It pays to do your research

It pays to do your research

I was part of a four-person team from my church that went to Peru in the fall of 2014. There was a lot of anticipation and anxiety about this trip. It was the first trip anyone from our church had made to that country, and three of us would be traveling without our spouses (a first for me).

A month or two before we left, I was speaking to the woman who would be my roommate on the trip. She’s a bit frenetic, loud, and prone to overreacting. We were at a party chatting when she blurted out, “They eat monkey brains in Peru!”

Normally, this wouldn’t be a cause for concern. Just because the locals eat it wouldn’t mean that I would have to eat it. But the pastor in charge had made a point of telling us that whatever we were served, we would have to eat. I’m not a picky eater, per se, but I have a tremendous gag reflex when it comes to eating anything unusual… like the internal organs of animals I usually see at the zoo.

Thankfully, I googled it before I went into full freak-out mode. As it turns out, there is a fruit native to Peru called the granadilla. From the outside it looks like a citrus fruit – kind of round and yellow-orange in color.  But inside, there are dark gray seeds covered with light gray flesh that look like this:

monkey brain granadilla 4

Yeah, okay, I can see how that would be called monkey brains.  (It turns out that in parts of Peru, they do eat the brains of monkeys. Thankfully, this was not the case in the area we were visiting!)

Another aspect of our trip where research worked in my favor (or should have, if people had only listened to me) was on the topic of altitude sickness. We live approximately 25 feet above sea level (and frankly, I think that may be a generous estimation, but that’s what Google says). The village in Peru we were heading to was at 12,000+ feet.  I did some reading about altitude sickness on the CDC website and it was fairly alarming. To sum up: there are three types of altitude sickness, two of which can be fatal.

I brought this to the attention of the pastor in charge. He said not to worry, hydration is the key. If we make sure we drink plenty of water, we will be fine.  Because he’s been to Pike’s Peak.

I was skeptical, but sometimes all I need is for someone to tell me that it will be okay, and I will happily stop fixating on potential problems. When I visited my doctor the week before our departure, I mentioned it to him and asked to be prescribed the medication that helps prevent altitude sickness.  You know, just in case.

He said that he knew nothing about such medications, and he refused to prescribe it for me.  Refused!

I figured, well, it was in God’s hands. I had done all I could to take appropriate precautions but my concerns had been pooh-poohed by not one but two people who thought they knew better than I.

We got to Lima (altitude 5000 feet) and were fine. The next day, we began our ascent into the Andes.  We drove all day and finally stopped for the night at Cerro de Pasco.  I didn’t know it then, but Cerro de Pasco is one of the highest cities in the world, at 14,210 feet. To say that we were struggling is an understatement.

My roommate and I took turns sucking down some oxygen from a small tank. I attempted to write in my journal but it is barely legible – my normal Catholic school taught penmanship was reduced to a kindergartener’s scribbles. I gave up after a few sentences, unable to think coherently. I got under the heavy blankets, closed my eyes and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure if I would ever wake up. I said a prayer before I went to sleep that night and asked God that I not die so far away from home.

The next day we went on to our final destination, which was actually 2000 feet lower, but we did not stay because of altitude sickness. Fortunately, prescriptions are not required for as many drugs in Peru as there are in the US, and we were able to get the medicine for altitude sickness there.

altitude sickness ad

The moral of the story:  do some research before you you travel. Find out what potential problems may occur and plan/prepare accordingly. Listen to your gut. If I had been more insistent about the altitude sickness, we all could have spent a lot less time being miserable and more time enjoying the people and scenery of Peru.

PS  I have a new doctor now!

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