I received an amusingly large number of responses from many of you after I mentioned in one of my first emails that Peru is the world's second largest producer of cocaine. Here are more facts on that subject.
Peru is one of only two countries where it is legal to cultivate coca. The country grows about 56,000 hectares of coca, and can produce about 400 metric tons of cocaine.
Cocaine is the second most popular illegal recreational drug in the U.S., behind marijuana. The U.S. is the world's largest consumer of cocaine, accounting for 50 percent of the world's annual consumption.
The U.S. has spent roughly $1 billion in Peru since the year 2000 on anti-drug efforts. The result? A net increase of 18% in land here used for drug crops. Back to the drawing board, Washington.
According to Peruvian sources, 1 gram of cocaine that would cost between $80 and $120 in the U.S. would cost between $5 and $10 here in Peru. And, it is pure, not cut, like it is by the time it arrives in the U.S. There is a test, involving plain household bleach, that can determine how pure your cocaine is. Most drug dealers or addicts are familiar with this test. Sorry, amigos, but I was sworn to secrecy on the method.
Drinking coca tea (mate de coca), an infusion made from the leaves of the coca plant, is a popular remedy for alleviating altitude sickness, which many tourists get when traveling to Machu Picchu, Peru's most popular tourist destination. Chewing on the actual coca leaves themselves is also a well-known remedy. This method of consumption has been practiced for many centuries by the indigenous people of Peru. I have attached a photo of a coca leaf.
Drinking coca tea or chewing on coca leaves does NOT give you the same high as cocaine, although it will give you a mild stimulation and mood lift. However, you should be aware that you WILL test positive for cocaine if you are subject to a drug test after using these remedies. It is best to refrain if you will be looking for a job after your vacation to Machu Picchu!