According to saying „each country have each own customs”, after leaving our home town, we are facing new cultures, customs, traditions, but not only that. Everything what is new, is interesting, but also can be dangerous. Each new country has different level of hygiene, different food and lifestyle and also different climate. In Andes “soroche” is one of the examples. It is worth to know what are Peruvian ways to flight with this attitude sickens.
While travelling in the world we often change climate, sometimes even very fast, but during the same time we rarely think about consequences. We do not think what impact it will have on our health, on our safety.
What climate we have in Peruvian Andes?
Each person visiting Peru needs to be aware that country has three different regions with slightly different climate. Most of the Inca country is covered by jungle (selva), big part is a mountain region Andes (sierra) and small are is desert and coastal line (costa). Each of this part is beautiful, but with slightly different weather conditions which can impact our body. The biggest change is when we go from jungle or the coast directly to the mountains, into Peruvian Andes. You need to be aware that high mountain climate brings some additional risk. I am referring here to Attitude Sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness, AMS), which can appear starting from 2500 m. above sea level. On this elevation amount of oxygen available starts to be smaller than required by our body.
It is very common that attitude sickness topic is not treated with enough interest. Some travelers think that it is only a risk for those performing high mountain climbing. Some people do not think about it when planning the visit in the city. And you need to think about that, because in Peru many cities are located on high elevation. Great example is Cusco which is located on 3400 m. above sea level. This is not Everest, but might have already some impact on your abnormal feeling.
Of course it is not a rule, that each person coming to Cusco, gets sick or has attitude sickness symptoms (called here “soroche”). But there are such cases and you need to take them into consideration. In most of the cases attitude sickness is caused by improper preparation, lack of knowledge and minimizing risks. In case visiting Cusco, elevation change is not so small, because for example when flying from Lima we go from sea level to 3400 m. above sea level. This is big difference. Of course a little easier is when you take the bus. During 24 hours trip your body will have time to adjust to new conditions and shock for the body will be smaller. But also in such case we do not have 100% guarantee. If somebody has a car sickness or do not get well with long sitting on the bus, then Lima – Cuzco bus trip is not for you. There are a lot of curves that might get you feel sick and connecting that with elevation change, might result in very bad time. I know it from my own experience. I did it two times and each time I was recovering for 2 days. Since then I take only flights and I do not have this problem anymore.
Attitude sickness symptoms
Going back to attitude sickens topic, it is worth to know its first symptoms. Thanks to that you can react faster and minimize the risk of bigger problems. In most of the cases first symptom is headache, overall weakness, lack of appetite, shallow breath, problems with sleep, vomits. In most of the cases those symptoms disappear quite quickly, especially when you proceed according to certain rules. In worst case scenario those can evolve into brain swelling or edema (fluid accumulation in the tissues of the body) which can lead to death (mostly in case high mountains climbing expeditions).
In order to limit bad experiences with attitude sickness there are certain rules you should follow:
- Before each trip connected with high elevation, take medical consult to make sure there are no contradictions
- Agree with the doctor what medicals can be used in case attitude sickness symptoms
- Get to know all attitude sickness symptoms, consult this with doctor in order to know how to react in case they appear
- Limit activities. The first day, sometimes even second, should be light. In Cusco for example it is worth to travel by taxi to Saqsaywaman Inca ruins in order not to climb for an hour a steep hill.
- Skip drinking alcohol – the best for the whole time being on high elevation or at least for first few days
- Eat light
- Drink a lot of fluids during the day
- Give yourself more time for rest and sleep
- Consult with the doctor if there are no medicals that can be used to minimize attitude sickness symptoms
- In case symptoms do not disappear, go right away to lower elevation
But that is not all. In Incas country, local people knows perfectly how to prevent “soroche”. Those methods are described below.
Peruvian ways to fight attitude sickness
It is worth to use local wisdom which allows to prevent attitude sickness. Main player here are coca leaves. For each Peruvian person this is natural way to fight attitude sickness.
There are no other leaves in the world that causes so many controversies. Itself they are not bad, but when converted to cocaine, it is slightly different topic. But let’s leave this topic and focus on the plant.
Coca leaves have years of tradition. You could write about it a lot. During old, Inca times they were available only for some people like gods, aristocrats or chaskas (messengers similar to nowadays postman). Inca people were treating coca leaves like sacred plant. Nowadays it is being used almost by whole Andean community. They help to survive on high elevation, remove headache, improve digestion, gives energy and minimize hunger. First meeting with coca leaves is not the nicest one. This is not like a visit in bakery with sweets. Their bitter and sour taste does not make it easy. You need to remember that you should chew leaves, not eat them. The most important here is green juice produced while chewing. In order to get such effect you need to fill your mouth not with 2 or 3 leaves, but bunch of them.
You can buy those magical leaves on each small market in Peru, especially in Andes. Small pack, which last at least for few times, cost around 2 – 3 sols.
On high elevation you can get also Mate de Coca, which is tea made out of coca leaves. This liquid is not so strong like leaves itself, but won’t do you bad. Normally it is being prepared only from few leaves, so it is quite weak. It is worth to drink a lot while being on high elevation, so this tea is not bad idea. But if you want to make sure that attitude sickness won’t be your problem, you need to use stronger version. This can be achieved by 10 – 15 minutes chewing. If you do not feel juice anymore and leaves are dry, you can split them. Do not eat them.
Remember that after such leaves treatment it is worth to take a look into mirror. Sometimes your teeth might be greenish and might have some leaves leftovers. It is good to have a glass of water to clean all that.
I have felt the strength of coca leaves in my first hours on high elevation. Everything because of the soroche. You can read more about it in article Attitude sickness in Peru, good morning Cusco.
Another popular plant that is being used by Peruvians for attitude sickness is muna. This one regulates digestion and limits attitude symptoms as well.
There is also ills version of this plant. In case big problems there is a need to use more advanced medical solutions. But for standard symptoms many tourist use sorojchi pills. More about them can be found here.
Have a great trips in Peru and safe route!