Saturday, May 5, 2012

Getting High, Feeling Low

It is often difficult to sort out one's expectations, especially when it comes to an around the world trip. Yesterday was my 38th wedding anniversary, and my wife and I were more than 8300 km apart. Skype is hardly a replacement for exchanging a hug and a kiss with your loving spouse on your anniversary. Also, by the end of the day, it was apparent that my only connection with the Parkinson's disease community in Lima was not going to be able to make time available for me. It felt like two disappointments in one day. I suppose I should've expected things to not mesh, at least at some point along the journey. The major goal of mine had been to touch base with at least one person who is dealing with Parkinson's in each of the places we stop. First stop: failure.

Parkinson's disease appears to be somewhat of an unknown in Peru, at least based on my limited experience. My efforts to contact someone, anyone, fell flat. I did not talk to a single person who had ever known anyone with the disease. Other countries in South America have well-developed programs, research and facilities relating to the disease. Peru, like its Incan past, seems to be a mysterious place, at least when it comes to Parkinson's disease.
Despite the disappointment yesterday, today was an opportunity to experience new heights. Our new friend, Pastor Samuel, was kind enough to take us to the airport where we checked in without difficulty and found our first Starbucks with excellent, free Internet connections to allow us productivity while waiting to board our plane. We went from Lima, at sea level, to Cuzco, at 11,150 feet in elevation. That is more than 2 miles high! Surprisingly, Machu Picchu, where we will be headed tomorrow, is actually more than 3000 feet lower (7840 feet).
I have been interested to discover what this altitude will do to my Parkinson's. So far, it does not appear to make it better or worse. As with most people who arrive here from lower elevations, I developed a slight headache, some difficulty in breathing and a fatigued feeling. However, this did not stop us exploring this incredibly interesting ancient but growing town now sprawling over the nearby hills. Its core is a maze of very narrow, cobbled, streets where great care must be taken even when walking on the sidewalk. They are so narrow that you have to step into the street to pass any oncoming pedestrian, risking confrontation with a bus or car careening around the corner with no intention to slow down.

The city squares were abuzz with people of such contrast that it was difficult to remember where we were. There were attractive Spanish women dressed in tight skirts, low-cut blouses and stiletto heels that seemed straight out of a fashion magazine (I had no idea how they navigated the cobbled streets and sidewalks, unless it was on continuous tiptoe). Nearby were older women bent double carrying enormous loads of vegetables or other salable goods on their backs in brightly colored shawls or blankets, their faces deep brown and wrinkled, exhausted from their efforts. Happily playing in colonnaded walkways surrounding one town square were children kicking a large empty Inca Kola bottle to each other in a time-honored game of ‘keep away’. And, of course, the tourists, from the rich to the ragamuffins, moved in packs among the local folks.
After a meal of Peruvian specialties, including alpaca, we made our way slowly back to our comfortable, though small, off the beaten track hotel to make arrangements for the early-morning taxi pickup to get to the train station.

Inevitably, there will be highs and lows on this journey around the world. There will be serendipitous events that will far exceed any expectations. And there will be those that shake my confidence in myself and others. But, after all, as the name of the tour suggests, this trip is meant to shake up my world in many different ways.


  1. Enjoying your reflections. Did I tell you a friend of mine from our church for over 30 years told me this week he has Parkinsons. I have already sent him your web address.
    May all your distractions and mishaps turn out to be serendipities!psailhamer

  2. Altitude can prove to be the perfect medicine for many diseases!