…are like many things in Spain, a law unto themselves.
Before I moved to Spain most of my long distance travel in Europe had been on trains. Either my InterRail ticket or trains around France, Germany, The Netherlands etc.
But in Spain, much of the long distance travel is provided by buses. Lots and lots of different companies, and often lots of different bus stations too in the larger cities eg Seville, Madrid. Over the years since I have been visiting, and living here, I have seen bright shiny new bus stations go up, eg at Cordoba and Granada.
The bus travel is cheap. And well used. It’s only in relatively recent years that car ownership has become the norm, so previously, the only methods of transport for a large part of the poorer population were donkey, moto (motorbike) or bicycle. And people in Andalucía were poor. Some still are.
In fact car owners often take the bus on long journeys anyway. It works out cheaper unless there is a car full of people, and it is far less stressful. Can you imagine people in the UK doing that? No.
For the purposes of this post, I’m talking city to city buses, either within a communidad, eg Andalucía, or nationally.
Despite the alleged mañana culture here, buses leave on time. The only time they are likely to be late, is if you are picking one up that has set off at the other end of the country, and by the time it gets to your station, it may well have incurred up to half an hour’s delay (of which more later).
But they certainly leave from the initial bus station on time. This is why everyone gets to the bus station early and there are always loads of people milling around. If you haven’t bought your ticket in advance, you need to factor in time to queue for the ticket.
Of course, the law of contradictions has it that if you leave plenty of time there will be no queue. Whereupon the obvious thing to do is visit the bus station bar for a drink/something to eat. Or buy a sandwich to eat on the bus. On really long journeys, Spaniards often prepare their own picnic and merrily plough through about four courses of a picnic lunch.
Up and down the N340 – La Linea to Málaga
Since moving down here, the bus route that I have used the most is the one between Málaga and La Linea/Algeciras. At one point I had four bus timetables permanently imprinted in my brain:
And the two local routes:
On top of that, I knew exactly which buses were direct and which ones made stops.
Naturally a direct bus doesn’t mean it goes directly from A to B, or in this case from Algeciras to Málaga. It just means it makes less stops. It actually stops once at Marbella, and takes around an hour 40/50 mins, compared with three hours for the ‘ruta’ or stopping bus. For some bizarre reason the direct bus is also cheaper than the stopping bus.
The same applies on the La Linea route. Depending which bus you get, it may use the autovía (motorway) or it may take the coast road.
And the Portillo timetable is not the most helpful in the world. It tells you time of departure, and the length of the journey (which is approximate). It doesn’t give you the route, ie where it stops and at what time.
So the only way to find out is by trial and error. Well, you could probably ask at the ticket office but you wouldn’t be very popular with a queue developing behind you. The Spanish would take the attitude that if you want to travel to X at time Y, that’s all you need to know. Where it stops should be irrelevant to you. Which is irritating to someone like me who likes to know all the detail about any journey I take.
Off we go to La Linea bus station. According to the time-table there are four buses a day on weekdays.
Salida desde La Línea 8:50 10:30 16:30A 19:00
Now is that not the most stupid timing ever? Nothing for six hours between 10.30 and 16.30. There used to be one at 14.15 which was an eminently sensible time, but it has now been shunted back to 16.30. I know it is the same bus because it has an A next to it. A stands for Alsina Graells. This route is operated by the Portillo company – but – other buses also use the route.
Anyway, the Portillo office has now closed in La Linea, so all tickets are bought from the Comes ticket office. With me so far? A potential of three bus companies encountered for one simple journey.
Bus tickets in Spain have been cleverly computerised for years. Before the bus leaves, the driver gets a print out of the number of people getting on his/her bus, presumably with the destination on too. So s/he knows how many people should be getting on the bus.
I decided to get the 10.30. Entering the bus station I noticed someone I know by sight from Gib sitting outside on the pavement. As you do. Well, I often do anyway.
La Linea bus station is not one of the best in the world. It has a newsagent/drinks sort of shop and a bar which is now run by some Chinese (?). It is however cheap. The beer selection is not good. Draught beer is Spain’s most popular beer, Cruzcampo, which I personally loathe. A small 25 cl bottle is also Cruzcampo. If you want San Miguel then you have to buy a 33cl tin. Or you can buy a tin of Heineken which I also loathe. The bus leaves from platform 8. This is not difficult as there are big signs telling you that. The ticket cashier will probably also write 8 on your ticket in case you can’t read the big signs. Remember, not all Spaniards can read, although they can usually do numbers.
I wandered out to the platform and the guy I recognised was in front of me. People started getting on the bus about five minutes before it was due to leave. It was a civilised queue because there weren’t many people.
