Working Out in the Andes

Living at 9,000ft (and growing up at sea level) has it’s advantages and disadvantages.

  • Advantage #1 I live in the Andes.  Point blank, that is pretty cool.
  • Advantage #2 I sleep like a baby.  Or a rock…an Andean rock.  I’ve always slept well at altitude – must be my tendency to under-breathe while sleeping, therefore not needing that much O2 at night.
  • Advantage #3 When I run, hike, swim, or even walk for whatever length of time, I am (ojalá) improving my body’s physiology at a higher altitude.  It’s like biochemistry class all over again when I think about what my body has had to do in order to adjust to living in Ollanta.  This is a great article that better explains what I am trying to communicate because clearly, I have not explained blood-O2 curves and increased physiological efficiency at higher altitudes in a while.
  • Disadvantage #1:  Living in the Andes at 9,000ft means that I am 9,000ft closer to the big ball of fire we call the sun.  This, in turn, translates to my porcelain, Scandinavian skin being extremely susceptible to burning. Solution: I have made sunscreen a regular part of my daily skincare regiment.  Hello greasy face.  But at least now my greasy hair will not look so obvious.
  • Disadvantage #2:  Although I sleep like a rock here, I still manage to wake up every morning between 6am and 7am thanks to the “cock-a-doodle-doos” of my friend the rooster/gallo.
  • Disadvantage #3 In general, despite the fact that I have been in Ollanta for 2 months and have been running or hiking nearly everyday, I still labor to breathe walking uphill.  Side story that is still relevant: Every night at around 8pm, the train from Machu Picchu rolls in and unloads the Inca Trail guides.  These native Peruvians hop off the train and run ~0.5 miles uphill to the plaza in order to catch a combi back to their home towns (many of them live outside of Ollantaytambo).  This hill isn’t very steep, but keep in mind that each of these men and women are carrying a backpack weighing between 40-80 pounds.  I kid you not; they sprint off the train and up the hill…and this is after an entire day of leading people up, down, and around Machu and Huayna Picchu.  Uff-da.  I wish I had their lungs.

None of the disadvantages are really bad in my mind; they are just a part of my being unaccustomed to living at a significantly higher altitude than ever before.  My friends/work-out buddies are the saving grace of exercising here.  We typically run each morning from Ollanta to the nearby town of Rumira and then down to the train-tracks, eventually circumnavigating back into Ollanta’s main plaza.  As far as time spent running, it is probably no more than 45 minutes to an hour, which back in Minnesota is just my warm-up.  But “poco a poco” (bit by bit) is the name of the game here for most everything… whether it be improving Spanish-speaking skills, implementing SVH’s promotora program, working off that“Peruvian belly” that we’ve all assumed thanks to eating rice and potatoes at each meal, or trying to beat labored breathing during the daily walk to work.

Written by Sacred Valley Health Volunteer Julia Curry

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