Friday, March 25, 2011

The Sacred Leaf of the Andes

This month, my adventures have brought me to a long anticipated visit to Cusco, the capital of the enormous ancient Inca Empire that is also the gateway to one of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu. At over 3,300 meters above sea level in the highlands of Peru, many travelers may begin to feel the onset of altitude sickness.

A hot cup of Mate de coca, steeped for a few minutes with a handful of coca leaves, is the best remedy for altitude sickness. At once sacred and medicinal, the controversial coca leaf is steeped in Andean history and is not only used as offerings to the gods but also used by the indigenous population to help them through long days of hard work. This morning, with a breathtaking vista of adobe rooftops overlooking colonial cobblestone streets and the majestic Andes as the backdrop, this (third) cup of Mate makes a fresh start for my day onwards to exploring the Sacred Valley of Peru.