Up Front and Personal

Celebrating Mother’s Day At 11,152 Feet Altitude

By AnnaMarie Prono

Mother’s Day was usually an enjoyable family gathering, with my sisters and mother. However, my most memorable Mother’s Day was in 2009. My husband and I were on a bucket list trip to Peru with my mother and uncle. Our destination was Machu Picchu.

Before we got there, our tour stopped in Cuzco, at elevation 11,152 feet above sea level. We were warned about oxygen sickness prior to our departure, and attributed our intense migraine-like headaches and queasy stomachs to the ailment.

The quaint town square was bordered by four grand churches. Wanting to make the most of our time here, we opted to attend the 6 a.m. Sunday Mass on Mother’s Day, at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption. Still feeling the effects of the altitude, we were all shocked to see such great crowds squeezing into the wood pews. Not tourists, as one might have suspected, rather the locals were filling the cathedral. It was like evening rush hour on the F train in New York City.

My mother and I managed to find a pew, while my husband and uncle stood amid the crowd. We couldn’t see the altar from where we sat, nor could we understand the combination of Spanish and Quechan (indigenous language of the Incas) words spoken by the priest.

We watched others for cues to follow the Mass. When people started to hug each other, I looked to my left, and Mom and I shared a big hug. To my right stood a native woman, about four feet tall, wearing a heavy wool poncho. To borrow the words of Pope Francis, she ‘smelled of the sheep.’ She gave me a hearty hug and a big smile, punctuated by missing teeth. Then she looked to my mother, who readily embraced her.

Soon after Communion, we exited the still-crowded church. Another Mass was beginning, and growing lines of locals surrounded the confessionals.

After breakfast in our hotel, I was feeling worse than ever and went back to my room to rest. My uncle suggested I call the front desk and request oxygen. It was near 70 degrees, and on top of nausea and a migraine, I was freezing.

I feel asleep after a while, and when I woke, I started shedding the multiple layers of blankets, and clothing. Feeling better, I remained in the hotel, while the others explored the city. After another round of oxygen, I opted out of the dinner reservation. My mother surprised me and said she would stay at the hotel and have dinner with me. I didn’t want her to miss out on the wonderful dinner planned in advance, but she insisted.

We looked at the hotel menu and discovered that ice cream was available at the courtyard café. Both of us ordered chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream, the only choice, and truly enjoyed what became our dinner, with cappuccinos. We enjoyed each other’s company and laughed about our adventures in this foreign land.
Looking back, I laugh when I think about Mother’s Day in Peru with my mom. Some might think of our dinner as a disappointment, yet this is the only Mother’s Day that I remember and will never forget.

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One thought on “Celebrating Mother’s Day At 11,152 Feet Altitude

  1. Lovely.

    Interesting how our memories seem sharper when the backdrop is challenging. I love the analogy of trying to get a seat in the Cathedral was like evening rush hour on the F train in New York City.