Coca Cola is everywhere

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.

Coca Cola Dorf

Actually, Lake Titicaca itself is sponsored by Coca Cola.

Coca Cola Titicaca

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!

Coca Cola Atacama

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.

Grab Coca ColaGrab PepsiGrab z Coca Cola offen

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.

Schlucht 1

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.

Prefectura Coca Cola 1

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.

Morro do castelo 1.JPG

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.

Coca Cola Chacaltaya

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.

Bucht im Norden nach Wanderung.JPG

(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. )

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Easter Island, Photography, Religion, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Coca Cola is everywhere

  1. Pingback: Coca Cola ist überall | Der reisende Reporter

  2. The wooden hut on the top of the mountain. Stormproof..? No more diamonds at all? Can you find one on the surface? Can anyone stay in any empty hut? Coke Is poison. I have no way to understand why it is there. Deep mystery. You are the only German I know. I may be a real German, very soon.

    • – The hut seems to be stormproof because it’s been there since 1939, I think. But each time I look at the photos again, I am wondering how long it will last.

      – People in Lencois, a town at the edge of Chapada Diamantina National Park, told me that sometimes you can still find diamonds. But the fields have been so thoroughly harvested (imagine 50,000 miners!) that it happens once in a blue moon. You have to be very lucky or dig around for years until you find a diamond.

      – Coke is very healthy for spirit and body. It can’t be poisonous or dangerous, or otherwise it wouldn’t be allowed to be sold. (Super-lawyer logic. :-) )

  3. locojhon says:

    My understanding is that in Bolivia, no aspertame is allowed to be used in making your drug of choice–just pure cane sugar, locally sourced. Can you confirm? And aren’t those old-fashioned and ice-cold glass bottles of Coke sold on the streets of Cbba for only a couple of B’s just the absolute time-traveling best? I won’t drink a Coke any place other than in Bolivia, and hope to again one day before I’m permanently planted.
    One of my favorite photos was taken on the main drag in Oruro during Carnival of a street ‘salesman’ perhaps 8 (or so) years old, selling Cokes (without any parental supervision) while wearing a newish Pepsi-cola tee shirt. (No Pepsi Colas in his inventory, but he did have Pacena Centenarios beer for sale, and me as a happy customer.)
    Only in Bolivia–my favorite place on earth…

    • I don’t know anything about the ingredients, to be frank.
      And yes, you can still get the 1950s-shaped glass bottles – 190 ml, I believe – for 2 bolivianos (= 30 US-cents).
      I also buy more Coca Cola because they are the only company offering refillable bottles in some stores, so that I can reduce the plastic waste a little bit.

    • Carla Doria says:

      Yes, about the ingredients, it is true. That is why the flavor between a Coke here in Bolivia and one in the US and Europe, for example, is different (extremely sweet for what I’m used to) that is why I don’t like buying Coke that much when I travel abroad, it tastes insanely weird.

  4. Stefan MD says:

    Well, you asked for it….

    So you have actually more details about the real reason for the coke bottles on the graves (esp with water).

    That store in all that desolation, is quite full of stuff! Did you check expiry dates?

    What do those families do in the Chapada all by themselves??

    By the way, it is poison, but a bottle of Coke Zero is my drug of choice at the office.

    • I also prefer Coke Zero now. It sounds and feels even better for my health. :-)

      The cola bottles really are for the dead. I’ll write a full article about the cemetery in La Paz with plenty of photos. You will see lots of miniature things added to the grave, including beer bottles, shirts of football clubs and toys for children.
      The bottles with water are probably the only thing that serves a practical purpose. The water is used to wash the stones or the glass.

      I was also surprised by the well-stocked store on Isla del Sol, particularly by the range of wines. It’s something I wouldn’t have expected in such a desolate place. Maybe locals go there to party sometimes. It’s located on the main path connecting the north and the south of the island, so every day a number of day-hikers will pass by. But I think most of them already have what they need for the day. Maybe even I made a stop more for the scenery and because I felt sorry for the lady in her store, who didn’t seem to sell very much.

      I actually never thought of checking the expiry date for Coca Cola before. I just did so now and couldn’t find any date on the bottle. Maybe it’s really good forever.

      The families in Chapada Diamantina do a little bit of farming, growing fruit trees, but I think they mainly live off tourism now. I saw several groups during my hike and they all need to sleep and eat somewhere. I went with a group too (for once, I thought it unwise to go without a guide) and we were not the only one a either “village”. The interesting thing is that these places don’t have mobile phone coverage and no other connection, so our guide could not announce our arrival in advance. I asked him how he organized that. He said: “I try to show up by early afternoon, so that I could still make it to the next village in time, if they have no place. Or sometimes, I meet a relative of theirs in town a few days in advance, then I can relay a message which he will take back to the valley.”

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  12. Tim Burford says:

    Great article – but you admit it yourself, it’s an addiction.

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  14. brokenradius says:

    I guess Coke is so popular in South America because the original recipie contained extract from Coca leaves, containing significant amount sof cocaine. Coca Cola was originally sold at drug stores as a mediction against indigestion and a few other illnesses.
    Since 1904, a cocaine-free extract from coca leaves is added, just for its flavour. The raw material, however, is still imported from Bolivia and Peru. Even though Coke does not contain any narcotic anymore, it is perhaps responsible for hundreds of thousands of death in the US and million worldwide per annum. Its excessive content of the high-fructose sirup is responsible for the explosion of obesity, in particular among youngsters, and the rise of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. As a stimulans, better drink tea or coffee (mate tea if you are in South America), and if you are thirsty better take plain water or a cold beer.

    • But now there is Coke Zero, without any sugar and thus super-healthy!

      This actually reminds me of the Coca Museum in La Paz, where I first learned about the history of Coca Cola and about other cocaine-infested drinks, including wine, which seemed to have been popular for a while. I should finally write the article about that museum, I guess, but I’ll need more caffeine to keep me going.

      I personally liked coca tea in Bolivia, good taste and somehow soothing for the stomach after eating too much chocolate cake.

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