Tourists not only drink coca tea in Venezuela, they sell it too
New cooperative provides weary travelers with jobs, food and shelter
Caracas, 21 June 2012 | An extraordinary cafeteria opens today in Caracas, Venezuela; primarily because their cuisine is not ordinary at all or even similar to any other restaurant in the world. The fare includes powerful medicinal plants that are classified as drugs by the United Nations, being prepared as teas and superfoods. Diners do not need a doctor’s prescription to eat there, but they may choose to be very careful with what they order because cocaine is on the menu. The medicinal kitchen prepares items made from coca leaves, amaranth, quinoa, mushrooms, cacti, ginseng, guarana, wormwood, kava kava, noni, acai berries, hibiscus flowers, and hundreds of other ingredients from the plant kingdom including cannabis seed cooking oil.
For the inauguration the eatery is serving free samples of “Triple Coca Tea,” an energy drink invented by the founder that uses coca leaves imported from Peru and Bolivia. The tea makers also serve Venezuelan coffee, Chinese tea, tisanes, mates, infusions, concoctions and decoctions representative of cultures all over the world.
The restaurant is different in a number of ways; one of the most fundamental is that it is being operated as a cooperative so it enjoys special privileges and exemptions under the socialist government of President Hugo Chavez and the daily workers are tourist volunteers from other countries. David Wright, expat from the United States founded the business concept as an international cooperative hostel to complement the revolution underway in Venezuela, create international exchange, and establish a unique service for health conscious people who desire alternatives to conventional medicines.
According to Olandio Giovannetti, one of the cooperative owners from Argentina, “It’s not a pharmacy and we are not medical doctors, we are culinary artists and we make food, but occasionally you may expect to find a shaman or two visiting from the Amazon. Our idea is based on providing natural medicinal dishes made from organic ingredients and to implement the great wealth of indigenous knowledge we have available to us today into our diets.”
Wright, the tea master who prepares the infusions said, “The healing power of herbal teas and medicinal infusions is incredible; there are brews available for everything from diabetes to hair loss. I feel most rewarded when the people who drink the teas I prepare report back and tell me they are thinking more clearly, experiencing improvements to their general health and say they sleep more soundly. The coca tea resolves a number of these medical complaints including insomnia, cholesterol and diabetes.”
Another difference between the collective and other companies is that it engages volunteers from abroad that want to visit or live in Venezuela for a month or more and provides them with the opportunity to work, co-hosts them during their stay, helps coordinate Go Abroad volunteers, CouchSurfing and HostelWorld stays, and plans group trips visiting other coop members in the Amazon, the Gran Sabana, and other destinations using Facebook and Google+. In exchange the visitors are asked to bring herbs, spices, and supplies needed from their home countries for the restaurant operation and they also help grow and harvest wild herbs in the Amazon.
Raul Ibarra, Venezuelan and partner in Wright’s coca tea product, said, “I thinks the idea of hosting working tourists is great, both my children are university students and they really benefit meeting people from other cultures, so I set aside a room in my home to host arriving travelers.”
Last week, Dani Redd, from Totnes, Great Britain stayed with Ibarra for a few days and worked for Ekōbius preparing the restaurant and selling coca tea in the capital’s principal public square, Plaza Bolivar. She said, “this volunteering abroad opportunity allowed me to come and visit Venezuela on a shoestring budget, get to know its historic district, whilst meeting interesting people and visiting interesting sites.”
Joe Sáenz, Venezuelan traveler and artisan joined the cooperative in April as a supporting member to market the tea in the Sabana Grande area of Caracas to tourists and passers-by. Sáenz said, “I am really enthusiastic about selling the tea, because it is a unique product and because of all the interesting people I meet.” Joel Dominguez and Gaston Ceballos, musicians from Uruguay, joined the cooperative recently to sell the company’s flagship product “Triple Coca Tea” on the street corners until August to earn extra cash. Both said they enjoyed selling the tea because of the people’s interest in the product.
Now just yesterday David Iriarte, well-known expedition guide from Jujuy, Argentina (where coca is legal) arrived with Mariangeles Incolla also from Argentina. The pair are joining the cooperative as their baker and cook to make integral breads and other nutritious recipes with amaranth, coca and quinoa.
It’s also worth noting that the cooperative also has a buddy program, where Venezuelans studying foreign language at a advanced or conversational level buddy up with tourists to show them around as guides, an open public English workshop for students which is held weekly, and plans to present other public workshops and meetings relative to natural living and health foods.
Infusions and superfoods are widely accepted by phytotherapists in Latin America where herbal medicines are used frequently compared to other countries; science and man have known for thousands of years the power of the herbs, spices and medicinal plants being used by the restaurateurs. It’s not a new idea to exploit the naturally occurring alkaloids, flavonoids, adaptogens, antioxidants, vitamins, and trace minerals of these fantastic plants, but it is news for a restaurant using modern technology and new social networking protocols to bring it all together.
Contact: David Wright, Ekobius International Cooperative, +58 (212) 516-0361 email: email@example.com
Social: http://gplus.to/cocatea • http://facebook.com/cocateaco • http://cocaven.blogspot.com
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AFP (Agence France-Presse) April 23, 2012 http://tinyurl.com/AFPCoca - YouTube
NTN24 (Nuestra Tele Noticias) April 23, 2012 http://tinyurl.com/NTN24Coca - YouTube
Ultimas Noticias, April 23, 2012, Semillas y Ceremonias por la Madre Tierra Pp.4.– Not available online