Deep in the Colca Canyon of Peru- named the sixth largest canyon in the world, surrounded by nothing but breath-taking, luscious nature, saturated with vibrant colours, and the sounds of flourishing ecosystems- I, ever dramatic, lay in agony certain I was dying. These intestinal pains had been going on for over a month now, so intense at this point I had not eaten in days and drank minimal amounts of water as they made the pain all-consuming. However, my mind was at such peace, surrounded by the sounds, sights and smells of mother nature thriving. My mind was at such peace, her thirst for knowledge and expanding horizons quenched, all thanks to the local community whose gifts of manual work, education and love had my heart smiling with fulfilment. The following days I was somehow supposed to hike out of the canyon, yet the pain and how weak my body had become made it a challenge to even walk.
As I sat with my compassionate host family, drinking a herbal tea they had made from medicinal leaves around us, their worried expressions did most of the talking. They suggested I start my ascend early, taking a detour through to a drop-in clinic where a doctor could hopefully help me. I set off shortly thereafter, our goodbyes and good lucks were fresh in my mind as I hobble hiked my way through thickets festooned with vines and flowers. The beauty of the canyon briefly engulfed by the weight of our parting, I was not sure if and when I would meet or speak with them again as they were based in a location with no phone signal.
After an arduous few hours, involving many paused moments to bask in the sounds of the cicadas and the scents of the vast amounts of flora, I finally arrived at a small stone house, this was the clinic. The wooden door ajar, I knocked lightly- in case- before stepping in to a two chaired waiting room. I sat down, tentatively, on one of the chairs, hearing voices behind the closed door opposite me. Eventually two women came out. Their reactions similar to most people who do not expect to see me, a Scandinavian woman, in their home, bemused but friendly smiles and an uncertain “hello” in English. As I was ushered into the second room, containing a hospital bed, a desk and two chairs, the doctor and I exchanged greetings.
Dr Vasquez, a young petite appearing woman, listened to my broken Spanish explanations. Her patience seemed endless as I stumbled my way through, and probably butchered local dialect phrasings, the symptoms and timeline of my pain. She then felt my stomach and tried to explain to me, as basically as possible, what she thought might be going on. She gave me two tiny tablets, one to take then and one before bed. Dr Vasquez explained that if I still felt the pain the following day I needed to come back, she would call a hospital and they would either send a helicopter or a donkey to get me out of the canyon. As she walked me out, having charged me nothing, she gave me directions to a near by village where I could hopefully find a room to stay the night. My spirits significantly lighter I set off hoping these two miracle pills would put an end to this chronic and increasing pain.
Whilst waking up the following day with my cup of coca leaf tea, appreciating the awe-striking colours of the sunrise in the clouds and the sounds of the animals and insects change with the rising of the sun, I realised I was no longer sitting hunched doubled-down by agony. My mind was blown. How could I have received better medical care in a tiny drop-in clinic in the deepest canyon in Peru than I had ever had in a large hospital? How could I have felt more heard and seen by a doctor whose language I stumbled my way through than by doctors whose language I speak fluently?
My time in the Colca Canyon has taught me much about the many strengths and beauties in humanity. As well as how easily we could live in symbiosis with nature. However, the lesson I learn from Dr Vasquez is one I have truly admired. It is not the size of your establishment, the amount of your resources, nor your perceived social status which is of value. It is the compassion you work with, the patience you show, and the voices you allow space for, no matter the identities of the individuals you are interacting with.
(The sunrise on the day of my recovery.)
(The final leg of the ascend.)
- Natalie Christiansen
- : Multi-cultural and internationally raised Scandinavian polyglot. Part time travel enthusiast, full time humanitarian, and social justice activist working towards that big break in the world of habitat restoration. Ever approaching the world with puppy-dog passion and childlike wonder.
- : https://www.linkedin.com/in/natalie-christiansen-052082b0
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- : adult_(19_and_over_as_of_31st_december_2019)
- : This is the first time this story has been published.