As much as I enjoyed my sojourn in Cuenca, Ecuador, there was one serious drawback: the altitude. Cuenca is located in the Andes, some 8,300 feet above sea level, so it is not unusual for visitors to experience altitude sickness. While I did not pass out or throw up, I did experience shortness of breath, lack of appetite and fatigue as well as some dizziness and mental confusion. Altitude sickness can also result in strange dreams and I must say, I had my share, many about feeling constricted. It’s interesting how one’s consciousness can express a body sensation in narrative terms; for example, a dream of being confined in a physical space. It’s a bit frightening, but the fear may be a prompt to move out of that space.
However, there can be a few benefits to living at a high altitude if it doesn’t affect you too adversely. For one thing, it’s a good way to lose weight. Because digestion is slowed, you feel full before finishing your meal. Consequently, you will not find many obese people at this altitude.
After a few weeks, I felt the symptoms subside. Unfortunately that didn’t last. I recently read that it can takes months, even years to adjust. Overall, I felt like I was being held down by an invisible weight, so it was a relief to fly north to Mexico — to the southern Pacific coast — and be back at sea level.
During winter months, the weather is almost perfect: sunny and hot. This year there has been some rain during the dry season, and this is blamed on El Nino.
From my terrace I could see the mesmerizing Pacific Ocean. In between, there is lush tropical vegetation and beautiful flowers such as bougainvillea and hibiscus as well as numerous cacti. Even the birds are exceptionally pretty — a few tiny hummingbirds, yellow finches, swallows and turtledoves, not to mention the grackles. The occasional iguana can also be spotted.
Although it sounds like bliss, soon after my arrival, I came down with a dreadful chest cold that I first blamed on the AC but later came to believe was caused by an allergy as the irritation persisted. Once that cleared up, I decided to see the local dentist and have some ancient fillings replaced. One had already fractured. But the cost of dental work is less than one third what it is at home and the work is good quality. My dentist spent an hour cleaning my teeth to the tune of 50 CDN.
The food in Mexico is also excellent. There are many affordable restaurants in my neighbourhood, the cost of which hardly makes it worth cooking, but there is also a large covered outdoor market and a huge supermarket, both of which are relatively inexpensive. The fresh fruits available are a wonder to behold and delicious to consume.
So despite the inevitable intrusions of reality, I much prefer the enchantment of Mexico and plan to return next winter.
Enchantment may be a cliché, but Mexico does have its magic. This is a country of extreme contrasts and often chaotic. It might even be described as a land of dreams and illusions. The beauty of Mexico is undeniable, but so are the dangers. Thankfully there are still some safe havens.