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Something that I will never forget.

The year is January 1984.

At that time I was living in Venezuela, South America. That January, Ysabel and I, we decided to visit Peru. We flew to Lima, where we stayed with some missionary friends. They did not offer to pick us up at the airport so we took the first available taxi. The guy was very friendly and helpful, he even stopped in a shop so we could get a map of the capital. When he dropped us off we discovered that he charged us ten times the normal price, a good reason to be so kind.

During our stay in Lima we had a good look around. Our friends also took us to the local beach. It was sunny, windy and the sea was quite choppy. We enjoyed the day by the beach, but my legs got so sunburnt that in the evening I could not walk, the pain was excruciating. In fact it took me a few days to get back to normal. Our friends had a few home helps, living in, in Venezuela they are often referred to as servants. We trusted our hosts, but we should have guessed that poor people something will take an advantage in a situation. We had left money in our suitcases when going out and a day or two before leaving I decided I would count my money and somehow I felt I was short. We never said anything, but somehow it left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.
To reach our next destination we decided to go by bus. We were going south and our next stop was Arequipa. There we had to change to a small local train that slowly pushed its ways through the snowed mountains and valleys dotted with llamas and alpacas. Of course, one little train had to break down so we had to wait, then leave the train with all our cases, walk a fair bit, climb into the other train, wait till everybody was on board and then resume our journey. It was very cold up in those mountains and due to the delay we were also very hungry.

I have lived in the hot part of the tropics for too long so I had forgotten that there are parts that can be mighty cold, usually because they are high up in the mountains. This was the case for all the journey from Arequipa to Machupicchu. I learned this the hard way. I also learned that some hotels in the mountains do not have hot water in every room. Ysabel found it out for me, she stood in the shower with only cold water up to her ankles. Ysabel was cold to start so she got twice as cold before realising that no hot water was going to arrive in that shower. She was cold, frustrated, naked and finally so angry I believed she was going to have a complete meltdown. “Daniela, ayudame por favor ( Please, help me).” That was when we were told to go into another room for a real hot shower.

We soon forgot the cold as the historical sites in Cusco and Machupicchu were breath-taking. The Machupicchu ruins are on top of a high mountain. They could be reached either on foot, or by using the special cars available for tourists. Once there we climbed over every rock and every view-point. I was pretty scared on some of the paths, so often I could only climb up on all my fours. Later on I heard how a friend of mine had watched some other rather daring friend fall to his death. That is one of the reasons that at one point we had to sign going up and then sign again returning.

Later on that evening when we had covered all the highlights of the area we realized we had missed the last train. There was a Hotel, but the price was rather high for us. There was an alternative, we were told about a Hostel in a nearby village. We immediately decided to hike there. The only route there, was by walking on the rails of the train. We zigzagged down into the valley, crossed the bridge over the vicious mountain river and onto the tracks. We expected no further trains so Ysabel, myself and few other young people that joined us, we all stepped light-heartily and securely on this narrow path. One side was a sheer drop into the river and the other a stony steep slope with a forest that covered the whole face of the mountain. I was admiring the tropical vegetation, the big boulders of the fast flowing , rugged river and the over all dampness that appeared to be ever present in such tropical places. Since I collect insects my eyes were keen to spot any unusual specimens that I could place in my little museum at the Venezuelan University. We passed through one long and narrow tunnel and just when we had emerged at the other side we heard the whistle of a train. We looked at each other in surprise, we knew at once we better get out of the way. I had a big armoured rucksack on my back so I felt clumsy and my instinct told me to jump down into the vegetation between the rails and the river. There was not much space, but it was good enough for me to hold on and not fall into the river. Ysabel and two others decided to cross the rails and wedge themselves against the rocks of the slope. Then it all happened in a flash, I saw Ysabel fall on the rails, the train was now in sight, whistling like mad as if by some magic that would make her vanish. I hung there in utter despair, praying for some miracle to happen. I could see her trying to get up, slipping over and over as she could not stand up, but in the last fraction of a second I saw her roll over to safety. We were all frozen to our spots, pale and later on shaking from the shock. I shook until I reached the Hostel. The feeling of fun left us so we all ended our trip in utter silence. We all knew if she had not moved in time that would have been the end. In fact it could have happened to any of us and what if we had been still in the tunnel? Lots of thoughts went through our heads.

We slept gratefully that night, waking to another sunny day. Many good things happened since, but this experience I cannot wipe away lightly. Our lives are very fragile and they can be taken from us in a split second, when we least expect it. A beautiful holiday could have changed into a terrible tragedy. This is perhaps why I often think that maybe today is my last chance and so I better live it to the best of my abilities.


Author Notes: To me it is one of many life's lessons

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27 May, 2021
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