We knew it was going to be a long bus ride. Salto-Montevideo, 500 km. Yeah, if you’re a truck driver or one of these crazy North Americans who drive across the country just for the sake of it, you’re probably laughing.
But remember that this is South America. You aren’t at the wheel of your vehicle. You’re a bus passenger and roads aren’t always that great. Oh, and in our case, one of the ticket holders is a four-year-old.
“There’s an airport in Salto!” Feng announced when we were looking for a way to the South. “Maybe … maybe there are direct flights to Montevideo.”
“That would make sense,” I nodded, mostly because I wanted to believe there was an easy solution. “The second-biggest city linked to the country’s capital.”
I asked around and got a simple, Spanish 101 two-word answer: “No hay.”
There are no domestic flights in Uruguay. Either the airport in Salto was built out of boredom, either the signs saying “aeropuerto” are fake and point to a secret UFO landing base foreigners shouldn’t know about.
“We could stop somewhere between Salto and Montevideo.”
“Break the journey for a night.”
We checked the map. There aren’t that many cities in Uruguay. It was a bit like trying to find several megalopolis in Saskatchewan or a snow-free corner of Canada in January.
I went to the bus station and asked around. I feel like one of these communicating vessels: I spend half of my life answering Mark’s questions and the other half asking people questions.
The bus station in Salto looked tiny after the giant terminals in Argentina. Like it is often the case in Uruguay, it is located inside a shopping mall. After confusing the terminal with the supermarket—don’t laugh, the latter is bigger than the former—I found several ticket counters, each representing a different company.
I started with Flecha Bus.
“¿Hay servicio de buses desde Salto hasta Montevideo?”
The employee looked horrified. “Montevideo, Uruguay? No, no. Solo a Argentina.”
Gotcha. Flecha Bus is for Argentinian tourists desperate to get out of Uruguay.
“Caja cerrada” said the sign at the other counter. Still siesta time until 4 p.m. I skipped it and skipped the one after for the same reason.
Finally, I found the counter of Núñez, a big company. I explained my travel dilemma.
“El bus para a Paysandú y Chung.”
Sounded Chinese. Never heard of this city.
The bus station employee looked sad because I couldn’t find “Chung” on the map.
“Mira Aquí. Chung.”
He pointed to the map. “Young,” I read.
I pronounced it the English way. He pronounced it the Uruguayan way. I found the situation hilarious. Imagine Neil Young touring in Uruguay! All the people calling him “Sr. Chung!”
I left with the info, the schedule and went to hide in the supermarket for five minutes, still laughing about “Chung.”
I reported to Feng. Problem was, both Paysandú and Chung aren’t exactly big and we were travelling on a Sunday.
“How about that,” I eventually suggested. “We suck it up and take the directo to Montevideo. I mean, stopping in Paysandú, which is still a four-hour bus ride, is going to be a waste of time. Everything will be closed on a Sunday.”
The following day, at the end of my Termas-to-Salto hike, I stopped by the bus station again to buy the tickets. Bad news. The bus was almost full, I was told. There were three seats left: two downstairs, one upstairs, all separated.
I’m happy to report that I’m at this stage of our relationship where, after fifteen years, I can perfectly spend several hours sitting in a different place than Feng in a bus. However, even if I occasionally fantasize about Mark being completely independent, he still has to travel with one of us. I explained the situation. The employee shrugged. Not his problem.
In the end, he put a hold on the three tickets left and I rush back to the city centre to confer with Feng. It’s not like we had much choice anyway.
“Someone will switch … who will want to sit besides a four-year-old for six hours?”
We prepared for the long ride all evening. We packed, bought drinks and made ham-and-cheese sandwiches. We would arrive late in Montevideo and on a Sunday, the chances were that everything would be closed. We couldn’t really carry much food in the bus, it would go bad. Feng had chips, Mark had crackers, I had a banana. Hopefully something would be open in the capital city.
We were so annoyed by the perspective to waste a day in the bus that Feng and I didn’t sleep until 4 a.m. “We’ll sleep in the bus,” we claimed.
On Sunday morning, we took a bus to the terminal and waited for our ride. Feng sat upstairs and I found our two seats downstairs, the last ones of the row, separated by a water dispenser that didn’t work. The other two passengers had window seats.
“Come here!” the passenger sitting besides Mark said. I explained we hadn’t been able to book seats together. She shrugged and didn’t seem to mind Mark.
The passenger on my side was a big guy who was eating chips while chatting on his phone.
Okay. So Mark would travel sitting by someone who wasn’t mommy and I would travel sitting by a guy who wasn’t my spouse. So what?
I briefed Mark. Be nice, don’t kick, it’s gonna be a long ride. I gave him the tablet and I grabbed my laptop. The bus was super comfortable, one of these semi-cama (reclining seats) used for long-distance trips throughout Latin America. Some of these buses serve food and play movies to passengers. Fortunately, this one didn’t and it was mercifully quiet—I remember a long ride in Argentina where we were forced to watch the entire filmography of Adam Sandler dubbed in Spanish…
Off we went.
Mark watched his movies, I read and wrote.
At one point, I must have fallen asleep. When I woke up, Mark was still watching movies. I checked the time. 6 p.m. We were almost there!
Finally, the bus stopped.
“That’s it, Mark! We are here!”
“Oh my God! Really? That’s AMAZING!”
He gave me a giant hug.
I was also amazed because it was exactly 6:30 p.m., the estimated arrival time. This bus crossing the country on a small road was more punctual than a bloody OCTranspo city bus!
In Montevideo’s giant Tres Cruces terminal/shopping mall, it was business as usual. Our best chances for food. I grabbed some stuff and we took a taxi to the hotel.
“Je n’ai pas peur de la route
Faudra voir, faut qu’on y goûte
Des méandres au creux des reins
Et tout ira bien (là)
Le vent nous portera…”