PERU, part three
Once Paul and I have settled into our room at Colca Lodge, we change into our swimsuits, put on the robes provided for us and walk down to the thermal pool. We join two men who are already enjoying the steaming water. Being in such close quarters, what can one do but visit with each other? We learn that the younger man relocated from America to Peru and owns a tour company specializing in motorcycle travel in Peru. The older man, an American, is a member of his current group. As we trade stories, two Canadian women have joined us in the bath. We recount our scare with one of our group passing out. The motorcycle men tell us about one man in their group colliding head on with a bus. All the cyclist broke was his arm, which is a miracle in itself! Someone else speaks up about a woman who died last week at Colca lodge from a heart attack. Gees, this is getting too morbid.
I do ask our bathing friends for advice in combating the altitude that has me just feeling crummy. The motorcycle tourist swears by eating lots and lots of chocolate, the travel agent says you will eventually adapt and one Canadian woman asks if I have brought diamox. I tell her I do have the medicine but am reluctant to use it because our pharmacist said the pills side effects are very similar to altitude sickness. The woman says she has had no problems with the medicine and that diamox has helped her tremendously. After an hour of soaking in the thermal pool, we have had enough, besides it is getting dark and chilly.
As we walk back to our room I still have a nasty headache despite taking three ibuprofen earlier. I am light-headed and find myself off-balance on occasion and this symptom bothers me most. I make the decision to take a diamox since I don’t see how I can feel much worse than I do now. It is only 7 p.m. but I shower and get ready for bed. When I floss my teeth, I find that I cannot get the floss in-between my molars. Well this explains my throbbing gums. I settle into bed and begin writing in my journal. A short time later, I become aware of an odd sensation in the back of my head. For a while, I say nothing to Paul. When the feeling grows stronger, I tell Paul that something weird is happening to me. I can only describe the symptom as a buzzing feeling in the back of my head.
As we debate what to do, the sensation begins to move into my neck and shoulders. We can’t call Erica, as we don’t have her contact number so we call the front desk. Paul tells the receptionist that I am not feeling well. The lodge has a nurse on their staff and the receptionist has her talk with Paul. He describes my symptoms to the nurse as a tingling in my head. By now, this sensation is moving down my arms and I am starting to get nervous. The first thing the nurse says to Paul is that it could be high blood pressure. What! My blood pressure has never been a problem for me.
In minutes, the young nurse is at our door. Now my fingers are tingling and the buzz in my head feels like a swarm of bees trying to find a way out. As the nurse takes my pressure, I tell her I am sure this must be a reaction to the diamox but get little reaction from her. When she finishes taking my blood pressure, she says “bien” and I feel some relief. The nurse tells us in broken English that the lodge has called for the doctor in Chivay and I ask if she thinks this is necessary. Her answer is an emphatic yes. I suppose that after last week’s tragedy they are taking no chances.
An hour later, there is a knock at our door and the same Dr. that took care of Doug enters the room loaded down with equipment. He speaks English and immediately starts asking questions as he clamps something on my finger, takes my blood pressure, listens to my heart and takes my pulse. After I tell him my normal blood pressure numbers, the young Dr. decides that 120 over 80 is too high in comparison to my usual reading. My blood oxygen is 83 and he wants it to reach 91. I put on the oxygen mask he hands me as the friendly Dr. begins dispensing pills. He gives me pills for blood pressure and high altitude sickness instructing me to take them twice a day for three days. The Doc leaves me another packet of pills in case of “ague”. A steroid shot in my derriere is the grand finale. It isn’t until he is preparing to leave that I remember I received a steroid shot 10 days ago because I couldn’t shake the persistent cough I had developed before we left. The Dr. just shrugs at this information; after all, it’s too late now. I hope my hat still fits by the end of our trip!
The Dr. figures his bill for this hotel call and the total is 200 Soles or 76 bucks. I give him 100 dollars and tell him to keep the change. As he prepares to leave he instructs me to drink three liters of water a day (are you kidding me). In his opinion, diamox sucks, o.k. that’s my word, because it acts as a diuretic, which dehydrates you. He says I am to have my blood pressure taken as soon as we get to Puno. Circling his phone number on the medical receipt, he instructs me to call him with the results of my blood pressure reading tomorrow night. By now, he has repacked all his gear in preparation to leave when his phone rings. I can tell by the concern in his voice that this incredible man has another call to make tonight. He waves goodbye as our heartfelt thanks follow him out the door.
When I wake up this morning, I am relieved to find my headache gone and the buzzing bees have disappeared except for those still in my fingers. I can deal with that. After an early breakfast, our van pulls up and we are delighted to see Doug and Melissa. Paul and I would have bet the farm that the Dr. would send him back to Arequipa. As we drive towards Colca canyon, I tell Erica and our group about my problems of last night. Doug quips that two out of six people becoming ill is not a very good record. Let’s hope that we are the end of the streak!
