Cusco: Altitude Sickness.

I landed in Cusco. And I knew how high up in altitude the place was. But I wasn't at all prepared for the feeling of it.

Within 20 minutes of checking into my hotel room, I was knocked flat.

I was laying in bed and breathing heavy. My head took on a pounding headache. I was lethargic.

I knew enough about the signs of altitude sickness. And despite being miserable, I knew it was only mild. But it was enough to keep me in bed that first night, resting and not doing anything. Including getting up to go to the bathroom.

I laid there and chugged every bottle of water in the room. I called room service and ordered dinner. I was in desperate need of minerals... So I ate every last bit of the bacon cheeseburger I ordered.  (SALT!)

The next morning I had to get up to meet my group for our journey into the Sacred Valley, which would (thankfully) drop us in elevation by a few thousand feet. But before we did that, we made a stop at one of the ancient sites.

"Oh shit," I thought. "Hiking? I have no energy for this!"

Sure enough, just walking a few steps on an incline had me gasping for air. But I wasn't the only one. Others had arrived the day before as well, and hadn't had time to acclimatize either.

Our shamanic guide - a nice chap named Mal who I have had lead me through my two previous ayahuasca tours - took us to a clearing on a mountainside...


It was beautiful.  Green. The mountains just a little off in the distance.


We received a lecture on the structure of the mountainside... And the valley below it, where I could see sheep being herded. They were the ones responsible for keeping the grass on the mountain so beautifully maintained.

I was grateful for the lecture, despite the slight chill in the air and the clouds suggesting rain at any moment. Anything to not have to walk and be winded.

That's when Mal pulled out a big bag of leaves.

They were coca leaves. And they were a way to open our weeklong retreat in the Sacred Valley by clearing some of our energy... AND they were a traditional cure for altitude sickness.

SIGN ME UP!

I did as Mal told me... I grabbed a big handful of the dried leaves...


And shoved them in my mouth...


...Where I was to allow my saliva to soak them into a cud, and tuck it into my cheek.  The saliva mixed with the coca leaf helps fight fatigue and hunger. It also carries a lot of minerals that you need.

Mal gave us a bicarbonate to activate the coca leaf...


It tasted sweet and was tucked into the cheek with the leaf cud.

I felt better very quickly. But also felt a numb cheek and gum.  I kept my cud in while we took a short hike to explore some of the worshipping spots of the Inca.

It's magic!

I only wish it were legal to bring the leaves back to the states. But they are not allowed.  (Sad face.)