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Elevating Experience

November 05, 2000

Gary Lee's article on Cuzco, Peru ("Cuzco's Portals to the Past," Oct. 15), was a pleasant reminder of my own trip there a few years ago. Although he mentions the problems tourists may have with the thin air, perhaps my experience can illustrate what could happen. Cuzco is remarkably high--11,024 feet. It easily tops places such as Denver (5,280 feet) and even Mt. Baldy (10,064). The altitude causes hypoxia, also known as mountain sickness.

After landing with our tour group, the guide advised us: Don't run. Let the porters carry your luggage. Drink alcoholic beverages sparingly. Don't eat a lot.

Being young and healthy, I did not feel at risk, but I decided to follow the guide's instructions anyway--until I saw the buffet at the hotel dining room, laden with local delicacies. About one hour after a somewhat indulgent meal, I developed a splitting headache and a feeling of general malaise.

The initial treatment is usually coca leaf tea. Several cups of tea didn't make me feel better, so I decided to take a nap. After a fitful hour, I felt worse. Another traveler recommended that I call the front desk for oxygen. The bellboy rolled in an oxygen tank and plastic mask; apparently this is a routine service for hotel guests.

After 30 minutes, I felt considerably better. I did not have a problem the rest of the trip.

PHIL HOWITT

Los Angeles

*

What a great and thorough piece on Cuzco. I visited there 20 years ago and thought I had seen everything, but the writer proved how much I had missed.

KURT SIPOLSKI

Palm Desert

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