¡Bienvenidos a Peru!

By Julie Pizzat, ABSN ’19

Day 1: A Jaunt Through the Airport

We made it to Cusco! 17 hours, lots of water, and a tight connection later, we were ready to take a long nap and get acquainted with our host clinic, CerviCusco, and our host city, Cusco! After some unpacking, we went to La Granja and enjoyed a Peruvian special, Pollo a la Brasa—roasted chicken. Afterwards, we went to the store to grab some food and tucked into bed around 8:30 PM. Day 1 complete!

Day 2: Sacred Valley

What a day! We had a long day of exploring many aspects of Peruvian culture in the Sacred Valley outside of Cusco. Our amigos (guides and drivers) for the day were Jesus, Denis, and Pierro. Our day started bright and early at 7AM with a departure to Chinchero for a weaving demonstration. We were greeted with hot tea and blankets and three women showed us how they washed and spun alpaca wool into thin soft fibers and then described the different meanings of colors used in their textiles. They also used different natural materials to dye the fibers, and demonstrated how they could change the color using other materials (for example, red wool was changed to orange with the addition of lime juice to the color mixture). After the demonstration, we shopped at their market and went on our way to our next destination, Moray. We saw three different terrace circles ranging in size and location. Jesus explained that the Incans used these terraces to test the resiliency of crops and to acclimate them to grow at different altitudes.

Tunupa Restaurant near Ollantaytambo
Different colored wool and their dye sources

Next, we ventured to Maras; this is where we saw all of the salt terraces and salt miners harvesting their salt. Jesus told us that this was the only Incan site that was still functioning as it was when the Incans used it. We walked through the salt mines to Tunupa Restaurant, a beautiful buffet by the river. Everyone enjoyed their food, especially Ceviche and Pisco Sours (a Peruvian cocktail). Our last stop for the day was Ollantaytambo, a small town with an outdoor market and Incan ruins high on the surrounding mountains. We climbed up to the temple of the sun and saw the granary on the opposite mountain, marveling at how these stones were transported up so high. Apparently, the stones came from a different mountain from across the valley and the Incans moved the stones across the river by diverting it upstream of the stones! The creativity and ingenuity of the Incan people was very evident from seeing all of these different sites and traditions still in use and on display today. Today was so educational and fun thanks to our amigos and the people of the Sacred Valley carrying on traditions and welcoming us with open arms. 

Day 3: Beginning our Work with CerviCusco

Today we went to downtown Cusco and set up a health campaign in a municipal office. We performed blood pressures, blood sugar checks, and pap smears. Many women were interested in the availability of the pap tests, which is important because of the high prevalence of cervical cancer among Peruvian women. It was also great to see the community interested in free biometric tests (blood pressure and blood sugar) to be aware of their health status. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that many food ads and labels in Peru have warning ads concerning the level of sugar and fat in them, prompting consumers to be more aware of their dietary needs. While we were downtown, many people were involved in the Inti Raimi celebration in the main square, so they were passing by in colorful costumes. It was great collaborating with our instructors, med students, and the physician from CerviCusco to bring care to the community. After working for several hours, we went home and had a lovely dinner of Lomo Saltado (sautéed beef) and got ready for the next day of work.

Day 4: Cusco Campaign Day 2

Tuesday, we returned to the municipal office near downtown Cusco, again taking blood pressures, blood sugars, and performing pap smears. We were done around lunchtime and had time to explore the city on our own. All of the students decided to go to a restaurant our guide Jesus had recommended and it was delicious! Most of us also shared a local delicacy—guinea pig (Cuey) and after that we split up to explore Cusco more. Some people went to San Pedro market and the others went to San Marco art district. In San Marco, we shopped and got to see a beautiful vista of the entire city. For dinner, the group reconvened at a different location of Tunupa restaurant (in La Plaza de Armas) for Pisco Sours, another great buffet, and live music and folk dancing. We even joined in with dancing, and the band loved us!

Day 5: Small Groups

Wednesday, we split up into two groups; one half of us went to Urubamba on another campaign for pap smears, blood glucose, and blood pressure. The other half of us went to a retirement community run by a local Catholic mission. We provided foot care, assisted with serving lunch, and feeding the residents. Even though our tasks were more focused on daily care rather than biometric or diagnostic procedures, it was wonderful to serve the residents in whatever way we could. I felt even through helping with something as simple as foot care we were helping these women feel cared for and comforted. Nursing is holistic, and caring for people in every circumstance reflects the versatility and the importance of the profession.

Day 6: More small groups!

Today we split up again, with half of us going to Urubamba for another campaign and the other half taking the morning off. The bus ride was scenic and we got to see more of the stunning mountains surrounding Cusco. There was a good turnout and we did almost 75 blood pressures and blood sugar checks! Our entire group (including med students and PA students) did over 50 Pap smears. Through the campaign, women only had to pay 3 soles for the Pap smears as opposed to 20 soles they would pay to go to the clinic. It was great to see that the clinic could help overcome the financial and transportation barriers to care they might face otherwise. The other group went to the Cristo Blanco overlook via taxi and saw Cusco from there, then walked down to San Blas for lunch. Our group left Urubamba around 1:00 to go back to the clinic so the rest of our group could go to an orphanage in Cusco. There, students met the founder of the orphanage and he explained that he wanted to have a home with open doors that would support and raise these children. Our students played soccer against the residents (and lost!) but had a great time overall. People who didn’t go to the orphanage hiked up to another vista near the clinic and saw some great views of the city and the sunset. We had dinner at the clinic again and are now going to bed to prepare for the tomorrow. I can’t believe we only have 5 days left in Peru!

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