The Chuchuhuaza, while good for joint repair, is actually a potent aphrodisiac, and María sees many couples drinking the smoothie together, especially ones that are trying to have kids. Mérida being the adventure capital of Venezuela and a city wrapped around several universities, the drink also brings in tired students and athletes. “But really, everyone drinks it,” she says.
A 74-year-old man waits for a cup of the Levantón Andino María is making and flexes his right arm. “I drink one every few days,” he says.
A few splashes of various liquors including rum and brandy, a dash of a local beer, and Colombian red wine are added. These are in amounts small enough that María says even kids can drink safely. She claims that no one has ever reported back with sickness from the drink.
Due to Venezuela’s frequent nation-wide shortages, sometimes María has to cut an ingredient or two. Most recently, it’s been fish eggs that are hardest to find.
When it’s ready, the magenta-colored drink has the consistency of a smoothie and it goes down easy. The recipe makes 1.5 liters and is sold in cups between 8 and 12 ounces for 50 to 90 Bolivares, or about $.50 to $1 USD. The flavors of each ingredient are hard to diagnose with the tongue, but the overall taste is strawberry with subtle notes of bubble gum. The stomach must overcome the mind when drinking Levantón Andino.
Inside the market, storefronts are packed in side-by-side, allowing the smell of garlic and salted fish to mingle with chocolate and dried herbs, counterintuitive to the drink’s aphrodisiacal agenda. Outside the market, green mountains of the Cordillera de Mérida, an extension of the Andes Mountains, wrap around the city. With your boost, you might just grab the 74-year-old man standing next to you and set out to explore them.