Pru Goes to Peru
Thursday, August 25, 2022
En route to Lima
I had a vicious and entirely unjustifiable reaction when the pilot announced that we’d be flying today at an altitude of 33,000 feet.
My reaction—entirely emotional—if put into words would be “See?? I told you!”
Who am I telling? Who am I accusing of not believing me? I have no idea…but the mental algebra behind my reaction is: Cuzco (capital of the Incan world) is so high in the Andes mountains that even the people who live there, and thus are reasonably adapted to it, chew coca leaves and drink coca tea to handle the scarcity of oxygen.
In fact, Cuzco is at a whopping 11,000 feet above sea level. That’s about twice as far into the sky as Denver, the “mile high city.”
And now I know that it is ONE THIRD OF THE WAY TO THE CRUISING ALTITUDE OF AN INTERNATIONAL JET PLANE. See?? I told you!
This belligerent stance is rooted in my own peculiar reluctance to use pharmaceuticals. That, too, is emotional. Somehow early on, I got the idea that if you took an aspirin every time you had a headache, your body would get WEAK and not be able to handle headaches without some help. In this, I am Louis Gosset Jr. barking at Richard Gere in the driving rain. It’s an illogical stance for me, in that I AM weak. I have absolutely no problems ingesting the MOST unnatural chemicals that arrive in food form, and my plump and pillowy silhouette means I can’t lie about it.
But medicine? Drugs? Pharmaceuticals? I don’t know; I don’t like them. (And fortunately I’m not yet in need of any chronic medications, so I can indulge this peculiar weirdness.)
But the coca-plant response to life at very high altitudes is no longer the only choice for the high-climbing tourist. My Facebook Friend Susan told me about a medicine that dramatically eases the side effects of altitude sickness, and my doctor agreed to give me a prescription.
I picked it up a few weeks ago. The pharmacist who filled it delighted me by looking at the bottle and saying “My—you must be going somewhere very high!” which was all the excuse I needed to tell everyone within earshot that I WAS GOING TO PERU AND CUZCO IS AT 11,000 FEET, YOU KNOW. Which was fun.
But in the intervening weeks, as that little plastic amber bottle stared at me from the “don’t forget to pack this” shelf in my closet, I got all drill sergeant-ish. Maybe I wouldn’t suffer from altitude sickness too badly. Maybe the tea and the leaves would be better for me. Maybe it would be GOOD to know how altitude affected me…like this was information that would ever be useful to me in the future.
When the Lindblad/Nat Geo people called my glorious travel agent Anita (at Villas and Voyages, and don’t you need her for your next trip?! You damned right you do!) to tell her that a space had opened up on the tour and my son Rusty could come with us after all, Rusty said “I should get some of that altitude medicine too, huh?” And I blithely said “Oh, take mine—I’m not going to use it.”
Three days ago, I had dinner with a wonderful collection of romance writers. One of them—an Air Force colonel as well as a brilliant marketer and heaver of bosoms, in the literary sense—heard that I was going to skip the altitude medicine.
“No,” she said with the natural authority that a career in the military engenders. “No, you’re not. You’re taking it.”
She out-Louis Gossett Jr’ed me. I bowed my head respectfully and said “Yes. Yes, I will.” And I texted Rusty immediately to tell him to get his own prescription, which he did.
And I’m going to take it. But now that I think about it, did Rusty ever pick up his own prescription?? He’s sitting two rows behind me. I could ask. But what good will it do to know NOW, while we’re at 33,000 feet and having our beverage service?
My point (AND I DO HAVE ONE) is that I’m emotionally unbalanced when it comes to the question of altitude and pharmaceutical weakness and the various voices of military authority duking it out in my head. So when the pilot announced that we’d circumnavigate the globe at an altitude not THAT much higher than Cuzco, my reaction was SEE?? I TOLD YOU!
That’s a long story for a short reaction, huh? But you read it all. You’re a sucker.
I’m traveling with my sister Twig, and my 23-year-old son Rusty (who absolutely adores Twig; they’re foodies together and delight in each other’s cattiness). We get two pre-Lindblad/Nat Geo days to explore Lima before meeting up with the formal tour. Then we fly to Cuzco (how high is it?! Go on—you know you want to shout it!) and take a train through the Sacred Valley (oh, like THAT name isn’t fabulous!) to Machu Picchu.
One full day at MP (and two nights) will help with the altitude, since Machu Picchu is ONLY at 8,000 feet. Then one day in Cuzco.
Back to Lima and then a plane entirely over the Andes to Iquitos, where we take a bus to a town whose name I don’t remember at the moment to board a river boat for three days floating around the headwaters of the Amazon. And then home.
I’ll have more to say about all that (as you can imagine!) in the days to come.
I have no exotic photos with which to enliven this blog post, so here’s a really inept photo of Twig (in a white shirt) and Rusty (in green) heading for gate E8 in the Miami airport, pulling their luggage along behind them like obedient little dogs. The photo is inept because I, too, was pulling an obedient little puppy and had to whip off a photo one-handed. And it shows. I don’t know who the other two people are in this photo (the ones who are studying Rusty), but I know they got a giggle the second time Rusty dropped his puppy (I mean suitcase). The kid’s legs are so long that he ends up kicking the bag out of his own hands. I must say, it IS fairly amusing! He gave up after having to retrieve his dog the second time, and just carried his bag.
Oooh—Twig just walked back to ask Rusty if he’d picked up the high altitude prescription; the answer is no. So now I have a control for my experiment. I’ll take the pills, Rusty won’t. We’ll see what effect the altitude has on each of us. Louis Gossett Jr. can suck on that.