While we keep trekking towards the Lost City in the jungle above Santa Marta in Colombia we have an impromptu encounter with the local cocaine producers
di SIMONE CHIERCHINI
A rooster’s waking up call brings me back to Colombia from dreamland at 6 in the morning. I open my eyes and see dawn breaking out from behind the forested mountains that nestled our sleep. In a second I am out of my hammock and ready to take in the colour of that big orange of a star, bathing the sky bit by bit. Dogs are up, cats are up, chicken are up but among the humans awake it is only me and the Colombian porters, who are lighting the fire in the makeshift kitchen of the cabana. The guys seem to like me; I make an effort to talk to the them and make friends while the other backpackers seem tend to keep away from them and bunch up together.
Before I can say hi a hot chocolate mug is presented to me as a good morning gesture and I try to sip it, while still burning hot, to compensate from the chill of the previous night. Slowly the trekkers start to emerge from their hammocks and lots of sleepy heads meet for breakfast, where a daring extra-curriculum plan is discussed: the previous night a local narco approached one of the boys and offered a jungle detour toward a hidden cocaine plant lost in the middle of the forest. Are we interested in seeing how the drug is extracted from the coca leaves? A meeting is quickly called and the outcome is unanimous agreement: this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to have a first hand experience of the powerful world of the Colombian narcos, it has to be done.
Everyone gets quickly ready and we abandon the safety of the cabanas and our guides to enter deep in the forest at the young narco’sheels. After 45 minutes of brisk walk through the jungle, several stream crossings, inclines and descents under the cover of the thick tree canopy, we reach the drug production site. It is situated in a wooden, wall-less structure with a corrugated iron roof, completely hidden from aerial view by the rich foliage.
We sit inside and the man, alone in the plant but doted of an intimidating presence, gets to work. He starts by showing us the coca leaves: a time gone-by the precious energy booster and spiritual medium with the gods of the local tribes; today the expensive drug highest on the best sellers list of our decadent and bored civilisation.
A humming bird rockets by, stopping for a second mid air in standing position, just enough time to check things and smile compassionately at the humans and their usual madness. The narco holds tight the handle of his machete while he says “No pictures! No voice recordings”, but I don’t care, I have a sharp and long knife hanging from my side as well and he knows it.
The drug trafficker explains in a surreal and professional way how the leaves have to get mixed with salt and then mashed into a pulp and he show us how, taking a few handful of coca leaves from the big sacks in the back. The makeshift lab in the jungle has become a classroom in appetite for destruction. Gasoline becomes part of the processing, then sulphuric acid. Each step of the preparation is duly performed and the travellers are asked to check the results from close vicinity and also to smell each change in the substance as it is being manipulated. Next is potassium permanganate, then caustic soda.
The mix smells awfully of end of business day in a petrol station, but everyone is transfixed, revealing some hidden truth about the level of cocaine consumption in 21st century. It is now time to filter the stuff, that soda caustic made precipitate, and discover the finished product, a yellowish paste that one of the boys declares to be surely the purest stuff he has ever seen. Fingers get dipped in the cocaine paste and rubbed against the gums. I make my acquaintance with Miss Cocaine, which smells of gasoline and makes my mouth and tongue react as an anaesthetic treatment at the dentist would. After a little while it gives me a little exciting thrill and a feeling of power, while the usual smart ones explain that this is nothing in comparison to normal injecting, sniffing or smoking, in descending order of enjoyment.
In the meanwhile the narco packs the small quantity of cocaine processed in a little leaf bag and we get ready to leave, one of the boys with the cocaine in his pocket. As soon as we get back to the cabana the drug is mixed with tobacco and passed around. I give a couple of pulls to the cig with zero results. As I am not an alcohol person, I must be a non-drug person, my brain too strong to allow itself losing control because of a small intake of stuff. It appears that among the group of backpackers only the Chinese girl and the Roman guy are new at this game.
Times have definitely changed.
End of Part 4
(To be continued)