Here you have it, the logistical summary table of my transcontinental bus travels in South America in the last year. Nice, clear SEO title, eh? In two trips, I covered almost 12,000 kilometers of road over a total of more than 220 hours (nine days). It surprises me how easily it can be done. I expected that the chain of travel would reflect the great changes in landscape and cultures more, but efficient bus transport appears to really be a shared institution on this continent. People and goods need to move around here, these are the Americas after all.
In most places buses leave for your next checkpoint every 1-3h, making the long-distance direct routes (Buenos Aires / Salta and São Paulo / Porto Alegre / Montevideo), border opening hours (Peru and Bolivia, 8-21h) and routes in the middle of nowhere (the 19:30 departure 25h bus from Santa Cruz to Asunción) the main flow control points. The shortest border crossing was from Uruguay to Argentina (10 min) and the longest from Bolivia into Paraguay (45 min), again not bad. Finally, if you are wondering about cost efficiency, I spent $27 less on the fast Lima - São Paulo route than I would have with the 'direct' $275 tickets Ormeño sells (a standard bus operator from Peru which uses the transoceanic road to Brasil through the jungle) and got to know many more interesting places.
It's all been quite rushed, but it's given me a really good overall perception of the continent. I'll admit that I haven't been as good at balancing the attraction of covering distance and known landmarks with true off-the-path exploring as I'd have liked. I believe that I'll now have the better sense to make the time to focus on places far more isolated, challenging to understand and story-filled in the future. Future travel goals. I remain in many ways a person who still has to go through the cycle of considering all available alternatives before making a choice. I admire those who know and choose decisively.
UPDATE: Uruguay comes across as exaggeratedly expensive because of the Porto Alegre / Montevideo bus. From what I heard there, travelling exclusively inside the country costs about the same per unit of distance as in Argentina.