The Delicate Art of Coca Chewing

Howdy folks,

So after a couple days of depression due to my stupidity-induced theft (that is, I was stupid. But now I am smart), I’m on the rebound. Last night was a crazy party (I got back to the hostel at 6:00 am), and tonight, being Australia Day, will be even crazier, as about 90% of this hostel is Australian. But in the same way that I don’t write about the pizza I eat (the best I’ve EVER had), I won’t write about the parties.

Instead, I’ll write about chewing coca.

Essentially, you cram your cheek full of the leaves, which have a strong bitter flavor. You then gently masticate the leaves and work them with your tongue until it forms a nice, moist bolus. Next is the critical part. You add to the bolus a bit of this gummy ash, which is sweet-tasting, which acts as an alkaline. This releases the drug in the leaves (which when concentrated is cocaine) into your mouth, and you get a nice stimulating buzz and your mouth goes all numb.

So today I went off to look for the ash, as I had leaves but no alkaline, and what’s the fun if you can’t get a buzz? So in the market area of town (essentially the whole town is a market area but in the main market zone) I asked an indigenous guy where I could get it.

A note: the indigenous people here dress traditionally — ponchos and toques for the men; big skirts and bowler hats for the women: the whole works. The best part, though, is it’s not an act for the tourists — this is just how they dress. I love it.

Anyways, I asked this guy where I could find it. He waved his hand vaguely up the hill, but then beckoned me to sit down. Out came his bag of coca, and we sat and had a chew together. It really was great. We were sitting, watching the tourists (who couldn’t stop staring at me, this gringo, sitting with a native), dipping into the bag of coca, and conversing (very rudimentary, of course) in Spanish. He showed me the finer aspects of the chew, like removing the stems and exactly how to maneuver the ash into your cheek. It was great. Many old native women (yes, in bowler hats) walked by with big smiles and little shakes of the head as they watched me add to my ever growing bolus (by the end your cheek should be bulging). I felt most accepted by the local people.

Then my new friend (Martin, with a Spanish accent), told me he’d go get me some alkaline. So I gave him 5 Bs, and with a warning to watch his wares very carefully (alpaca table clothes and bags he made himself, all beautiful), off he went. So there I sat, and who should come by but this Norwegian girl I met on the plane. I think she got quite a kick out of me sitting there, “working,” and chewing coca. “You look like you really like La Paz,” she said.

I do.

So tomorrow afternoon Martin asked me to come by again for a chew (and bring friends to buy my things, he added), and I think I just might have to. This time I can share my own leaves with him.

Anyways, that’s all for now. There’s more, I think, but I forget.

‘K Bye!


~ by turvyc on January 26, 2008.

2 Responses to “The Delicate Art of Coca Chewing”

  1. Colin sounds like your fitting quite nicely on your travels, good stuff. I’m definately jealous. Now that I’m the one studying and taking exams for the winter, that’s quite the role reversal for the 2 of us… Anyways, just wanted to say hey, take it easy on the coca and we’ll talk soon.

  2. Colin,,,
    It sounds as if you too are falling in love with Bolivia. Been there–done that–and still have not gotten over it. Incredible country; wonderful people; and it seems you fit in very nicely.
    Warning! The nation/people are addictive–the coca is not.
    I hope to move there permanently as soon as I can do so.
    Best of luck in your travels, and please keep blogging your adventures. You take me back there in a vicarious sort of way.

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