Coca and Andean Culture

Coca and Andean Culture

How is it that coca and Andean culture are so intertwined?  There is somewhat of a complicated relationship between coca leaf chewing and the rest of the world but in Bolivia and many other South American countries, there is no complication.  While the U.S. may take issue with the practice of coca leaf chewing and the coca leaf chewing effect, the reality is that it is an integral part of Andean culture and has helped shaped many South American countries.


To understand how coca leaf chewing has ingrained itself in Andean culture you must understand what the practice is and what it does.

Coca leaves release a mild stimulant similar to the buzz you get from caffeine. Placing the leaf on the inside of your cheek (you aren’t supposed to actually chew the leaf) and combining it with a bicarbonate powder activates this stimulating effect.  The practice actually helps with the digestive process, acts as an appetite suppressant (which may or may not be a good thing) provides something of a boost of energy and even has anesthetic properties.

Coca and Andean Culture

Coca and Andean Culture


Because chewing coca leaves does so much it has been used in many different ways.  First of all it has been used for many many centuries.  The first evidence of coca leaf chewing in fact dates to prehistoric times.  Back then the practice was more akin to religious rites and closely tied with tribal myths. The coca leaf became a sacred plant and symbol in ancient times and would often be used as a sacrifice to ancient gods.

Today however the uses of coca leaves are much broader.  Workers use it to power them through the day and there are even coca breaks in the normal Bolivian work day similar to coffee breaks here in the U.S.

Coca leaf chewing has certainly made its way into the social culture of Bolivia where parties and gatherings often include coca leaves being passed around for members to share.  Coca leaves are often given as gifts as well and it is very common practice for a young family to build a coca garden on their property where they can grow the plant.

Still there are many coca leaf myths and the plant is still very much associated with mystical rites and tribal religions.  Coca leaves are chewed and predictions of the future are made.  It is used to bless a person and to protect him or her from curses.  It is also still offered up as a sacrifice to appease the gods.

Coca and Andean Culture – Varying Roles

Cocoa and Andean culture, which you can read more about in the article Festival Virgin de la Candalaria are inexorably tied but you also must understand that its usage varies a lot depending on where you go and who you interact with.  For example in some small villages, the leaf is so important that it is actually used as currency.

By and large however, if you visit Bolivia you will more than likely see people on the streets with leaves in their mouths and these people are using the plant for its most popular purpose: a mild stimulant.  In terms of usage it is no different than how we Americans order a cup of coffee or slam an energy drink to give us a boost.

The difference is that the coca leaf is a much more important aspect of Andean culture than coffee and energy drinks are for us.  It represents their history, heritage and even acts as a symbol for the working class.  There is no sordidness about chewing coca in Andean culture nor should there be anywhere else.

24 Hours in Santiago Chile

24 Hours In Santiago Chile

Your travel itinerary for South America is probably jam packed but if you are going to pass through Santiago, Chile you should really take some time to see the sites. But what if you only have 24 hours in Santiago Chile? A lot of people simply pass through Santiago on their way to other locales and that is fine because below is the ultimate guide for making the most of 24 hours in Santiago Chile.

Eating  While Enjoying 24 Hours in Santiago Chile

Let’s go in chronological order. Let’s assume that you arrive in Santiago sometime in the morning and what is the first thing you are going to want to do in the A.M. hours in Santiago? What else? Eat! Santiago is home to some of the most unique cuisine in the world so start your24 hours in Santiago Chile the right way by fueling yourself for the rest of the day with authentic Chilean cuisine.

A Completo may make you feel more at home because it is essentially a burger or hotdog Chilean style. Topped with avocado and mayonnaise a Completo is sure to get you ready for your big day out. You can also go more authentic with a Pastel de Choclo which is a hearty dish of meat and vegetables covered with something similar to the crust of a pot pie.

Enjoy the Weather

Now that you are all fueled up, segue into the afternoon by enjoying the amazing Santiago weather and visiting the Santiago Sculpture Park. This is an open air exhibit located in a beautiful stretch along the Mapocho River featuring many unique and inspiring sculptures from renowned Chilean artists. While you are strolling in the sunshine, try some Chilean Helado (ice cream) to refresh you.

24 Hours In Santiago Chile

24 Hours In Santiago Chile

While the gorgeous Chilean sun is waning you may want to check out one of Santiago’s world famous wineries. Taste some wine and toast your day in Santiago as the warm twilight showers you and heralds in the night.


If you have been following this blog you probably know 2 things to be true: we love food and we love night life. No 24 hours in Santiago Chile is complete without a taste of its nightlife. You can kick off the night with a trip to The Black Rock Pub where you can try some home-brewed Chilean beers like Kross and Prima.

Once you are feeling loose you may want to hit up one of Santiago’s Salsa clubs where you can see professionals exhibit their flavorful art form and get in on the fun for yourself. There are tons of live salsa bands playing on any given night in Santiago so just follow your ears through the night streets. Again for the music lovers, you will be happy to know that Santiago has a great Jazz scene so that means plenty of hip clubs to choose from. One of the most famous is Club de Jazz but if you are looking for a more low key night of music check out The Jazz Corner or Bar Grez.

Finally, if its not to late one of the best places to go in Santiago Chile is near the coast. Santiago is not far from the Pacific and that means super-fresh seafood. Cap off your day in Santiago with some great sushi or a classic Chilean seafood stew which prominently features crab legs and tasty vegetables.

There is really so much more to do in Santiago that it really warrants a good long visit so for more information on what to do in Santiago, check out Easter Island Chile.

How Hispanics are Redefining the US – Hispanic Heritage Month

As we observe Hispanic heritage month this year and reflect on what it means to be Hispanic in America, it is almost getting hard to see a defining line. What I mean is that Hispanics are becoming so ingrained in the American culture and way of … [Continue reading]

Latino or Hispanic – Which One is Politically Correct

There are fewer culturally relevant questions in modern America more polarizing than this one: Latino or Hispanic-which one is politically correct? There are also few questions that simply lead to more questions than this one does. The truth is … [Continue reading]

Grandparents or Abuelos Importance in Hispanic Family Traditions

Unfortunately my grandmother passed away before I was born and my grandfather has lived in a different state than me for most of my life but I have seen firsthand my own mother become a grandmother and I have noted that her role in our family is … [Continue reading]

Retiring in Ecuador

Why retiring in Ecuador?  Because when one thinks of the phrase “golden years” I believe it would be safe to assume that no one conjures up the image of being huddled under a thick blanket, shivering in the cold. Not that anyone spends the twilight … [Continue reading]

The Strange Tale of Oscar Zeta Acosta

When I pose it to others, even Latinos, if they know the name Oscar Zeta Acosta, the answer is usually no. My next question is invariably “have you seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?” to which many people say yes. Then I tell them that Oscar Zeta … [Continue reading]

The Famous Evil Eye Amongst Latinos

Have you heard if the famous evil eye amongst Latinos?  To say that Latin America can be a place to find all kinds of wild superstitions would be an understatement. In fact it may be more accurate to think of such superstitions as a basis for many … [Continue reading]