The coca leaf played an important role during the Inca period, the Incas considered it sacred. They valued the coca leaf as highly as gold not only for its role in sacred rituals but also for its medicinal properties. There is an age-old ancestral tradition of the Andean people that consists of chewing coca for altitude sickness (place a small handful of coca leaves inside your cheeks and chew them until they get mushy). Nowadays, locals, as the team of Cusco Peru Travel, still do it. Besides, coca leaves are used also to relieve pain and hunger.
But what is altitude sickness? Also called soroche, it occurs when traveling to a high altitude too quickly from a lower altitude. At high elevations there is less pressure, it means that each breath you take contains less oxygen. Symptoms may include headaches, tiredness, vomiting, and dizziness.
Despite gaining notoriety for being the source material for cocaine, the coca leaf is still part of the culture and history of the people of the Andes. In fact, many Peruvians chew coca leaves or drink mate de coca (coca tea) in the same way you drink your morning coffee. They increase energy levels which is very useful for your Machu Picchu trip, don’t you think? But don’t worry, scientifically the coca leaf has neither addictive qualities nor toxic properties. It’s totally the opposite, it’s considered a miraculous and very effective medicine.
In addition, as we mentioned before, the Incas used not only coca for altitude sickness but also for rituals and rites. Traditionally, in the Andean religion, three coca leaves are used to make an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth). Each one represents one of the three worlds in the Andean cosmovision: Uju Pacha (the underworld represented by the serpent), Kay Pacha (the surface world we inhabit as humans, symbolized by the puma) and Janaq Pacha (the upper world represented by the condor). Andean people such as shamans believe that the coca leaf is necessary for communicating and delivering important messages to the gods of these worlds. Also, some people believe that the coca leaf can be read to tell the future.
First off, you must take into consideration that the coca leaf is not a synonym of cocaine. It is not addictive; you will never get high with it. Certainly, it’s really common to see local people chewing coca leaves. With this in mind, don’t be afraid to take them. Trust us, coca for altitude sickness really works!
We know that nobody wants to waste any day of their journey feeling sick. So, when planning a trip to Peru -especially to the highlands-, it’s advisable to take it easy on the first day and rest to help your body acclimatize to the high altitude. Once acclimatized, go ahead, start enjoying your adventures! But please, don’t be tempted to carry a bag of coca leaves in your luggage when coming back home. That is illegal!
In the Peruvian highlands, there is a magical pill called Sorojchi Pill that can save your life… We are not overstating. Lots of travelers consider altitude sickness like a free invitation to the other side. But don’t feel paranoid, if you are not really into natural and ancestral medicine, you can take these pills (it contains acetylsalicylic acid, salophen and caffeine). These over-the-counter pills will help you with your blood circulation and headache. Your body will eventually accustom to the altitude and symptoms will gradually subside. After trying them, you would realize how effective they are.
Finally, when coming to Peru, you will inevitably experience the coca leaf. Not only to regain energy but also experience the ancestral Andean use, i.e. coca leaf reading. It attracts many visitors each year since it provides you with a unique insight into our ancient and mystic culture.
Peru has many wonders waiting for you to be discovered. Here in Cusco Peru Travel, our speciality is to make your trip an outstanding experience, fill-in this form and let your tailor-made luxury Peru vacation begin.