Last Train

Last Train

-John Eickert


Life is about change, something we can do today we may not be able to do tomorrow. These are a few examples; a child can contort into positions, impossible for an adult, an old person has powers of wisdom unavailable to youth, a middle-aged adult has stamina. I went to South America for adventure. I met a friend in Paraguay, a wonderful expatriate schoolteacher ready for anything. She was my neighbor, for a time, here in Montana. My plane touched down in Asunción, the capitol, and we went straight away to a café and planned the next three weeks.

Our adventure took us across central South America. We walked in rain forest, rode horses with gauchos, and paddled broad rivers. We talked, laughed, and worked hard at keeping the mood light and the pace quick. We arrived in Salta, Argentina and I was determined to go up on the Chilean frontier for some mountaineering. We booked tickets aboard the ‘Tren de las Nubes,’ train to the clouds. We waited at the station three days for this infrequent train before it departed, more or less right on time depending on your point of view. Trains worldwide seem to run on their own schedules, not just in India.

It took three days for the train to chug up to the remote pass named Socompa. The railroad workers treated us with local music and cuisine on the ride up. We were delighted to have made it after helping shovel the tracks during a heavy snowstorm. The border town involved a few goat and sheepherder families and the Chilean and Argentine armies, once a week there was hot water. The weather was cold and windy, but the sky was blue.

The results of the mountaineering are for another story. We stayed in the mountains near the pass as long as we could, catching the last train of the season back to Salta with most of the attending Argentine army riding the downhill coach with us. Many of these men spent months at the remote frontier and the sight of a blonde haired blue-eyed woman caused trouble. The friends we made on the ride to the pass hid us from the Army and we returned to Salta without further incident. It is impossible to say what might have happened if those desperate men had found my friend.

Time passed and soon I was at the airport in Paraguay waiting for a flight home. The entire trip amounted to one of the most amazing adventures. I did not know at the time how my life would change in the next weeks. No one foretold an accident would leave me unable to walk for two years and never able to go up into the high mountains again. I think back and consider myself so fortunate to have had such an incredible experience. Catch the train when you can, there may never be another. I can still feel the wind on my face at Socompa. 



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