A Road (Much) Less Traveled

Sacred Valley Health’s most recent mobile clinic provided care in the rural, high mountain community of Patacancha, nestled between snowcapped peaks and glaciers at over 12,000 feet above sea level.  The day-long mobile clinic began early on a Wednesday morning, as four Sacred Valley Health volunteers, our nurse (+baby), medical student and doctor gathered at the start of Patacalle, the adventurous dirt carretera winding up from Ollantaytambo’s comfortable spread on the floor of the Sacred Valley.

The Sacred Valley Health team early in the trip = bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and naively optimistic that finding a ride up the mountain will be a ‘walk in the valley.’

Much to our surprise, Patacalle has recently converted to an impressive construction zone, as several culverts and road-crossing drainages are currently in the process of being replaced.  Consequently, transportation to and from Patacancha is tentative at best.  After waiting for well over an hour, our opportunity for a ride finally arrived, and all seven of the mobile clinic team crammed into an already overcrowded combi bound for the mountains.  The 16-kilometer climb to Patacancha ended up taking nearly two additional hours, as the sputtering, old minivan navigated mounds of gravel, makeshift wooden bridges, and steep switchbacks.

One example of a makeshift wooden bridge…

Once in Patacancha, the team set to work, cooking up a midmorning breakfast of chocolotada—sweet chocolate oatmeal soup—for all patients and the local nurses, seeing patients, and making follow-up visits in the community.  The mobile clinic provided care to over 20 patients, and by mid-afternoon, the crew was packed up and hiking abajo on Patacalle in a hopeful search for a ride back down the valley.

Transportation back to Ollanta proved even more elusive than the ride up.  After hours of hiking and waiting with gym bags of medical equipment, our lucky break finally came rumbling down from above.  All enthusiastically piled onboard.  The combi nearly made it all the way back to town but then encountered a construction crew still hard at work on the road.  One worker approached our bus and informed us that the road would be open in no more than 10 minutes.  One hour later and now in the dark, we were once again scooting in the direction of Ollanta (more importantly, in the direction of a good meal and bed).  To top off the day, about a kilometer outside of Ollanta we encountered yet another unnavigable ditch – this time without a construction crew.  We hiked the last stretch into town, pharmacy, triage equipment, propane tank, and stove in tow—another grand adventure for Sacred Valley Health!

How many doctors/med students/volunteers does it take to carry a propane tank, big pot and burner down a mountain?

~Posted by Sam Streeter, Sacred Valley Health Volunteer

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