QUEBRADA DE HUMAHUACHA, Argentina
Coca leaves look as benign as bay leaves.
But crushed, of course, this is the natural and green base of cocaine.
The enjoyment of a few leaves in your lip and the nastiness of its white derivative set the stage for a confusing jurisdiction in Argentina.
Small possession of leaves is legal; sale and importation of leaves are illegal.
In the small indigenous villages — near the Bolivian border, where it is grown — dusty men worked with a wad of leaves in their cheek. Small stores sold it with hand-written signs of “coca” or “bica” in its windows.
I was intrigued. And, after consulting my top legal advisor, Lonely Planet, I set out to try some.
One day, we hiked to a desert canyon about eight kilometers outside the village of Tilcara. A long-haired, fair-skinned Argentine man rested at the summit, preparing a new batch of coca for his lip.
After chatting, Marcelo graciously recommended the right amount for a gringo.
I thanked Marcelo as I placed it in and turned around for the canyon descent, but an Aussie couple panted their way up first.
After chatting, the tall mate said something about a DEA mission a few years ago to gather up U.S. tourists and then charge a visa fee for every American that went to Bolivia.
(I can’t verify the mate’s story; an occassional rumor is healthy for a blog.)
But the tale stimulated my mild — or was that the coca?
A mild buzz, less than a pinch of Skoal, lightened my steps for the remainder of the sandy hike.
My 5 Quebrada
My 5 photos from the unigue landscapes of the Quebrada de Humahuaca:
PUMAMARCA — In the afternoon haze, a shot into the Mountain(s) of Seven (or so) Colors.
PUMAMARCA — Passing this weathered traveler, I thought of Chris McCandless.
SALINAS GRANDES — A blurry Pessa paces the hexagons, pentagons and octagons of this presumed ancient lake.
SALINAS GRANDES — Looking for luck, Pessa wishes over her left shoulder for the clouds to depart. The scene-ruining clouds budged for this shot alone. Que suerte!
TILCARA — A shadow from the relentless sun on the walk to the canyon … and the coca.