LIFESTYLE

In remote Peruvian valley, coca is king
For centuries, coca has been central to Andean culture and religion. But the mild stimulant chewed to fight off fatigue and altitude sickness has in recent decades become the focus of the illegal cocaine trade. Pichari lies on the banks of the Apurimac river in a long valley that the United Nations says yields 56 percent of Peru's coca leaves. There is so much coca that growers sometimes dry the leaves on soccer fields and children frolic in them.
">

Trincavini11

In this Sept. 26, 2013 photo, Saiumi Yasumi, 4, right, peeks out from a pile of coca leaves as her mother Magali Rua Gonzalez, 25, who holds her 8-month-old daughter Astrid, uses her feet to spread out coca leaves on a tarpaulin, in the village of Los Angeles in Perus Pichari district. The countrys anti-drug strategy includes trying to persuade coca farmers to grow alternatives such as cacao and coffee. But coca is easier and cheaper to grow. It can be harvested four times a years and farmers dont have to worry about getting it to market. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Trincavini3

In this Sept. 27, 2013 photo, coca leaves are spread out on tarpaulins on the basketball court that doubles as a soccer pitch at the community center in Pichari, Peru. Pichari, a remote town in central Peru lies on the banks of the Apurimac river in a long valley that the United Nations says yields 56 percent of Peru's coca leaves. Peru last year displaced Colombia as the world's leading producer of coca leaf. But unlike Colombia, most cocaine produced in Peru is exported not to the United States but to Brazil, Argentina and Europe. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Trincavini9

In this Sept. 28, 2013 photo, a boy wearing a Barcelona Lionel Messi home soccer jersey, watch men prepare lunch during an evangelical celebration in Pueblo Libre, Pichari, Peru, a region that the United Nations says yields 56 percent of Peru's coca leaves and where Perus government is trying to expand its presence and combat an illegal drug trade. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Trincavini8

In this Sept. 30, 2013 photo, a field worker chews on a coca leaf, while taking a break from weeding in a cacao field in Ottari, a village in Perus Pichari district. For centuries, coca has been central to Andean culture and religious practices. But nowadays, the vast majority of Perus coca supplies the illicit cocaine trade. The government encourages coca farmers to plant alternative crops such as cacao and coffee. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Trincavini

In this Sept. 25, 2013 photo, a girl plays in a bed of coca leaves, in the village of Trincavini in Perus Pichari district. Pichari lies on the banks of the Apurimac river in a valley that the United Nations says yields 56 percent of Peru's coca leaves, the basis for cocaine. Coca is central to rituals and religion in Andean culture but in recent decades has become more associated with global drug trafficking. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Trincavini13

In this Sept. 29, 2013 photo, soldiers stand in the rain during a flag-raising ceremony backdropped by a sculpture depicting coca leaves in Pichari, Peru. Coca is the lifebood of the economy of Pichari a mostly rural municipality of 40,000 people. There is a constant military show of force in the region with a vibrant trade in the leaf that is the basis of cocaine, and where Perus government is trying to expand its presence and combat an illegal drug trade. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
(AP2013)

Trincavini12

In this Sept. 26, 2013 photo, coca farmer Hugo Tacuri sprays his field in Pichari, Peru, which lies in the worlds No. 1 coca-producing valley. Coca is the lifeblood of the economy of the mostly rural municipality of 40,000 people. Although it has eradicated coca elsewhere in the country, Perus government has not yet attempted to do so in Pichari, in part because of the presence of leftist rebels who live off the cocaine trade. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Trincavini2

In this Sept. 25, 2013 photo, a woman bathes at a communal water faucet above the Apurimac river, in the Trincavini community of Perus Pichari district. The village lies at the center of the world's No. 1 coca-growing valley in a region that the United Nations says yields 56 percent of Peru's coca leaves. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Trincavini6

In this Sept. 26, 2013 photo, Saiumi Yasumi, 4, carries a heap of coca leaves to spread on a tarpaulin to dry in the sun in Los Angeles, a village in Perus Pichari district. For centuries, coca has been central to Andean culture and religious practices. But nowadays, the vast majority of Perus coca supplies the illicit cocaine trade. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
(AP2013)

Trincavini5

In this Sept. 25, 2013 photo, seeking respite from the oppressive heat inside her home, Norma Taipi, 23, with her 2-month-old daughter Mirella, sits on a storefront bench as she visits with neighbors in Trincavini, a community in Perus Pichari district. Pichari lies on the banks of the Apurimac river at the center of the world's No. 1 coca-growing valley. Coca is the lifebloos of the economy in Pichari, a mostly rural municipality of 40,000 people. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Trincavini4

In this Sept. 27, 2013 photo, boatmen await customers to ferry across the Apurimac river, in Pichari, Peru, which is at the center of a valley that the United Nations says yields 56 percent of Peru's coca leaves. Perus government is expanding its presence in the vally to combat the cocaine trade. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
(AP2013)

Trincavini1

In this Sept. 26, 2013 photo, coca farmer Clementina Gonzalez rests in her kitchen while she heats lunch for her family in the village of Los Angeles in Perus Pichari district. Coca is central to rituals and religion in Andean culture but in recent decades has become more closely associated globally with drug trafficking. In its efforts to discourage coca cultivation, the government encourages farmers to plant alternative crops such as cacao and coffee. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Trincavini7

In this Sept. 28, 2013 photo, sunlight filteres through the clouds, illuminating the Apurimac river in Pichari, Peru. The river cuts through a long valley that the United Nations says yields 56 percent of Peru's coca leaves. The government says it will soon begin destroying coca crops in the region, known as the VRAE - the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Trincavini10

In this Sept. 28, 2013 photo, a discarded television set decorates a corner of a coca farmers' home, in Pueblo Libre community, in the Pichari district, Peru. Cultivation of coca leaf is so much a part of Pichari life, the basis of cocaine. The government's anti-drug strategy is to get farmers to grow alternative crops such as cacao and coffee but the benefits of the illicit crop are difficult to overcome when the leading cash crop can be harvested four times a years.(AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In remote Peruvian valley, coca is king

For centuries, coca has been central to Andean culture and religion. But the mild stimulant chewed to fight off fatigue and altitude sickness has in recent decades become the focus of the illegal cocaine trade. Pichari lies on the banks of the Apurimac river in a long valley that the United Nations says yields 56 percent of Peru's coca leaves. There is so much coca that growers sometimes dry the leaves on soccer fields and children frolic in them.

More From Our Sponsors