Big luggage goes under the bus. You can take hand luggage on the bus. This invariably upsets foreigners who are convinced that someone is going to steal all their worldly possessions. It’s perfectly possible I have to be honest, and I used to peer out of the bus to make sure no-one was taking my tat-looking baggage whenever we made stops. A Spaniard came to rejoin the queue after putting his luggage under the bus. The guy in front let him into the queue. Very polite – so British! I would have done that too.
I took the seat opposite the door so I could be first off the bus. This is a good seat to take if you don’t like being stuck behind tortoises taking years to get off the bus. The other guy took the back seat. This is a good seat too when the bus is quiet as you have lots of space. It is not good when the bus is busy and some woman and her kids ask if you have a plastic bag so that they can all vomit into it.
This was a ruta route, ie it stops at Sotogrande (hello pinkagendist – I couldn’t see your house), Sabinillas, Estepona bus station, San Pedro de Alcántara, and then Marbella.
People often get off at Marbella to have a cigarette, or presumably to go to the toilet. I have never dared do this as I have visions of walking out of the building to see the bus disappearing out of the bus station.
I noticed the guy I recognised had got off the bus. He went inside the bus station building, he’d left his bag on the bus.
The driver walked down the bus asking who was going to Torremolinos. No-one. The driver looked puzzled. Then he counted the number of passengers. ‘Falta uno,’ he said to no-one in particular. (‘I’m missing one’)
Helpfully I intervened, he was standing next to me anyway, and told him the guy at the back was missing. He frowned and went down to the back to confirm this with a few Spaniards who were sitting there. And of course the bag was still there.
Ms Interference looks out of the window and sees the cause of our delay, now standing aimlessly outside. ‘Look!’ I said to the driver. ‘There he is.’ Driver gets off the bus and goes to accost the naughty Brit. They both came back on the bus and the guy got his bag from the back. He then jumps off the bus muttering something under his breath, and the driver escorted him to the next bus down.
So, why did he have to change bus? Normally this bus would stop at the bus stations at Fuengirola and then Torremolinos. Sometimes it stops at Benalmádena too. But because the other bus was doing the same route, it meant we could drop off our nuisance passenger and avoid Torremolinos. Clever huh? I’ve seen this happen before, and it always fascinates me how flexible the system is – why have two buses plying the same route when you can just chuck a few passengers onto the stopping bus from the fast one?
And although we might have been delayed setting off due to the Brit’s disappearance in Marbella bus station, the fact that we only had to stop at Fuengirola made quite a difference and we arrived at Málaga after 2 hours 40 minutes which is pretty good for the bus that doesn’t take the autovía.
It worked out as fast as the Alsina Graells bus (16.30) which does take the autovía and makes five stops at Estepona, San Pedro, Marbella, Fuengirola and Torremolinos. A good result and it is a pretty nice journey as it follows the Mediterranean all the way along the Málaga coastline.
When I got to Málaga I went to queue for my pueblo bus. Alsa has six ticket offices (which are never all open at once) and a single orderly queue. There is even a rope for stupid people who can’t work out how to queue. Previously you used to pick whichever queue you thought might move fastest. This new system is eminently sophisticated. So sophisticated that some Spaniards can’t hack it and decide to approach from the other end and cut in. ‘Oy,’ yells the woman behind me. ‘There’s a queue and it’s HERE.’
Meanwhile it’s my turn. The ticket cashier is beckoning me and the other woman is still trying to queue jump. I walked up. The cashier very politely told the other woman to join the queue. ‘But I only want to ask a question,’ she asked. The cashier rolled her eyes. I put my money down and asked for my pueblo. The other woman asked what time the bus left for Badajoz. ‘Eleven thirty. There’s only one bus a day.’
Who knows whether she was trying to push in, or quickly thought up a question? Anyway, top marks to the ticketwoman who was polite, and insisted on the queue. Spain really is changing!
Up and down the N340 – Málaga to La Linea
How about the other way round? Málaga to La Linea.
I did this route a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t planned so I had no timetable in my head, but thought the Alsina Graells bus left at 11.30. I wandered down to the main road from my pueblo to get a bus into Málaga to leave me enough time to queue and all the rest of it.
I couldn’t remember the times for the carretera (main road) bus but lo and behold! I’d not been there two minutes when a bus turned up. Yippee! I got into Málaga about 10.50 so plenty of time to buy a ticket and sit around. Too much time in fact.
But when I got to the ticket office (note – to anyone wanting to go from Málaga, you need to use the Portillo office), I was confused.
Salida desde Málaga 7:00 11:00AL 11:30A 14:00 16:30
A bus at 11.00, with an AL next to it. AL for Alsina Graells I mistakenly thought. That must be my bus. Or should I go to Algeciras at 11.00? Another directo, and a shorter journey, but then I would have to get the bus back to La Linea. Dilemma dilemma. I went for La Linea as it worked out cheaper.
Then because I had fixed in my head that it was the red Alsina Graells bus we had a conversation at cross purposes. ‘It’s an Alsa bus,’ said the cashier, ‘and it’s coming from Barcelona.’ ‘Red,’ I said, and ‘Alsina Graells.’
