Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Garlic breath, Garlic sweat

Hey garlic lovers! How much garlic can you eat in a week?

I love garlic! My answer would be: there is no limit! Right? After eating it every day for an entire week and reeking of garlic 24/7, maybe there is a limit.

One of my favorite things about cooking is sauteeing garlic in olive oil just so that wonderful smell can fill in every square inch of the kitchen. One of my favorite things to eat is food with plenty of garlic plus you get the added health benefits such as cancer prevention, lowering risk of hearth disease and removal of toxins in the blood, especially for women. I was happy to find that most dishes we ate in Nepal had generous amounts of garlic: the stuffing in the momos had minced garlic, spinach was often stir fried with garlic, many curries had crushed garlic and many of the Dal Bhat side dishes also had garlic. I was very excited when we found out that one of the natural methods for altitude sickness prevention was eating lots of garlic.

Altitude and Garlic
All the guides we spoke with preferred eating garlic soup or drinking garlic water over taking medicine to try to prevent altitude sickness. On top of all the health benefits, this was a great added bonus! Since we were about to go up to more than 5,400 meters and I just so happened to love garlic, I immediately signed up for the ultimate garlic diet.

On the way up to 5,416+ meters to cross Thurong La Pass

All of the guesthouses and restaurants along the trek offered garlic soup and I started ordering it a week before we were due to cross the world's widest pass, Thurong La. This soup is serious business: it is loaded with garlic and definitely leaves you with a great dragon breath that lingers on for a while. Sometimes they would serve it creamy style and sometimes it would be just salt, boiling water and garlic. 

A nice carbo-heavy lunch (yak cheese sandwich and rosemary potatoes) with a healthy dose of garlic soup

The sacrifice: smelling a little bad...
After a few days of having garlic soup, I definitely noticed that the smell was just not going away and I am convinced that even my sweat smelled like garlic. About four days before the big day on the pass, I got really sick and had an awful cold with an intense sore throat. On top of garlic soup, I now carried hot water in my bottle with about a half head of crushed garlic. I definitely reeked now but it made me feel a little better and I tried to stay positive by reminding myself that I wouldn't get altitude sickness if I just kept up my garlic consumption. I'm not sure how Eliot and I managed to still stay close to each other 24/7 during that week but I think it's a good sign for our relationship!

Crushed garlic inside our Nalgene - it took about a whole month to get rid of the taste

A true cure for altitude sickness? 
The true test to this supposed miracle medicine began 48 hours before the crucial ascent. We had a ridiculously steep 300 meter climb from Low camp to High camp, at almost 5,000 meters altitude and Eliot started feeling some of the effects of the altitude. It took us almost two hours to go a very short distance and once we got to High Camp, Eliot felt awful. I was tired but felt fine and had some garlic noodle soup while Eliot opted for a tomato soup for dinner. Aside from shortness of breath, I was surprised at how 'well' I was feeling.
The big day arrived and we started the climb to the pass at around 5:30 am. I was freezing but I kept a steady slow breath and kept my garlic water with me. In spite of taking Diamox (legit, chemical medicine used to prevent altitude sickness at least a few days prior to being up in high altitude) in addition to the garlic diet, Eliot had an awful time and became a victim of the altitude, losing his vision and all. It was very scary as we were on a very snowy and narrow part of the trail (a foot and a half wide at most) but we managed to climb down a few meters and rest a bit so he could recover.

The amazing Thurong La Pass (finally!)

50/50 success
We crossed the pass successfully in spite of the altitude sickness and were very happy once we started the slow descent. Although Eliot felt the wrath of the high Himalayas, I still never felt even the slightest headache.

Would I rather smell a little (okay, okay a LOT) bad or a little better? In the end, I choose smelling bad over better: consuming all that garlic definitely made it worth it for me, even though it felt like garlic was oozing out of my pores. The miracle drug -- garlic, that is -- worked wonderfully for me (even just as a placebo!) but was way less effective for Eliot. Although I was spared, I really hope I don't ever have to eat that much garlic again.

I still love garlic but I definitely prefer moderation over extremes with this potent veggie!


  1. I didn't know the garlic was so good to prevent altitude sickness. In Machu Picchu at half the Thurong La Pass altitude, the coca tea worked perfectly for us. Next time I'll try the garlic stuff, but with some pasta or chicken.

    1. Too bad they don't have coca leaves around here! I still dream of going trekking in Peru some day...

  2. From my experience with you in Tibet, I think you're just immune to altitude sickness!

    1. Maybe you're right! We just did another peak at around 4,100 meters yesterday and we didn't even notice a huge difference.

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