How i hopped my first cargo train in Peru (not)

Peruanische Polizei

After the most catastrophic but exciting day of blockade in Peru, I went to Juliaca to black ride a freight train. I had never done that but was in contact with an American called Patrick, who had done the same route before. I was really eager to do it, since a week I was not able to think about anything else, but to jump onto a passing train. Now it was time, my big day!

Again blockade? Really guys?

80km behind Juliaca. Not very far. Cakewalk. At a bakery I filled my pockets with a whole lot of sweet things and crossed Puno. Strange to see that there was still nearly no traffic. And why are there again people standing around? “Hey, is that a blockade?” “Of course, until midnight today.” “Oh shit, still?”. I had in mind that they would block only for 24 hours the day before. Great. Anyway it wasn’t far and busses were also going, so there has to be some traffic. Traffic exists, hitchhiking possible.

Walking through Puno in the morning. First car, a Pick-Up stuffed with Gringos, stops immediately. Four US-Boys who go to Cusco. 300km behind my goal. Perfect hitch. I was travelling on the loading platform enjoying the landscape. At Juliaca we stopped at a roundabout and the guys bought some icecream. If I also want some… of course! We loaded a Peruvian granny and went for the next village for lunch. Pretty emberassing: They insisted on a group picture with the granny and me, when we left the car. Very unpleasant for her. And for me.

Eis auf dem Pick-Up
Icecream on the back of a Pick-Up. Another Super Day in Peru.

So far no more blockades until Juliaca. There where some small campfires, a demonstration, a closed main street and a lot of police. My information about the freight train were referring to a place about 80km north of Juliaca, direction Cusco. I decided to go there directly. Juliaca was a dirty metropolis drowning in chaos from the blockades, the police and with a train station under complete surveillance. More chances in Ayaviri.

As we arrived there I was pumped with Adrenalin. Still eight hours to wait. Went for an internet cafe and lunch, afterwards inspecting the route. Where are the spots to jump on, where are the people hanging around and where can I hide, in case. Went through the village like a detective looking for information, taking pictures of everything. And I invested in a down jacket (without sleeves) because I heared of -5° Celsius at night, including the airstream of the train damn cold and I wanted to have at least something warm, besides my standard equipment. It was around four o’clock, the train was scheduled between eight and half past ten.

Waiting for the train

7:55 pm. We have a saying in German that goes like “Five minutes early is the soldiers punctuality”. There i was. In my bag I had water reserves and cookies, cigarettes and matches. I only need a train now. With zero people on the train station I sat on my backpack, smoking. I had repacked all of my stuff earlier. Laptop to the center of the backpack, not on top. More stabil. Prepared for any possible happenings. Wearing only dark clothes. All warm clothes I wore already or had it ready to get them out of the box, easy and fast. Now waiting.

Every car or truck that honked somewhere in audible distance startled me up. The train? I was pumped with adrenalin. As the night closed in became very cold, I was miserably freezing and considered if it was the best idea, a train, this temperatures. Especially since in Peru you don’t have Box-Cars so you are exposed to nature. I practiced shadow boxing to keep my body on temperature. What also helped: the honking. Whenever I froze and a alleged train appeared my body jump into alert, adrenalin, and I wasn’t cold anymore. Interesting experience.

Grifting at the nightly train station

8:30 pm. Movement disturbs the deserted train station. Three people cross the rails, 100 meters to the right from my position. They stop. Look at me. Whisper. Turn around and walk away in a new direction. What´s going on here guys? Well, its not my business, no matter what they do. Anyway I took my backpack and went away. As I was gone they returned to their object of interest . Whatever that was. Mysterious.

I went for a spin. The basic principle of train hopping is that you stay clandestine. The decision to go for the platform at the local train station might not seem wise, but it should be fine. As I came back a man stood motionlessly on the rails. I stopped in the middle of the street. Movementless. Well, if he is scouting for the boys, while they do their business, I will have to wait. We visually inspected each other, while i lighted myself a cigarette. No communication. Waiting.

At some point a woman passed me and went to the man. A couple that was wandering through the train station. No sabotage monitoring. Through the evening I had another three couples that I disturbed with my presence. Every time they looked around the corner, saw “somebody”(me) standing there, turned around and vanished. But hey, it was my night. I wanted to jump a freight train. No room left for love. Sorry. Allthough i wouldn´t bother anyway. Make love guys, i just wanna hop a train.

Trainstation in Ayaviri at daylight
Trainstation in Ayaviri at daylight

Crowded with security

9:30 pm. No train at sight. But new friends. Two humans in yellow jackets slowly walk towards me. From the darkness. Suddenly a police whistle. I stood there, unimpressed. Police. Perfect, thats exactly what you need when you illegally jump a train. But as they approach me they made no move for conversation. “Buenos noches.”, I started. “Hi, what are you doing here?” Oh damn… need an excuse…aehm…. I wanna see the train!!!! (that was true) and … I will meet a friend, a girl…later…ya. That did the trick, I managed to radiate a peaceful atmosphere. Small incidents like that will not get me off my plans. Why I was standing in darkness? I should go into the illuminated area, there are a bunch of bad people around. If I had seen anything? Well, there were those three guys… doing something. Yes, bad people… criminals, better go to the bright spot over there. Then they left. Said something about 20 minutes. Didn’t really understood what they said, maybe they would be coming back in 20 minutes? If the train arrives whilst they are around, would i still try to catch it? I thought about changing the location but rather decided to sit it out and since they didn’t turn up within the next 90 minutes I felt safe.

