Daniel Tunnard, the Brit taking all the buses in Buenos Aires, continues his Colectivaizeishon series with The 8.
If there is one thing I have put more time, effort and thought into in my thirteen years in Buenos Aires, it’s finding a cheap way to get to Ezeiza airport. Those of you who live in Buenos Aires will know what a ballbreaker of an airport Ezeiza is to get to, and those of you who live in Argentina but outside Buenos Aires will know that these moaning porteños have no idea.
The week before my wedding in April 2011, I endeavoured to go to the world’s worst-located airport some five times to meet as many possible friends and relatives who’d taken almost as much time and money to come to my wedding as the time and money a trip to Ezeiza costs. So I started looking into cheap alternatives to getting to what was bewilderingly voted ‘Best Airport in the Americas’ a couple of years ago.
The cheapest option, as many a cheapskate knows, is the bus formally known as the 86 but now known as the 8. The 86 still exists, but only the 8 goes to Ezeiza. There was a schism. They’re still on speaking terms, but you don’t want to be there when they bump into each other at parties. Very tense.
‘You look well’ says the 8.
‘You look lovely,’ says the 86.
’86, please… don’t,’ she implores him.
Then the 86 spends the evening staring longingly at the 8 from afar, getting steadily drunker and drunker. The 8 leaves with the 80, who she’s always carried a torch for, and the 86 just sits there, a single tear silently sliding into his whisky.
For a quarter of what it costs to just get into a taxi you can travel from Liniers or anywhere else on the southside of the city to Ezeiza Airport in about 2 and half hours. I’ve done this trip many a time. Got plenty of reading done. But it becomes a bit of a drag when you live an hour from Liniers and have to be at Ezeiza at 8am. Hence the search for cheaper options.
There’s a minibus that leaves from San Telmo, Defensa and Belgrano, eighteen of your pesitos. Leaves every fifteen minutes, but only 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday. Then there’s Manuel Tienda León.
Manuel Tienda León, or Tienda Ladrón as I humorously refer to them, safe in the knowledge that that joke will never get old, charge 50 of your pesos to go from Retiro to Ezeiza in an hour, and go on the hour, all night.
The day I go and pick up my sister, the first arrival for the wedding, I get to Retiro at 7.05am and the Tienda Lechón has just left. To my near-eternal joy, I spy a minibus right there with ‘Ezeiza Bus’ written across its snout in majestic purple letters.
‘Do you go to Ezeiza?’ I ask.
‘I stop in Ezeiza, yes.’ says the driver. Ah, fickle semantics.
‘Seventeen of your pesitos’. Wait till I tell my wife about this, I think to myself. Seventeen pesos and I’ll be in Ezeiza in an hour.
And, in effect, after an hour has passed I find myself in Ezeiza. That is, the town called Ezeiza, not the airport called Ezeiza. We turned off the airport motorway with about three kilometres to spare. This is fine, I think. We’re probably just dropping a couple of people off, and then we’ll be right back on that motorway to the sky. I notice we’re passing Ezeiza railway station. ‘Fancy that’, I think. ‘I bet you could get a train here from Constitución, and then a taxi to the airport. And how much could a taxi cost from Ezeiza to Ezeiza, eh? It’s got to be ten pesos, tops’. I make a mental note to look into this later. I’ll find out the answer sooner.
We leave Ezeiza behind us and trundle along a bit. The bus is offloading somewhat and we’re now in a town called Tristán Suárez. I’m trying to work out whether Tristán Suárez sounds like the kind of town that only gets mentioned on the news in the crime segment, or the kind of town that Manuel Puig would set a novel in. Neither is good. After putting off speaking to anyone on the bus for fifteen crucially timid minutes, I finally drum up the courage to turn to the lady behind me and utter the fateful words:
‘Does this bus stop at the airport?’
‘Oh, no no. What? Airport? No. You should’ve got off ages ago!’
I tell the driver that there’s been a kafuffle. The driver acts like it’s all my fault, as if parading round Retiro in a white van marked ‘Ezeiza’ wasn’t a deliberate ploy to con thousands of cheapskates out of seventeen pesos on a daily basis. He drops me at a taxi rank. The word for taxi rank in Spanish is ‘remisería’. This transliterates as ‘great poverty’. It’s that kind of taxi rank.
‘How much to the airport’. It’s got to be like five pesos tops. I’ve been in taxis in the provinces, they never cost more than five pesos.
‘Fifty six pesos plus tolls.’
Ah. My mother’s voice appears in my head, talking about false economy. I hate it when my mother’s right.
There’s a twenty-minute wait until the taxi turns up, so I stand outside and breathe in the picturesque joys of Tristán Suárez. After that, it’s a nineteen-and-a-half minute wait for the taxi.
It’s then a twenty-minute ride, at one hundred kilometres per hour, mind you, to the airport. I work out I must have overshot my target by about thirty-three kilometres. Impeccable arithmetic under pressure, that’s what I pride myself on.
I get to the airport at 9am to find my sister’s flight arrived with a slight delay and she hasn’t got off the plane yet. This is turning into a Seinfeld episode.
Time passes. There is no sign of my sister.
I notice to my joy that McDonald’s has set up shop in Terminal A, and that their prices are the same as in the city. This is great news because it is the business philosophy of all the other eateries at Ezeiza Airport that if you haven’t been robbed during your time in Argentina, they will at least ensure this experience for you before you leave. My McDonald’s breakfast is a skinflint’s twelve-peso delight, the one small crack of bargain in an overcast sky of overspend.
It gets to 9.40 and I ask if I can see the passenger list. They don’t let you do that anymore. Shame, it’s exciting asking to see passenger lists. You can still ask, but you know it’s going to be in vain.
It gets to 10am and I phone my wife and ask her to check my e-mail to see if my sister’s been in touch. I tell her to phone me back. Like I said, bit of a skinflint.
She phones me back. I got the dates wrong. My sister arrives tomorrow.