At 6 feet, 5 inches tall I’m used to having some difficulty maneuvering around certain places. However, here in Cuzco, Peru I’ve noticed that things just aren’t made for taller people like me. The local people here tend to be fairly short, due to the effects of the high altitude on development. Especially in the older generations, I’ve noticed hardly any locals significantly taller than 5 feet. Because of this, the majority of the buildings here are not built to accommodate someone of my size. This is especially evident in older buildings and buildings in rural areas, like in the town of Chinchero that we visited this past week. I have to constantly be aware of my surroundings, lest I want to get a good knock to my head. Ducking to fit through doorways has become second nature, although there are some that I can’t even fathom trying to walk through (see the photo below).
I manage to hit my head nearly every morning on the ceiling in my room in our hotel in Cuzco, as there is a load-bearing beam in my path from my bed to the bathroom. Thankfully it doesn’t hurt much, and it serves as a nice wake up call to get my day started. When getting on and off the buses we use to travel around the region, I have to be careful to bend over significantly in order to avoid hitting my head. On a funnier note, though probably related more to poor workmanship than my size, I now have to avoid the Peruvian fast food restaurant named Bembo’s here in Cuzco after I somehow managed to break one of their chairs during our first week here.
While having to be careful about my height has been an inconvenience, in reality it has not had any detrimental impact on my experience here. It has served as a funny conversation piece at times, but has also helped to spark my interest in the effects that altitude can have on human health and development. Most of us have experienced the short-term effects of the altitude, experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness even after taking Diamox to help acclimate. Headaches and vomiting have unfortunately been common complaints during our time here. The local population doesn’t have to worry about this, since they were born with helpful adaptations to cope with living in a location with such reduced oxygen saturation. Nevertheless, there are long-term effects, like having the aforementioned short stature. This is a very fascinating topic that I will definitely read more about in the future.