Bolivian Coco Leaf: The Red Bull Of The Andes

Hoja Sagrada (Holy Leaf)
We’d decided to take the overnight sleeper bus from La Paz to Sucre, given our somewhat rushed itinerary and desire to save time and the expense of a hotel room. We nestled into our reclining seats and went through our overnight bus checklist. Bag locked and secured to the overhead rack…check. Bottled water and toilet paper handy…check. Earplugs secured and bandana fastened over eyes…check. We settled in for a 12 hour bus ride along the Bolivian cordillera.

Overnight bus trips in the Andes always make me a little nervous. The amount of bus crashes in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador that share a disproportionate amount of headlines in the South American International Herald Tribune’s website, caused us to jokingly refer to that site as “Andean Bus Crash dot com.”

We all snoozed as we made our way southward. Every time the driver pumped the brakes to slow down, a part of my brain -- while still asleep -- registered the motion, ready for anything that might follow.

After a somewhat fitful night of semi-sleep, we arrived at 8:30 a.m. in Sucre. We collected our belongings and drowsily made our way out of the front of the bus. Before I turned right and down out of the bus, I looked over to the driver’s area. Below his empty seat were dozens of broken bits of coco leaves scattered over the floor. Now that we’d achieved safe passage to Sucre, I knew that my well-being had been insured by the hoja sagrada, the sacred leaf that has been used for medicinal, cultural and religious purposes in the Andes continuously for thousands of years. It’s been used as a protection against altitude, hunger and cold and in our case, it was a stimulant to keep our driver awake and us alive.  Thank goodness for the Red Bull of the Andes.
The Red Bull of the Andes


  1. Bus rides in the Andes do seem a bit scary. Think I'd prefer to have control of the wheel myself. Look forward to reading about Sucre.

  2. We really enjoyed staying in Sucre. We did a hike with Condortrekkers.

  3. The bus rides in Bolivia make me nervous. I haven't heard a good bus story yet!

  4. It looks like such an innocent leaf...but I guess it packs a powerful punch!