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All New Heights

I never gave the altitude of Peru much thought. I knew the simple rules: stay hydrated, stay away from alcohol, and take it easy. I also knew I would have trouble with rule #2 - I was in Peru! I needed to make sure I was trying the local flavor! Our first full day in Peru led us from Cusco to Chinchero and the Sacred Valley. Just like that, we went up to about 13,000 feet. I grew up just outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and then spent much of my time in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Moving to the mountains of Montana at only about 3,500 feet was a drastic change for me. Now, I found myself even 10,000 feet above that.

Exploring the Sacred Valley
Exploring the Sacred Valley (Karen DiGangi)

I did not feel nauseated or light-headed; however, my pride severely diminished with each step, as it did not take much for me to lose my breath. Having run a marathon just two months prior, I considered myself in pretty decent shape. Decent shape plus 10,000 feet of elevation very obviously equalled nothing.

Be warned, and don’t belittle the situation. Plenty of people travel to Peru and feel zero effects from the altitude, yet some become almost incapacitated by the sickness. It’s hard to judge in advance which one you will be and even more impossible to train for it. So follow the rules, and pay attention. Go out of your way to always have water with you, even if you’re not feeling thirsty. Take it easy, and talk to your guides! They can help give you some coca or muna tea and talk you through the best way to combat any unpleasant feelings - aside from a broken pride.

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