January 13, 2004
Coca Puffs and Llama Fetuses
DAY 83: Bolivia has been blamed for supplying the international drug trade with its coveted coca leaf -- which is processed with ether and a bunch of chemicals to produce cocaine. However, the coca leaf in its natural form has been infused with Bolivan culture for centuries. Years ago, one of the first things a family would build right after a house to live in was a coca garden, as coca leaves were an integral part of Bolivan life.
All this information was given to me at a visit to La Paz's Coca Museum, where Lara, Tim and I went in the morning.
ALTHOUGH SMALL, THE COCA MUSEUM (picture above) was a very informative and comprehensive exhibition on all aspects of the green multipurpose plant, from its ancient religious connotations to its medicinal purposes to its transformation into cocaine -- which was widely distributed in the early formula of Coca-Cola. The museum, opened in 1997, was created to educate people on the coca leaf, as it as become the scapegoat of many of the world's drug problems -- George W. Bush plans on using troops to eradicate prospering coca farms in the Bolivian countryside. However, one other aim of the museum is to educate people on the process of cocaine addiction, so that curious ones know without having to try it, in attempts to reduce the problem through education.
Although cocaine hasn't been an ingredient in Coca-Cola for years, one particularly interesting fact I learned from the displays is that companies in 34 countries are legally allowed to produce cocaine -- supposedly for medicinal purposes -- including StePan Chemical, owned by Coca-Cola.
After dinner we hung around for rounds of cocktails, learning that Wouter was the baby amongst us at only eighteen years of age. We chatted about songs from the 80s -- Wouter didn't know certain pop songs were actually remakes of old songs I had grown up with -- and made ourselves laugh with really dumb riddles, including one that Lara wanted me to mention on The Blog for readers to guess:
What word can be described with "H I J K L M N O"?
Gilbert had befriended a couple of Bolivian girls in his travels and had them meet us at the pseudo-Korean/Incan Palace. The sisters, Pamela and Giovanna, who lived together in La Paz away from their parents in Elizabeth, New Jersey, knew the city a lot more in depth than any "tour guide" with ripped Lonely Planet pages in his pocket, and so they led the way for the nighttime festivities.
Once we entered the door, we were transported into what was built to look like a club at the bottom of an underground mine, with rocky walls and mannequins dressed as miners on the wall. The place was packed with young Bolivians partying the night away to American dance and hip-hop tunes, from Dirty Vegas to Dr. Dre.
The eight of us found a nook within one of the "mine shafts" where we camped out with these big bowls filled with juice, vodka, tequila and other goodies, served with six straws. With the exchange rate, one bowl was only about three US dollars -- needless to say, at that price, we had a pretty crazy and not-so-memorable night, if you know what I mean.
I do remember meeting a guy named Junior, a Bolivian-American from Falls Church, Virginia, back in Bolivia to visit his ill grandfather. It was his eighteenth birthday and we helped him celebrate -- it was easy with the opening lines to 50 Cent's "In Da Club." We also met some Israeli girl who was either drunk or high on a certain derivative of the coca leaf, or both. She too had made peace with La Paz -- she had been there for two months thus far.
The music switched around as the night progressed, and Lara and I danced the night away with the Dutchies, singing along to the lyrics we knew. We almost tore our throats out with the ending part to Guns N Roses' "Sweet Child Of Mine," but it was great fun -- Wouter really got a kick out of it.
We partyed there until the morning hours, each leaving at different times in different cabs. In my state I probably would have bought a llama fetus as we drove passed The Witches Market, but in retrospect, I'm glad that even witches close their shops at some point.
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