Machu Picchu

Ever since Al and I went to Europe this past summer, I’ve been dreaming of our next trip. No specifics, yet, just a yearning to see more of the world.

machu-picchu-1369310-640x480Like Machu Picchu in Peru. My podiatrist was telling me about his recent visit while he worked on my corns and calluses and ingrown toenail last week⎯a somewhat helpful distraction, as my feet are incredibly sensitive and this was otherwise not a fun appointment.

He described the ancient Incan ruins in a similar way that I’ve heard from others⎯a very spiritual space, beautiful, fascinating history (albeit tragic, given the fate of the Incas as a result of the Spanish Conquest). And he shared pictures on his iPhone, of extraordinary vistas and smiling llamas. Only a five-and-a-half hour flight from Miami.

Very intriguing. Except for one problem. The altitude is about 8,000 feet. My podiatrist is a big, muscular guy, and had no issues with altitude sickness (for which he was quite grateful). He said he was running around like a little kid, he was so excited to be there. But some people on the trip got very sick and needed oxygen.

How would I manage that altitude (assuming we could even afford the trip, which I haven’t bothered to check) with my scarred lungs? The highest mountain I have visited, as best I can recall, is Mount Washington in New Hampshire, just over 6,000 feet. The body begins to react to altitude right around 8,000 feet. Lack of oxygen can cause fatigue, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping and other issues.

There is also the risk of infection from water supplies that are not treated. I have enough issues with bacteria getting into my ulcers here at home, let alone in a place where you can’t drink the water. How would I keep my hands clean?

Right now, of course, this is all just a pipe dream. I know there are ways to acclimate your body to altitude, gradually, and there are medications that can help. I’m sure there are strategies for hand hygiene, if I were determined enough to figure it out.

But there is also the reality of scaling my travel ambitions to my body’s limitations. There are so many places I’d like to see, on every continent. Even Antarctica. In December, the temperature on the Antarctic Peninsula is about the same as it is here in New England (yes, I’ve checked). Going to Antarctica is the closest you can get to an experience akin to going to the Moon.

Not all of those dreams are possible, health-wise or financially. So, I’ll continue to explore options, right now from the safety of my computer screen. I don’t know where we’ll travel next, and it probably won’t be Machu Picchu. But it will be someplace exciting, inspiring and a push outside my comfort zone. Of that, I am determined. It’s the only way to keep growing.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at

Image Credit: Julio Sedano Acosta


  1. Received this lovely comment via email from Janet in Illinois . . . Thanks for your encouragement!

    “We were in Machu Picchu about five years ago (amazing) before I was diagnosed with scleroderma. I often wondered if that was why I struggled with the altitude, as I now have PAH. We also went to Antarctica two years ago on a cruise. We did not get off the ship and it was also amazing. I had no problem there. We might be at the end of our travels but they were all so wonderful experiences. So keep on traveling if possible. Love your blogs.”

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