Peru or Bust, one couple's journey to represent USA abroad and aid in ways small and large.

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Chewing Coca Leaves..

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The coca leaf has been chewed and brewed for tea traditionally for centuries all up and down the Andean region, specifically Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia and the habit is not going away anytime soon. Read HERE a good article about coca leaf myth and reality.


In other words, it’s a way of life for the outdoor workers of Molinopampa and for much of the manual labor (construction, mining, etc.) in Peru and other Andes countries.  Chewing is called ‘chacchar’ in Quechua, or ‘coquear’ in parts of northern Peru (though in other parts of the county, coquear might be understood as using cocaine), nonetheless, ‘echar una bola’ might be best and most colloquial because that’s basically what you’ll be doing, tossing a ball in your cheek.  Here’s how you do it.

1. Many by the coca leaves in bulk in quantities desired, even 1 sol or about 30 cents will get you a bag.

2. Separate out the small sticks and seeds and put a large marble to golf ball sized wad in the side of your mouth.  Some say that stripping out the center vein of each leaf with your teeth is best, but this is a tedious process and not necessary.

3. When leaves are moist after 1 to 5 minutes add alkaline material to the wad of leaves in your mouth to ‘activate’ the coca by changing the pH of your mouth to be more basic, allowing the coca alkaloids to be absorbed.  This should produce a bit of a numbing feeling in the mouth and chewing the mixture feels more like staying busy with chewing gum rather then any type of mood-changing drug.

4. You can spit mouth juices as they come (will be quite greenish), but most locals just swallow and work on the same wad for 15 to 60 minutes, sometimes longer; often adding a bit of leaves or especially a bit more alkali.

5. Toss the wad when you’d like, and rinse out the small leave pieces with water.  Once again, you never see locals rinsing because it’s a natural leaf that they just spit out completely or swallow.

But, the Alkali is the trick and there’s a couple substances based on where you are in South America:

Northern Peru / Ecuador: You’ll often see ‘cal seco’ or ‘cal mojado’ being sold cheap at the stores and used in people’s small ‘cal’ containers (called a ‘poporo‘ or a ‘calero’ or a ‘puro’ in Molinopampa).  Cal is basically lime that you would use for concrete or other industrial processes [some say pure slacklime, but I would guess more likely a mixture of quicklime (calcium oxide, CaO) and hydrated lime (calcium hydroxide, Ca(OH)2].  It’s caustic and therefore gives you a bit of a chemical burn in the mouth, thus, the coca chewers like to put the stick with cal in the center of the coca wad and not let it touch the skin of the inside of the mouth.

Southern Peru (Cusco) / Bolivia: Is a real big fan of breaking off a pea-sized chunk of ‘Lejia’ or ‘ilucta’ (pronounced ‘Lij-ckta’) in Quechwa.  It’s often a thick, black (or grey), soft, tarry substance that’s made from ashes obtained by burning the quinoa grain (though ‘lejia’ in english translates to bleach or caustic soda or lye).  And lye or the strong alkali, sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is probably a big percentage of what the chewed ‘lejia’ is.  Sometimes the makers have a ‘lejia dulce’ or ‘menta’/mint after they mix anise and/or sugar cane with the ash that’s pressed into a black or grey chunk.

Either way, it’s an activity not to be missed should you be allowed or have the opportunity to try.


Written by galbavy

November 19, 2014 at 7:01 am

2 Responses

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  1. Interesting. Wonder if you can get coca leave in the US?


    November 19, 2014 at 10:25 am

    • Not in today’s day and age.. Found one site ‘online’ by not sure if it’s legit or just some kind of DEA entrapment.


      November 19, 2014 at 3:20 pm

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