray, together with the lingering internal condensation from a night of a dozen exhaling sleeping passengers, is obscuring my views of the lush Argentine forested countryside, as poplars and cockspur coral trees are beginning to blur and give way into evergreens and bamboo clusters as we press deeper into the rainforest. Roadside campesinos, merely trying to go about their work day, are doubtless shrugging exhausted shoulders of mild annoyance at the colossal bright green garish presumptuousness of our double-decker tourist bus, trudging gawking panama-jack-hatted morons, like myself, through the arboreal thicket, our over-excited and intrusive fingers OMG-ishly pointing towards clearly visible sights that everyone else is already looking at. Arual the Destructor of Wooded Purity and Truth is lying next to me in Seat 2 of the upper deck of our giant bus, her saliva-bubbly mouth morbidly agape and a half-dozen crumbs from last night’s meal peppering the bosom of her blouse, as she apneatically writhes periodically in some holy grail quest for a position of elusive comfort that she will never find. A strange American backpacker is backpacking regrettable cheeses and reading a shitty novel in the counter aisle.
A first-class bus is a bit of an anachronism from the jump, but it’s really not bad travel in these parts. The seats are large and do in fact recline all the way (or close to it) with some mechanical eccentricities that you learn through a little frustrate-grunting trial and error. There are also individual TVs with movies running periodically (I watched a very good bootleg of Clash of the Titans, which I wouldn’t have even known was a bootleg if a random dude hadn’t popped up into the movie about 45 minutes in, presumably to use the bathroom, refill his monstrous vat of popcorn, or both), and an attendant that serves dinner, breakfast (should be any minute now), and cocktails, all included with the tickets. Our attendant, Chachmo, as I presume he likes to be called, even poured me four fingers of some tasty scotch last night that put me directly to sleep. The food is, to be sure, terrible, but it would be hard to imagine it otherwise. Really (and this goes for planes too), these companies should stop trying to fancy up the meals they serve during short-term travel. Cordon bleu or duck confit is never going to serve well out of a microwaved cellophane-wrapped plastic tray, even after delicately negotiating the tiny little pouches of salt and pepper or cream sauce that threaten explosion if your tensile tearing strength is just a milli-fraction above what’s required. It’s made worse by the natural turbulence of bus travel and dining from an unstable and untrained lap. You undergo a significant amount of sway and jostle on the top deck, particularly when the speeding bus careens around a slow-moving truck or tractor, the overtaxed hydraulics in the wheelbase heave and sigh under the top-heavy centrifugal weight of the top part of the bus that should, rightfully, spill over.
In any case, bus travel, in this form, really doesn’t exist in the United States. We have buses, obviously, but they are overrun by a bus culture that scares the living shit out of the average person. Not fear for safety or property really, but more some pervasive life-altering taint that may attach to your existence should you even set foot in a modern American bus terminal. I remember taking buses from Jacksonville to Tampa occasionally when I was an adorable prepubescent – when my mother would send me on a busted-ass Greyhound to see my dad for the weekend – the awkward meeting at the halfway point in Ocala being, for whatever temporal reason, too much to deal with at the time. Essentially, it was the same thing that other kids with loving parents did with respect to planes. It was pretty basic, my Mom dropped off an optimistic young nine year-old boy at a terminal on the margins of social normativism, I got on the bus, and when I got to the station in Tampa, Dad picked up a tear-stained quivering future deviant (a strapping boyish equivalent of Alice freshly returned from the rabbit hole, but written by a suicidal and epileptic Lewis Carroll on a terrible crack binge). The American bus system lives in an entirely other dimension from modern reality. There is no scotch, and no vino tinto, not even a sad half-hearted attempt at lukewarm cordon bleu, just creepiness for hours of bumpy relentless highway: a strange strandy-haired man sniffing you, an old lady pulling raw unbunned hotdogs from her purse, a charming schizophrenic blurting random obscenities, occasionally a nine-year old with divorced parents and preternaturally huge genitalia masturbating. It was like a Bukowski novel.