It Wasn’t Just The Elevation
I was at the entrance gate at Machu Picchu. That’s when it hit me.
If you have ever booked a trip to Peru through a travel agency you were likely warned about what can make you sick. Don’t drink the water. Don’t eat uncooked fruits and vegetables. Don’t touch any animals (After seeing this dog in Lima, I knew exactly the reason why.) Yeah, yeah. Not exactly new advice to anyone who has traveled.
People who are not used to living in higher elevations are often the victim of altitude sickness. It happened to someone I was traveling with. The good news is it doesn’t tend to last too long. Eventually, your body adjusts and you’ll be feeling better in a day or two.
As for me, I felt great. We had been to Lima and the Sacred Valley. Now we were on the train headed to Machu Picchu. I watched as the landscape changed from mountain desert to green vegetation, though it was still a bit drier than I would have expected by the time we reached the station at the bottom of the mountain. Images I had seen of Machu Picchu gave the impression it was a lush, tropical landscape surrounding the ruins. At least that was what I had in mind.
Once the train ride was over, we transferred to a bus that took us up the mountain on a less than smooth road. All of the bouncing around on the seat was actually the kind of experience I expected I would have in South America. I had my Nikon camera on my lap and I was ready to go!
I walked up the steps to the main entrance. Our group from Gate 1 Travel was following our travel guide, Edgar, as he found a good spot on the grass to sit down. Just in time for me.
Although the temperature was cool that day with an overcast sky, I was overheated and feverish. Obviously, this was not exactly the best time to get sick. I knew I was going to have to push myself hard and make the most of the limited time I had there to take it all in. I wasn’t going to just sit there and wait to vomit in front of hundreds of tourists.
In the end, I did make the most of my time there. I took some great pictures and learned a bit about the discovery of the ruins by Hiram Bingham in 1911.
Every bump on the bus aggravated me on the way back down the mountain. I had a fever, tiredness, nausea, stomach pain and a loss of appetite. On the bus ride back to the hotel, our driver stopped at a pharmacy to buy me antibiotics.
After all of this, I spent the next several days trudging through the streets and sites of Cusco. I couldn’t eat even though I was hungry. Passing on the llama steak and pisco sours in front of me was frustrating. Maybe I had hepatitis A. Maybe it was Typhoid. Either way, the antibiotics were not working.
I barely made it to Puno from Cusco. I was trapped in my hotel room before I took advantage of the travel insurance I had purchased. This experience taught me the value of having it and I highly recommend having it for certain destinations. As everyone went to see the man-made islands of the Uros on Lake Titicaca, I had a doctor come to my hotel room to treat me. I ultimately received a shot of something amazing and felt much better within hours.
I’d like to think it was something derived from coca leaves but it was likely just a healthy dose of penicillin.