Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Altitude - Cuzco, Peru

We arrived in Cuzco, Peru on Monday.  Cuzco is at nearly 11,000 feet.  We came straight from the coast.  As soon as we got here and had to walk up the steps to the hotel, we could feel it.  The short walk up from the main street left us slightly dizzy and out of breath.  We took a city tour that afternoon that took us into the hills above Cuzco to see some of the Inca sites.  These were at close to 12,000 feet.  The headache that comes with suddenly going to a higher altitude soon set in.  At one of the sites, Sasqauyhuaman, there is a great overlook over the city.  The site itself is impressive - massive Inca-built walls.  The base stones larger than buses and perfectly joined together with no mortar.  The site was also where a famous battle took place between the Spaniards and the Inca, resulting in one of the top Inca generals throwing himself off the cliff rather than be captured and the Inca emprorer fleeing to safety in the jungle. 

Anyway, we had to walk up the small hill to the overlook.  I was cruising along at a fairly normal pace.  Near the top, I stopped to take a picture since I was out of breath and all of a sudden, I was really dizzy.  I sat down so I wouldn´t fall down.  That helped a lot and pretty soon my heart rate dropped and I felt better.  I was able to continue to the top of the hill.  The walk down wasn´t a problem.  We stopped at another site that was slightly higher and it took me a long time to walk to the top of that hill.  This time, though, I took it slow, so I wouldn´t get dizzy again.

Today, Wednesday, I finally woke up with a clear head and the hills, of which there are a number in Cuzco, are starting to seem reasonable again.  I still get a little winded, but I no longer have to stop halfway up to catch my breath.  It amazes me that people will fly in to Cuzco from Lima and set off on the Inca Trail the next morning.  It seems like a miserable way to do the trek.

The other thing about the altitude is that it is cold here, especially at night.  After three in the afternoon, the temperature drops fast.  Our hotel, like many here doesn´t really have heat.  Its stone walls are three feet thick, so it also doesn´t really warm up a lot.  They provide plenty of blankets, we haven´t been uncomfortable, but getting up in the morning can be chilly.  The courtyard area also has a glass roof, so that area warms up during the day. 

Today is our last day in Cuzco.  We were not supposed to be here this long, but there has been a 48 hour public transportation strike, so it hasn´t been possible to continue to Machu Picchu yet.  Fortunately, we had some cushion in our itinerary, so it wasn´t a big deal to rearrange things.  We are headed to Machu Picchu tomorrow.

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