Thursday, February 26, 2009

PERU: THE ALTITUDE AND THE ECSTASY

One of our big concerns in traveling to Peru was the dramatic altitude changes that we would be experiencing. One of the cities on our itinerary, Cusco, is perched in the mountains at 11,100 feet, and we would be flying there from Lima, a city that basks on the beach--at sea level. Bob has had some pretty serious bouts with altitude sickness over the last few years, and he didn't want to be stuck in the hotel throwing up instead of out seeing the sites and sampling the local cuisine.

We did our best to prepare. Along with our yellow fever, typhoid, and hepatitis shots, and in addition to the malaria pills we had to take, we got prescriptions for the altitude-sickness drug Diamox, and researched whether or not, as Mormons, we'd be allowed to drink what the natives drink for altitude illness: coca tea. (The answer appeared to be yes. It definitely seems to fit into the "medicinal herbs" category. If we've sinned, please assume that "yes" is a typo.)

We first spent a couple of days enjoying the beautiful city of Lima.

View of the coastline from our hotel window.
While in Lima, we began taking our Diomox in anticipation of the upcoming altitude change.

We flew from Lima to Cusco OVER THE TOPS of the Andes Mountains. The view from the plane was spectacular, and we saw several peaks that were over 21,000 feet tall.
The approach to Cusco.

On arriving at our hotel in Cusco, we took the advice of our guide and had a cup of coca tea before resting for an hour or two. (If coca tea is a sin, it was NOT worth it. The stuff is foul.) We also tried to drink LOTS of water to stay hydrated, as both the Diomox and the coca tea are diuretics. (Of course, it was all bottled water since you can't brush your teeth with tap water in even the finest hotels in Peru.) It all seemed to work as both of us felt fine that afternoon and evening as we toured the enchanting city of Cusco.
During that tour (on the same day we flew from sea level to 11,100 ft.), our guide took us up ANOTHER 1,000 feet or so to some Inca ruins called Saqsaywaman. It was our first introduction to Incan architecture and a nice precursor to Machu Picchu. Huge stones are fit exactly together, so tightly that you can't put a piece of paper between them, and without mortar, yet have withstood huge earthquakes that have devastated other structures (including all the structures built by the Spaniards). The Spaniards took the top stones off the walls to build their churches in Cusco, so the bases of the walls are in perfect shape but are missing their tops. There is also a beautiful panoramic view from the top of the ruins from which you can see the huge Inca structures on one side and the whole city of Cusco on the other. Breathtaking.




COMING NEXT: Machu Picchu! (Gesundheit)

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