Previous Entry:
Next Entry:

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.

FOR THE REST OF THE DAY, Lara, Tim and I went out shopping around the city. Lara shopped for gifts to bring home while Tim shopped for new boots since the soles in his Sketchers had cracked, allowing water to seep in and stink up his socks. We visited many stores in the artesan district, the shops in modern downtown and even a supermarket back in Sopacachi, but the most interesting shopping experience was at The Witches Market, a strip of vending stands that sold exotic love potions, lucky talismans and, most noticably, llama fetuses, used to put in your house as a form of good luck. I'm not so sure about bringing an abortion in the house could provide such luck, but I suppose if I broke into someone's house and saw a llama fetus on the dining table, I'd drop everything and get the hell out of there.

BECAUSE I RIP OUT THE PAGES of my Lonely Planet book section at a time as needed, to conveniently fold and fit in my pocket -- I hate lugging the entire brick around -- I had been dubbed our gang's "tour guide" when going out. Wouter, Claudia, Tim, Gilbert, Lara and I went out for dinner and using my pages I tried to find a nice restaurant mentioned in the book. However, a "tour guide" is only as good as his outdated Lonely Planet book, and the place was closed when we got there. Luckily there was the Palacio del Inka next door, which was not run by descendants of Incas, but by Koreans. There we had dinner while Cradle 2 The Grave played on a big screen TV in the corner.

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.

THE GIRLS KNEW OF A CLUB called Dedekos not listed in the Lonely Planet book. In fact, I doubt it was listed anywhere because it was so damn hard to find. It was one of those cool clubs with an unmarked door in the middle of a quiet residential area of Sopacachi -- you just had to be cool enough to know about it.

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.

If you enjoy this daily travel blog, please post a comment! Give me suggestions, send me on missions, let me know how things are going back home in the USA. Knowing that I have an audience will only force me to make this blog more entertaining as the days go by. Don´t forget to bookmark it and let a friend know!

Posted by Erik on January 13, 2004 01:13 AM
TrackBack | Category: Bolivia


Erik, as everyone has already said, Day 73 has been my favorite so far. It was an excellent piece of writing.. The answer to the riddle is sixty nine. Really, what is the answer?

Posted by: Francis on January 13, 2004 01:22 AM


Posted by: Francis on January 13, 2004 01:34 AM

fetuses, mining shaft, and Wouter! Man, i can only imagine the adventures you go thru each day thru your blog. While i am rotting piece by piece going thru the daily grind.

Erik et al. Just in case you're bored at work (or in Erik's case, free time) and you need a break, watch these guys from the westcoast. Freakin' hilarious.

Posted by: LovePenny on January 13, 2004 02:13 AM

So, the answer to the idea...too early in the morning to guess...

does it have something to do with peeing...letters before P? Because you would laugh at a joke that involves peeing.

will the person with the right answer get a postcard?

Posted by: Risa on January 13, 2004 10:33 AM

H I J K L M N O? what the hell is that?.....

A B C... easy as 1 2 3?

Posted by: Cheryl on January 13, 2004 10:49 AM

francis got it right. Water is the answer.

proof: H2O (H to O)

Posted by: LovePenny on January 13, 2004 11:07 AM

OHHH...I was confused by Francis' "water" post. Thanks! :)

Posted by: Risa on January 13, 2004 12:11 PM

get a damn haircut hippy...

Posted by: markyt on January 13, 2004 12:21 PM

erik: let it grow. you can be a rockstar!

Posted by: LovePenny on January 13, 2004 12:38 PM

LP: that link is hilarious!

Posted by: markyt on January 13, 2004 12:50 PM

markyt: glad you liked it. its only the tip of the iceberg tho...these 3 guys are the flip 3 stooges.

check out Skid Marks and STD also...i couldn't stop laughing.

Posted by: LovePenny on January 13, 2004 01:00 PM

Great post - llama fetuses and a hidden mine-themed bar. The hangovers are tough at the high alititude! Good bar pictures too.

Posted by: Sara on January 13, 2004 01:59 PM

That mine shaft club looks Awsome!

Posted by: Td0t on January 13, 2004 11:23 PM

That vid was hysterical LP!

Posted by: Td0t on January 13, 2004 11:24 PM

Wouter looks like he could be MATTO's long lost brother…

Posted by: dunlavey on January 14, 2004 09:40 AM

Riddle, smiddle. I was too busy noticing how Lara is checking you out! Maybe she's digging the hobbit-look (your lovely long locks are quite shocking for me)!

Posted by: Christy on January 15, 2004 05:28 PM

Hey Erik - you know you have connections at Stepan Chemical! ;)

Posted by: Yvette on January 21, 2004 01:52 PM

you know too much must
be eliminated...i am sending my ppl
down there...they will meet you in the
bakla office...

Posted by: UdZ on January 21, 2004 02:21 PM

wheat is head of the bakla office...

Posted by: markyt on January 21, 2004 02:33 PM

UDZ/YVETTE: Time out, time out... Udz DOES work for Stephan chemical? I AM getting close to the secret...and I didn't even have to get you drunk...

Posted by: Erik on January 21, 2004 04:00 PM

Erik - yup - now you know ALL the secrets!!

Posted by: Yvette on January 21, 2004 04:04 PM

It's StePan chemical, not StePHan...goddamnit!
hey, could you find out from that place why they sometimes have women's underwear in the leaf bag??
what's the significance?

Posted by: UdZ on January 21, 2004 05:13 PM

UDZ: The spelling of your coke-producing company has been corrected.

As for the women's panties... now THAT'S a secret that you'll have to get me drunk for me to reveal!

Posted by: Erik on January 22, 2004 11:11 AM

Hosted by the BootsnAll Travel Network