The day after my Machu Picchu trek, instead of a $70 train ticket, I decided to walk the forty kilometres from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo. All i had to do was stick to the rail tracks and step off them when the trains passed by. Which was easy, except for one occasion where i found myself halfway through a tunnel and a train coming at me from the opposite side.
I started the day with a massive breakfast of yogurt and fruit from the local market, got back to my hotel and packed. The queues for Machu Picchu tickets and the trains were already bustling. Any place with a huge number of tourists gets me edgy so i was no mood to stay longer. Twenty four hours ago i had experienced one of the greatest trips of my life and was not going to kill that with selfie addicts around me.
Without any further delay, i started my walk towards Ollanta at 10 am, deciding to stop only every 3 hours for a bite. I had walked quite a bit this entire trip and was sure my legs would work the forty odd kilometres with no trouble. The weather was gorgeous too. The clouds were still weaving in and out at great speeds like waves mixed with clear white smoke. Either that or the LSD i took the previous day at Machu Picchu was still kicking*.
About three hours in, i faced my first bunch of assholes on the path. Now Peruvian dogs are usually nice, but the ones that are not too used to people are a bit rough. Add to that a person with long hair and a backpack, the dogs think you’re out to harm their sweet old owners. Usually i hear these dogs from a distance and i’m prepared to scare them away. But this one time, it was Nine Inch Nails playing on the headphones. Hence, i didn’t hear the pack of dogs coming for me. By the time i realized, two of them had sunk their teeth into my right calf and ankle. The pain, intense. I have loved dogs all my life, and these bastards probably just gave me rabies. I kicked one in the face with my free leg, and then picked up two rocks and hurled with all my rage. Of course i missed completely. That’s usually what happens when you take a swing and you’re full of rage. I shouted a few abuses in English, Spanish, and Hindi, just to make sure they got the point, and hobbled away. I could feel the blood trickle down my leg. But at this point, there was nothing else to do but tie a knot, and keep walking. There were no docs for the next 6 hours. No train was going to stop for me here. And going back to town was out of question. So i shoved the headphones back into my ears, and kept walking. A few more packs of dogs did show interest in me during the rest of this trip, but i barked back even louder.
Tunnels are funny. There’s no alternate path to bypass a tunnel, yet they always have boards saying ‘DO NOT WALK THROUGH THE TUNNEL’. I always wondered what the worst could be, every time i walked through a tunnel. This was the day i would see for myself. The longest tunnel i came across was around 100 m. And again, the headphones were on. Funny thing in a tunnel is, with the headphones on, if you have Rage Against The Machine playing, you don’t notice the rumbling under your feet ‘coz hey that’s how Morello kills it’, and you can barely hear anything else. Even the horn of the train coming from up ahead. I saw the headlights hit the walls at the curve about twenty metres ahead. I froze, and pulled my headphones out. I don’t want to call it fear but the kinda feeling that tightens your asshole, stomach, heart and jaws all at once hit me. Yup, this one was coming fast. I looked at the walls on either side, there was not enough space to tuck myself into, to let the train pass. I turned on my heels, and ran for my life. The honks got frantic cos now the train driver could see a maniac running on the tracks.
‘Look at this idiota. Came to commit suicide and now he’s changed his mind and I’ll be the one writing a report of why there’s blood under the train.’
I didn’t turn around to look how close it got, i just ran. Which is not easy when you have 15 kilos on your back. I could see a little spot to jump into, right where the tunnel started, and i knew that was the escape. By now the ground beneath my feet was shaking hard. And i just kept telling myself ‘PLEEEASE, don’t trip, PLEEEASE‘. The dog bite pain seemed so irrelevant at this point.
A last breath lunge got me off the tracks and i stuck myself to the wall, hands spread out like Jesus on the cross. Ten inches from my face, the train rushed by. Train driver gesticulating with his hand and probably shouting ‘PUTA MAAADRE’. Tourists looking out at me, sweaty and panting and wide eyed and thanking my stars and posing like the Saviour.
I managed to take a pic while still stuck out on the wall. You can tell my hands are not very steady.
You can also see how fancy these trains are. I’d have hated to be responsible for blood stains on that gold and blue upholstery.
Enough of adrenaline rushes, I packed the headphones into my bag, munched on a banana to renew the energy I’d spent on that life-saving sprint, and got on with the walk. This time just singing to myself.
Between ten to fifteen more trains passed. Sometimes i got off the tracks and walked through the hills and the valley and the river bank, where i would keep re-filling my bottle of water. Barely met a soul the entire time except for an old lady tending to her cornfields. And the loco dogs.
By 5 pm I was walking like a zombie. My granola bars were over. Bananas were finito. My legs hurt like hell, but i still had a further 15 km to cover. I gave myself two hours for this. Knowing only later that the last 8 km was uphill. It was 7:30 pm when i finally got into Ollantaytambo, hobbling into town like an escaped convict. I finished my excursion just like i had started it 3 days earlier, with an amazing veggie Pizza and the Peruanisimo (a MUST) from Quinoa Pizzeria. Content with my own fitness levels that day, I hit a local town party and then slept through the next twenty four hours. When I woke up, my legs were screaming ‘bitchface you should’ve just taken the train’.
In my next post I’ll tell you about Kinsakocha, a series of pristine isolated lakes at 4000m, where i eventually threw my phone into the water.
*I’m writing a book about that story, out soon.
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