Bridge Over Troubled Waters

The last few days have been chaotic in Ollantaytambo.

Late last Saturday night, I returned to my house tired after a long day. It was pitch black in town and lightly raining (not surprising, given that we are in the middle of the rainy season). I live fairly close to the main plaza on the corner of a road that leads out of Ollanta towards several of the communities Sacred Valley Health works with regularly. As I approached my front step I was deafened by the sound of the rushing river nearby and started to feel the ground shake. I tried to brush off my sudden fear and instead collapsed in my bed exhausted.

I love the location of my room, but hate the fact that every morning at 5:00 am several mototaxis wait outside, blasting huayno music. On Sunday morning, this particular occurrence started at 2:00 am, but instead of huayno music, I heard the sound of sirens and saw flashing red lights. Still in the stupor of being asleep, I succumbed to a few more hours of rest. When I finally crawled out of bed around 6:30 am, I was startled to see that the rails of the bridge that crosses the river by a local cafe were lopsided and the bridge itself was blocked off.

I quickly came to realize that this was not the worst of the damage.

I went on a hunt for answers. I ran into a group of locals, who told me that the local river had become like a mini tsunami during the night and created an unbelievable amount of damage in Ollanta.

Chaos in the main square of Ollantaytambo
Chaos in the main square of Ollantaytambo

I decided to go for a walk to learn more. I quickly saw how the river had risen high enough to consume the upper part of Ollantaytambo and anything on the way down the hill. About half of a dirt path that runs parallel to the train station road (on the other side of the river) was completely washed out. Power lines, houses, and giant trees/eucalyptus plants had been ripped from their rightful places and carried by the muddy waters into the torrential Urubamba river.

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The rainy season in Ollanta usually does not bring this much rain… or cause this much damage…

An unbelievable sight. Notice the falling dirt (from the collapsing path) and furniture floating down the river in the photos below.

Very muddy waters
Very muddy waters
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The river rose dangerously close to houses and buildings for days

I called SVH Executive Director Keri to come and see the damage. We walked up the main street in Ollantaytambo to further survey the consequences. The house where two of the SVH co-founders had been living was halfway washed away, benches on the path that follow the road were hanging off the edge, and every house above that point was completely flooded with stinky mud or half-destroyed by the river. Keri’s old house looks like Poseidon took residence for the night.

Kind of ironic that all of this happened on Carnival, a day that people find an excuse to participate in playful and public water fights. It’s actually pretty tragic. For upwards of a week Ollantaytambo won’t have any water and possibly power because of so much destruction to water tanks that sit above the city and power lines that have fallen into the rushing river. And I can’t even imagine how long it’s going to take for people to clean up the damage when there is no water available to rinse the streets, floors, and any other mud-covered surface.
Lessons that I have taken away from this whole experience: 1) always build a house high off the ground and away from a rushing river, 2) own a pair of rain boots (check), and 3) the human race is not invincible to nature.
Written by Sacred Valley Health Program Manager Julia Curry
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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Julia, I’m so sorry to hear about this. Rivers can be so incredibly powerful. The damage to Ollanta is heartbreaking – it’s such a beautiful town. Thank you for your excellent update. Wishing you and the people of Ollanta all the best, Terri & James

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