I’ll just admit it, there’s no shame in it: I don’t like bus tours. I won’t think worse of you for taking one, they are, after all, so very convenient. What could be easier than being swept up from the door of your hotel, whisked off to see the sights in an air conditioned coach, and then, returned with a head full of scenery and facts right back where you started out? It’s so simple! Sometimes, you even get fed – a nice box lunch, a buffet, a picnic…
But I hate waiting on the bus, parked and idling, while everyone wanders the gift shop. I want to look at things for as long – or short – as I want to look at them and exactly that long. And I want to see the road. The slice of landscape out a motorbus side window isn’t enough for me, I want to see where I’m going – it’s much more interesting than the back of the seats in front of me.
Today’s field trip to Tierra del Fuego National Park left me wishing I’d rented a car or hired a taxi instead of joining the Rumba Sur group tour. Before we even got started, we circled town twice and made an somewhat unlikely stop to collect all the tour participants. Time on the bus? One hour. Sites seen? The residential neighborhoods of Ushuaia.
The bus passengers were subservient to those who had chosen to add a trip on the “Train at the End of the World.” We lowly bus riders spent 45 minutes at the little station, which is adorable, no doubt, but not nearly as compelling at the nature inside the park. We also waited another half hour at the end of the short train line for those on the train to rejoin the bus. Time on the bus? Two hours. Sites seen? The touristy little train station just outside the park boundary. A dusty park service road that runs along the rail tracks.
At our next stop, we lost a participant. I don’t totally blame the poor woman — who was relocated and returned the bus in a slightly blotchy state – the instructions weren’t as clear as they could have been. The 60ish American got separated from her field trip buddies. There was much searching the area between where we’d been unloaded and where we were supposed to meet, and then a very rushed final stop at the very end of Route 3 for a view out over the Beagle Channel. Time on the bus? Three hours. Sites seen? Lago Roca during a 20 minute walk along the shore. It was very pretty, there’s no denying it. But it’s also a perfect picnic spot and there was no time for that, nor was there time to poke around the park visitor center.
At our final stop, we rushed out to the lookout for the breathtaking view across the Beagle Channel. Our time had been cut short by the lost passenger – and by the fact that some on the bus had booked a second excursion for the day and needed to get back to town for their afternoon outing. I was getting resentful. At the sign marking the end of the road, a gentleman with a video camera snapped at a cheerful French woman for wandering into his frame. My fellow travelers and I raced back the bus, where we spent another 45 minutes driving back to town. Hours on the bus? Four. Time on the ground in the park? 1.5 hours. This equation is completely inverted.
It is only 20 kilometers from the city to the park, surely there is a better way to see it. I envied those in taxis, in minivan tours, on foot and on bicycles. There were a few tidy campsites set up here and there, a few rugged vehicles on the edge of the river. I liked their setup much better than my place in the pastel upholstered and continually moving bus. For the first time since leaving home, I envied my fellow travelers.
This excursion was research – is this a good way to see the park? It’s certainly better than not having seen the park at all, but it all in all, it was a rather unsatisfying experience. There must be a better way.
One more time: My travels are sponsored by TravelWild. They want me to love everything about this adventure, of course, but you can count on me to tell you what I really think if it was less than fabulous. My travel handler, Lyn, snapped that photo of me.