Trip Start Oct 03, 2008
4Trip End Oct 11, 2008
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George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston
After checking in and getting ready to board Continental Airlines Flight #590 with a six hour non-stop service from Houston to Lima, I'm sitting at the gate and reflecting nostalgically on the wonderful chance of having been able to do a little bit of traveling in the last 13 months:
Late September: Autumn Mutlisport vacation in Croatia and Greece
April: Visiting relatives in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia
Mid-May: Attending my sister's Law School Graduation Party in San Francisco
Memorial Day (late May): Suntanning on a beach in Costa Rica
June: Reunion with friends and attending a wedding in Italy
July: Chasing the midnight sun in the fjords of Norway
Late July: Boating and Biking in Newport Beach, California
August: Snorkeling off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, México
September: Biking in the autumnal woods near Woodstock, Vermont
October: Hiking Adventure on the Andes Mountains to Machu Picchu, Perú
Thirteen months, nine countries, seven airlines (Qantas, Continental, Air France, Scandinavian Airlines, Croatian Airlines, Austrian Airlines, LAN Peru), six languages, and more than 75,000 frequent flyer miles later, I'm about to embark on my last long vacation of the year to Machu Picchu. I have always wanted to experience up-close the mystique of the once-powerful Inca Empire.
Perched 11,000 ft (3,300m) high on the dramatic, undulating Andes Mountains, Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, is the gateway across space and time to reach the recently discovered ruins of Machu Picchu. Shrouded by mists and elevated in altitude, to rush to Machu Picchu unprepared can be suffocating
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE OXYGEN!
Altitude Sickness can be a very serious medical condition. It is related to the low level of oxygen in the blood known as hypoxemia, and can produce symptoms of headache, nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, lung bleeding, and coma. The barometric pressure at sea level (eg. in Houston) is 760 mm Hg, and the percentage of inspired oxygen is 21%. As altitude increases, the baromteric pressure drops, and at around 11,000-12,000 ft, the baromteric pressure is only 480 mm Hg. Although the percentage of oxygen still remains 21% at all altitudes, the partial pressure of oxygen, the driving force to oxygenate the blood, becomes diminished due to the understanding of the physics of oxygen pressure:
Partial Pressure of Oxygen (pO2) = Barometric Pressure (mm Hg) x Oxygen Percentage in Atmosphere;
therefore, the pO2 is proportional to the batormetric pressure.
Remember that it is the Partial Pressure of Oxygen, not the percent of oxygen available in the air, that is responsible for pushing oxygen from the lungs into the tissues of the body!
So if one ascends rapidly to Cusco unprepared, the body will be seeing a 40% reduction in oxygen molecules in the blood and tissues. Knowing that there's a way to get around it, I have obtained Acetazolamide, a medicine normally used to treat glaucoma but also is effective for preventing/treating altitude sickness by making my blood more acidic. This is the key in maintaining an adequate respiratory stimulation in the presence of low oxygen partial pressure and surviving a rapid ascent to high altitudes. More physiology explanation to follow in later blogs.
I will try to update my blog (hopefully with photos) where internet is available, so please check back.
La aventura comienza.
The adventure begins.