Bolivia campaigns to legalize coca

Four Loko, meet Coca Colla. CNN reports that Bolivia has launched a campaign to legalize coca, a native plant that has been used for medicinal purposes and as a mild stimulant by the indigenous peoples of the Andes for thousands of years. And yes, coca does contain trace amounts of cocaine. The leaves are used in purified forms of the narcotic, which is what led the United Nations to ban coca in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs. The Bolivian government would like the ban amended to make coca a controlled, but not illegal, substance.

Coca leaf is considered saced amongst Andean peoples, and historically has been used to combat everything from altitude sickness to rheumatism (it has anaesthetic properties). The leaves are also used as a digestive aid, and to suppress hunger, thirst, and fatigue. Coca is traditionally chewed or used or as a tea, but now, coca-infused energy drinks are taking the market by storm. Las year, Coca Colla was introduced; it was such a hit that a new beverage, Coca Brynco, debuted this week.

Bolivian president Evo Morales–a former union leader for coca growers–is on a mission to convince the rest of the world of coca’s legitimate non-addictive uses. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca has embarked this week on a tour of Europe, hoping to convince EU leaders to support the campaign. The U.S. is not onboard the coca train, and filed a formal objection to legalize it on Wednesday. January 31st is the deadline for all UN members to cast their votes.Bolivia is the third largest coca producer in the world, after Colombia and Peru. If legalized, it could provide a signficant economic, uh, stimulus to the country. In addition to energy drinks, Bolivia hopes to use coca in toothpaste, and even flour (I don’t understand that one, either).

I’ve chewed coca while trekking in the Peruvian Andes, and it definitely helps ease altitude-related symptoms. Quechua porters on the Inca Trail (who are employed to haul all of the gear) chew coca incessantly. I have no doubt that, in addition to genetic adaptability, coca aids their miraculous ability to carry loads nearly equal to their body weight, at high speed, even when barefoot. It’s said that coca is what enabled the Incas to build Macchu Picchu.

There are certainly pros and cons to lifting the coca ban, but hopefully world leaders can overlook the stigma long enough to evaluate the medicinal value of the plant.

Top 10 souvenir hats from around the world

Ever notice how every airport, tourist trap, and hotel gift shop is trying to sell you some kind of hat? That’s because a hat is local. In a globalized world where McDonald’s is universal and Duty Free in Dubai sells the exact same sunglasses and chocolate as Duty Free in Detroit, it’s nice to know that there are certain things (like hats) that you can still only find in certain far-flung destinations. Once upon a time, the hats hanging in the back of your closet said loads about where you’ve been and what you’re been up to, especially if you have the real deal. Read and learn:

Fez This red felt hat may be named after the tourist-loving Moroccan city of Fes, but it’s traditionally found all across the former Ottoman empire as well as much of the Muslim world. Worn by: dancing monkeys, Muammar al-Qaddafi, bellhops in Cairo. Cheap knock-offs: The Shriners and some Istanbul bazaars. The Real Deal: Moroccan hatmakers, markets in Cyprus and the Balkans, the Turkish army.
Panama hat A finely handwoven straw hat still made in Ecuador, even though Panama takes all the credit. Worn by: Teddy Roosevelt,Panama Jack, and the poor laborers who dug the Panama Canal. Cheap knock-off: Paper imitations are made in China and sell for little while lesser-quality imitations are made and sold all over Panama for under $30. The Real Deal: Like sheets, what counts in authentic Panama hats is thread count. The tighter the weave, the better the quality (real Panama Hats will hold water and have more than 1,000 fibers per square inch). Hats must be made in Ecuador from the toquilla plant and have a black silk band around the base. Buy at fine shops in Panama, in Ecuador, or else for several thousand dollars at Christie’s in London.Pith helmet Yep, just like the ones the old explorers used to wear as they swatted flies away from their face in the Congo. Originally made from cork covered in canvas, the classical pith helmet has graduated into an elaborate accessory for spiffy uniforms all across the British empire. Worn by: Dr. Livingstone, Bangkok policemen. Cheap knock-offs: Johannesburg airport,Vietnam. The Real Deal: best found in antique shops and some old English granny’s attic, though certain safari suppliers make a darn good attempt.
Sombrero Says ¡Mexico! more than tequila and food poisoning. Huge and silly, the hat makes a lot more sense when you’re in Mexico and trying to stay out of the sun. Worn by: Mariachi bands, drunk college students, people passing through Miami airport. Cheap knock-offs: Available widely in Cancun, Tijuana, and Ciudad Juarez. The Real Deal: Made in Mexico from either woven straw or stiffened felt.
Beret The classic French felt cap was born in the Pyrenees and has gone global due to fashion magazines. Worn by: wannabe artists, paramilitaries, Monica Lewinsky, Basque separatists, gauchos in Patagonia, and Che Guevara (this hat gets around). Cheap knock-offs: Raspberry-colored–the kind you find in a second-hand store. Also sold at Euro Disney and from tables on Rue d’Arcole on the île de la cité in Paris. (Clue: if it says Paris in glitter script, it’s not real.) The Real Deal: the basque hatmaker “Boinas Elósegui” still makes authentic berets (or boinas in Spanish), as does Tolosa Tupida in Argentina. Make sure it says 100% wool on the label.
Nón lá A symbol of Vietnam itself, the simple-yet-serene nón lá is that conical straw hat worn by Asians in rice paddies everywhere, giving that mysterious illusion that people have triangles for heads. Cheap knock-offs: China owns the market share on these hats, both real and fake, so look for the ones the locals buy and wear (oddly, the hipsters haven’t latched onto this one, yet). The Real Deal: Rural Vietnamese markets.
Shapka (Russia) The fur shapka (or ushanka) is not just an ironic, silly holdover of Cold War aesthetic. When in Russia in the winter, fur wrapped around the head does wonders and millions of people still wear them. Worn by: indie rock stars (ear-flaps down), Vladimir Putin‘s security detail, Cheap knock-offs: Souvenir stands in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Kiev. These days, if it’s got a Soviet emblem on it, it’s made in China and is 100% fake. The Real Deal: Your policy on fur aside, high-quality shapkas are made with silver fox pelts, cost a small fortune, and are considered lifetime investments. Still, real shapkas can be made with any fur: rabbit, raccoon, mink, and even dog. In the good old days, you could get a hatmaker to sew you one for a few American dollars–those days are now long gone.
Tweed cap “Top o’ the mornin'” sounds less offensive when you’re tipping a tweed cap. Again, here’s another hat that makes great sense once you confront the local weather–in this case, the blustery drizzle of Scotland and Ireland where tweed was born. Worn by: incorrigible hipsters,your grandfather, college professors. Cheap knock-offs: H&M fall fashion line (every year), also J. Crew and J.C. Penneys. The Real Deal: In Donegal, try Magee of Ireland, who claim to have invented one of the standard tweeds. Also, any non-chain high street shop in the UK where some royal insignia is sewed on the inside of the cap. Don’t overlook British second-hand charity shops, which are like little tweed goldmines.
Andean hand-knit gorro Engineered to make you look like as adorable and non-violent as Droopy, these cute woolen hats with little ear flaps and ties are still wildly popular among Canadian snowboarding bums, as well as serious people with serious glasses. Still, they’re made for the cold, high-altitude climate of the Andes and South America’s Altiplano. Worn by: indie bands touring in the fall, at least one sensitive character in the last indie movie you saw, the Peruvian flute bands playing in Paris and everywhere else. Cheap knock-offs: Gap, J. Crew, Oxfam & any other feelgood fair trade, 100% organic kind of place. If The Real Deal: In Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru or Chile. If you’re a purist, you should get the 100% alpaca wool. Again, avoid the ones with words spelled out in block-knit letters, e.g. BOLIVIA!
Keffiyeh But is it a hat, or is it a scarf? To an almost nauseating degree, the Arab keffiyeh has moved even beyond the tourist claptrap and become a mainstream American college dormitory fashion accessory. Whether showing solidarity with Palestinians or keeping the blowing sand from going down your shirt, this versatile wrap/hat makes a lot more sense in the desert. Worn by: Practically everyone, including the Olsen twins. Cheap knock-offs: Thailand, Venice Beach, 7th Avenue street sellers, and even Urban Outfitters. The Real Deal: Jordan, Palestine, and across the Middle East.

