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Coca Leaves and Peru's Miracle Tea

PERU | Sunday, 18 November 2007 | Views [2647]

At 3600M we are happy we chose to stay a few days in Cusco before heading out on the Inca Trail, which reaches a maximum peak altitude of 4200M. One of the local remedies for overcoming the ills of altitude sickness (which kicks in for some people over 2500M) is Coca Leaf mate (tea). Coca crops are one of the few cash crops that locals are able to produce at these altitudes in the Andes. Peruvians in the highlands still produce the crop, despite the "US-led" war on drugs... to the demise of others who have had their crops and livelihoods destroyed - namely Bolivia. Coca leaves are an important part of indigenous life here. The raw leaves are left in hot water to make a tea that is supposed to soothe the pounding headache and stomach ache and fatigue that often accompany ascents into high altitudes. It also helps the local indigenous people at high altitudes to curb their hunger, and the effect of chilling cold. The locals also chew the leaves, rolling them up with llipta, letting them set in their mouth between tongue and cheek. The effect they feel is a tingling and numbing of their cheeks, along with those mentioned earlier. Eventually they spit out the leaves. It's common to see green particles of coca leaves around the upper teeth and gums of the locals we meet and talk with.

We haven't yet tried the direct chewing method, but have been indulging in tea morning, noon and night. We're not sure it's working as well as the famous "garlic soup remedy" we used in Nepal, as we still have a pounding head ache, and are having great difficulty breathing and sleeping at night.

The locals here in Cusco advise tourists to "walk slowly, eat just a little, and abstain from drinking alcohol," as another remedy to dealing with the effects of altitude. We've been following their advise, as even just walking upstairs in our hostel leaves us gasping for air. It doesn't really matter how in shape or out of shape a person is, altitude sickness and it's effects can be felt by even the most active, in shape person. So, we plan to lay low for a few days here, relax, sip coca tea and enjoy the mountain culture.

Tags: Food & eating

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