La Paz, Bolivia is the home of the world’s only museum dedicated to coca, the plant that cocaine is made from. With Bolivia’s new President Evo Morales being a former coca farmer who strongly supports the crop this museum is sure to gather much more attention than before. There is even a new traveling museum that goes on tours thanks to a new drug policy grant awarded to the museum.
Rather than made into cocaine many Andean people often chew it. In Peru and Bolivia coca is legal (not cocaine!!!) and used often in tea and chewed by workers in fields and hikers. By chewing the leaves it is said to bring more oxygen to the brain. Mate de Coca, or coca tea, is said to help relieve the affects ofÂ soroche, or altitude sickness.
Coca has been used since Pre-Colombia times and was used primarily by nobility such as the Inca rulers. Although the US and other western countries have strongly pushed for the eradication of the plant because of the thriving drug trade that is a side effect, many communities in the Andes see it as a part of their cultural heritage.
The museum is small; just two levels with mostly newspaper clippings and scientific charts documenting the history of coca and cocaine. There is even a small diagram on how to make cocaine. A visit won’t take more than an hour and it is conveniently located not far from theWitches MarketÂ that lines several streets.
The museum is open from Monday to Saturday from 10am – 6pm. For more information or directions visit their website.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.