by Steve Allen Published 01/04/2017
In all my worldwide travels I have had numerous small problems with tummy bugs, small cuts, sunburn, insect bites, jellyfish stings, etc but I've only ever had one serious problem. This was in Kathmandu in Nepal; I got very sick with food poisoning and became extremely dehydrated and ended up spending three days in hospital. I then needed a further few days' rest before I could continue my trip, the next leg of which was a month-long tour around India and Sri Lanka.
If you are planning to visit any mountainous areas, altitude sickness can be a real problem and it can also be a killer. It's important to gain altitude slowly over a few days and not fly into an airport high in the mountains straight from sea level.
El Alto International Airport near La Paz in Bolivia is one such airport. I have flown into this airport, but it was from Cuzco in Peru, which is also high at 10,400ft, so it was not a problem for me.
El Alto is the fifth highest commercial airport in the world at 13,323ft (4,061m). The four highest commercial airports are all in Tibet, with Daocheng Yading Airport being the highest at 14,472ft. However, the Tibetan airport most tourists will use is Lasa Gonggar Airport near the city of Lhasa at 11,710ft.
When I was in Tibet, I crossed a high mountain pass that was over 17,000ft(5,180m). That's well over three miles above sea level! Without good, slowacclimatisation, I could easily have had serious problems at this altitude.
Look after yourself! If you have problems with altitude sickness the best treatment is a rapid descent to lower levels with 'thicker' air and higher air pressure. It’s also a good idea to avoid drinking any alcohol when you are at altitude too, as alcohol will exacerbate any altitude problems you may suffer.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the higher the altitude, the lower the boiling point of water. At altitudes over 12,000ft this can make a significant difference and water will boil at a good deal less than 100°C meaning it is not hot enough to kill all the bacteria in your drinking water.
You will need to use water purification tablets to make sure your drinking water is safe.
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