We are traveling through some wonderful farmland as we journey to Colca canyon. The farmers have the land divided into small parcels using stone fences
to mark the boundaries. Other farms are a succession of terraces up the mountainsides. We do stop for photos although we are often looking at this beautiful mosaic countryside from on high. We see farmers hand milking cows in their fields in places. There are people working in the fields or driving livestock down the road. It is all very peaceful and picturesque.
As we near the “Cruz Del Condor” point, Huber drops Erica, Ina, Boris, Paul and me off so we can walk a trail along the canyon edge that will lead us to the famous Condor Cross point. Erica refuses to let Doug walk with us so Melissa stays in the van too and Huber drives them to the lookout point. The
trail we hike is stunning as we walk through a profusion of wild flowers and cactus. The river is flowing far below us at the bottom of the Canyon that is twice as deep as our Grand Canyon. This place sure makes me feel small and no photo can ever do the wild landscape justice.
As we draw near the Condor Cross point, one of the stars that people come to see, flies right by us. I knew these vultures were big but that is a misnomer, they are massive! The Andean condor’s wingspan can reach up to ten feet. Compare that to the five or six-foot wingspan of our turkey vulture. You won’t be surprised to find that I am delighted that the enormous bird did a fly by for us.
As we approach the viewpoint, we are astounded to see hundreds of people lining the various platforms and railings up on the mountaintop. There are several condors wheeling in the air over the onlookers and you can hear the gasps of delight even down here. There are many steps to climb in order to gain access to the viewing area but if I take it slow, I think I will make it. Once we arrive at the top (I’m very out of breath), we weasel our way into a small open space, which allows us an unobstructed view of the vast, blue sky. Soon a male condor with his trademark furry white ruff soars right above our head. Wow, now our sounds of delight join in with the rest of the gallery.
Trying to get my camera to focus on a flying bird with a blank sky for a background proves to be very difficult. In the end, we have the privilege
of watching seven different condors as they swoop and circle us humans who are transfixed by the king of the vultures. We also get to watch a male and female condor, perched on a rock below us; go through what is obviously a mating ritual. How cool is that?
It is time to leave as we have a six-hour drive ahead of us to Puno. We stop in Chivay for a buffet lunch. Paul decides to try the cuy (guinea pig) and after a sample bite, the rest stays on his plate. I stick with chicken soup; at least they said it was chicken…
Our drive to Puno takes us through some more spectacular country but also some country that could be moonscape. We do see vicuña in places but the oddest thing in my mind is the flamingos we find standing in a small lake. Stopping to look at the pink birds, we pass our binoculars around so everyone can clearly see the live specimen that is very different from the lawn version:). I check my Birds of Peru book and find that the Chilean flamingo is “often found on freshwater lakes unlike other flamingos”. I guess they do belong in this sparse landscape. A note to Erin and Randall, I used the bird book almost everyday. You chose well as this particular book is the “bible” for professional birding guides in Peru. Thank you again for such a thoughtful gift.
We arrive in Puno, altitude of 12,400 feet, in the early evening and luckily for us, our hotel is the first stop. We say so long to Erica and Huber who are going back to Arequipa tonight! I feel very sorry for them. We also bid adieu to the rest of our group though odds are we will see them on the Lake Titicaca tour.
Once we finish checking in at the Qelqatani Hotel, yeah I can’t pronounce it either; we go out in search of a Farmacia (pharmacy) where the Chivay doctor said they could take my blood pressure. We stop in at two pharmacies but they shake their heads no when asked if they can perform the task. Not sure what to do, on a whim we stop in at a travel agency we are passing by to see if they can help us. They direct us to a medical office that caters to tourists just a few blocks away. Sometimes things just work out.
A friendly young man asks what my problem is and I answer that I need my blood pressure taken. He tells me that I must sit and rest for 15 minutes. When the nurse announces that my pressure is 120 over 90, I am not surprised, as my face has been flushing occasionally for the past hour. The young nurse asks if I want to see a cardiologist! Well that isn’t something I want to hear. I explain to her that I am to call my doctor and report in to him.
When we get back to the hotel Paul can’t get our international phone to work and we end up borrowing a cell phone from the hotel receptionist. When the doctor answers his phone, I can only call him doctor, as we can’t remember his name. Embarrassing to say the least! When I relay my blood pressure reading to him, he surprises me by saying that for Puno the numbers are fine as long as I don’t have a severe headache and am not dizzy. I can answer no to both of those symptoms and I feel a weight lift from my shoulders. The doc still wants me to have my blood pressure checked tomorrow but if it is no higher, I don’t need to call him. Hurray:).
Paul and I had conversed while walking back to the hotel from the clinic that I might have to skip the Lake Titicaca tour tomorrow. After the cheery news from Dr. Chivay, we agree that if I have no headache and am not light-headed I’m good to go. I was feeling quite sad at the thought of missing this adventure. We return to our dimly lit hotel room, all of our hotels so far seem to be shy on wattage power, and retire as we have an early morning pickup.
Our next stop will be Lake Titicaca, the floating island of Uros and the island of Taquile.