Perhaps an odd title for a blog post, though that’s exactly what has been happening here as Ben and I acclimatize to the altitude in Cusco. Its high here, 11,000 ft. That is more than 2 miles high! And for folks like us living at sea level in Boston, well, we are moving slow.
Ben and I arrived last night in Cusco and both experienced headaches and shortness of breath. The coca tea that everyone raves about didn’t help me much, probably kept me up most of the night instead, but today I am feeling better. We are taking it slow though, which means walking slow, moving slow, eating slow, and talking slow. Our lungs tell us that we need to breath deeply and our bodies are telling us to be patient.
In some ways, walking around Cusco is like a walking meditation. I moved more slowly than my quick pace as I ventured out for a walk. Ben and I scheduled time today and tomorrow to work from the hotel, anticipating our inability to do much as we adjusted. I left Ben at the hotel around 11am and took a break from my own work to explore the city. Walking slowly I walked up and down the slippery stone streets of Cusco.
First I came across a church attached to a convent, the Convent of Santa Domingo. The churches here are beautiful, though the absence of gold in contrast to the gold-encrusted Catholic churches of Spain caught my attention immediately. Later today, over lunch, Ben read to me from the Lonely Planet a brief history of the Inca people and the Spanish conquest of the region. There is a conflicted history here, stamped and walked into the stones and sparkling from the bright colors of the indigenous dress.
As I walked again slowly out of the church and down a steep slope, I began to hear music and the chanting and drumming of what seemed to be hundreds of people. As I drew closer, I saw a parade; a festival of people swarming the street, marching and dancing to the main square, the Plaza de Armas. The whole city seemed to be dancing; though not quickly, not in a rush, slowly in a spirit of delight.
Even when the rains came, and it poured—people danced. They huddled under ponchos and sang and played flutes. I have no idea what they were celebrating. I tried asking but my Spanish is just not good enough to understand. I was able to answer a few questions folks asked of me like where I was from. And though everyone was friendly I was aware of my rubio (blond) hair and my whiteness.
Tomorrow, after Skyping into my class at the hospital, Ben and I will join other Quakers for the ride up to Pisac. Already there are folks in Cusco, posting about the sights and the sounds. Perhaps we will run into some of them for dinner. Or perhaps we will go dancing, slowly dancing in the streets as dusk falls on this ancient city in the mountains.