Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Elevation and Altitude

Elevation and altitude have shaped much of my experience in South America over the past several weeks.  Because of this, I thought I would share some of the heights at which I have been and will be later on this year.  I have also included a few other locations to help give perspective.
Sea Level:  0 meters (0 feet), 20.9% Oxygen
Charlottesville, Virginia:  170 meters (557 feet), 20.5% Oxygen
Ashburn, Virginia:  240 meters (787 feet), 20.3% Oxygen
Mile-high Stadium, Denver, Colorado:  1,609 meters (5,280 feet), 17.4% Oxygen
Machu Picchu, Peru:  2,430 meters (7,970 feet), 15.4% Oxygen
La Paz, Bolivia:  3,631 meters (11,913 feet), 13.2% Oxygen
Tungurahua Volcano, Ecuador:  5,023 meters (16,480 feet), 11% Oxygen
Everest Base Camp, Nepal:  5,360 meters (17,590 feet), 10.7% Oxygen
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania:  5,895 meters (19,340 feet), 10% Oxygen
Mount Everest Summit, Nepal:  8,850 meters (29,035 feet), 6.8% Oxygen

*Technical Note: The oxygen percentages stated are not the actual concentration levels, which always remain at 20.9%.  They represent the theoretical, effective concentration levels due to a decrease in the number of oxygen molecules available per breath.

At higher elevations, temperatures drop dramatically and, more importantly, the body is forced to adjust to a lack of oxygen.  During my recent climb of Tungurahua Volcano, for example, the temperature averaged 15 degrees Fahrenheit and I had to stop to gasp heavily for air about every 15 steps.  Of course this is nothing compared to climbing Everest, where temperatures reach as low as -76 degrees Fahrenheit at the summit and almost no one climbs without an oxygen tank.  (Don’t worry Mother I’m only climbing to base camp.)

If you have some extra time, I recommend Googling elevation, altitude and some of the surrounding issues related to travel and climbing.

New pictures.  My time in South America has come to an end.  Africa begins soon!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Machu Picchu, the Nasca Lines and a Desert Oasis

Machu Picchu.  There does not exist a more beautiful sight to see after 4 days of hiking.  Interestingly, even after almost 100 years of formal scientific and scholarly study the function of this Incan site is still uncertain.  Our tour guide told us it was a university of sorts, built to test and practice different agricultural techniques.  Another tour guide passing by said it was a nunnery since 70% of the bones found were female.
Nasca Lines.  About 13 hours west by bus the mysteries continued.  The Nasca Lines are a series of a shallow designs carved into the ground over an 80km (50 miles) desert plateau.  Hundreds are simple lines or geometric shapes; more than seventy are designs of animal, bird, fish or human figures.  The largest figures are over 200 meters (660 ft) across.  (Wikipedia)  Why the Lines were created is unknown, especially considering that the civilization that created them did not have the capability to see or appreciate them from above ground level.  I explored the area by foot instead of by plane like most people so there are only a few pictures.
Huacachina.  Oases do exist!  Check out the pictures of this picturesque getaway spot and the dune buggies (in video) that make it unforgettable.
Yesterday I arrived by plane (only way to get to city) to Iguitos, Peru, located on the mighty Amazon River.  Over the past 24 hours I have been gathering supplies, hiring a local guide and renting a small boat for a 5-day expedition into the Amazon Jungle which will begin tomorrow.  Cross your fingers for lots of wildlife pictures!