Coca Quebrada

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.

G

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