‘NO!’ he said impatiently to the stupid foreigner. ‘Alsa, and it’s blue.’ Alsa, by the way, recently took over Alsina Graells. I decided he didn’t know what he was talking about and dutifully went off to wait at platform 6 or 7, which he’d written on my ticket.
There was less than ten minutes to wait. This was looking good. Except – there was no electronic sign flashing up for the bus. That was not good. That meant it wasn’t as near as it should be. I went to the big noticeboard. There was no confirmation of platform number. I read the timetable at the ticket office again and realised I had stuffed it up and that the red Alsina Graells bus indeed left at 11.30. What the hell was this 11.00 Alsa bus coming from Barcelona then?
By now we have passed 11.00 so I didn’t dare leave the platform again in case the bus came in. Couldn’t buy a drink or food, in case it shot in and did a quick load of passengers and shot out again.
I sat gloomily on the floor, as did another woman. I’m not sure that 50+year-old women should sit on the floor at the bus station, but hey, it’s comfy. I leaned against a nice pillar and looked at my mobile. No mails.
Then suddenly, the noticeboard flashed into life on platform 6. I jumped up so that the driver wouldn’t inadvertently run over me when he pulled in. I sat down again when the light flashed off after a few minutes.
I’d already seen the 11.00 directo to Algeciras pull out. I’d made a real cock-up here. I wondered about changing my ticket for the 11.30 but couldn’t be bothered. Knowing my luck, the bus would pull in just when I had changed.
I watched sadly as the 11.30 Alsina Graells bus to La Linea pulled in. And out. It had of course been raining in Andalucía and other parts of Spain. I wondered how much of a delay bad weather was causing on a journey that was likely to run late anyway because it was so long.
For the record, I have looked up the journey from Barcelona to Algeciras. It is a 19/20 hour trip, and costs 97€. Much as I like buses, I couldn’t sit on one for nearly a full day. It leaves Barcelona around 18.00 and obviously travels through the night. I’ve (not) slept on a bus before in New Zealand and it was no fun at all.
Around 11.35/11.40 the bus finally pulled in. Yay! I wondered how long it would take to get to La Linea. I consoled myself with the fact that if it was coming from Barcelona and was a very long distance bus, it wouldn’t be stopping at every piddling bus stop en route.
A woman in front of me in the sort-of queue for the bus asked – in English! – if it was going to Gibraltar. Well, La Linea is pretty near enough, and she got on so it was obviously the right bus. I mean, only the Spanish would have a bus coming from Barcelona with a Barcelona sign on the front instead of Algeciras. I don’t want to know where it’s come from. I want to know where it is going. But as it makes 19 stops, I guess that won’t really fit on any sign on the bus.
I was surprised it wasn’t busy. Obviously no-one else wants to spend 20 hours on a bus either. I grabbed the seat opposite the door, decided the seats were comfy, and followed the Wi-fi instructions which didn’t work.
I tried again later when we had left the bus station and it worked. But there were no emails and I couldn’t be bothered to browse aimlessly. And anyway, a film seemed to be appearing. Ooh! Exciting. I wished I’d brought my iPhone headphones. Or even some of the free ones I have kicking around from previous train journeys.
Subtitles it was to be. In Spanish of course. Which was good because a quick Spanish refresher course via a film is a good way to top up your language. Especially swear words of which there seemed to be a vast amount.
What was the film? Flypaper, which got terrible critical reviews and good ones from your average person in the street. No idea what it would be like in English but it was seriously funny in Spanish. I don’t think I have ever seen Patrick Dempsey before but he made for a watchable film and it passed a pleasant 1 hour 24 mins. Even better, we only stopped twice – Marbella and Estepona.
According to the time-table we should have arrived in La Linea at 13.00. We arrived at 13.10. How good was that considering how late it was arriving in Málaga? An hour and a half from Málaga and a film. It was worth sitting on the floor of the bus station for half an hour.
I wandered over to Gib feeling smug and very pleased with myself for sticking with my fluke decision. I was so pleased with myself that I rushed around Gib doing a load of tasks that I was going to put off until Friday morning. Simple things hey?
Cost between Málaga and La Linea is 12.52€. It’s around 150 kms.
Useful words, ie the only ones you need:
Ida – single ticket
Ida y vuelta – return ticket
Horario – timetable
Llegada – arrival
Salida – departure
Estación de autobus – bus station
Anden/es – platform/s
Número – number (of platform)
Procedencia – where the bus is coming from, eg Barcelona
Next on the bus: Santander to Málaga
And for those of you following the adventures of our resident gecko in the finca, he seems to have found a comfy, warm and sunny home inside our nightlight in the bathroom. Aww, so cute :) *NO* jokes about fried geckos, thank you very much.