Standing on the rim of the Colca Canyon looking down–watching for condors, it occurred to me that the bottom was down there–I mean really down there. If you can imagine being at Grand Canyon and watching the sightseeing planes underneath you–this was that!
It sounds amazing but…… altitude sickness?
So what is AMS (acute mountain sickness)? Simply put it’s your body having difficulty adjusting to lower oxygen and decreased air pressure. When you get to about 2400 meters above sea level you may start feeling the effects. For us, the first time you’ll see that will be Arequipa. That’s why we have such a light schedule the first day there.
Symptoms vary but you might experience headaches, dizziness, nausea or shortness of breath. Typically as your body becomes acclimatized, the effects gradually disappear.
Can I take something for it? There are a number of things you can do. Slow down for one. Cut your activity and give your body a chance to adapt. Your drug of choice for your headache and staying hydrated are two practical fixes Remember your mom suggesting ginger ale for an upset stomach? She was right!
The local folk drink coca tea (matte de coca). This is the same plant that spawned cocaine but you won’t get high from the tea and it absolutely works for me. Your health practitioner might recommend Diamox (acetazolamide)
Will I get it? Dunno. We are ascending slowly with adequate time for acclimatization built in. In Arequipa we are at about 2400 meters so its possible you’ll feel some light effects when we get off the plane. We’re there for 2 days before we head out. That gives us time to adjust. When we head to the Canyon we are climbing –to 4900 meters at one point– but most of our activity is at 3700 or 3800 meters. We’ll actually descend to 3200 meters in Cabanaconda to sleep. The slow climb and the drop to sleep will make it fairly comfortable. “Climb high and sleep low” as they say.
And after we leave the Canyon and Lake Titicaca (3800 meters) we;ll actually head down to Cusco at 3400 meters. You’ll all be expert mountaineers by then and hopefully skipping around the Plaza de Armas!
So here are my 5 favorite fixes for altitude sickness in order.
- Slow down and breathe deep!
- Drink water
- Take paracetamol or aspirin for headache
- Drink a little coca tea
- Diamox if needed