Colectivaizeishon – My Day on the Buses

The 64 on Santa Fe

The 64 on Santa Fe

It probably won’t come of any great surprise that I hold somewhat of a fascination with the humble Buenos Aires colectivo. They are everywhere, speeding down the wide avenues of Palermo and clogging the narrow streets of Microcentro, yet to a new arrival in the city thinking of catching one they seem impossibly complicated and confusing. One of my main motivations in starting Buenos Aires Local Tours was to help visitors to the city to decipher the system and allow them to begin to discover the city by themselves, as the residents do. Catching a colectivo in Buenos Aires is an adventure and if it drops you roughly where you need to be it’s quite an achievement!

So, when I came across a project called Colectivaizeishon, in which a Brit called Daniel Tunnard (interview with him here) was undertaking to catch all of the 140 bus lines in the city and write about the experience I was fascinated. A little annoyed about not having had the idea first, but fascinated nonetheless.

I got in touch with Daniel, complimenting him on such a great idea and confessing my own obsession with the Buenos Aires colectivo, and then began following his adventures as they appeared on his blog. Then, in April, with the end of the project in sight, he invited me to spend a day on the buses with him. To some people, the idea of sitting (or standing) on a collection of urban buses for up to 13 hours might not appeal, but I leaped at the chance and a couple of days later made my way to Palermo in the early hours of a Wednesday morning to begin the adventure.

Buenos Aires Subte at 6:30am

At least the Subte is empty at 6:30am

Our first bus of the day was the 161 which would take us to Villa Lugano. However it turns out that the 161 doesn’t run to Villa Lugano anymore, it only goes as far as Liniers. Now this would have had me scurrying for cover to recalculate my day’s travel, but Daniel took it in his stride and we got on anyway and set off for Liniers. As we passed through places I had either never heard of or only seen as names on the side of colectivos, Daniel got busy noting down the things that were happening around us. It was a little bit disconcerting to see things you said immediately transcribed, but it also added a certain gravitas to the proceedings. As we approached San Martin I commented that it was very foggy, upon which Daniel began scribbling in his notebook and I glanced over to see my throwaway comment had been immortalised as the much more dramatic “Fog Descends”.

A foggy morning in Liniers

Fog Descends

Approaching Liniers, after some frantic searching in the Guia T, it was decided that we’d reached the end of the line and that it was time to jump off and catch the next bus, the 185 which would get us to our original destination of Villa Lugano. The 185 took us through the wonderfully named La Matanza (The Massacre, a reference to an attack on Spanish settlers by some of the locals in the 1500s), which as a town has the even more wonderful slogan La Matanza Avanza.

Villa Lugano

Villa Lugano

Daniel happily confesses that one of the main problems about catching a bus and then writing about the experience is that nothing much actually happens. Having spent a day with him, I can indeed attest to that fact, and a routine is quickly begun, consisting of sitting on a bus for 90 minutes, getting off said bus, and then after the quickest of breaks, getting on another bus. From Villa Lugano we caught the 115 which took us past enormous amounts of damage from the storm that had hit the city a few days previously. I’d barely been aware of it at the time, but clearly out here it had had a huge impact and the clean up had barely begun.

Storm Damage, Mataderos

Storm Damage, Mataderos

The 115 took us as far as Retiro, where we didn’t hang around long and jumped on the 126 which would take us to Mataderos. I was very much looking forward to the end of the 126 as we were going to be stopping at a Colectivaizeishon favourite spot for lunch – the Petrobras service station by the General Paz ring road! And it turns out that they do a pretty decent lunch there. We sat down and ate, and I was feeling pretty happy with myself as we had completed the 4 lines we had set out to do that day, and it was only 1pm!

So, I innocently asked what was next, would we be catching any more lines today, only to have feel my spirits sink when I was I informed that we now had to catch all 4 back the other way. So, not only is he catching all 140 lines, he has to catch them in BOTH directions. So, finishing my ham and cheese panini we rejoin the queue to catch the 126 back to Retiro for the second time that day.

An empty 115 leaving Retiro

An empty 115 leaving Retiro

The 115 and the 185 then dutifully returned us to Liniers (where I was privileged to be shown Daniel’s most highly-recommended public toilets in Buenos Aires, although I’m sworn to secrecy as to their actual location – if word gets out they’ll be ruined), whereupon we caught the 161 which trundled through miles of rush hour traffic to return us to Palermo about 12 hours after we had left it.

After a full day I’m not sure I would want to take 136 more lines, but I certainly got to see parts of Buenos Aires I would never normally get to see, and whilst nothing really happened (neither good nor bad), I can now see the 161 in Plaza Italia and know with smug inner-nerd satisfaction that I have caught it all the way to Liniers and back. Not many people can say that, now can they?

Parque de la Cuidad seen from the 115

Parque de la Cuidad seen from the 115

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