It was several hours into our 15-hour train ride on the “train of the clouds” when our fellow passengers started dropping like flies. First an elderly man…then a young woman…and then more.
There was at least one medic per train car…but at the rate people were dropping, it didn’t look like they had enough oxygen masks to go around. Suddenly I found it was getting harder to breathe and I became dizzy. It was a strange feeling.
I looked at my wife. Almost simultaneously, we reached for a little bag of green leaves that someone had sold us at the station right before we departed. At the time, I thought my wife, who is from Argentina, was crazy. First for buying these leaves… second for getting them from a stranger at a train station.
But she assured me they were perfectly legal to “consume” for our purposes and that we should take a bag with us “just in case.” I put some of the green leaves in my mouth and tried to focus on breathing and staying conscious.
We were on a bridge now—surrounded by nothing but clouds and air…with mystic mountaintops on the horizon, and the ground several thousand feet below us. It was breath-taking. Literally.
At some point the leaves did their trick and the dizziness went away. I looked at our fellow passengers. A few of them were still taking oxygen, but everyone seemed to be ok.
It was an unforgettable experience—and one you may be surprised to hear my wife and I actually paid for. You see, after a 20-plus hour bus ride from our home in Buenos Aires…a short taxi ride… and now several hours on the train, we finally found ourselves getting close to what we came for.
We were nearing 13,850 feet above sea level…and the “train of the clouds”, or “el tren de las nubes,” was cutting through a stunning stretch of northern Argentina. We could see for miles. From our vantage point, there were no signs of human life whatsoever. It was peaceful… complete and undisturbed nature.
Save for our historic train, chugging along at 20 miles per hour.
At that pace, it’s no wonder we only covered 270 miles in the 15-hour ride. The train was originally built for commercial purposes, but today it carries tourists on a ride along the third-highest railway in the world.
Unlike a commercial airplane, our “train of the clouds” didn’t have pressured cabins. So if you’re body couldn’t take the altitude sickness, the medical solution was either an oxygen tank—or coca leaves!
The train stopped at a little village way up high in the mountains, with all of us tourists looking like we’d just finished a marathon. The entire village was expecting us. In fact, little kids were waving at us and running right up next to the train before it even stopped. And there were dozens of makeshift artesian stands set up right in front us—in the middle of nowhere.
The locals offered their home-made food, hand-sewn clothes, and hand-made crafts.
Everything looked nice…but by far, the most popular items were the fresh-grilled loaves of bread. As my wife and I headed for the line we got distracted by a little girl, her mother, and their llama.
The mother told us ours was the first train run of the season…which explained why everyone was waiting for us and so eager to sell their goods. As for this woman, she makes socks and scarves from the wool of her llama and sells them for about $5 each. Like many of her fellow vendors, these train stops are her best opportunity to generate income for her family.
I couldn’t resist posing for a photo (see above).
As a copywriter, I can set up my “shop” anywhere in the world, as long as there’s an Internet connection. In fact, it’s because of this work-from-anywhere job that I’m able to live in Argentina several months out of the year and take these kinds of side-trips to begin with.
If you’re in a situation where you have to rely on others more than you’d like—and you’re looking to change that—I encourage you to consider starting a career in copywriting. It’s one of the only jobs I know of that puts you in control of the train and its passengers (and not the other way around).
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