I've never thought about altitude sickness until this trip. I've been to Colorado for a few days to ski, but I've never climbed Mt. Everest or lived in the Alps like Julie Andrews. La Paz is apparently 16,000 feet high. I'll do my stats, but I'm pretty sure that's higher than the Rockies. These are the Andes! Last night as we flew in, it was hard to see the mountains, but as we drove into La Paz from it's neighboring city El Alto, it was a downward spiral around mountains and cliffs with beautiful lights from the homes that dotted the hills.
Altitude sickness apparently is due to the decreased about of oxygen in the air. It's your body adapting to this change. Your pH gets thrown off I think as your body becomes more acidic and your bone tries to make more red blood cells to carry oxygen around to your organs. It manifests as nausea/vomiting, headache, weakness, fatigue. The cure for Americans: prevention with a diuretic called Diamox (pre-treats you make you more acidic beforehand so you can catch up sooner), then hydration. The cure for Bolivians: coca tea. That's right, it's the plant that ends up becoming cocaine when super concentrated. It's actually illegal in the U.S. (so I won't be bringing any home).
True confession: I'm currently on my 4th glass of this today. (Per the recommendations of the "gringos" who are from the U.S. now living here. "Drink as much as you can!" they say. "It only helps!") It's just like green tea, no big. And currently I'm headache and nausea free. The only symptom I JUST had was muscle pain on the way home from the store carrying 2 2-liter waters and another 8 pack of bottled water. I'm better now! (as I sip on my tea...) More to come on my grocery store experience today....
On the drive in from the airport, my new friends Gwen and John were giving me all the hot tips on living in Bolivia (including coca tea). One big piece of advice: don't eat cut fruit. If you REALLY want it, you have to wash it in a bleach bath first. Wow. I'd heard that bananas or things with skin may be ok, right? Next tip: to be safe, don't eat meat that's in any way not cooked fully. Better yet just to become a vegetarian at this point maybe. AND watch out for that running water! Bottled water only, even for tooth brushing. Yikes! I knew I was sunk when the first thing I did before bed this morning was put a big handful of sink water in my mouth. I froze. Oops. I immediately spit it out and rinsed with that life saving bottled water! Hope that did the trick. :) This morning I stood staring at my breakfast: bread, honey, butter, and, you guessed it, green apples. Apples. Did they say anything about these? Are these off limits? I pondered this thinking first, well, I'm just not going to do it. Then hunger and the thought of a fresh apple overwhelmed me and I went for it: took the apple to the sink, washed it with [bottled] water, cut it into wedges, and carefully ate only the insides of the wedges. No touching that skin!
Hope that worked.