11:20 pm. Bitingly cold, I was boxing in the third round against my shadow. My opponent and I, still fresh, fatigue as knocking only sometimes, at some seconds I am a little bit dizzy. It was chill! How would it be on the train? In the background I heard whistles, sometimes close and sometimes further away. Several patrols seem to go around in the city.

Good day Mr. and Mrs. Cone

11:35 pm, I hear somebody walking down the road. Whistles. I am standing in a bright area and don’t manage to jump into the shadows. I am spotted. This time not the two yellow jackets form the police, but two humans in Ponchos and basecaps. Looking like cones. Both stop and stare at me. Not moving a muscle. No word. I spin my circles trying to not get ruffled. What if the train arrives at this moment? I couldn’t think about anything else. Another whistle. Followed by motionless staring. Suddenly three dogs come rushing towards me. Two of them were cowards but one was encircling me aggressively. Baring its teeth, barking. “Good, good, calm down doggy, what’s up?” The two cones keep standing motionless, staring at me. The dogs might be street dogs, walking along with the patrols. Middle-sized, looking like plushy bedside rugs.

Rather something to cuddle than police dogs. Still annoying in this situation. I continued spinning my circles. The dogs lost interest at one point. The two cones sat down on a nearby bench and kept watching me. Every five minutes another whistle for their patrol friends. Besides that no movement. Slight whispers, no motion. Two dead-still cones with three plushy dogs and a gringo with a cigarette in his hand, stoically running in circles. Nightly scene on a Peruvian train station. I would really like to have a video of that moment.

At some point the two cones got maybe bored from my circular motion and went – together with the three walking fluffy-carpets – for new adventures. Meanwhile i froze bitterly. 11:50 pm, the train was nearly two hours behind official and one hour behind inofficial schedule (Patrick entered the train 10:45 pm). Time to give up… another honk… adrenalin…Train…no? No train. What a disapointment. I heard later, that they not even blocked the roads, but also the trains that day. This night found me a hotel for 2,20€ and crawled under the covers since I had frozen so much. Maybe a lucky coincidence that the train didn’t appear. Regarding temperature the ride would have been hardcore cold. But I will definitely catch up on Trainhopping later in the USA!

After defeat is before the defeat

Daunenjacke in Peru
Corpus delicti. My down-jacket which i sold the next day again.

At the next morning I packed my stuff… and there was that down jacket. In general a nice jacket, got it for 30 sol (around 7€), but it was messing up with my packing technique. Self-Discovery: I can not handle any new equipment because my order is disrupted, even if it was something very handy. Same shit, if I lose something or something breaks. I am trying to get even the smallest leftovers from my Stomaticum toothpaste since more than a month. You can’t buy this small and efficient toothpaste outside of Germany and I struggle against using another one. NO WAY! But: At some point it will be gone and I will have to deal with the situation. I am very attached to to my small home with all its details. Like Captain Chris, always focusing on preservation.

But then there was this down jacket. 30 Sol…to stingy to throw it. So I went back to the market and sold it there. After several talks I found two customers. Peruvians. 20 Sol… good price…yes, good price, cmon. The ladies behind the shop table approved. Deal. Back at the road I hitchhiked the first car. Too bad it was going into the wrong direction. 150 meters further the same guy had stopped at a gas station. Starts to talk to me and similar to my ride on the day of the blockade he hands me 10 Sol. “No no, don’t need it.” “Sure, get yourself some food.” “No no, no need for that… ok, well, thanks!” Everybody happy and I am compensated for the loss through the jacket. Thanks universe.

Shamefaced by the human race

On my way out of Ayaviri I had made a rather disturbing experience. I crossed a river and saw something swimming. Looked like a beaver. I stopped and realized that it was a dog. A dead dog. Nothing special. But looking closer I saw that it had a rope around the neck with a stone tied to the rope. Watching the dow being moved around by the water several thoughts went through my head. All together it made me very sad. Why would anyone do something like that? On the other hand, it is the sad reality that not everybody sees value in life and neither value in different forms of life, what arises cruelty like that. On the way to Cusco I also saw people kicking and hitting their animals (sheeps, lamas), two times, just because the animals didn’t want to move.

All together a stirring day. Later that day a Canadian woman that I met at the hostel showed me a different point of view. Maybe it weren’t some chav´s that killed a dog for saturday-nights fun, but the dog was very agressive, attacked people and thats why somebody did it. Nobody knows. Still I see in my head the dog, the rope, moving in the water. I made a picture but I spare you with it. Keep this disturbance for myself.

In the End

Hitchhiking to Cusco was relaxing, no big events. Originally I had planned to go climbing in Huaraz but the failed “Operation train hopping” had left some unrest inside of me. I need change. I might hitchhike the next 4000km to Bogota/Columbia without interruption, get a bike there and cycle through Columbia. The plan: I look for an old 20€ scrap bike, some bags and jump up the 800km to the coast. I can already see the traveling cyclists with their 3000€ hitech-equipment passing me. That’s another reason why I want to do it with a really old bike. In your face! Nobody needs that shit. And if I get tired I can hitchhike with the bike. Anyway: I am a hitchhiker. Not a cyclist.

Hello, you liked this article? Wanna read more? Please help us to translate more of my adventures and click here! 🙂

2 Comments

  • Hey! I’m planning to hop this train soon. Would be awesome if you could get in contact so I can get some more information.

    • Hey Laura, just write me a mail through the contract form and I will see how I can help you! Cheers, Stefan

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