Trying to climb into the hills of Cusco, Peru
Puff. Pant. Puff. Pant. Groan.
“Ha ha you guys are struggling to get up the hill and I’m the one that smokes!”
“Whatever Anthony. I’ve only been here for a day. What’s Daniel’s excuse?”
“Ok Robyn, but don’t you run or something?”
The three of us had met in our dorm room in Cusco, Peru, which is more than 11,000 feet above sea level or 3,400 metres, the night before. Daniel and Anthony, had already been in this gateway city to Machu Picchu for two days and me, one, so I felt justified in still gasping for breath.
The scary part? We were just trying to scale the minor hills behind Cusco, which are littered with ruins, llamas and a Jesus statue. Our puffing and panting had nothing to do, with the infamous Inca Trail (between four ad five days of crazy hiking through mountains).
To be fair my body, I threw it from Lima at 1,600 feet or 500 metres above sea level to more than 11,000 feet or 3,400 metres in an hour via plane. Had I taken my time via bus I may have adjusted. Perhaps this is why they serve oxygen at the airport? I’m not kidding.
But why do we experience altitude sickness? According to Dr. David Barber who is the Travel Clinic physician for the Department of Health in Bermuda, it happens because the amount of oxygen in the air decreases as we rise. This means: “People have to breathe harder to get the same amount of oxygen. People at high altitude also lose more water from their lungs when they expel the air.”
What are the symptoms? Headaches, gasping for breath and losing your appetite (not a bad one for me after binging in Argentina on steak and wine).
What’s my point this week in the Rock Fever Column with The Royal Gazette? Yes I am sure you would like me to get to it and it’s to take care of yourself on the road. When you are far from home things like altitude sickness could occur and if you don’t know what to do you may struggle to find doctors. So what should you do if you have altitude sickness? Drink lots of water and limit your exercise until your body adjusts. Well at least if it’s mild sickness. Oxygen (like at the Cusco airport) can also help while a doctor can prescribe drugs (thought not usually necessary) to help.
Which brings me to tip two in the ‘how-to-stay-healthy-on-the-road’ column this week: bring your drugs with you. Dr. Barber suggests having a good supply of medications you regularly need AND carrying them in your hand luggage. You know….in case the luggage gets lost.
Bringing medications prescribed by a doctor at home, leads to tip three in this healthy travel column: make sure you are in good health when starting to travel: dental problems and infections need to be addressed pre-travel.
A visit to the doctor post-trip may also be necessary. Malaria is particularly prevalent throughout Africa, but is also a problem in India and some other South East Asian countries. The pills to help prevent the disease are by prescription (pre-travel!) but if you return and you don’t feel well (symptoms include high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness) tip four is: make sure you tell your doctor EXACTLY where you’ve been so they can make a proper diagnosis.
Before you go, you should follow tip five and check with the Center for Disease Control (www.cdc.com) or guidebooks about the country you are going to and how safe their water and food is to consume. A Thai salad was fine. An Egyptian smoothie wasn’t.
Water bottles, drinking with a straw to keep away germs and hand sanitizer (it's there....in the lower right corner)
What does this tell you? How about the street food stall in India? Yeah tip six is that street stall in India is going to have questionable cleaning practices. So bring plenty of hand sanitizer which is compact, cleans hands and cleans cutlery!
And ensure the food you eat is fully cooked or the kind you can peel i.e. bananas, oranges. Why? Well Dr. Barber explained some illness including: Hepatitis A, which causes a liver infection and can cause Jaundice and Hepatitis E which can be dangerous for pregnant women and is similar to A are spread through contaminated food. I can personally attest to the intestinal parasite Giardia which was killed with two rounds of prescriptions. It wasn’t pretty.
Which leads to tip seven and sustenance of life which is: watching the water you consume….and that doesn’t have to be in the form of a glass. Nope. Depending on the CDC’s country diagnosis make sure you use bottled water for both drinking AND cleaning the teeth. Dr. Barber reminded travelers that of course ice is only as good as the water so if you can’t drink the water…..don’t use ice. Boiled water or water sterilizing tablets are alternatives while straws help keep contamination from the soda cans.
But water and food are not the only concerns. Tip eight is watch out for the cheese. This is not a Pink Floyd song with a hidden meaning. It’s seriously dangerous to eat dairy that has not been pasteurized properly.
Of course you shouldn’t stress too much about your trip though….don’t let it lead to alcohol abuse. Missed trains, planes delayed and travel buddies who don’t work can lead to the bottle. But tip nine is to restrain yourself. Dr. Barber explained that accidents, especially road accidents, are common for travelers. These can be attributed to unfamiliar roads, the ‘wrong side’ factor, but also the alcohol!
Coming from Bermuda our trips will also include plane travel. Well unless you’re doing the-soon-to-be ubiquitous term “stay-cation”. That said my final tip from Dr. Barber this week is to travel in comfort. Deep Vein Thrombosis – a blood clot in a deep vein (hence the name) – is a serious concern with prolonged travel in a plane or bus. Dr. Barber’s advice: Get up and move around when you can. Some other advice: Wear comfortable clothes! Nothing too tight.
Finally make sure you don’t pick-up germs from the plane with hand-washing and the antiseptic you don’t use for your cutlery in India.
Do you have any tips for traveling healthy? Leave them here or email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my group on Facebook.