This is a guest post by an American expat living in Cuenca since 2007.
A young friend recently visited us from the States and I was taken aback to find him sitting calmly in the car one day with a wad of tissue protruding from his nose. What on earth was he doing? He was having a nose bleed. Our friend was in Cuenca for a week and had a number of such episodes. At an altitude of over 8,200 feet, Cuenca is apparently located in the “nose bleed section”.
Before visiting the Sierra region of Ecuador it is good to be aware of the side effects some have experienced due to the higher altitudes. At higher altitudes some visitors experience nose bleeds, headaches and a potentially embarrassing phenomenon some call H.A.G. What is H.A.G.?
To explain, imagine the following scenario: You are strolling along one of the many tree lined river walks in Cuenca with that special someone. A gentle breeze hits you in the face and you are enjoying the restful sound of the bubbling river. It seems that there is nothing to disturb the peace and solitude of the moment. Then it happens: a sharp pain hits you in the gut, your sphincter slams shut and you have to excuse yourself as you desperately seek a private place downwind to relieve yourself. What is happening to your body? Why does your abdomen feel so swollen? You, my friend, are most likely experiencing something that many newcomers to higher altitudes have but seldom talk about in mixed company. You have H.A.G. (high altitude gas).
If the subject of flatulence offends you, perhaps you should not read this article. However, as a service to newcomers to the high altitude of Cuenca, I feel that it is important to “clear the air” and state a fact of life: At higher altitudes many people seem to have more gas, flatulence, farts, methane or whatever you prefer to call it.
I am no doctor or scientist; I am just giving my own “seat of the pants” analysis of what I have observed and personally experienced. I have no problem talking about natural bodily functions and over the past few years have done an informal survey of many expats who come to Cuenca and almost all say the same thing: They definitely suffer from (or enjoy, depending on your attitude) more flatulence here in the mountains.
We all chalk up the extra “oomph” in our life to the higher altitudes here. We also find ourselves eating a healthier, and apparently more gas producing, diet here and that surely contributes to the fun factor. Whatever the cause, you may want to be prepared for the potential for nose bleeds, headaches and more pressure in your pants as you roam the streets taking in the sights and sounds of Cuenca. Enjoy.