You’ve now been in Buenos Aires long enough to move away from that nervous clinging to the tourist-friendly subte (never a good look), buy or most likely be bought a Guía “T” and start to work out what the hell all these boxes with numbers in them mean. Subsequently you’ve worked out that the 60 goes everywhere (it doesn’t, but for your purposes it does), the 64 and the 152 do nice kind of touristy routes from Belgrano down to La Boca, and that the 39 ramal 3 is the coolest bus in the world.Congratulations.Now things start to get complicated. Now you start to scratch the itch. Now you start to poke your finger into the wound. Now you start to wonder “hey, where does this bus go when I’m no longer on it? Does it cease to exist? Or does it go somewhere really cool/scary/quite awful?” The answer is yes. Unless the question is “Does it cease to exist?” That’s a silly question.
Colectivo bus line 152 buenos airesSo what now?So now you—young, foolish, not really working full-time—start pissing about on the buses, taking them for the hell of it, just to see what happens. Be very wary of this. You will end up writing a book in which you take all the buses in the city, and then people will forever associate you with this one thing, even though you’re really a very complex and multi-faceted guy, actually (new book about trains out this year!) Anyway, here are seven buses you really ought to take. They’re not particularly pretty or entertaining, but they will make you feel immensely superior to all the other expats who’ve never taken them.
Yes, there is seriously a bus that is the 1, or el 1 if you’re local. I’m not making this up. There’s a 2 as well. But no 3. You can’t have it all. The 1 goes from Caballito, which you probably already know, straight up Rivadavia to some place called Morón, which no foreigner has ever been to, but where you should definitely go, just to have your photo taken in front of a sign that says Morón. Do it! For extra LOLs, take the photo outside the University of Morón!
One of my favourite buses for that whole “wow, how many shanty towns does this bus actually go though?” vibe. The answer is only two, but they seem to take up most of the journey from Liniers to just outside the Boca Juniors stadium. The time I took this one, this guy got on with his own chair, lit up a doobie-doo, then filed down various lengths of copper piping with a view to smoking something stronger. I want to say “only on the 46”, but such behaviour is probably endemic these days. If you want to slum it some more, the 70, the 76, the 23 and the 26 all go through either Villa 21-24 (Barracas) or Villa 1-11-14 (Bajo Flores). The 26 ends its route in the latter and drops you off there, then laughs at you panicking and trying to figure out how you get out of there. You take the 26, just round the corner. Silly.
The 4 (recorrido B)
Have you ever wondered what’s beyond the nature reserve on Costanera Sur, aside from the easternmost point (FACT) of Buenos Aires? There’s a whole load of naval junk and abandoned shipyards. It’s amazing, seriously. You can also see the Monumento a España, Christopher Columbus kneeling before Queen Isabel, which no one even knows about, even though it’s just down the road from Puerto Madero, on Avenida España, obviously. (NB: Puerto Madero is named after a Mr Madero and does not mean “Wooden Port”, contrary to what this author believed for several years. It isn’t even wooden.)
The 33 (ramal C or D)
So then you wonder “what’s over there, further south, beyond the nature reserve and all this naval junk?” You had to ask. That there is Dock Sur, or Docky as the locals endearingly call it, once a place called Isla Maciel where the upper classes used to go and take in the waters, then a barrio of old conventillos where young men would go to pop their cherries with prostitutes. Not much has changed, not least the conventillos, humble two or three-storey nineteenth century boarding houses, while the area has become a gastronomic hub for Paraguayan cuisine (check out Lo de Felisberto, a Paraguayan-Korean hole in the wall fusion kind of place on Ponce and Angulo.) The 33 is one of only two buses that goes over Puente Nicolás Avellaneda rather than the workaday Puente Pueyrredón, so you get to see the old transborder bridge and the conventillos and thousands of containers in the port and the Boca Juniors stadium, all from your elevated position on the bus. It’s quite nice. And then if you get the 33 back into town, it takes you all along the riverside from Retiro up to Ciudad Universitaria (UniverCity), which is quite nice too, because you remember this city has got a river and you go “oh look! A river! I forgot.”
The 50/The 5
Both buses leave from Retiro and pass by what is one of the most interesting forms of brutalist architecture in Buenos Aires, Barrio Piedrabuena, which went up in the late 70s and has been crumbling apart ever since, but which despite its maintenance problems has a flourishing arts and cultural centre. The 5 passes by along Avenida Piedrabuena while the 50 goes into the barrio, under the bridges linking the various monoblocks. Both lines stop on the threshold between Mataderos and La Matanza, where there’s a Petrobras service station which is a bit of a godsend if you’re taking all the buses in the city and find yourself in this part of town quite a lot and are easily scared.
Ever wanted to travel all the way round the City of Buenos Aires without actually entering it? Well, you can’t. But almost. Starting at Ciudad Universitaria, take the 28 (ramal D) all the way to Puente Alsina (it might say Puente Uriburu on the sign, they’re just being old-fashioned/old-fascists) in darkest Pompeya. Pretty grim so far, huh? Try not to tarry in Pompeya, it’s a dump, and jump on any 28 that says Retiro on the sign. You have now completed a near circle of the city. But does the 28 go from Retiro to Ciudad Universitaria to complete the circle? Well, no. You’ll have to take the 33 or the 160. If you have quedated with the leche, as the kids say, and really must take a circular bus route, take the 61 or 62 from Constitución or Retiro, and they’ll take you in circles around the city centre until you’ve had enough, which won’t take long. (Exciting tip: Instead of going to Pompeya, take the 28’s ramal H or J to Puente de la Noria, possibly the biggest clusterfuck of a transport interchange, if that’s your thing. Expect to have the song “Gloria” by Laura Branigan in your head for the rest of the day, because of this).