Tuesday, 27 July 2004

The Amazing Race 5, Episode 4

Bahia López (Argentina) - San Carlos de Bariloche (Argentina) - Buenos Aires (Argentina) - St. Petersburg (Russia) - Pushkin (Russia)

Argentina is a land of epic road trips, with all roads leading to Buenos Aires, where The Amazing Race 5 passes through for the fourth successive episode this week.

“Argentina is the mother of the open road. The road here cries out for a car, a tank of gas, and a wallet. It beckons as much as any American road, perhaps more, because the distances are as vast, and the country much emptier,” my best beloved special correspondent, Ruth Radetsky, wrote me recently.

It takes the racers about as much time to get from Bariloche to Buenos Aires by bus as to fly from Buenos Aires to St. Petersburg, Russia. Some of them consult a travel agent to try to figure out the fastest flights, but they seem to have a harder time figuring out which is the best bus.

The Via Bariloche bus line that some of them take has the best service — unquestionably the most comfortable public long-distance bus I’ve been on anywhere on the world — but that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice in a race.

And there are lots of choices. Here’s how Ruth Radetsky describes the situation earlier this month in another provincial Argentine city:

How to find a bus in Córdoba

The bus station is huge and modern, with about 55 bolleterias (ticket windows) and 70 andenes (platforms). Each bolleteria is a different compania. All the companias have different route systems. None of them know the others’ route systems.

So you feel increasingly desparate, until you find the Información Turistica. You tell them where you want to go, and they tell you which companies have busses that go there, and which boleterias are for each company. Turns out there are 4 different companies that go from Córdoba to Rosario.

So you go to each boleteria, and ask the schedule and price, and whether there are seats, and whether the seats are semi-cama (about like Greyhound, but maybe a little better), coche-cama (better than business class on an airplane, with only 3 seats across which open to 180 degrees but not flat), or first class (3 seats across, privacy panels, flat seats — better than the pictures I’ve seen of British Airways’ intercontinental first class). All vary by line, and aren’t posted anywhere.

Then, once you’ve decided what you want, you go back and find out the seat you wanted was sold since you asked, so you go to your second choice. You’re not surprised, since it is the July 9th long weekend in a country where every town has an Avenida 9 de Julio.

You buy your second choice: 28 pesos, about 10 U.S. dollars, to go six hours in the front row seat semi-cama from Córdoba to Rosario, from the 2nd largest city in the country to the 3rd, half way to Buenos Aires. You have an hour after last class to make the bus, most of the trip will be in the daytime, and you’ll get to your destination not too late at night.

Great! Now you figure you better buy your onward ticket, since you have to be in Buenos Aires Monday morning rested and ready to work, and it is still the July 9th weekend. You go back to the Información Turistica, and they don’t know, they only know the busses from Córdoba. You can take pot luck when you get to Rosario, but you really do have to be in Buenos Aires, so that doesn’t feel safe.

You go to the larger windows with lists of cities all over the country over their windows and you start asking. “No, we don’t go there, try … company.” “Yes, but we don’t have any seats, try … company.” “Yes, we have seats.” “What’s the schedule?” “Oh.” It gets into the main bus station in Buenos Aires, Retiro, at 2 a.m. Scaarrry. “Why don’t you try … company.” “Yes, we have seats. We leave at 2 a.m. No, it’s semi-cama, not coche-cama.” Ych. “Why don’t you try … company.” “Yes, we have a bus, we have seats, we leave at 10:30 a.m. and get in at 4:30 p.m.”, perfect. You ask for a ticket. “Go back to window 10, they’ll sell it to you.” “But I already asked there, and they told me they didn’t have any daytime busses with seats.” “They don’t, we do.” “But…” “They’ll sell you a ticket on our bus.”

And wonder of wonders, they do.

But at least there is a great network of long-distance busses that go everywhere, and there’s certainly no monopoly. It could be a little easier to use….

This week in the reel world, the movie version of Che Guevera’s Diarios de Motocicleta (“The Motorcycle Diaries”), depicting the travels of the icon of Argentine internationalism, premieres in Che’s homeland. (Look for it theaters in the USA this fall.) In addition to the overland journeys through Latin America featured in the screenplay, Che’s views were shaped by a trip around the world he took in 1959, with stops in Toledo (Spain), Egypt, India, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Hiroshima (Japan), among other places. Some of his snapshots from that trip are included in this online photo gallery , and more were exhibited in Montevideo in 2002 and published in book form in the exhibition catalog, fotos y che.

Just a few hours after I published my comments last week on the wages and working conditions for cruise ship workers (governed by the country in which the ship is registered, which is why they mostly fly Third World low-wage “flags of convenience”), the USA Department of State published its final regulations eliminating “crew list visas” for the crews of ships and aircrafts visiting seaports and airports in the USA. Henceforward sea and air crews — unless they have previously applied at a consulate or embassy outside the USA, paid a minimum visa fee of US$100 per person, been fingerprinted, been photographed, been interviewed by a diplomatic officer, waited for approval of their visa, and returned to the same consulate or embassy to pick up their visa, all of which are essentially impossible for most seamen and air crews — will be unable to leave their vessels while in USA ports, leaving them effectively confined onboard even while docked at seaports or on the ground at airports in the USA. Just one small step to improve the working conditions, and the impression of the USA, of those already at the bottom of the heap.

Applications are now being accepted through 11 August 2004 for contestants/cast members of “The Amazing Race 7”. Get your audition video in right away — or just buy yourself a ticket and do it on your own!

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 27 July 2004, 23:58 (11:58 PM)

do you, or anyone, know if the amazing race goes to dubai, united arab emirates?? i saw one of the hotels on the opening of the show one time.. email me at captain_moe88@hotmail.com im really anxious!! i live there and it'll be cool to see... thanks

Posted by: morgan, 3 August 2004, 19:45 ( 7:45 PM)
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