Altitude Sickness: My Experience in Peru

Shawn Marshall

Note: This page about Shawn's experience with altitude sickness is part of a series of blogs that we did while learning Spanish language in Peru. These blogs are pages from our language learning journal that demonstrate language learning strategies. They are designed to show you how to implement Walkabout language learning strategies. Use our examples here for any language you want to learn. See the "More Peru Stories" list of links on this page for additional excerpts from our language learning journal.

Day of the Tourist

"Day of the Tourist" has a double meaning here. It is a local celebration in Peru, but at the same time, it describes an ailment that afflicts many travelers to Cusco. Read more to learn of my bout of altitude sickness.

Language learning journal, Sunday, October 7: My dad is feeling a little under the weather today, so mom and I journeyed off to the plaza square. Learn about how we use these excursions as part of our language learning strategies. My only mission today was to get a massage. Little did we know, it is the Day of the Tourist. The main square was blocked off from traffic, and was filled with local dancers in costume, the local military, and local travel companies, all assembled for a parade.

We watched the dancers for a little while and took pictures of dancers and the military. I then went on to get my massage. For only $17, I got a 1.5 hour professional massage. I wish I wrote down the name of the company so I could put them on the "Do not recommend" list! Enough said.

Altitude sickness: not a myth

After my massage I began to feel sick (I want to believe that the two are just a coincidence--but I can't shake the nagging feeling they the massage caused my illness). I got a splitting headache, my stomach is uneasy, and my body is weak. I turned in for an early sleep immediately after dinner.

Let me back up here a bit. Before we went to Peru, elevation 3,399 m (11,152 ft), my folks and I talked about altitude sickness. They even went so far as to get a prescription medicine to help their bodies get ready. By the way, high altitude is considered anything over 1,920 m (6,300 ft). I figured that since I was a personal trainer and in good physical condition, I'd be fine. Besides, I'd grown up in Denver, Colorado! It's the mile high city, 5,280 ft (1,600 m). Even though I live at sea level now, and had been for like ten years. Pooh! Altitude sickness wasn't going to happen to me. I didn't even believe it was real aliment.

Altitude sickness symptoms

I became more and more of a believer as I woke up many times throughout the night, with stomach problems, the persisting headache, and hot and cold flashes (second night in a row). Here, from WebMD are the symptoms:

  • Not feeling like eating.
  • Feeling sick to your stomach. You may vomit.
  • Feeling weak and tired. In severe cases, you do not have the energy to eat, dress yourself, or do anything.
  • Waking up during the night and not sleeping well.
  • A headache, which is usually throbbing. It gets worse during the night and when you wake up.
  • Feeling dizzy.

Woops! Sounds like exactly what I had. WebMD goes on to say: "People often mistake altitude sickness for the flu, a hangover, or dehydration. As a rule, consider your symptoms to be altitude sickness unless you can prove they are not." Guess the joke was on me. Even being in great physical shape didn't save me.

I'm an optimist, so I was able to find some good in the situation. The cool thing about not sleeping soundly was I was able to tune into the pounding rain, thunder, and lightening storm that lasted all night!

Treatment so I can get back to school

Language learning journal, Monday, October 8: I skipped breakfast and stayed in bed this morning. I also missed out on my private lessons at the school. My body tells me to rest today so that my immune system can fight its battle without having to move me around all day. Today was a holiday too, so none of us had group lessons. In mild cases like mine, rest is one of the recommended treatments. Also, drinking lots of water. I do that anyway, so I'll keep that up. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) are recommended to control the headaches. Severe cases can cause death and need other treatments; luckily, mine was only a mild case.

I'll make class tomorrow, then rest for the remainder of the day. We are going to Machu Picchu this weekend, so I want to be 100% by then.

By the way, if you want to create your own language learning plan, check out the Walkabout Language Learning Action Guide. It shows you step by step how to create dialogs tailored to your everyday needs. Click here to download it now.

--Posted by Shawn, October 8

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