The Intrepid Traveler: My Trip to Machu Pichu, Peru

Gina Travels to PeruFrom the travel journal of Gina Barbaro
Entry #2: My Trip to Machu Pichu, Peru

My blog posted on this site April 30, 2013, describes my preparation for a Peruvian excursion to the capital city of Lima, and the Andes Mountains, including Machu Picchu. It mentions that my review of the research literature furnished by the Hydrocephalus Association, and my consultation with a neurologist revealed that people with shunts traveling to high altitudes are at no greater risk of altitude sickness or complications related to their shunt’s performance. This blog reports my experiences during my trip to Peru in May and my adjustment to its high altitudes.

Altitude sickness is a reaction to the lower amounts of oxygen available at high altitudes. It commonly occurs above 8,000 feet. The body has two main problems with high altitude:

  • Air at lower pressure has less oxygen per lungful. The body adjusts to this by making more red blood cells to carry oxygen more efficiently. Most of the cell-building happens while asleep; however, the process can take days.
  • At lower air pressure, water evaporates faster. This can lead to dehydration.

Headaches are the primary symptom used to diagnose altitude sickness. A headache occurring at an altitude above 8,000 feet, combined with one or more of the following symptoms, may indicate altitude sickness:

  • Lack of appetite, nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Insomnia
  • Shortness of breath upon exertion
  • Persistent rapid pulse
  • Drowsiness
  • Peripheral edema (swelling of the hands, feet and face).

More severe symptoms that may indicate life-threatening altitude sickness include:

Pulmonary edema:

  • Symptoms similar to bronchitis
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath even when resting

Cerebral edema:

  • Headache that does not respond to analgesics
  • Unsteady gait
  • Gradual loss of consciousness
  • Increased nausea

Although Machu Picchu might be considered the highlight of this trip, it was not our tour’s highest elevation. The trip destinations in the order of the itinerary included several which presented risks for altitude sickness:

Destination Elevation Above Sea Level Length of Stay
Lima Up to 4,000 feet 2 Days
Puno & travel thru Altiplane region 13,000 to 14,000 feet 3 Days
Cusco 10,800 feet 2 Days
Sacred Valley/Ollantaytambo 9,150 feet 2 Days
Machu Picchu 8,050 feet 2 Days

 

Strategies for prevention and treatment of altitude sickness include:

  • Acclimatization to lower oxygen levels by ascending gradually to higher altitudes
  • Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Taking a prescription drug such as Acetazolamide designed to prevent and reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness and which should be taken before a symptom appears.

I first read the side effects of Acetazolamide to see if this is something I felt I could tolerate. The side effects listed include dizziness and lightheadedness and blurred vision. Since I tend to be sensitive to medication, I decided to follow a more natural approach to prevention recommended by a Naturopath. This natural approach worked very well for me.

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Vitamin E to increase oxygen uptake by the blood system
  • Gingko to increase circulation to the brain
  • Coca 30C , a homeopathic specifically for effects of altitude sickness

I HAD NO SYMPTOMS OF ALTITUDE SICKNESS MY ENTIRE STAY IN PERU. IN ADDITION, I HAD NO PROBLEMS WITH MY SHUNT’S PERFORMANCE AND HAD NO RECURRENCE OF SYMPTOMS OF NORMAL PRESSURE HYDROCEPHALUS.

Although I did not experience dizziness or light-headedness from altitude sickness during my tour, I still took advantage of tips for navigating the challenging terrain in Inca ruins and in Machu Picchu. Visitors should be prepared for many steps of irregular surface and height, often without handrails and occasionally along mountain rims. Precautions include:

  • Know your limits and stay within them
  • Listen to your body and don’t push yourself if fatigued
  • Use walking sticks
  • For balance and support, hold on to rocks in stone walls that may be along steps without handrails
  • When walking along mountain rims with no or low guardrails, stay close to the mountain side of the trail.

What I will remember most about Peru is its natural beauty and its Inca culture. So many times as the bus made a turn along the mountain rim and a new view appeared, I was reminded that nothing can compete with the beauty of nature. Most memorable are the lush agricultural areas in the fertile Sacred Valley, which are beautiful beyond words. The Inca people have a respect for nature on which their spirituality is based, a reverence for mother earth which provides and an honor of the heavens through which one passes to the afterlife.

PERU IS AMONG THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES I’VE SEEN AND ONE TO WHICH I HOPE TO RETURN, AND ONE I KNOW I CAN RETURN TO SAFELY.

Machu Pichu Peruvian Woman Machu Pichu
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2 Responses to “The Intrepid Traveler: My Trip to Machu Pichu, Peru”
  1. Heather Kluter says:

    Hi everyone,

    I have a question for you – We’d like to take a trip to Costa Rica. Obviously it might not be a good idea for our daughter, Eva, to go should an emergency with her shunt arise. I have called a Medical Air Evacuation company, but they say it takes 24-74 hours to get someone home given the need to get landing permits, etc. So, Eva would have to be hospitalized in Costa Rica until the air ambulance came. I realize that could be far too long if she needed an emergency shunt replacement.

    Any thoughts or suggestions here? Do you know of any faster Air Ambulance services that other patients have used or you have heard of? Thank you!

  2. Catherine Palmer says:

    After many assurances from the doctors that my husband would have no negative effects to his shunt (for adult onset hydrocephalus) during or after air travel, we had a horrible experience. During a flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta, my husband went from having good cognitive function and good motor skills to being an incoherent, confused, stumbling, drooling person. I managed to get him into a wheelchair, out of the airport, and to the ER, thinking his shunt dial had somehow come in contact with a magnet. No, the dial was in the same position it had been when we left. Everyone was baffled. One doctor spoke to me privately later and said there is some anecdotal evidence that people have had similar reactions to pressure changes during flights. Does anyone else know anything about this? I’m afraid for us to ever travel by air again!

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