The Corn Flake Traveller in Colombia
I had been travelling around South America for 18 months when I decided to go to Colombia. I had missed previous opportunities to see the country because I had been scared off by its reputation as a country full of dangerous people and bandits wanting to kidnap you. I decided to go in May 2005 after speaking to fellow travellers who had no problems travelling there and because I felt more confident that my Spanish speaking was at a suitable enough level to get myself out of any trouble.
I flew from Buenos Aires, spent a few days in Bogota then flew north to Santa Marta, where I arranged to go on a 6 day jungle trek to ‘la Ciudad Perdida’ the ruins of a lost city.On the night before the trip I was sat with an Israeli friend who told me about the group of tourists that were kidnapped on the same tour a few years ago and how he felt scared in a similar way to before he went to the Palestinian border during his Israeli army days.
Day 1 - In the morning we met another 7 or 8 travellers, then we all jumped in a big square truck and were driven towards the jungle, arriving about 2 hours later in a tiny village at the end of the road. Before setting off the guide gave me a big plastic bag full of marijuana and said I was in charge of keeping the group stoned, I couldn’t stop laughing as he told me that the price included weed when paying for the tour but I thought he was joking.
We walked for about 4 hours, having to climb a really steep hill, which was hard work but worth it for the views of endless rainforest and forest covered hills. The jungle is amazing; such dense vegetation and so full of life, you can’t see the animals but you can hear them. We stopped to take a break from hiking, eat fresh pineapple and swim in little rivers to prevent heat exhaustion, it was so incredibly hot, humid and sweaty. After more hours of sweaty hiking we arrived at our camp and were shown to our hammocks. I went for a walk and loved the feeling that I was deep in the jungle in the middle of Colombia, it felt like a very cool thing to do, as did swinging in my hammock listening to the jungle and its rampant noise.
In the evening the guide told us that we could take an extra excursion in the morning as he knew a farmer and could arrange a visit to his cocaine factory. We were told that we would set off early in the morning so it wouldn’t affect our progress and if people didn’t want to they could sleep in and miss it. We had a vote by showing hands; nobody chose to stay in bed.
Day 2 -I slept very well in the hammock, although I was murdered by the mossies and, as planned,we starting walking through the jungle early, still half asleep. I found it quite surreal to be following a little 9 year old girl to a cocaine factory and I couldn’t help but feel a bit worried that we were going to be ambushed.
After 15 minutes we came to a big army tent covering a concrete floor and met an old man who was sat there chewing on some grass. He gave us a 2 hour demonstration on how they turn leaves into a white powder, going through step by step as they soak the leaves in gasoline, then remove the leaves and treat the gasoline with a series of different combinations of acids, salts, alkali’s and water. On the last step he was holding up a beaker and stirring the liquid inside as a white solid formed in the bottom. I was the only one who spoke Spanish so I did all the translating and it felt like a personal lesson as he would explain to me, then I would tell the group. The final product that formed was base, 80% cocaine and only for smoking as we hadn’t performed the final step, where you further purify it to around 95% by adding ether and letting it evaporate. It was like being back at school in a science lesson with test tubes and different chemicals.
The farmer was really genuine and down to earth, not rich like I’d imagined he would be, I couldn’t stop asking questions and he ended up giving us a lot of fascinating informationabout the cocaine trade and the corruption involved.