Sunday, 12 September 2010

Peru Trip: Ascending To Over 12,000 feet

On our second day in Peru, a Saturday morning, Melissa and I met the final two members of group of six - Jacqui from Austin and Dinh from Ottawa - when we met in the hotel lobby ready for our departure from Lima to head for the high altitude city of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Both Jacqui and Dinh had arrived at the hotel around 2am, so they literally fell into bed and got back up again in time for the flight into Juliaca airport. Of the 6 of us in our tour only Jamie, Sarah, Melissa and I were doing the Inca Trail. Dinh and Jacqui signed up too late to get their passes since only 500 people are allowed on the trail on any given day - 200 tourists and 300 porters - so they were going to be doing the 2-day Lares trail instead.

Sarah and Jamie came down to join the group just as we were all introducing ourselves. "How are you today?" I asked Sarah.

"Oh I'm fine," she responded.

"She's not being entirely honest with you there," interjected Jamie confessing that both of them had been sick during the night.


"I hope that's because of something they ate and not due to a stomach bug," whispered Melissa in the bus en route to Lima airport.

Puno sits at an altitude of approximately 12,600feet (3827m) while Cusco is at approximately 11,200ft (3400m). Compare this to Lima which has an average altitude of just over 400ft (133m) and...well after all the warnings I'd received the prospect of altitude sickness had me quite concerned. "Don't do anything when we arrive in Puno, don't even go for a walk around the city," advised our group leader Ybone in a serious tone. "Just stay at the hotel and rest and drink plenty of coca tea, it has alkaloids that thin the blood and helps you to acclimatize to the altitude and when you go to sleep tonight sleep with 2 pillows and not less than that, because otherwise you won't get enough oxygen."

Note to self: sleep with 2 pillows or you will DIE!!!!!

Our flight to Juliaca took about 2 hours after first stopping in Cusco for 25-minutes to allow passengers on and off after an hour of flying time and then going on for a further 35minutes to Juliaca, where we were to be picked up and driven the 45minutes or so to Puno. None of our group were sat together on the flight and as soon as we made it's initial stop on the tarmac in Cusco hypochondria had me in it's grip. I was conjuring up all sorts of symptoms: shortness of breath, palpitations in my chest, headaches, dizziness, but to be honest I wasn't sure it was even possible to feel the effects of the altitude in the hermetically sealed environment of the aircraft. I was flushed though, as was Melissa I noted when we had an opportunity to chat in the queue for the bathroom.

"I feel like such a moron, but I seriously thought I wouldn't be able to breathe due to the altitude when I got off that flight" Melissa confessed at the baggage carousel in Juliaca. Ha ha me too!!

Puno is a city in the southeastern region of Peru and sits on the shore of Lake Titicaca, the world's highest commercially navigable lake, with a population of 100,000 or thereabouts.

Eager to acclimatize we helped ourselves to the complementary coca tea at the Hotel Italia - basic, but fine, if a little on the cold side with friendly helpful staff - while Ybone checked us in. I have to say I was quite disappointed to find it came in tea bags. Somehow that took all the romance out of the illegal drug thing!!

After a couple of hours rest as instructed - just climbing the stairs to our room on the second floor took the wind out of us - we regrouped in the hotel lounge at 6.30pm for a briefing from Ybone about the following day's trip to the islands of Taquile and Amantani in Lake Titicaca. Melissa and I were a little early and got talking to a fellow traveler from the US who'd done the home-stay the night previously. She absolutely hated it. "There's no running water" she told us, "the toilet is a hole in the ground, it was just horrible." Hmmmm!!! When Ybone arrived she briefed us on the home-stay revealed that during our homestay on Amantani island our host families "will dress you up in traditional clothing and make you dance."

Um...come again!!!

Apparently we were to be the entertainment.

Um...what part of 'I'm paying for this' were they not quite understanding?

After the briefing the group went to dinner at Incabar, where all but Ybone, had the regional specialty of Lomito de Alpaca.

When in Puno!!

Ybone ordered the spaghetti. Clearly she knew something we didn't!! "Alpaca tastes like pork," she informed us "it's very low in fat."

She's right, it does taste like pork if pork tastes as tough as old boots!! Good Lord!! Never again do I need to order alpaca, that was a hard meal to digest. "Alpaca 1, Melissa 0" said Melissa miserably when we got back to the hotel after a brief stop at the supermercado to buy gifts of food as recommended for our host families on Amantani.

At least we tried it!!


Kitty said...

oh my goodness.

I had to google 'alpaca'. They are adorable! Ah! I don't think I could eat one on that premise alone.

I've been seeing a lot of mountain climbing lately. There was some show about climbing Everest on television and I have to say that I'm not sure I'd want to brave such experiences!

Everest is at 29,000 ft (googled that, too). All a bit nuts.

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Alpaca's are really cute and photogenic animals!! I kind of feel bad eating one.

I'm kind of surprised Everest is only 29K feet, that's barely twice as high as Puno, I thought it would be much higher. Still never going to get me to climb it though, I'm done with mountains for a while ;-)

Amel said...

WOW...reading this post made me feel a bit dizzy. So did you sleep on two pillows then? Did you sleep well?