There are not many things that I am addicted to. I can go without cigars for months. Chocolate is a different issue. One week is the maximum, after that I get cranky. But after three days without cola (it doesn’t matter which brand, the cheapest one is usually fine), I am running to the store, longing and lusting for a bottle.
One might imagine that this would lead to withdrawal symptoms on multi-day treks in the jungle or in the desert. But no! At least not in South America. Because here, where the coca for the cola comes from, there is a Coca Cola vendor in any place where at least one hermit is living. Like here in Titicachi, an unjustifiably rarely visited hamlet on the shore of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia.
Actually, Lake Titicaca itself is sponsored by Coca Cola.
In the lake, there is Isla del Sol, on which there are no cars, no motorbikes, not even bicycles. In some nights there is no electricity. But you may already guess what you can find there: yes, the appealing and wholesome soft drink. And not only in the few villages on the island, but also at this store which is hoping for the occasional walk-in customer.
If you are worried about my health by now, you hopefully notice and appreciate that the purchase included two apples, which are a much greater rarity in Bolivia than a bottle of cola. This remote outpost also would have sold beer and Kohlberg wine, by the way.
Driving through the Atacama Desert in Chile, you don’t see a single tree, drop of water or human being for two days. But somebody made the effort to compile tens of thousands of pebbles and assort them in a way that they constitute the famous logo in a size which in South America is usually reserved for statues of Mr Jesus. What a sign of devotion to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Coca Cola!
Here, you see the quasi-religious admiration for Coca Cola (and the lack of rain since 2011 that could have washed away the writing), which is also manifested in cemeteries. Cola bottles are burial objects to allow the dead to refresh and strengthen themselves, like here at the cemetery of La Paz in Bolivia.
In the last photo, you can clearly recognize that the bottle has been opened, allowing the deceased to actually enjoy the cola. In contrast to holy water, the effects of Coca Cola have at least been scientifically proven.
But the most remote and most surprising Coca Cola refueling station was the one I found in Brazil, in Chapada Diamantina National Park. That is something like the Grand Canyon, just in green and with waterfalls.
You cannot reach this valley by car. You have to climb across one of the two mountain ridges, which takes a whole day. Then you can navigate the valley, using rivers for orientation, but at the end you need to cross one of the mountain ridges again to return to civilization. Which is exactly what I did, on a 3-day trek.
The interesting thing about Chapada Diamantina, besides nature of course, is its history. From 1850 to 1880 there was a diamond boom, hence the name. Back then, around 50,000 diamond miners lived here. Now, there are nine “villages” left, whereby each village consists of three or four houses and usually only one family. I came past two of these posts, which was practical, for I had to spend two nights. A house, as rudimentary as it may be, provides at least some protection against snakes, spiders and jaguars.
The first night in Ruinha, I remained dry. But when I reached Prefectura, totally exhausted and covered in sweat, my eyes were sparkling with joy as I saw the wooden sign advertising beer and Coca Cola.
I wouldn’t mind how much the cola was about to cost. Whoever carried it here on foot or with a mule for days, deserves to be compensated generously. Surprise: the can costs 5 R$, a little bit more than one dollar. Not more than at a highway gas station where the truck delivers the drinks.
So I sit down under the mango trees on the meadow in front of the “village” and get drunk with two cans. But actually, I get more intoxicated by the view that I have on Morro do Castelo – and I regret that I didn’t pack any cigars.
For the highest Coca Cola advertisement, probably worldwide, we have to return to Bolivia. This hut is below the summit of Chacaltaya at 5,200 meters.
Now it probably won’t surprise you that 3,700 km from the continent, on Easter Island, I could get a refreshing glass of cola in this bay after hiking in the relentless sun for a whole day.
(Yes, I took all these photos myself. And behind all of them, there are much more stories to be told. Please leave a comment below, telling me which one interests you most, so that I can get cracking on that story first. – Hier geht es zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels. )