By the time I got back from Machu Picchu, I was really feeling the altitude sickness. At that point, I had all the symptoms going on: fever, chills, pounding headache, dizziness, and total aversion to food (which is not great when you’ve been doing mountain hiking all day). I ate some soup and tried to lay down and get some rest, but by 11:00 or so I was starting to get freaked out. I did NOT feel good, and it was starting to feel a little ominous. Just as I was about to go downstairs and see if anyone was still up at the B&B, the owner knocked on my door to see how I was feeling. He took one look at me and said he was going to call a doctor, and that she would be there within 10 minutes. By then I knew it was necessary, so I nodded and climbed back into bed.
About 10 minutes later, I heard the downstairs door open, a woman’s voice, and then the clatter of heels on the tile steps leading up to my room. Suddenly a tiny, gorgeous woman about my age, in a beautiful black dress, impressive heels and impeccable accessories burst into my room, carrying a huge medical kit on one arm and lugging a huge oxygen tank with the other. “Hola,” she said, coming over to kiss me in greeting. I must have looked surprised. “Perdona,” she added, gesturing at her dress. “I was in the plaza celebrating.” Ah, of course. May 23 was the day of the patron saint of Ollantaytambo, Choquekillca, and the town had just begun the first of four full days of celebrations, kicked off by processions, parades, and costumed dances in the plaza. It was a big deal, and everyone from miles around was there.
She set about checking my vitals and asking me questions, sitting on the side of my bed. She quickly determined that my blood oxygen was at 85%, which explained some things, and got me hooked up to some oxygen before listening to my lungs and heart. By the time she left, forty minutes later, I was feeling less like I was going to pass out and more like I could actually get some sleep. Before leaving, she asked me about my travel plans for the near future. “Well, I’m supposed to leave for three days in Cusco tomorrow,” I started to say, but she was already shaking her finger at me. “No, no, no,” she warned, “you can’t go any further up. We’re at 11,000 feet here. Cusco is at 13,000 feet. If you’re this sick here, you can’t go up any further. If you get better in a few days, we’ll talk about it, but for now, you can stay here in Ollantaytambo and enjoy the celebrations, or you can go back to Lima. If you get worse or even stay the same much longer, you won’t have a choice. You’ll have to get down to a lower altitude. So think calm thoughts, get lots of rest, and I’ll see you tomorrow to see how you’re doing.” And she kissed me and bounced out of the room, headed back to the celebrations I could hear a few blocks up in the plaza.
I ended up staying for the next three days, and while I was sad to miss out on Cusco, it really was an amazing time to be in Ollantaytambo. I got oxygen every day to keep my blood saturation from getting as low as it had before, and managed to do okay with lots of rest and the company of some excellent new friends. The next morning, I had breakfast at the B&B, met up with my new friend Lindsay for tea in the plaza, and then went and saw the official procession leading into the plaza. All of the members of the 16 dance troupes were there in their costumes, as were various other actors, officiators, and musicians. It was incredible. Here are a few shots I took as I watched:
Lindsay had recently met two other women women who were traveling in Peru, and introduced me to them at dinner that night at Heart’s Cafe. They were fabulous, and it was such a comfort to have a bunch of righteous women to talk and laugh with. That night, we all moved our stuff to the same hostel down the road from the plaza, and settled in to enjoy the festival. As we soon discovered, the full four days of celebrations are observed quite literally here. From the moment the dancing troupes begin their performances on the first day, there is no break until the festivities conclude four days later. These people go all.night.long., no joke. I didn’t get nearly as many photos as I should have, but it was nice to just enjoy it without documenting every minute.
Other than hanging out with the girls, eating lots of amazing food and catching bits of dancing and other events over the next few days, it was nice to just walk around and enjoy the beauty of Ollantaytambo. Remembering the taxi driver who was so horrified that I would be spending a whole four days here, I had to laugh about how happy I was to spend a whole week here. Some day I will come back and take the steps to acclimatize myself enough to explore Cusco, as well, but this time around I feel pretty lucky to have been able to be in Ollantaytambo at precisely that time, with precisely those people.
To Lindsay, Paola, and Sophia: Happy travels, ladies, and much love. I hope our paths cross again soon!! Xoxox