Tag Archives: Humahuaca

Coca leaves – an altitude wimp’s best friend

There’s no way around it. I’m a wimp.   I get winded going up stairs, have to eat every two hours, need lots of water and sleep, don’t like cold, hot,  humidity, wind, snow, rain, and worms.

So, it’s no surprise that I’m sensitive to high altitudes.     When we stopped in the town of Humahuaca at 9,100 feet above sea level Jeff and Dean felt fine,  I felt weird.

Walking around town I was headachey, dizzy, and tired.   It must have been obvious, because as I staggered by a row of stalls, every woman held up a green bag of coca leaves.

coca leaf sellers

I bought a bag for the equivalent of 75 cents, took out some leaves and started chewing.  They taste exactly like you would think dried leaves would taste like, bitter, hard and kind of gross.

But they really did help. By the time I walked up a giant set of stairs to meet Jeff and Dean  I felt like myself again.  The only effect besides not feeling altitude sick  was my lips and tongue went numb.

That night in Ticara at 8,200  I started feeling sick again, so pulled out more leaves at dinner.  After chewing several mouthfuls I felt much better.

Then the next day when we hit the pass on the way to the Salinas Grandes and got up to 14,000 feet I felt positively awful.  But, after chewing a wad of leaves I felt better

Coca leaves are chewed and legal in Boliva, Peru, Ecuador and parts of Chile and Argentina, but not legal everywhere. They are illegal in the US in the “out of the bag” form.

They’re illegal because they are one of the ingredients in cocaine. But in the amount I was chewing they had no drug effect.    You would need tons and tons of leaves, and other chemicals to have any cocaine effects.

Surprisingly, they are also an ingredient in Coca Cola.   They are specially imported into the US and “de-cocained.”   You can also buy them on Amazon.com  Not sure if they are “decocanied” or not.

All I know is that as I was legally chewing them, I had no drug-like effects, but did feel much much better at 14,000 feet.

Putting the salt into our stay in Salta

We just got back from a road trip to see this giant salt flat.  You might think, “Well of course you’re living in the city of Salta.” But, this giant field of salt is not in the city of Salta, or even the province of Salta. It’s in a province called Jujuy.   I’m not sure what Salta is named after, but I don’t think it’s this.

It’s always surreal the first time you see someone from home in a foreign country.   Our Seattle friend Dean is in town and when I met up with Jeff and Dean after my Spanish class, they were in the main square eating empanadas and drinking malbac as if it was the most normal thing in the world to meet for dinner in Salta Argentina.

When Dean suggested a road trip through the mountains north of Salta, we jumped at the chance to join him.

We started in Salta, drove up to Purmamarca, continued on to Humahuaca, circled back, slept in Tilcara, then drove to the Salinas Grandes the following day.

To say the mountains and canyon were breathtaking  sounds cliche, but I really don’t know how else to describe it.    We went through lush green valleys, dry cactus studded canyons, a torrential downpour, dry bare mountains and ended in a blinding white field of salt. And, in between we stopped in some incredible small mountain towns.

The town of Purmamarca was the most striking with multi colored mountains behind adobe  buildings on dusty streets.

In Humahuaca the city was truly nestled in the mountains with lots of craft stalls and indigenous women and children selling blankets.

We spent the night in Tilcara, a town we’ve been to before.   It was fun to be able to walk the streets at night, hear some late night music, and walk around as the town came to life in the morning.

I was thrilled to come upon these hamburger patties in a store in Tilcara.

Who wants a barfy?

The next day we drove through part of the Andes.  They weren’t the snow covered peaks you think of when you think Andes, but we did get up to 14,000 feet.  I do not have that many photos from this part of the trip because most of it was spent in the backseat with my hands over my eyes. Dean drove these the mountains really well, but I don’t do that well with heights.

Can you tell I'm on a the verge of a panic attack?

Once we were through this mountain pass we came to the salt plains.  It was unlike anything I’ve seen before, just a giant field of salt for as far as you could see.   It looked like you were walking on a giant cloud or snow field. But, it was hot and the salt crunched underfoot. We of course had to try it and…it tasted like salt.