Return to the void with Simon Yates

Touching the Void is one of the most well known, and loved, mountaineering books of all time. It is so popular in fact, that it spawned a film of the same name. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, back in 1985 British climbers Simon Yates and Joe Simpson went to the Peruvian Andes to climb Siula Grande, a 20,814 foot peak. On the descent, Simpson fell, and broke his legs, which is usually a death sentence on a remote mountain. Yates did his best to try to bring his partner down, but eventually, thinking his friend was dead, he was forced to cut his rope while Joe dangled over a cliff. Simpson fell another hundred feet into a crevasse, but miraculously survived the fall. He then proceed to drag himself down the mountain over the course of the next several days, and in the process, spawned one of the great survival stories of the past 25 years.

Now, Simon Yates is heading back to the Andes as part of a trekking tour, and we’re all invited to go along with him. U.K. based adventure travel company World Expeditions is hosting two treks this fall along the legendary Huayhuash Circuit in Peru, with Yates serving as a guide. This will be the first time he has trekked through the region since that fateful trip back in 1985.

Some of the highlights of the trek include visits to ancient Inca ruins, an acclimatization day in Huaraz, and 13 days of trekking through the Cordillera Huayhuash and Blanca ranges of the Andes. Trekkers will climb as high as 16,400 feet while taking in spectacular views and absorbing plenty of local culture, in an area of Peru that still remains a bit off the radar of most travelers.

Of course, the real highlight for those making this trip will not doubt be the hike to base camp on Siula Grande, the very peak that made for such a dramatic backdrop for Yates and Simpson. We’re told that we can expect to hear first hand accounts of the events that took place on that mountain all those years ago, with Simon giving his personal account of what he saw and felt. It will no doubt be a moving and emotional experience for all, and a once in a life time opportunity for fans of the book.

The first trek, scheduled for September 4-22 is already sold out, but there are still openings to join the second trek, which runs from September 25 – October 13. To join the adventure, head on over to the Wold Expeditions trekking page to reserve your spot and to find out more information.

Lonely llama wanders Pikes Peak

Recent visitors to Pikes Peak, near Colorado Springs, Colorado, have been surprised to find an unexpected creature wandering the slopes of the 14,000 foot mountain. According to this story from The Gazette, an escaped llama has been prowling the area for the past three weeks, avoiding capture, while posing for photos, and trying unsuccessfully to join the local herd of bighorn sheep.

Llamas are found in the wild in South America’s Andes Mountains, but have become popular domesticated animals all over the world. This lone llama has obviously escaped from someone’s farm, and its natural instincts have led it into the mountains, where it is reportedly eating well, and thriving. Llamas also happen to travel in herds, and this one is no exception. He has tried, without success, to join the herd of sheep that lives atop Pikes Peak, but so far his high altitude neighbors have shown little interest in letting him join their community.

Local authorities say that for now, the llama is safe and doing well. But they fear that as winter moves in, and food becomes scarce, he will become an easy target for predators. They have alerted local ranchers about the out of place wanderer, but so far, no one has claimed him.

For now, the Lone Llama of Pikes Peak continues to enjoy a life of freedom while frolicking in the high mountain meadows. But those care-free days may well be ending soon, and for his own good.

Photo of the Day 8.29.09

Since this is my last weekend in Peru, I felt it would only be appropriate to send along a postcard from this scenic land. And talk about waking up and having this as your morning vista! This gorgeous photo by rickmccharles has a whole slew of beautiful snapshots of Andean Peru. This particular shot was taken on the Ausangate Circuit, which — well — pretty much speaks for itself if you ask me. The Andes sure make for nice photos, don’t you think?

If you have some great travel shots you’d like to share, be sure to upload them to the Gadling pool on Flickr. We might just pick one as our Photo of the Day!