Taking the Bus to the End of the Road

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.

Conductor

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.

Lago Roca

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.

Viewing Platform

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.

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15 thoughts on “Taking the Bus to the End of the Road

  1. Ouch, that’s brutal =(

    The trick is to catch one of the cheap shuttles that will take you out. Mini-bus that runs out and does little more than deposits you for 1/3 the price of a taxi. Definitely opt for that, then take one of the hiking paths, before catching the shuttle from the end point and taking it back.

    I hate to even mention it, but I think when I did it we spent about 20 minutes on the bus each way, then the remaining 6+ hours in the park hiking. Of the 4 paths outlined, I highly suggest #2 which is along the Channel.

  2. Aw, that is so disappointing. I have had good experiences on tour buses, and I do enjoy the background info provided by a good bus driver/guide, but in general it’s so much nicer to be able to have the freedom and time to do as you please. When I was in Ushuaia I think I took a van with a guide and a two other people to go hiking. It was the best of both worlds.

  3. Ugghh, I got irritated just reading about it! I completely agree with your opinion on bus tours … there are very few situations where I’ve taken one – for example, it was the only way to see the DMZ and get a peak into North Korea. Still hated the crowd mentality though.

  4. I totally relate to this experience. Now: Imagine a bus tour from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon, hosted by Adventures with Disney. Add 15 alternatingly singing, bickering, barfing little children. Could be worse, I’m just saying.

    I look forward to reading about your ongoing adventures.

  5. oh crud. I’m with Alex Berger and did the same, with about 8 hours in the park one time, and biking in and through the park the second time. I feel like I should have advised you better, but I don’t think we really spoke about this. Oh crud again. I hope you can get your good park alone time sometime. And if not, I will put you on a city bus in Santiago to some great hiking and come back and get you many hours later, if you like!

  6. I love that you all feel my pain. It’s a pretty modest pain, all things being equal. This is what happens when you let go of planning stuff yourself. You end up doing things that you wouldn’t normally do. That’s not always a bad thing, and while in general, I do not like the bus tour, I still think VERY fondly of that bus tour I took in Cancun — the company was excellent beyond words and made all the stuff I don’t like about bus tours just go away.

  7. We avoid those group tours at all costs because you always seem to make a least a few compromises that leave you wondering how much better the experience could have been.
    Heck, I don’t even like it when they insist on herding people around as a group in a small museum or other site.
    Ah…well, it’s time to move on to the next adventure. Hoping it will suit your sense of adventure a little better at your next stop 🙂

  8. wait, you have a travel handler and photographer? 🙂 lovely!!

    i can’t usually do bus tours bc of my disabilities – i am thinking that this is a good thing. can you get back there, on your own, or no time? it’s incredibly beautiful!

  9. When my husband and I went to Mendoza, Argentina a few years ago, the owners of our B&B suggested a day trip into the mountains. It was a there and back (2 hrs each way) drive, they said, and only cost $30 US per person.

    Turns out it was a 10 hour tour that stopped for souvenirs (twice), stopped for a $15 pp lunch (we only brought a few snacks and $20 between us so we waited in the bus for an hour) and then to rent skis and snow equipment before making a 2 hour stop at a ski resort, during which time we shared a few overpriced beers and a bag of chips.

    I don’t book many tours, but now when I do I have them specify in writing: how many stops we make, where and for how long; how long the overall tour is; and how much money we should bring and for what. It’s since saved us from similar frustrations.

  10. Yeah, that’s definitely the downside of bus tours. Too much time on the bus and not enough time spent doing the things you want to do. And of course, the people factor. You have my sympathies.

  11. I’m not at all a fan of bus tours. Too much time on the bus, too much time being shepherded in and out of “Disneyesque” type stops intended for us to see a cleaned-up, cartoonish version of reality.

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